Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Making a Case for Rain

This morning, on my way to work, I stopped to chat a minute with a neighbor, an older gentleman I see nearly every morning on my walk to work. We always wave at one another, exchange “Hello” and “How are you?” but we’ve never really talked before. Sometimes, I catch him napping in his lawn chair. This morning, I decided to take a minute and tell him about a community picnic I am helping to organize and so it is we “got to talking”.

I learned he is “full-blood Apache”, in his words, and originally from Arizona, from land he considers to be sacred. His name is Thundercloud, but “people around here just call me Joe. Indian Joe.”
“Thundercloud?” The sound of it made me sigh. I said it is a beautiful name. He said “Thank you for that sigh when you say my name.” He was sincere.

I told him that the closest I came to having a name like that was when friends, who happen to be deaf, gave me a sign language name. The name they gave me is made by tweaking my smile dimple with the sign for the letter D – the first letter of my name. “Yeah, that’s a nice name, too.” Joe laughed.

Indian Joe has been in the Denver valley several years, but he is looking forward to returning to his sacred home in a few years, when he is seventy.

I asked him if he thinks we can carry that “sacredness” inside us wherever we are. He laughed. “Of course.”

I told him about a hummingbird I saw on my walk and asked if he knew the significance of hummingbirds. “I know it,” he said, tapping his forehead. “I have it right here, but I can’t come up with it right at this moment.”

“No worries.” I told him. “Maybe it will be there next time I come by. Hope we get some rain.”

He gave me a long sizing-up kind of look. “The Virgin Mary showed herself to me.” He paused, gauging my response.

I laughed, taken aback at the coincidence that I had been, just an hour earlier, reading an account of Saint Marie-Bernarde Soubirous. In 1858 , at 14 years old, she was reported to have seen a number of visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at a cave grotto near Lourdes, the now-famous site of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. The shrine, in the southwest of France, is known for the miraculous healing powers of an underground spring.

I grew up in (and left) the Southern Baptist Church, so my background information regarding holy apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary is limited, at best. As a spiritual seeker, I have been reading a wide range of spiritual literature these last few years, but only this morning had delved into this particular subject area, in a book about sacred pilgrimages I happened to pick up at a yard sale recently.

When I shared the coincidence, he laughed. “No kidding. Just this morning?”

“I am not a Catholic.” I confessed.

 “Don’t matter.” He said. “I believe in the Great Spirit”, he said, hands spreading to include everything around us. “I tell my friends I don’t care what you believe in, Catholic, Baptist, whatever, you are still my friend.” He was quiet for several seconds.

“The Virgin Mary showed herself to me in the burner of my stove. You want to see? There is a picture of her, plain as day. You really want to see?”

“Sure”, I said. “You want to come in and see? You feel OK about coming in?” “Sure. I’m fine”, I assured him. “No, maybe it’s better you wait here. Some people are a little nervous about seeing the Virgin Mary. Sit on the bench. I’ll be right back.”

Waiting, all I could think about was the Grilled Jesus episode of Glee, when Finn found an image of Jesus cooked into the top of his grilled cheese sandwich.

Indian Joe came back around the side of his house with the
 stainless steel cover of a stove-top grill in one hand, and an empty ceramic window-box planter in the other. “Look here,” he said, carefully keeping the important side of the grill cover turned away for effect. “I’ve got two to show you.”

He turned the planter upside down to reveal a white, pink and gray swirl in the pattern of the ceramic. It was obviously the random result of the production o
f this planter, but its resemblance to the iconic Virgin Mary in robes was remarkable. The image, complete with white halo, was simply gorgeous. It reminded me of very ancient stone mosaics of the Virgin.

“Wow. That is beautiful.

” You see it, don’t you?” Joe smiled.
For the big reveal, Indian Joe pivoted the stainless panel toward me. In the center was a large flame-scorched splash of color in the same iconic shape as the first, but radiant.

 “Can you see her? Can you see her?” Transmuted by the alchemy of flame, the metal had turned mostly golden, the glowing Virgin Mary clothed in blood red robes, the whole image haloed in iridescent green.
My eyes welled up.

“You see her.” Joe was relieved. “You received a blessing here today.” He leaned the images side by side against the bench so we could admire them both, together. ““You were drawn to stop and visit for a reason today, weren’t you?” Indian Joe seemed very pleased. “You always have a place here. Stop by anytime.”

A little later when I got home, I searched the Internet for hummingbird symbolism and the first story I turned up was a legend about an Apache warrior named Wind Dancer. Wind Dancer was deaf, but sang magical songs that could heal or bring much-needed rain. As the story goes, he once rescued a woman named Bright Rain from a wolf, and immediately fell in love with her and they were married. Later Wind Dancer was tragically killed, but would visit Bright Rain when she went out for walks. He would appear in the form of a hummingbird.

I get it. I do. I have long believed there are no coincidences. But, really, what are the chances that in the first story I turn up, I find a deaf person, an Apache, a healer and a hummingbird who brings rain –on the very same day I met Indian Joe Thundercloud, with whom I discussed deafness, sign language, Apaches, miracles, hummingbirds and rain.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hi Friends,

I have contributed to a poetry book that is being sold to benefit Hypoplastic Right Hearts foundation. I invite you to participate in one of two ways.

1. You can purchase the poetry book, which is chock full of delightful poetry including work from Denver’s Poet Laureate, Chris Ransick and many other fine poets from around the country. You can purchase the book here:

The book goes on sale January 1st . All proceeds benefit Hypoplastic Right Hearts.
Get your copy now and have it autographed at the reading.

2. You can attend the poetry reading.

The Heart's Content
Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 4:00 pm
The Lincoln Center Mini Theater
Tickets are only $10

Come listen to selected readings of The Heart's Content; a poetry compilation to benefit Hypoplastic Right Hearts. This benefit will feature the talents of Colorado poets Michael Adams, Bill Roberts, Joy Sawyer, Debra Shirley, and Shirley Sullivan; as well as others from the book including Denver Poet Laureate Chris Ransick, and poets Michael Henry and Patrick Carrington.

Buy your tickets at the box office or at http://www.fcgov.com/lctix/show.php?id=118

Become a fan on Facebook, search for "The Heart's Content"

Hypoplastic Right Hearts is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to the education and inspiration for families whose babies face multiple open-heart surgeries in their first years of life.
If you are unable to attend, you may make a tax deductible donation to Hypoplastic Right Hearts at www.firstgiving.com/LiamAdams
Please direct any questions to Amanda Adams (amanda@hypoplasticrighthearts.org)

Or you can do both!

I’d love to see you at the reading.


Debbie Shirley

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Free Write Friday on Sunday, AGAIN.

Springboard: My writing partner Faye and I picked these random words and phrases out of random books: dragging, forest, inheritance, fiddle neck, floor boards, balancing, emerge, branch, turtle. We wrote for 10 minutes.

Dragging my brother John, forest to forest, tree to tree, in search of the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect fall leaf, a crystal, a geode, some moss to sit on, to dream on, to take home in a bag, make a terrarium. The smell of spongy forest floor, that fragrance of humus our only inheritance. Fiddle neck ferns sprout through and around the bowing floorboards of the old Beck House porch. Out back, the fading remains of once glorious gardens, stone arches crumble into a luscious field of daffodils & paper-whites, narcissus & stray grape hyacinths. We gather them up, loading each other’s arms overfull, balance on sloped feet along the lip of the stone fountain, scoot through the leaning coach house, splat through the trickling branch, spill some flowers for the sake of catching a turtle, sprint home laughing, noses yellow with daffodil pollen.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Free Write Friday - on Sunday

Since I was a kid, I've had a thing for seed catalogues. I used to pore over them for hours. Still do. If you’ve never spent an afternoon with a seed catalogue, I highly recommend it. You will be amazed at the wealth of fascinating words. The same goes for field guides of any sort; trees, insects, rocks & minerals, birds, etc… I also comb estate sales and thrift stores for vintage books, and I have found several lovely old books with magnificent illustrations. Two of my favorites have dozens of paintings of Wildflowers and North American Water Fowl.

For the following Free Write, I used my book about wildflowers and a music dictionary. I randomly chose four words from each book by closing my eyes, opening the book and pointing. The flower words I picked were Delphinium, Night-smelling Epidendrum, Cranesbill and Fireweed. From the music dictionary I picked samba, flutter tonguing, plectrum and finger pluck. The parameters were to write 4 two-line stanzas.

Here’s what surfaced for me:

The Delphinium, blue breath of afternoon,
peek over the hedge, bob and samba

Night-smelling Epidendrum thrum,
flutter tonguing the gorgeous lilies

Pining Cranesbill swish, beg,
tempt and worry Queen Anne’s plectrum

Till Fireweed obliges
with a tickle and finger pluck.

Springboard du Jour: Using a seed catalogue, field guide or the like, randomly choose four words. Using a music dictionary, dance dictionary, cooking dictionary (or the like) randomly choose four more words. Write 4 two-line stanzas, each stanza using one word from each list. Remember – this is a free write – write as fast as you can and with abandon.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Free Write Friday

Choose a word, any word – APPLE for instance – and as quickly as you can, write down five words for each letter in the word.

A – aggregate, agile, agony, actor, Augustine
P – pomegranate, poo-poo-pee-doo, pompadour, prickly, pop

And so forth. Then do it again. Same word, only this time list verbs. You can do this with any sort of limitation – just nouns, just verbs – whatever strikes you. I try to include verbs every time. Verbs make interesting things happen.

After you have made a couple of lists, go through – very quickly - and circle one word in each line that really zings you. Make a list of these words – keeping them in the same order. Write a paragraph, using the words in order, tweaking the tense if necessary.

Here is a recent free write that sprang from this exercise. My words were: Agile, poo-poo-pee-doo, Persian, lick, everlasting, assuage, pare, pricked, larder, etched.

The agile pubescents pull a succession of blouses on and off, waiting for perfection. When it struck – it was poo-poo-pee-doo, three girls in a row, as satisfied as Persian cats. They all but licked themselves, reveling in their tightly held belief in their own everlasting youth. Never, yet, had they known the aged feelings that flag, requiring assuaging. After the lovely parade, they stopped to pare themselves down to barely lingerie. The entire department was pricked up and alive, waiting to see what the lovelies would do next. Shockingly, they headed straight for the larder, to gobble down sausages and brined pickles. Still, the image of their morning stretch was etched into our eternity.

OK So, most of the stuff in free writes is pure crap, but still – there are things happening here. For instance, this line “They all but licked themselves.” That’s interesting. Might see that in a poem of mine some day. Even if nothing particularly usable pops up, free writing gets the writing bones lubed up and ready to go.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sharon Olds Springboard

Springboard du Jour:

The doctor said to my father, “You asked me
to tell you when nothing more could be done.
That’s what I’m telling you now.”

From the poem “His Stillness” by Sharon Olds, from Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Free Write Friday

Last week, my writing partner, Faye Quam Heimerl, cooked up a delicious free write based on her Steak Dianne recipe, which calls for steak, butter, mushrooms, lemon juice, parsley, and Worcestershire sauce. Faye posed this question: What would Steak Faye or Steak Debbie call for? Steak Gratitude? Steak Disappointment? Here are a couple of my word recipes from that writing date.

Steak Dubya
Dry cutlet of horse's ass, dredged in a pinchy rub
No Sauce
Mushy Peas
Chitlin cornbread, dry as a popcorn fart
Tootsie Roll on a stick
Mint Toothpick.

Steak Merengue
Side step of pork
with Cha Cha Chorizo
Thrum the edges with cumin
Sizzle the rack over high heat
Zip the sauce with a Thai chili swish
Bump and grind until hot and tender

Springboard du Jour: What's your word recipe for Steak You?