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Mildred, 83 years old, loner in dusty bungalow. From her heart spewed nastiness: “I put my daughter-in-law’s picture in the shit house where she belongs!” Each defecation renewed the enmity. Twinkle Toes, her double-footed cat, fondled her flip-flops.

Ann, 84 years old, born in the projects. Years of scrubbing dulled yearnings. The shock in the mirror: “My hair is white!” Intruder-killer infected her lungs.

Sarah, 85 years old, Scottish spinster in ground floor apartment. Hilarious storyteller. Shock of white hair matched the wildness in her eyes. Menial work around city neighborhoods toughened her feet. Ulcerated now, they restrict her movements from bed to commode to chair. Friends still knock on her door.

Juanita, 74 years old, matriarch in son’s bedroom, frozen in recesses of atrophied brain.

Swollen eyes resembled the sorrowing mother. G-tube feedings ballooned her dark frame propped upon pillows. Her extended family watched television.

Marie, 77 years old, chameleon in duplex. Spent, she had lived within the will of her mate. Like a flitting moth, she sought rest, but there was none. Catalepsy crippled her body-soul, listing to the right.

Vivian, 61 years old, victim in handicapped apartment. Mousy hair pulled from temples spooked hooded eyes. Safety-pinned sweaters warmed her stone-heart. Soul illness infected her joints, precipitated seizures. She sat in her chair.

Mildred-Ann-Sarah-Juanita-Marie-Vivian, Home Care Patients I’ve known from the 1990s, limped through end time, the dross of their spent lives purified within God’s emptiness, encircling them with blessing.

I pray the same for myself.

It happened again in my barren flower bed: through heaps of graying mulch resembling a ghost town with abandoned mine shafts emerged the solitary gold crocus, its glossy petals yearning for the sun, its striped blades greening in March breezes.

What is unique about this blooming is its recurrence, in the same place, for the past nine years, thwarting winter’s bite and jumpstarting spring’s promise.

Ecstatic by the splash of fresh color, gladness peaks, and I give thanks. 

If Creator God enlivens this solitary gold crocus, year after year…

It is a serious thing

just to be alive

on this fresh morning

in this broken world.

from Red Bird (2009), by Mary Oliver

Such words zing rhythms within creek bottoms, ooze exhilaration into hidden recesses of psyche, trickle down arroyos, and imprint joy upon freckled noses. Such has been my experience reading Mary Oliver’s poetry over the years.

Of special significance are these poetic words from Red Bird in the wake of last night’s absence of dreams. The dark has never been so dark. Within its grip, I felt throttled, locked within a turnabout, tumbled about in a washing machine—there was no surcease as hours limped across the face of the clock in my bedroom. Nor did exercises impinge upon the madness. Nor did prayer to Whomever, Whatever. Dry eye precluded reading. Only dawn’s whispers broke the spell and released me within exhaustion that clung like the virgin’s bower vine, sweetening fences, trellises.

Such agitation bespeaks of grief, a first for me, and leaves me with questions: Is it appropriate to dull such a trouncing with Haldol or go without and experience the lessons, therein? And what were those lessons? Certainly my powerlessness was paramount—It’s one thing to speak of it, even write about it, but another to experience it in the marrow of my bones.

Could this be the first of other thrashings, still to come, before my transition?

Yet, in this morning’s dawn my aliveness thrums. True, my old body and the world are broken, but no matter. There will be healing as Mary Oliver intuits in her poem: it just has to be held to our hearts—Song happens.

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