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Author Archive for Barbara Loots

THE PERFECT WIFE

Today is Groundhog Day-—Candlemas on the Christian calendar. Either way, it means we’re half-way to spring. I’m feeling better already. However…

In recent news reports, a certain conservative Republican candidate in the state of Missouri, running for the U. S. Senate against the courageous, conscientious, independent Democratic incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill, made a speech at a Christian event during which he averred that the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s caused the worldwide scourge of sex trafficking.

Say what? This is wrong on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start. Aside from the fact that sexual slavery in one form or another has been going on since ten minutes after Creation, the implication of this candidate’s belief is that if women would just behave themselves, none of the current public outbreak of male sexual misbehavior would be happening. Oh yes. Blame the women. Again. Darned alluring those girls with their birth control pills.

Another Missouri Republican legislator claims that he expects his wife to have dinner on the table every night when he comes home, because that is the Biblical model. Say what?? I differ on religious interpretation, citing a source even this guy would (I think) consider authoritative. It’s the oft-quoted passage of the Book of Proverbs that begins, “A good wife who can find?” (See Proverbs 31:10ff). This good wife? She is a skilled weaver, an importer of foreign goods, manager of a large staff of servants and workers, a real estate tycoon, wine maker, manufacturer, entrepreneur, fashionista, and, yes, a great mom. “Her children rise up and call her blessed.” If said legislator would let his wife out of the kitchen he might find out she’s a better CEO than cook. The Bible says so.

Incidentally, that same chapter of Proverbs advises this (31:6ff). “Give strong drink to him who is perishing and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.” So there. That could be the answer to the whole problem of poverty in America. Can’t say it hasn’t been extensively tried.

As I approach the limit of my biblical allocation of years, I realize that time is running short on my opportunity to speak out on behalf of humanity—men, women, children, all of us. I’m trying not to waste it. My new book of poetry, WINDSHIFT, is a small whisper in the uproar. Yet it represents a lifetime of experience, observation, and perhaps even wisdom. Hope you’ll take a look. I’m pleased to link to a review that lifts my heart. Thank you, Bill.

Bill Tammeus Faith Matters

JANUARY IS NEARLY GONE…

And I haven’t yet acknowledged the new year begun. I don’t have to tell you that my heart and mind, like everyone else’s, have been preoccupied, distracted, alarmed, and annoyed by political shenanigans. Where is the moral center? Where is the spirit of cooperation and leadership? Where is the common sense?

This very day, the government of the United States is shut down. I’m assured that the mail will be delivered–always a hopeful moment of anticipation in my day. My social security allotment will drop into my bank account on schedule. I suppose that soldiers are on duty somewhere to protect me from foreign invasion of a military kind. Yet I am deeply concerned about those whose mortgages, medical bills, and meals depend on the paycheck they may not get. My vote in November can’t help with that today.

Besides all that, Bob the Cat is suffering a reaction to a vaccine she was given yesterday at the vet. For now, keeping an eye on her is all we can do. She is the focus of all helpless anxiety for me today.

Did I mention that I have received the printed book proof of my new poetry collection? In just a few weeks, I expect to see WINDSHIFT published and available on amazon. I’ll let you know when that happens. As the wit Don Marquis once quipped: “Publishing a book of poems is like dropping a feather into the Grand Canyon and listening for the echo.” Nevertheless, I’m excited about it, and hope you will be tempted to check it out.

Meanwhile, I continue my daily practice of turning to the Psalms. I’ve been using The Scottish Book of Common Prayer, discovered in my husband’s random library. The old-fashioned language often brings puzzling new words to my attention; but it also serves to focus my attention on the eternal truth of the human experiences and emotions unfolded there day by day. Stay tuned: a good God prevails.

Here are some bits from Psalm 112, which is where I have arrived today.

Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord: he hath great delight in his commandments…. 

4 Unto the godly there ariseth up light in the darkness: he is merciful, loving, and righteous. 

5 A good man is merciful and lendeth: and will guide his words with discretion. 

6 For he shall never be moved: and the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance. 

7 He will not be afraid of any evil tidings: for his heart standeth fast, and believeth in the Lord.

SAVE A LIFE

This is a blatant self-congratulatory plea for you to go and do likewise: GIVE BLOOD. Maybe you haven’t thought about it lately. Maybe you’ve tried and failed in the past. Maybe your health won’t allow it. Maybe you just can’t get past the ICK FACTOR. I’m just inviting you to think about it now, and re-examine your reasons or excuses for not doing it. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Yesterday, when I was tired of reading, tired of Netflix, and tired of doing nothing, I trekked over to the Community Blood Center. I passed the screening. I gave up a pint (or a pound) of O Negative whole blood, which is the so-called universal donor type. That means anyone in trouble with their own blood supply can use some of mine. That’s a pretty good reward for six-and-a-half minutes of easy bleeding.

Sounds gross, doesn’t it? The nice person beside the lounger informed me that this was my 150th donation. I vividly remember the first time I donated blood. I was a college sophomore, and we were giving blood for shipment to Viet Nam. Sorry to say, donated blood still goes to war to this day. But I hope this particular pint stays closer to home. In a next-day Thank You and survey I received by email, the Community Blood Center linked in a recording of an adorable 11-year-old girl claiming five additional years of life (so far) thanks to the transfusions available to her. Now that’s taking unfair advantage, don’t you think? I’d go back to the Blood Center tomorrow if I could, for that little girl.

The irreverent poem below will be included in my new poetry collection coming out in 2018. I don’t like to think I’m making a deal with God with this blood donor business. But I never fail to give thanks that I enjoy the health to do it. So…go on. Give it a try.

“DONOR” NOBIS PACEM
 
 
I’ve shed more blood than Jesus.
There’s really nothing to it.
From time to time, I’ve saved a soul
and didn’t die to do it.
 
I haven’t got a golden crown
for gallons I have given,
no promise of eternal life,
no glory ride to heaven,
 
no mystic explanation,
no complicated creed.
A bag of hemoglobin
fulfills the human need.
 
O beautiful the bleeding heart,
O negative the way
that leads to the salvation
of someone’s child today.
 
My body manufactures cells
that oxidize like rust.
O Lord replenish them, I pray,
until I turn to dust.
 
 
Barbara Loots

STOP BUYING STUFF

I’m old. I have all the stuff I’ll ever need. Right now. Clothes? They last a long time, and old is new again sooner or later. Cars, appliances, computers, phones? Replace if necessary (ie. terminal breakdown). Gazillion channel tv? I’ve already discussed that.(See archive August 2016– DON’T. WATCH.TELEVISION). Furniture? Got it covered. And covered again, for that matter.

What, exactly, do I NEED to spend money on? Electricity is good. Food is good, especially if I can find fresh, local stuff and skip the expensive chemical kinds. Clean water is good, and most of us can get it out of the tap instead of plastic bottles. Travel is good, according to me, and buying a plane, train, or automobile trip to someplace beautiful or historic or related to family can definitely be worth the price. Giving is good, and the holiday season presents me with an avalanche of opportunity–but that’s not the same as “buying stuff” for my own consumption, is it? Personal satisfaction, yes. A few bucks can buy that.

I’m cultivating the art of ignoring advertisements. That’s difficult when every newsfeed on screen or paper includes colorful interruptions insisting that I need something I never heard of before. Truth be told, I’m resistant to purchasing an app, let alone a new car, for fear I’ll never figure out how it operates. Like I said. I’m old. But the allure of advertising is wasted on me.

In the further confessions of a junior curmudgeon, I don’t shop for fun. I never did. If I want something, I go get it. I don’t wander around looking for something to want. Even on the internet. Doesn’t shopping make your head explode?

Because I have an abundance of worldly goods already, I claim no virtue in the overall decision to stop buying stuff. However, I see the refusal to “buy into” the cultural persuasion that more is better, new is better, bigger is better as akin to voting. Yes, voting and backing out of consumerism: those are two powers I can claim against the Forces of Evil. I wish there were a clearer way of transferring the surplus of my household (and the whole country) to the suffering multitudes near and far. Meanwhile, I’ll give my votes and my resources to the best ideas I can find.

 

NEW YEAR’S EVE
 
 
The clever nest has shaken from the tree
to land here on the sidewalk at my feet,
as winter clears away last year’s debris
and sweeps its brown detritus down the street.
 
So much depends on something letting go,
a loosening of ties, a stripping clean,
a useful emptiness by which I know
of singing birds that I have never seen.
 
Barbara Loots
 
Published in Mezzo Cammin (online journal)
 

THE TROUBLE WITH TRIBES

Dear Faithful Readers. All six of you. I’m sure that you are friendly and sympathetic to my infrequent reports from life, and I thank you. Today I must shed my sunny optimism for something harsher and more, well, realistic. That is, I have come to view the person occupying the big desk at the White House as the apotheosis of Evil. (Go ahead. Look it up. I’ll wait…..)

I’d go with definition number two in Webster’s Collegiate: the perfect example, not (definition one) a divinity. However, there’s evidence that others would grant that Evil permission to exercise power in support of what they consider Divine Law. Therefore I see a deep-seated idolatry at work.

This Evil perpetrates destruction, destruction, destruction–the exact opposite of the original plan for the universe, including human life, which is creation, creation, creation. This Evil acts through division: dividing faith from faith, nation from nation, race from race, rich from poor, and alas! men from women. We are being ripped apart into tribes speaking different languages, violently opposed to one another.

I cannot look at or listen to this Evil without feeling sick. It requires exhausting energy merely to keep looking away. Yet I know that looking away is not the answer. I and all others of good will must actively resist, beginning with the conviction in our own hearts and minds that goodness, compassion, and lovingkindness among all humanity is the prevailing trajectory.

Here’s something I’ve found helpful.

During my summer retreat on the island in Canada, I began reading the Psalms, one each day. Upon returning home, I continued this practice, choosing a version I had at hand which uses a quaint and elevated language. It is the Psalter in the Scottish Book of Common Prayer. Here’s a wee sample, at random, from Psalm 37: Fret not thyself because of the ungodly: neither be thou envious against the evildoers…Put thou thy trust in the Lord, and be doing good: dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.

Psalm after Psalm the message is this: There are bad people out there. Always have been, probably always will be. Fix your eyes and your thoughts totally on the good and live in that stronghold. This moment in history–an eyeblink in terms of the cosmos–is neither unique nor permanent. Each of us, however, must fulfill our purpose for good.

The bumper sticker version: Love One Another. No Exceptions.

Thank you for you.

BREVITY

When my old Winthrop professor Dr. Eells tented his fingers and intoned Shakespeare’s “Brevity is the soul of wit,” I took it to heart. (Never mind the irony of Polonius.) Indeed, I began my career as a writer of greeting cards, with lyric poetry on the side–the very definition, in two ways, of trying to pack maximum meaning into minimum words. However, neither Shakespeare nor Professor Eells anticipated Twitter.

By this time in the history of digital communications, I qualify as a dinosaur. At some point, my best correspondent and I abandoned snail mail for email. Gone was the pleasure of receiving thoughtful, personal, inspiring, usually funny, and often lengthy screeds in the mailbox. Gone was the benefit to posterity of countless letters saved in dated paper files. Gone was the reward of real conversation, albeit at a distance, where two friends had the leisure to listen to each other through the medium of the written word. Now we regularly exchange emails, which have some of the characteristics of our former conversation: thoughtful, funny, mutually inspiring. But in most cases, these excellent discussions disappear into the permanent, but as far as I know, inaccessible void of the digital universe. That’s a terrible loss.

Now, with family and friends, I’m up to speed on texting. Messaging is very helpful in coordinating coffee dates, quipping about the latest social shock, and enjoying photos of the kids. But clearly texting is not suitable for philosophical ramblings. For one thing, I still haven’t learned to use my thumbs, and for another thing, those “suggested words” often produce hilarious accidents. Texts are for information, not thoughts.

I draw the line at Twitter. I don’t have an account. Don’t try to persuade me. If you want to “follow” me, come back here. It’s all right that so far, my “fans” are few. They are loyal and true. At least I have established a location where, to the extent anything on the internet spins into the future, I will have set down some actual thoughts.

My next poetry collection, titled WINDSHIFT, is currently in the works from Kelsay Books. Sometime in 2018, I’ll give you a heads-up. All the poems are short. All the thoughts are as deep as a lifetime. Many of the poems are delivered with the sense of humor which helps us all survive. I’m dedicating this book to Dr. Eells. Somewhere between Twitter and War and Peace, I’ve found my place, thanks to him.

Here’s a poem from way back, unpublished. Notable for brevity at least.

 
LOOK OUT, GIRL
 
You start
waving around loaded memories like that
and first thing you know
you’ve shot yourself
in the heart.
 
 

Barbara Loots
 

FEAR!!!! Not.

Not much has changed in human experience since the beginning of time. As to the beginning of time, over the past few months, humanity has learned quite a lot more about time and space and the measure of the universe thanks to the discoveries of astronomers and astrophysicists working in concert around the world viewing the collision of a couple neutron stars. That level of cooperation among scientists should be the main lesson for us all. But I digress…

Fear seems to be built in to our brains: Fear of darkness. Fear of hunger. Fear of being eaten by a ferocious animal. Fear of being overcome by a stranger much like ourselves except different. We’re equipped with hormones for times of fear, as well as times of love. Nevertheless, fear is no way to live. Anxiety is damaging to our bodies, and preoccupation with evil can paralyze our creativity.

So, actually, what those astronomers and astrophysicists have detected out there, a mere three million light years away, provides some of the reassurance I need to remain fearless. Whatever elements came together as “me” seventy-one years ago produced neither a beginning nor an ending, but a momentary witness. My “purpose” involves collaboration and cooperation with everything else that is, from viruses to neutron star collisions. Keeping my eye on the Big Picture–and I mean REALLY BIG–puts the daily headlines in total perspective.

One of these days, I’ll have a front seat (again) for the cosmic dance.

 
KAUA’I
 
Underwater Himalaya
heaved up from the ocean floor–
peak, plateau, and sandy playa
leagues from any mainland shore.
 
Human never saw the boiling
lava build these ragged heights,
never viewed the vapor coiling
upward in primeval nights,
 
never felt the urgent rumble
of this island at its birth.
Fragile flesh, be ever humble
in your blink of time on earth.
 
You are not the final reason
for the air, the seed, the bird.
Brief indeed may be the season
of the number and the word.
 
 
Barbara Loots
Kaua’i 2016
 

SIGNS AND PORTENTS

Much like miracles, signs and portents may reveal themselves more readily to people disposed to look for them. I’m talking about the way certain people, including me, read special significance into everyday events and observations. Blog posts (and poems) get made out of these experiences. Here’s a case in point.

I’m inclined to pick up pennies when I spot them on the pavement. Why not? I drop them in the pocket change box, and the amount adds up until I get around to exchanging it through the sorter at the bank for “real” money.

While walking this morning, I spotted in the street not one penny but a hundred or more. Plus one dime. I picked them all up and weighted my pocket, all the while thinking, What does this mean?? The answer came almost immediately.

A few blocks on, I passed a couple of boys, ages perhaps 11 and 13, loitering on the curb. One shouted, “Can you give us a dollar?” In my head I heard the words Why not? I crossed the street and poured the big handful of pennies into one boy’s palms, with the comment that I had just found them in the street. “You’re lucky!” he said, and I thought to myself, No doubt about that. As I walked away, it occurred to me: Boys this age should be in school at this hour. Should my “largesse” include counseling? I turned around and went back to them. “Isn’t this a school day?” I asked. “Where do you go to school?” They named a school. “And why are you not there?”

The dialog got complicated after that–a story about boys in transit, from state to state, perhaps from one temporary home to the next, where things like school enrollment get neglected and life goes awry in countless other ways. Not picking up on their request to know where I lived, if I had a husband, whether I’d give them a lift, if I had change for a twenty (??), I pointed the boys in the direction of the city bus (enriched with enough pennies to pay the fare) that would take them straight to where they said home was. Then I went on my way, tortured a little with the question of what more I might have done.

I walked away from this microcosm of need feeling a bit guilty. However, as my beloved pointed out when I shared this little report with him, the list of needs we all “walk away from” every day goes on and on and on. I guess I’ll continue to be aware of the signs and portents right in front of my nose, and let go of the rest in the hope that there are enough of us on the planet to pull it all together.

 

Shelter
 
If I were homeless, I’d live under here,
he said, patting the massive flank
of Henry Moore’s Sheep Piece lodged
hugely on the gallery lawn. The two bulks
looming together form an arc, a cove
no wind or shock could ever shake.
 
Around these solid shapes, in an English field,
a flock once gathered, rubbing a lanolin shine
on the shins of the bronze. The hollow where
those great bellies meet holds off the rain
and, shrouded in fog, the sculpture sucks the cold
into its metal marrow. Curled under there,
 
lamb or boy could spend the night in peace.
Open to the public now this big embrace
waits for the lost, a permanent address
as kind as any for some wandering soul
who looks each evening for a spot to sleep,
a starlit shelter on the artful green.
 
Barbara Loots
 
 
Sheep Piece is a sculpture in the Donald Hall Sculpture Park
at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City

THE DARK CLOUD

Can’t help it. The current political climate, not to mention the actual climate (hurricanes and other evidence that global warming–yes, tell it like it is–has resumed its inevitable progress) are both contributing to a Dark Cloud in my mind. This is a harsh thing for a stubborn optimist like me to admit. So I’ve taken a few measures to encourage the sunshine of my usual disposition. This post is approved by Bob the Cat.

–Continue daily journaling and poetry reading, the way I did on the island, in the early morning before anything else.

–Take a daily walk, and in general, MOVE AROUND. Sitting in front of a screen? Not so much.
–Avoid news overdose. Limit the reading of headlines, opinion columns, and fast-breaking bulletins.
–Eat good (i.e. healthful) food.
–Give self permission to just sit and read a book. Or watch Netflix.

Coming back to “civilization,” I became aware immediately of how many obligations and commitments I’ve made that need attention week in and week out. I’m going to reduce that. I’d like my time to be more available to people and less taken up with organizational tasks. Does that make sense?

Finally, under brain-saving measures:

–Write more, including this Blog.

Poem removed until further notice. Wait for it!

ISLAND DAZE

We’re back! This year, Bill and I spent two months at Dickinson Island in Ontario, an isolated bit of rock (one acre) in the middle of Blackwater Lake. It’s pretty much off the grid: no electricity, no plumbing, no running water. We have propane power for cooking and refrigeration, and a generator, used mostly for charging power tool batteries. This year, Bill installed a water pump to bring up lake water to the house for washing, so we didn’t have to do the “Jack and Jill” thing with buckets. Net result: Cleaner clothes. We had plenty of water to do a wash without heavy hauling. We avoid doing laundry in the lake for environmental reasons. Can you even imagine two months without cell phone or internet? Priorities change.

We brought piles of books with us. More about that as I unfold bits from my island journal in future posts. In the silence and solitude, I spend more than the usual time reading, reflecting, and writing. I also like to paddle around in my yellow kayak. We lose track of time and lose touch with “the world.” Somehow it manages to go on without us.

Here’s one new poem from the forthcoming (in due time) collection from this beautiful season of enjoyment on the island.

SEPTEMBER

It was a place where the days would
go by and surprise anyone
that they were over.–Eudora Welty

 
Fog and woodsmoke mingle in the trees
around the cottage. Morning drips away,
tick-ticking on the shingles, and the gray
light barely alters in degrees
of darkness hour by hour. The embers tease
reluctant flame from damp logs that convey
reluctant heat to warm the disarray
of books and coffee cups, of life at ease.
This voluntary isolation seems
a guilty pleasure–time away from time,
eternity embodied in a place
with clarity that comforts and redeems,
while earth evolves, mysterious and sublime,
and I surrender to its brief embrace
 
 
Barbara Loots