Orcharding

An old woman I never met
gave me her trees,
the trees of her heart,
the trees of her home,
trees that were, themselves,
Elders
at the time of the giving,

a time that was long after
the old woman
had used the apples
to feed her children,
her grandchildren,

a long time after
her tired feet no longer
walked the ancient orchard,
when only her ghost
collected the wind-falls
into her apron for safe keeping.

And now,
these apples
have fed my children too,
her great, great grandchildren,
and it’s down to me
to save her trees,
oh, not from dying,
for these old tree people
are surely on their way,
following after her.

But, if I am clever,
if I am worthy,
tiny slips of the Old Ones
will survive
and grow into a new
Ancient Orchard
for me to give away

Perhaps to someone
I’ll never meet,
To a new future grandmother,
My trees given again
After I am an old woman.

©2019 Annette Meserve

Flashlight Eyes

It was so very long ago when he said it, and he was so very small.  I didn’t understand exactly what he meant but I thought it might be his super power; the ability to see in the night, to be able to anticipate the uneven spots in the dirt, to be calm about the dark forms moving around us, dark forms that inevitably turned out to be the dogs.

He was unconcerned about what might be lurking in the rocks up the hillside or what could be following along, undetected in the field.  Sometimes he would say it with a touch of annoyance as I switched on the high powered torch to show us our way to evening chores.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe him.  Secretly, I envied him in fact, to have such a super power, but I needed the bright beam of light to feel confident that I was protecting my children from the prowling wild creatures.

He isn’t so very small anymore, and he no longer accompanies me on my evening walk.  The hand-held torch is also a thing of the past; instead a light rides on my forehead like a peculiar third-eye, illuminating my way no matter where I turn.

But tonight, I can feel his super power with me and I reach up to switch the beam off.

Suddenly, I’m more aware of the crunching sound my feet make in the pitch black of the gravel road.  Then, gradually, shapes emerge, distinguishing themselves from the shadows of the horizon; bush and tree and rock and dog surprisingly detailed in the moonless night.

I look up to the stars, billions and billions of them dancing and winking, the cloud of the Milky Way a little off center, bisecting the sky, and I think how very much there is to see without the imposed perspective of civilization, when one has a super power inherited from a child.

©2019 Annette Meserve

When the Circus Comes to Town

I have this strange tendency to run away and join the circus.  I do it once a year or more.  Well, it’s not the circus exactly but still I pack up camp stove and sleeping bag, fold in skirts and corsets, tuck away jokes and stories until my truck is fairly bursting with the various pieces of my portable life.  Together my old 4Runner and I trundle off, near or far, to join my other family working the Renaissance Festivals.  I’ve been doing it for more than a decade now and, though I love my quiet little life on our valley ranch, there always comes a time when my feet itch to travel, when I long to lie in my tent and listen to the wind sighing in the tarp overhead, when I want nothing more than to dress up in costume, to put on my Scottish brogue, and to live among the gypsies for a while.  Like a character from an old story, I’m lured away from my humble cottage-home by the possibility of adventure, by a life lived backstage and front, by the call of magic.

It’s this tendency that might have been the reason that The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern captured my interest and held me spellbound from cover to cover.  While we ‘Rennies’ are simply everyday people working hard to treat our patrons to a world of pretend magic, the Cirque de Rev in this lovely story takes things to a whole new level.  With its many black-and-white striped tents, its cast of talented performers, its wonder of a clock, and its bonfire that burns with an eternal, bright-white flame, the magic is real.  Not even the circus family fully understands the nature of the mysterious traveling show in which they live, a nature that takes its own toll on the participants as a duel is played out behind the scenes between two powerful magic workers.

Nothing so dramatic happens in my Rennie life, of course.  We are all just people doing a peculiar thing for a living.  But if the author of this captivating tale has never spent time in a festival’s backrooms and shadows, her imagination has somehow captured the sense of what it is to be a part of this very strange way of life.

You don’t need to be a Rennie to enjoy The Night Circus though because, even more than the description of a favorite and familiar world for me, it was the story-building and the extraordinarily descriptive writing that captured me and wouldn’t let me go until well after the very last word.  Most authors work their whole lives to write with such craftsmanship and Morgenstern’s craft displays itself from beginning to end without missing a beat in between, weaving an intensely complex story of relationship and suspense that kept me guessing at every turn.

I can’t recommend this story highly enough.  It danced its enchantment into this Rennie’s eyes, spoke its inspiration into this writer’s fingers, and whispered its magic into this reader’s heart.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
published Anchor Books 2012 / isbn#  978-0307744432

The Tarp

The wind spirits come
Racing down the valley,
Filling the spaces between mountains
Dancing through ancient pine tops,
Tickling the thick forests
That ring the bottom pastures,

The currents,
And flows,
And eddies,
Set conifer ranks to waving,
Those trees standing at attention
On steep inclines,
A grand gathering of enthusiastic spectators,
Witness to the athletic prowess
Of empty air,
The roar in their branches
Rivaling any stadium crowd

And then the spirits,
The duendes of the wind,
Find the sheet of brown and silver
That stretches above the trailer,
Woven plastic held by ropes,
And bungees,
And liberal applications
Of fluttering duct tape.

And those airy speed demons
Slide underneath it,
Whooshing between it and the painted metal roof,
That metal that has seen years of weather,
Decades of disuse,
Of misuse,
Unable now to perform its task unaided,

The duendes blow up
Between that tired roof
And its younger care-giver
Making the tarp lift
And billow
Like the sails of a great clipper ship

And supported by them,
The sheet feels
Weightless.

It stretches against its ties
Pulling and ruffling
Within the freedom that’s promised,

And the spirits say to it,
“Come,
Leave this place
Soar with us among the clouds.”

And the tarp is tempted,
Its every shiny fiber
Longing within torn grommets
And frayed edges,
For the untethered life,

But this isn’t its first wind-race,
The call isn’t new,
And the tarp knows where that future leads,
Painfully aware
Of its luminous blue cousin,
The one who took hold of the wind,
Who was seduced by the call,
Who sailed away,
Only to be caught
By the barbs nearby,
Now trapped,
Left by the duendes to forever ripple
Against the harsh wires of the fence,
Never again to be useful in this world.

The tarp knows
That the spirits are not to blame,
It is their nature,
Their promise is well-meant
But fleeting,
Like themselves.

And, making its decision,
The tarp descends
Releasing its hold on the wind’s fickle gusts,
Once again caressing the roof,
Feeling the pleasant tension of ropes,
The the pull and give of bungees,
The gentle swaying of anchor trees,

And it says to the wind,
“No,
This is my place,
I am of service here.”

And, once again,
As always happens
When the wind-races are run,
The tarp turns from the spirits,
Laying itself across the aging roof,
Protecting the old girl,
In all the ways she can no longer
Protect herself.

And, as the duendes move on,
To dance in some other valley,
To entertain some other forest spectators,
To tempt some other leaf,
Or grocery bag,
Or strip of corrugated tin,
The tarp gazes
At the surrounding pine trees
Now as placid as the ancient wisdom they hold,

And,
Like them,
The tarp is still,
And it is happy.

©2019 Annette Meserve

At Cliff’s Edge

Here I am again at the edge of the cliff, every jagged rock ledge, every tangle of scrub oak, every ancient, aloof bristlecone pine as familiar as is the trail to get here.  How many ideas have been born at the bottom of this hill?  How many excited packings of knapsacks, fillings of water bottles, checkings of weather conditions and terrain?  I’ve lost count. 

If I think deeply, I can recall each of the ascents, the lightness of steps in brand-new hikers, laces firmly seated in rows of hooks, braided cords crisscrossing up the tops of my feet, wound precisely twice around my ankles, tied in business-like bows, and secured with second knots.  It’s not hard to relive all of those first steps taken at trailhead. 

I remember the heat of some days, walking the inclines, the down turns, skirting the ponds in the bright sunshine.  Some treks were taken in the beauty of fall’s colors and some in the freshness of burgeoning spring.  Many were head-down slogs through frigid winds and thigh-high drifts, hooking ice-cleats onto boots to enable the ongoing scrabble.  Not one of these trips up this mountain was easy, not one of them requiring less than an all-out, balls-to-the-wall, quad straining, sweat-dripping, blister rubbing effort in order to summit, to claim the privilege of standing here, in this spot.

But, unlike most of the stories of those who climb hills for fun, of those who attempt fourteeners just to see if they can, even of the brave few who have stood high atop Everest in oxygen-deprived euphoria, my journey is not measured in the reaching of this precipice. 

All of those afore mentioned hikers and climbers, once standing here, looking out on the vast landscape that stretches down and away into the haze of atmosphere, have achieved their goal, have reached the end of their efforts, have proven to themselves that they can. 

They might hold out their arms to the sky, inhale a deep lungful of thin air, might even release that breath in a long triumphant yell.  Then they will unlatch their canteen from their belt, take a mighty swig of lukewarm metallic water, unwrap the crinkly foil of an energy bar, and chew slowly while enjoying the sensation of muscles calming into numb, satisfying fatigue. 

Then they will turn from the vista and make their way down, backtracking through forests and meadows, around curves and switchbacks, finally finding their waiting cars in the gravel parking lot, sighing as they drive away from the mountain to meet up with friends who wait at the local pizza place to hear stories of the ascent and maybe share the watching of a ball-game and a celebratory round of beers. 

But not me.  When I reach this place, my journey has only begun.

When first an idea hits, there is little suspense that I will one day be standing here, the crystal-diamond potential of the current project neatly folded into my pack, its every aspect so carefully sculpted and woven and painted, meticulously shaped into the very best version of itself.  No, there is rarely doubt that I will come, over and over, every footstep a preparation to, once again face cliff’s edge, moved by a compulsion as old as I am, a compulsion that will last until my final breath, and maybe even long after that.    

So, every time, after the arduous, exhausting climb, after I also fill my tired lungs with a gulp of the too-thin air, do I run at the precipice and jump, do I hang for the splittest of seconds in mid-air, arms and legs windmilling, Coyote-like, as if I can prevent the fall through the sheer force of my own will and momentum. 

But the fall always comes because this is the part of the trip that I cannot craft, the part that depends on forces beyond myself, forces whose genesis is of outside opinion, of wide exposure, of culture’s current desires, and of yardsticks that I can only guess at. 

And still I try to have what control I can, still have, before, carried with me contingencies to catch myself in the inevitable event of an emergency.  But each of those times before, my chute has not opened, my mechanical wings have not deployed, my propulsion line with grappling hook attached has failed to grab the side of the canyon, and I have fallen to the desert below, only a tiny puff of dust seen from far above to mark my crashing. 

Then I pull myself up, Coyote-like, out of the impact-crater.  I crawl along the dirt road, dragging my empty backpack, its contents scattered on the wind above, the letters ACME only just visible through the dust that coats its tattered rain flap. 

It’s happened just that way every single time.

Yet I am back, standing, scanning the distance, refusing to look down, feeling the pleasant weight on my back of the most crystalline haul yet and wondering, with not a small amount of fear and cynicism, what the fuck I’m doing. 

It’s in my upbringing I suppose, raised by lovely people who could charitably be called ‘non-conformists,’ raised with sisters of unique but extraordinary talents.

It’s in my genes too, I am descendant of pioneers, of boot-strappers, of adventurers; I spring from a long line of idea-ists.  And so, in me, nature and nurture conspire to create this delicious, terrible mixture of genius and idiocy, the ultimate gullibility of the dreamer bestowed upon me but with which I’ve colluded my entire life. 

Now, as I look around for this particular launching’s ‘jumping off place’ I wonder if my ancestors found themselves here as often as I have; if they too leapt and fell and crashed, dragging themselves out of the smoking hole only to do it all over again when the next idea picked their ragged asses up from the side of the road. 

In the end it doesn’t really matter what they did or didn’t do.  It is only me, standing here, no contingencies this time, only the hope, and dare I say the faith, that this time, the wind will catch me and I can fly.  

                                                                                                                     ©2019 Annette Meserve

The Woman You Don’t See

I am the woman you don’t see
Or at least the woman you don’t see today,
There have been other women
On other days
That you didn’t see either.

You haven’t seen in us,
The gifts we bring,

Haven’t seen,
The time,
And talk,
And caring,

Haven’t seen
The level companionship
Of another traveler,
Beside you
But on another quest
Of her own.

Instead you see us
As a font along the roadside,
As a well,
Even perhaps forbidden
And yet,
Placed in the oasis
For no other reason
Then to slake your thirst,

The crux of it,
The irony
Is that,
In your eyes
We are a well,
Without generosity,
A well,
Willfully rationed,
Wantonly withheld,

And so you beg from us,
Demand from us,
Ask from us,
The elixir,
That bubbles from our earth,
Plead for the sacred flow
That you’ve craved since birth

But that you couldn’t receive
Even from the one woman
Who might have soothed
Your need,

And so you ask all of us
To be strong for you,
To service you
In ways obvious,
In ways invisible,

You ask us,
To pour ourselves
Into you
Unceasingly,

With us
Never able to hope
For you
To be filled.

And,
Even in this century,
Even after everything
And nothing
Has changed,
You ask us
To fly under your radar,
To act the weaker sex,
All the while
Also asking us
To do
What is yours alone
To do,

Asking us
To give you
Possession of yourself,
Asking us
To imbue you with the power
You should have grown
For yourself all along

And now,
It is I,
Here in front of you
Today,
And you ask this,
Today,
From me,

And even still,
After all this time,
You see in me,
Not the gifts I offer
But instead,
You see the same things
You’ve tried to squeeze
From every other woman,
From every other relationship,
Things that I
That we
Cannot give,

And regardless,
In your desperation,
You bring
Your ignorance,
Your indignance,
Your extortion,
To bear,
To extract
That which you’ve never
Been able even to sip

Continuing the effort
Ineffectual,
Impotent,
But familiar,
Because it’s all you know,
Because it’s all you see.

And I don’t want to leave you,
Don’t want to abandoned
This beautiful friendship
That could be,

But if I am to stay,

You must endeavor
To see me,
Clearly,
Must stop insisting
That it is I
Or any other living person,
Who tends this well for you,

You must drop the scales from your eyes
And start again,
Must approach your oasis,
Along a different road,

Must work
And learn,
To see me truly
To see me
Not as the life-giving destination
Toward which you trudge,
Me,
Only as one
Who walks beside you
In the desert,

More important still,
You must start to see yourself
As the minder of your well.

©2019 Annette Meserve

Outage

A day without power
Is alright as one
And the flakes they do cower
Away from the sun.

When they come ever forth
In swirls and in piles
Out of the north
And we, all the while

Flip switches and handles
When we walk in a room
Or forget the candles
When we go in to groom

It can be a day
Of coffee and books
Of snuggling away
In soft little nooks

No electricity required
For the day to be fun
Schedules rewired
When the day is just one.

But what if it’s two
Or three and then four?
What do we do
When it stretches to more?

When light switches stay dark
Water handles stay dry
Its no longer a lark
For you nor for I

Oh! The bottles are fewer
The patience grows thin
For the needs if the sewer
Without and within.

And for food one must tromp
Out there in the yard
Through the snow you must stomp
For meat and Swiss chard

Out for your breakfasts
To the coolers you must go
Out to the ice chests
Sunk in the snow.

But the snow it does dwindle
As the days pass on by
And still do we kindle
Our hopes as we sigh

Through the fourth to the fifth
And again it starts snowing
It’s only a skiff
But with it is growing

Our frustration and worry
That the technicians out there
Are not in a hurry
To give us our share

Of electrons to use
And we’re soon afraid
As they call to excuse
The mess that’s been made

By the wind and the snow
And still they do promise
That by tomorrow
The lights indeed Will be on us

Then comes the buzz
Of the fourwheeler man
Coming to tell ’cause
He finally can

That, despite the new snow,
In minutes count twenty
The power will flow
In electrons aplenty

And as he has said
It does come to pass
In the lamp by the bed
There is light there at last.

©2017 Annette Meserve