The Only Things Certain

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the goings and comings in this life. The new little person to whom I referred in my last post was born on July 26th. While I stare down into her beautiful face, I think about her grandfather, my late husband, whose departure anniversary is August 23rd. And the recent passing of my dear friend still remains an ache in my heart. I love those who have gone and those still here with equal passion. I love life in a way I can only describe through prose and poetry. It’s for that reason I’m reblogging this piece that appeared in The Washington Creative Writers club blog, A Table In The Back.

“It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis.” -Henry Miller

     How odd it is that the only two occurrences in life that are guaranteed, change and death, are the ones we dread the most. It’s been my experience that nature holds the most demonstrative examples of how and why we should see change and death as positive rather than negative progressions. While the metaphor “pushing daisies” seems merely cliche, it’s actually quite a profound saying when read in light of how much we have always relied on nature to represent that which seems incomprehensible. My two pieces are meditations on the power of nature as a guide through the frightening but inescapable reality of how impermanent life is.

Part I

“What are you doing, Mom”

“Oh hi son, I didn’t know you were here. I want to finish grading these beds. Aren’t they going to look awesome? Just the way I always imagined they’d look. Come down and help me with some muscle work please.”

“Ok but you know this is a total waste of time. It’s not even your garden anymore, technically.”

“I know honey but I invested so much of myself into these beds and they’re so close to being terraced just right. The new owners will probably love the way they step down from the fence into the yard. Bring that big bag of soil from up there with you.”

“I know honey but I invested so much of myself into these beds and they’re so close to being terraced just right. The new owners will probably love the way they step down from the fence into the yard. Bring that big bag of soil from up there with you.”

“Or they might tear them out or let them weed over. Here, let me move the rocks. Did you have to get the most gianormous ones you could find? These are really heavy and it’s kind of hot out here.”

“I got them over at Hamilton Park. They’re the last picks of my rock relocation program, yuck, yuck.”

“You know Mom, a little of that goes a long way. You’ve been making that same joke for at least five years.”

“I know, son. Your father used to think it was funny every time.”

“I’m glad you mentioned Dad. You know, it’s not just the garden. I think you’re having a hard time with all of this. Dad’s gone but you’re not giving up his memory, just the house.”

“It’s not that hot out. It won’t get hot for another month yet. Just about the time the hosta pop. I hope they like hosta. There are so many of them in the yard. But the daisies I planted between them died. Oh and the day lilies! I forgot! I need to thin those before I go. They’ll overtake the new people before they know it if I don’t. Go get my long handle weeding hoe out of the garage, will you?”

“Mom.”

“Let me do this in peace, ok? I’m having a hard time, so kill me. This is my process. Now go get the hoe please. I’ll finish off the rocks.”

“Here, it is. Oh my god, you’re planting herbs? Seriously? Are you going to leave anything for the buyers to do out here? Where were you hiding those, in the basement?”

“I just want to give them an idea of the best use for the beds until the perennials come in. There are all kinds of good stuff in the lower beds; my irises, astilbe and delphiniums, then later, my coneflowers, bee balm and rudbeckia….”

“Whatever, Mom. What’s the saw for?”

“Oh, some of the lilac branches are growing into Doug and Natasha’s yard. See there? I told them I’d cut it back before I go.”

“I’ll do it. Here, take my shirt. I don’t care what you say, it’s hot out here. I’m not used to this heat anymore.”

“You’ve only been away for nine months. You kids sure shake the past off quickly. I was saying that to your sister last night. She called in between scene changes.”

“I don’t know why Doug and Natasha care since they’re moving soon as well. Just these two branches, right?”

“What? Who said they’re moving? Where’d you here that? Help me up.”

“From Doug when we were talking about my junior year abroad. He said they’re moving to Denmark to be near her family because of the baby. I guess they didn’t tell you.”

“No, I had no idea they were planning on leaving. That makes me sad.”

“Why? You won’t even be here!”

“Because my love, the neighborhood that I know is not going to be the same. It’s a nice neighborhood with nice families. We were here a long time. You grew up here. I just think it’s so sad.”

“Mom, flowers come and go, people die and people move. Things change.”

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Part II

Dying

green cascading

down to stream water

wearing on still rock.

Degrading

green turning red

reaching, beseeching

up to moving sky.

Trees, stream, sky.

Coming into,

then passing out of,

seen and unseen

beauty in change

and death.

“The Only Things Certain” Kat Tennermann ©2014

Life and Writing

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When I started this blog last fall, I intended to fill it with works -poems, short stories and essays- that would flow from my pen as the result of my life experiences and a disciplined writing practice. Well, that didn’t happen. Oh, I started out well enough but I had no idea how appropriate the name of this blog would be. Busy, writing, life….as the year wound to an end, the pace of my life wound up. Most of the time I was busy with work and FAMILY life.  We are expecting a new little person into the family shortly and I’ve been helping her sibling, the drama diva, daughter of the original princess, to work through the expectation. She and I go all the way back to the beginning of her four years so we’re tight. I’m often the center of her attention which can be time consuming.

Her attention turned out to be a blessed distraction however, when the dear friend of mine who I wrote about on my other blog, (What Do You Do When the Person You Know Isn’t the Person You Knew) passed away from beast cancer.  I knew she had the disease but she concealed from everyone, family and friends, that it had metastasized throughout her body. I thought that if cancer was going to take Pat’s life, she would go into hospice care and I would have time to say good-bye. I didn’t and it was devastating. She was fiercely intelligent, funny and an incredibly talented writer. Unfortunately for readers, she only started blogging this year. I encourage you to visit her blog Nasty Girl before it’s taken down. Oh, the things she still had left to write….I’m so incredibly grateful that we had a chance to make peace and exchange a few written pieces before she passed. I will miss her more than I’m able to describe.

And still I write.

The Shenandoah Valley

The Shenandoah Valley

In the middle of all that is going on, I’m actually always working, always writing. Early last spring Big Sister Little Person and her family came to stay with me for a bit. I slipped very easily into a full-time Mom/Memu role. I stopped writing until I recognized the danger in it. So, one weekend I hopped into the old, ’07 Camry Hybrid and drove myself to the Shenandoah Valley, holed up in a cheap motel for a weekend and just…wrote. I challenged myself there with writing, with nature and with solitude.  It was wonderful. It was the first time in years that I devoted such a chunk of time to writing. As a result, I finished, a couple of weeks later, the first draft of my first novella titled (for now) “Ties That Bind”. It’s the story of a multi-generational African-American, Catholic family who overcome the burdens of race and religion through love. I’m now working on the next draft.

I was sitting in my doctor’s exam room a few weeks ago, waiting to get my high BP checked. I was staring into a Picasso reproduction and thinking about what I had recently read in the online magazine, Brain Pickings. It was an article on what Joseph Campbell said about having a fulfilling life, following your bliss and creative incubation.  I took out my journal and made a few notes on art, passion and the ways in which writing enhances my life. I was thinking and writing about writing and by doing so, enhancing my life! So, life happens in rich and vastly different tones and textures and I continue to be busy in it and writing about it.

What does your writing do for you? Is it an art that allows you to discover your truth? What does your creative incubation look like? Does writing happen within your life or do you have to make time for it? While I’m waiting for the hundreds of replies and comments, here’s a new poem I previewed last week in the Washington Creative Writers Club:

Off Label

No auth for the anti-depressant

Means I have to accept,

The grey sky

That leaves die

That families lie

That time flies.

Thanks Big Pharma

for the heads up,

the reality check

and the rejection

of the deception

in the bottle.

“Off Label” ©Kat Tennermann 2015

Rhythm and Rhyme

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Busy traveling. Busy with family. Busy working to eat. Busy doing everything but writing, life. Oh well, here’s a poem I wrote for my writers group a while ago but I think it’s appropriate as we enter Black History Month.

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If I wrote poetry

the way you do,

in the rhythm of honesty

the lyricism of veracity,

the freedom of truth,

I’d have to write

to the beat of the streets,

in the disharmony

of repression.

I’d have to write about,

the music

the drugs

the drinks

the guns

the church

the heat

the sex.

Laughing at cops,

avoiding debts,

young men

in orange jumpsuits

or blood red caps.

Are you frowning yet

cuz I’m angry?

I can’t write poetry

the way you do.

I have to write

in the tone of resistance,

the demonized

two-step of exclusion,

the rhymes of

that other notion of jazz.

Syncopated,

subjugated

and co-opted,

fight the power, indeed.

Rhythm and Rhyme © Kat Tennermann 2014

I’ve Got Your Gift, Right Here

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I finished my Christmas shopping yesterday.  Hooray and a big pat on the back to me.  I’d like to say that gift giving is a real pleasure, a joy even for me this time of year…but it isn’t. It’s problematic at best.

Let’s start with the little ones. We brought them to see Santa last week and I was accused of prompting one of them about what to ask for! I then had to do all the legwork involved in finding the requested toy lest I get blamed for making it difficult for her parents by causing them to have to tell her that Santa didn’t know what she was talking about.  This is the same child who has a parent who brings home toys anytime during the year for no reason so trying to find any one she doesn’t already have is a challenge. On the other hand, the younger one has a parent who’s a strict, no nonsense, psychology professional. Only the most developmentally appropriate, non-gender specific toys are allowed in her world. Finding a fun one that doesn’t break the rules is the issue with her.  Add to all of this the fact that equity is one of the most important things to both of their parents and you see what I’m up against. Basically, I just put the toys in identical gift bags and run.

Shopping for the adults isn’t any easier. Last year my son berated me for giving him clothes from a discount store. This year I gave his gift to a homeless shelter.  Speaking of donations, if I make a donation to a charity in the name of a relative who I deem to be a selfish, childish hedonist, is that inappropriate? Is that really giving?

I’m waiting for the day I can do what my mother did for years, hand one person a check and tell them to buy everyone something nice. I’m also tempted to open the door on Christmas day, throw cash inside and then drive to the nearest Starbucks to sit and write while sipping a steaming hot cup of cocoa. But there’d probably be Christmas carols playing over the PA and I can’t listen to those anymore. Why must retailers always play pop holiday songs from the 1960s like the Jackson Five version of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer? For the first time I did most of my shopping online this year and I read somewhere that fewer people visit brick and mortar retailers now for Christmas gifts. Maybe market research will show that it’s because we want to avoid listening to the same Christmas music in every store, every day for over a month. I know that’s the case with me and I’m old enough to remember Burl Ives.

Oh, I’m just kidding (except about the Christmas music). I’m grateful that I can afford to buy gifts for my family and friends. I like choosing gifts that I think will bring a little joy to the people I love so much. And speaking of that, I pray for joy, love, peace, health and safety for all of you now and in the coming new year. Happy Holidays!

Good Bye Little Dog

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My daughter’s 12 year old dachshund was very ill and unfortunately passed away on Saturday. She was a sweet, funny dog and will be missed. This is for you, Zsa Zsa.

 

Miss Thing

Its time to say good-bye.

Thanks little thing

for turned back ear, bug eyed, mini yips.

Thanks little dog

for waddling runs up the back yard hill.

Thanks wee weiner

For putting up with the old man’s bun jokes.

Thanks weiner dog

for admiring smiles and nods on walks along our street.

Thanks devil dog

for donning horn headgear on Halloween.

Thanks generous dog

for giving rough tongue licks at morning’s light.

You are beloved little Miss Thing

And Love remains.

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Revelation at Trattoria Isetto

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Hi there!

Here is a fun little story I wrote last year for a library contest. I think anyone who has ever dated can relate. I hope you enjoy it and Happy Thanksgiving!

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It was a typical, tepid New England summer in the late 1980s. My roommate and I walked into Cambridge’s Harvard Square each morning to work. We assured each other that the short trek down Concord Ave. counted as our weekly exercise routine.  One otherwise mundane day, a mid-twenties looking guy who I’d seen in the neighborhood appeared as we began our walk. He introduced himself as Craig and struck up a banal conversation. After that first meeting, he habitually walked into the Square with us.  Every morning upon reaching the Harvard subway station he would slap me on my back and wish me a “happy day”. Craig had soft eyes and a soft voice which belied the force behind his amiable salutations.  I cursed myself on the days I wore halter tops. Still, neither my roommate nor I ever wondered why our neighbor only slapped me his good-byes. That is until the day, to our mutual surprise, he asked me out.

I was nervous accepting the date with Craig.  Our limited interactions didn’t leave much of an impression of him except for the hand shaped one on my back.  I’d suffered through so many bad first dates in the past that jaded had become my favorite color so when he picked me up that Saturday night, I admit I got into Craig’s car wearing killer shoes, a great pair of jeans and a chip on my shoulder. He immediately started describing the hidden gem of an Italian restaurant he was taking me to in a nearby suburb and detailing its authenticity. He said the soup was an inspired version of a classic that I just had to try and the bread was made in-house from imported flour. “He’s kind of pompous,” I thought. I let him know with the best upper-middle-class posture I could imitate that I had been to Italy, just in case he thought he was educating me. But when he went on ad nauseam about the particular region in Italy the cuisine was from, I decided he was simply a jerk.

Suddenly, Craig said he knew a short cut through a pretty part of the town. He then directed the car up a lonely, hilly dirt road. The murder-meter in my head went to the red zone. “Oh my lord, he’s gonna kill me!” I was sure he was going to pull off the road, take a hunter’s rifle out of the trunk of his Ford Fiesta, shoot me and feed me to pet wolf-dogs he kept in a creepy back yard. Instead, he started talking about the trees that lined the road. He knew what species they were, about how old they were and the colors their foliage featured. I decided he wasn’t going to kill me…unless he bored me to death.

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The trattoria was in a strip mall between a weight loss center and a store that sold “erotica”. That caused me to wonder if Craig had picked the restaurant more for the location than the food. After we were seated he put a heavy hand on my leg, just above my knee. I glanced out the window at the erotic retailer and figured Craig was about to make a classic salacious overture. But he didn’t remove his hand or reposition it. It just lay on my leg like a big, limp beanbag. So much so that sweat collected under it and caused my jeans to adhere to my thigh.

As I weighed my annoyance level against past dates, the much raved about minestrone soup arrived. I looked down into my bowl to see a pair of very large eyes looking back at me. I put my spoon down in disgust and told Craig indignantly that there seemed to be an insect in my soup.

“Oh him, he’s my wingman,” he replied without skipping a beat. I let out a laugh that caused me to choke on my spit. As I coughed, a big smile spread across Craig’s face. It was then that I realized he was simply a kind, smart, good-humored guy. He was a clumsy backslapper, yes and his tree talk was ponderous.  But this big, awkward, beanbag handed nut was a romantic at heart.

“If there are any jerks at the table, they are my skepticism, my imagination and me,” I thought. And I acknowledged to myself that the three of us almost spoiled what turned out to be an enjoyable evening with a very nice man.

Craig and I dated for five years and then got married. That was over twenty-five years, two kids and a lot of water under the bridge ago.  Sometimes, one of our kids or I will get on his nerves and I tell Craig he should have killed me on our first date when he had the chance.

November Sky

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Nature is major theme in my writing. I use it as allegory and metaphor and I write about the  inherent wonder of it. Here are three poems from my nature collection. I recently posted the second one to Stop Along The Way before I created this blog but I removed it because it really belongs here. The last poem is the first of a two part piece on death I did for the March, 2014 edition of  the online literary magazine A Table in the Back. It is published by  The Washington Creative Writers Club, group of smart, generous scribes. My adult children accuse me of writing too much about death. But death is a big part of the nature of things, isn’t it?  

November Sky

November sky,

Fooling little girls

Into no coat afternoons,

With burning bright sunlight

Against your brilliant blue.

November sky,

Framing what’s left of foliage

As if curating an exhibit of death

Do you light the lonely leaves

Or laugh at them?

Fall Walk On MLK Blvd

How you gonna stand in this wind

How you gonna keep from goin’ down?

Gusts can turn you over

Dry you up and scatter you about.

Sometimes can’t nothin’ shield you

Can’t no one brace your trunk.

Invaders, they take advantage

Of dropped logs and peeling bark.

Ivy vine creep over your body

You just be a frame for its growth.

Cling to and climb you like nothin’

Then hollow your insides out.

Try to be strong in these winds

They be blowin’ long and hard.

Lean up against kin if you have to

Shoots can grow on weak roots.

You gotta stay sturdy and upright

Sway in the gales but don’t snap.

Hold tight in your height and stature

And keep your place on this block

 (Poems ©Kathleen Tennermann 2014)

Mouth Brought Me Here

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Hello and Welcome to my new blog!

 

Boo!

Since it’s Halloween, I want to tell you a scary story.  This is a cautionary tale my mother would tell about twice a year or whenever she thought we were talking too much. (Gift of gab is my job description.)  We called this story “Mouth Brought Me Here” and I can’t think of a better theme for a new blog about storytelling.  Lol! Here is the story exactly the way my mother told it:

 “There was a little boy who talked a lot. One day he was walking through the woods when he saw a skull  lying on the ground. “Head, what you doing here,” the boy asked. The skull looked at the boy with dark holed eyes and said, “Mouth brought me here and mouth gonna bring you here too.” The boy was so frightened he started to run home. Halfway through the woods he came upon a hunter. “Why you running boy, ” the hunter asked. “There’s a talking head back there that said to me ‘Mouth brought me here and mouth gonna bring you here too,’ the boy told the hunter. “Boy, that’s a lie! said the hunter. “No sir! That head said ‘Mouth brought me here and mouth gonna bring you here too!’ The hunter leaned toward the boy and said, “That right? Well, I tell you what, you bring me to the head and if it doesn’t talk, I’m gonna cut your head off.” The little boy brought the hunter back to the skull which was still on the ground where it had been before. “Head, tell this hunter what you done told me.” The head didn’t say anything. “Head, talk to this man!” Still the head said nothing and sure enough, the hunter cut off the little boy’s head. He set it down next to the first head and went off back into the woods to hunt some more. After he was gone, the first head turned to the boy’s head and said, “See, I told you mouth brought me here and it would bring you here too.”

As a kid the story evoked frightening images and scared me sleepless. Well into my adulthood, I started to wonder about its origin since the only thing  my mother said about it was that she’d heard as a child. Gotta love the internet. A few clicks and I found out that it’s a very old African folk tale that came with our enslaved ancestors to the U.S. and continued to be passed down. Way to preserve our history, Mother! Actually, I told my kids the story once or twice while they were growing up (at least once on Halloween) so I continued the tradition as well. Here’s a link to the page in Wm. Russell Bascom’s book “African Folktales in the New World” that contains interesting details about the story.

Happy Halloween. Please come back again.