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

 

Snoring

I hear him up there,
Up there in my ceiling,
And I can picture the damage
That his living there is causing,

I imagine him scratching away
At the insulation that protects me
From weather and cold,
Chewing at the structure of my house,

I hear the squeaking of his babies,
Babies that will grow up
To impose on my world
That much more,
The next generation
Of scratchers and chewers.

He lives right above my head,
And yet,
I’ve never seen him,
I don’t know what he looks like,
Or what he believes,
I don’t know what he had for breakfast,
Or even what species he is.

I don’t know what he thinks of me.

I call him a ‘him’ out of ignorance,
For I don’t even know his gender.

Still, it’s anger and fear,
That I feel most days,
When I hear him up there,
Most days, that is,
Until today.

As I sit at my computer,
In this warm early spring,
A day warm enough
For the space heater to be quiet,

As I sit at my computer,
I hear a different sound,
Not a scratching
Or a squeaking,
But a deep rhythmic humming,
Undulating within the silence

Of my office.

And I suddenly imagine him
Not as the devouring set
Of teeth and claws
That is my habit,
Not as the malicious force
Coming to destroy my home,

But as a sleeping
Ball of fur,
As an individual creature,
A fellow living thing,
Trying his best
To find food and shelter
To find the opportunity
To live peacefully
In a place of safety
High up in my ceiling,

And I am charmed
By the thought
Of living, not in a house
Where humans are the only residents,
But in an apartment building,
In a community,
Where we all must find balance,
Where we all must make allowances
For the others’ needs,

Where we all have something to offer
Even if it’s only
The calm, quiet snoring
Of my upstairs neighbor.

©2017 Annette Meserve

 

 

Words in the Snow

These days it’s rare to see crystals in the air, to feel the cold blast of winter on your face, to  be able to trace the footsteps behind you as you walk.  It’s so rare, in fact, that even in this country that is reputed to have deep snows by this time in the year, we make plans for travel and events willy-nilly as if road conditions have no sway on us.  In some circles this is more popularly known as ‘tempting the gods.’

And tempt them we did.

But, during this last Wednesday evening, whatever benevolent beings, or forces, or energies, or currents that govern such things seemed to only want to play with us a little.  Truly, since the inception of W&S, I have had a sense of universal support that is unique in my experience.

And so, as we piled into the car to travel the twenty miles or so, the Universe only threw a little snow, blew a little wind, swirled a little mist into our path.  We made it to the Greenhorn Valley Library at Colorado City, CO safely and with time to spare.

Set-up was easy, many hands make light work, and before we knew it cameras were rolling, microphones were mic-ing, and we spoke our first words for the audience to hear. While it was true that the weather had kept most people home, snuggled by fires with hot cocoa, a few brave souls came out to hear us and what was lacking in attendance was made up for in enthusiasm.  There was an energy in the air that led us along, enlivened our words and our performances, connected us with our listeners on that cold, snowy, mountain evening.

The magic was repeated the next night  at the Giodone Branch Library out on ‘The Mesa’ in Pueblo, CO.  While it wasn’t snowing, the cold had set in and, again, our crowd was not large, but it didn’t seem to matter to performer or receiver and we had a marvelous night.

Both evenings were filled with the words, images, and humor of Bob Spears, Cecelia Brownfoote’s deep connection to the generative forces of nature, Ann Williams’ dolphins, Jan Meserve’s spirit pottery, and my science fiction and musings on an unusual life.  Refreshments were consumed, friendly conversation was had and books were for sale.  All in all, I couldn’t have wished for a better, warmer, more successful kick-off to our W&S member readings.

Thanks to all who read, to all who helped, and special thanks to Amy Martin of Greenhorn Valley Library and Kayci Barnett and her assistant Deb of the Giodone Library for all their beautiful help and gentle guidance.

Above all, thanks to the gods for lending their sense of irony in delivering the one day in months in which snow flew and road conditions had to be considered.  It’s good to be reminded that we need humility.

Underpinnings

A flash of silver on a lapel,
On a tee-shirt,
On a sweater
On a hat,

A tiny humble shout,
A shy suggestion,
A statement,

A child sees the monsters
Beasts that loom
In the shadows
Gnashing their teeth,
Flexing their claws,
Under her bed
And in his closet

And the grown-ups,
Weary and preoccupied,
Say that there’s nothing there,
As they switch off the light
And close the door.

But the children know differently,
Can recognize things
The grown-ups can’t,

And they shiver in their beds,
Blankets pulled up to noses,
Thin fabric held tightly
As boundary and shield
Eyes wide
Unsleeping.

A small frightened hand
Finds another in the dark,
Sister’s arms
Encircle brother,

Safety in numbers
Safety in family,
Safety until the sun rises.

A flash of silver
Delicate against a woven shawl,
Holding place to say the words,
To shed the tears,
To hold the hands,
To share the hugs,
To build strength,
To move past the monsters.

Safety in pins.
Such a small thing,
But a thing we can do.

©2016 Annette Meserve

Warmth

The season’s first fire.

Through the front room
And the kitchen
Is the smell of dust
Burning off of cast-iron stove top
And broad black pipe.

Home now after a week’s worth
Of Autumn tent camping,
Of shivering through nights,
And brisk morning walking,

Of cradling that first steaming cup
In glove-padded palms,
Feeling comfort seeping
Through purple yarn,

Of being warmed in the day
By oblique sunbeams
Slanting through golden cottonwoods,

But more by the company
Of fellow wordsmiths,
Offering up
The confections of our writing,
Passing around,
As a basket
Of morning muffins,
Of sweet danish,
And delicate cake,
Our thoughts and experiences,
Our humor,
And our deepest feelings.

Rubbing our words together
To kindle the flame of our creativity,
Warming the cavernous classroom
With ourselves.

But now,
The first breakfast in seven
Away from the long tables,
Away from the cheerful chatter
Of many artists,

Now at the quiet
Of my own writing desk,
Sitting beside me,
The first breakfast in seven
Not pulled from a cooler
Under a picnic table in the desert,

I relish the warmth of the fire
Of my husband’s company,
Of my canine workmate
Stretched out on the floor,

But I miss them,
The other wordsmiths
And look towards a time
When we will share our warmth again.

©2016 Annette Meserve