Saturday, April 2, 2011

“Our Shelter from the Storm”


                The late afternoon sky darkened as gray clouds scuttled across the sun. The calm, hot air pressed down upon me like a woolen blanket, and a film of perspiration glazed my skin as I perched on the top step of our porch. The front screen door swung open and slapped shut as Charlie bounded out of the house like a wide-eyed and excited puppy. His little three-year-old body hunched down next to me, and I inhaled the sweetness of his youth.
                Casually, I slung my arm around Charlie’s shoulders, and he tucked in closely to me. In those few seconds, the temperature noticeably dropped a few degrees. A breeze rifled through the leaves of the ancient gnarled oak that towered across the street. A sharp, metallic scent enveloped us, and a chill swept over me.
                “Storm’s comin’,” murmured Charlie.
                “Um.”
                “Good!” he smiled and shifted from his squat, splaying his little feet out before him.
                The tiny hairs on my arms pricked to attention as the wind picked up. The clouds overhead deepened from their soft gray to a harsh charcoal. Thunderheads boiled and bubbled; and thunder, sounding in the distance, rumbled closer with each passing minute. A faint scent of popcorn wafted through our front screen door.
"The Storm" by David Chapman
                One enormous drop of rain plopped on the side walk. Then another. And another. And another. The heavy smell of dust mingled with the green scent of freshly mowed grass. As lightning cut a jagged ridge across the darkening sky, Mom and Paula stepped out of the house and “oohed” at nature’s fireworks. Charlie and I scooted over to squeeze Paula in next to us since she hugged a huge Tupperware of popcorn to her chest. Mom leaned against the porch’s post and turned her face to the fine spray that misted up from the nearby gardenias.
                I dipped my eager fingers into the overflowing bowl and pulled out a huge handful of the warm treat. Without a word, I offered Charlie the popcorn. His small hand filled with only five pieces; he sighed in buttery contentment.
                Together we viewed the magnificence of the storm. We murmured our appreciation of the show, and thought of the war in a distant land  that displayed its  power and destruction on the evening news. My thoughts went to Dad, so far away in his own storm, and I moved closer to Paula for her warmth.
                We nestled safe and dry in our shelter from the storm.

Copyright 1995 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Friday, April 1, 2011

"Poison"

Inside
                        buried under smiles
                                                as innocent as childhood
                        hidden by energy
                                                that eats the inner core
                        enveloped with laughter
                                                tinged by hysteria
            where no one can see, or touch, or feel
                                                the infinite coldness
Waiting
                        surrounded by darkness
                                                like a corpse in the grave
                        clamped down by a vise
                                                whose claws rip and tear
                        forced into submission
                                                until no one’s looking
            deep down in the well of pitch, and stagnation, and fear
                                                the infinite coldness
Outside
                        revealed at last in the eyes
                                                through condemnation and indignation
                        recognized by the putrid stench
                                                of pettiness and intolerance
                        exposed in each word and act
                                                through acid hatred
            an eruption of vomitus bile—black and caustic
                                                the infinite coldness


Copyright 1997 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Unfortunately, many of us experience relationships with individuals who are toxic to our lives. Often, they hide their nature under smiles and hugs, so sometimes it takes years to realize just how much they damage you with their poison.  

Thursday, March 31, 2011

"A Journey"

I saw a feather drifting in the air.
I reached out and watched it fall into my hand.
It was a mossy brown from a sparrow that had been there.
It was smooth and light and part of the land.
I closed my eyes and became the sun.
I walked from star to star, then returned home.
It was as I had left it and I was one.
My journey was one of nature’s roams.
Now every flower, every feather from the sky—
Every step which I now take
Is one more step which says I and I
From this time on I now awake.
I saw a feather drifting in the air.
I reached out and watched it fall into my hand.
It was a mossy brown from a sparrow that had been there.
It was smooth and light and from my land.


Copyright 1973 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

I began journaling almost thirty-eight years ago. First, I scribbled my poetry or stories onto notebook paper bradded into place in folders, or I used spiral notebooks. Eventually, I decided to keep a notebook of poetry only. I found this poem a few days ago when going through that notebook.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Huntington's disease: A family tragedy


“But Strong in Will”


The little girl stood alone at the train depot. Her eyes cast downward. She noted the rough wooden planks. Self-consciously, her small hands ran across the placard around her neck. “EDNA THOMPSON.” Her name printed in bold black letters. Men and women hurried around her, ignoring the pleading look in her eyes. Her lips trembled as she fought back tears. Eventually, the passengers loaded suitcases and supplies onto wagons and into cars and vanished toward town. No one approached her, so she perched upon her suitcase, a small brown bird.
            The train pulled noisily from the station, puffing steam and wailing its sad song. Moments after the last car rolled past, a station manager came from the ticket office, a broad smile on his face. He said nothing, just took the girl’s small, cold hand into his own and started to lead her into his office when a wagon turned the corner and approached the station. He paused, still holding the child’s hand, and smiled his greeting to the travel-worn couple.
            “This package belong to you?” he asked lightly.
            “Sure does,” the tired man nodded. “Had a wheel break. Sorry about being late. She cause any trouble?” He jerked his head toward the little girl.
            “Not a sound out of her yet,” the station manager stiffened at the other man’s stern tone, but he still lifted the girl up into the wagon bed. “No trouble at all,” he continued.
            “Good. Kid belongs to my cousin. Seems my cousin up and died a couple of weeks ago, and her husband can’t keep all the kids. Had eight, ya know,” he paused and looked back at the silent child. “Hope this bundle won’t be too much trouble. Doesn’t look like she’ll be much help on the farm, though.” He gave a quick whip of the reigns and his horse trotted off taking the little girl further away from everything she’d ever known.
           
            One episode from Mom’s childhood that she revealed to us, her own children, when she was in her seventies, like it was a postscript attached to the end of a misplaced letter. I’d known that she spent nine years living with various foster care families. She’d told the stories of the Walkers treating her like a live-in maid and nanny.
I spent my childhood ironing sheets, Dad’s square military handkerchiefs, and table cloths because Mrs. Walker punished Mom for pressing the collar of her shirt on the dresser instead of using the ironing board. The punishment was ironing for the family of five until Mom turned seventeen and graduated from high school. She never wanted to touch an iron again, and somehow I thought it was the best household chore to have!
I knew of her eldest sister’s drowning followed a couple of months later with her mother’s illness and death. I knew the stories of Mom’s alcoholic father who lost custody of all the kids. I knew about one brother going off to war and deciding England was more home than the States. About the other brother who went off to war and was shot by the Germans, spending time in a German P.O.W. camp.
I knew about her losses, and hurts, and insecurities not because she flaunted them, but because they snuck out when some other life event paralleled her childhood.
Unhappy childhoods cast shadows into adult lives. Mom felt lonely and frightened most of her youth. She didn’t understand why her father couldn’t stop drinking and bring her home. Shyness and insecurity became ingrained into Mom’s personality. She worked hard at being the nice neighbor, the mother who volunteered for every school function, and the wife who had dinner on the table fifteen minutes after Dad crossed the threshold. She became the perfect mother for the three of us kids.
With every ounce of her energy, Mom gave us children the childhood she never had. She never took off to visit her family without taking all of us with her. When we moved from state to state, or base to base, she made certain our bedrooms moved with us. We each had our own furniture and decorations that allowed us to feel at home even after a move. If one of us needed something for school or an extracurricular activity, she did without. For years she had enough clothes to get her through the week—one nice dress, a winter coat, and one pair of shoes.
Her mission to provide for us a safe and secure home focused us as a family. When Dad left for war, potential trauma and conflict became minimized because she provided us a home filled with love and laughter. Any tears she cried, she did behind closed doors and away from us. We never sensed her loneliness, fear, or insecurity because she put our needs ahead of her own.
Many friends and neighbors worried about how Mom would survive after Dad’s sudden death. She’s seemed a shadow cast by my ebullient father. Yet we, her children, knew the steel hidden beneath her gentle nature, and none of us doubted her resilience. When she decided to move back to San Antonio, rent her own place, and decorate it to her tastes, we weren’t surprised by her independence.
Today, at eighty-one, Mom fights another hardship—Huntington’s Disease. She’s a first generation carrier of the disease, with an unusually late onset. Nothing about her illness has been text book, but everything about it is heartbreaking. Mom’s years of calm acceptance of life’s tragedies trained her for the strain of her present days. Huntington’s Disease affects all aspects of a person’s life. For Mom, her cognitive functioning remains clear and strong—allowing her to enjoy the irony in The Daily Show and admire the boldness of The Colbert Report. If she’s not stressed and has her anxiety under control, she’s able to enjoy her daily routine.
That routine, though, gradually constricts and confines.  Feeling unbalanced and “askew” when moving, Mom slowly restricted her environment. Mom raised us to be true to ourselves; and her dancing movements caused by chorea didn’t keep us from eating out, going on vacations, or embracing public activities other HD sufferers avoid. After two years in an assisted living facility, we decided to move Mom into our home. She’d slid slowly from utilizing a walker for long distances to shuffling around her small apartment with her walker, but falling frequently. When she moved in with us five months ago, she could manage getting out of bed, to her wheelchair, and into her bathroom on her own. Now she needs assistance with all three of those areas.
            Huntington’s Disease has no cure and minimal treatments. Mercifully, Mom’s severe anxiety attacks disappeared a few months ago. Her short and long term memory remain intact, too. Her body, though, betrays her. The chorea that pulled her arms, legs, and torso like a puppeteer controlling a marionette no longer plagues her. Instead, rigidity slips into her life. Her muscles resist movement, and positioning her reminds me of moving a life sized Barbie doll. Already, speaking challenges her, so we’re learning to phrase our conversations to where she can respond with short phrases. Eventually, all of her muscles will refuse to move.
We measure our future in months now, but we know eventually we’ll count the days or hours. Fortunately, I picked up some of the pragmatism that flows through Mom’s veins. The challenges that remain before us are just another part of life’s adventures. At least this time, Mom won’t stand alone.


Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Edna Thompson Abrams
August 28, 2010

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Swimmers"




     The sun dappled lake entices swimmers with coolness after a long, hot summer. One bather cautiously tip-toes to the edge, tentatively dipping into the coldness. She retracts her foot, shoots a glance over her shoulder, and eases back into the water. Another swimmer, grabs the tree rope, swings apelike over the lake's mirror, whoops with glee, and cartwheels into the depths with the careless abandon of joy. A final swimmer stands poised on the dock. In one flawless motion, he dives and cleaves the water's surface with barely a splash. A few feet away, he emerges and boldly slices his way across the lake. To everyone entering the lake of life, no matter what your approach, may you remember the unexpected currents and drop-offs. Swim safely and don't drown!

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

"Water Nymph" by David Chapman
Pen and Ink

Monday, March 28, 2011

“The Blank Page”

The curser pulses against the blank page, daring me with its insisting beat. Write-pause-write-pause-write-pause-write. Quality doesn’t matter at this point in time. I hear the echo of my own words challenging my students from long ago, “Five minutes. Timed Writing. Your pencils cannot leave the page. Write whatever pops into your head with as many details as possible. If you finish with one topic, move on to another. Push yourself to beat your last word count!”
                Heads bent over journals, the soft sound of pencils scratching the writers’ itch competed with restless throat clearing and the jittering legs of pre-teen energy.  I’d sit at a student desk, my own school journal before me, my own empty pages to fill. Some days, the words pinged from brain to pen effortlessly. As if by magic, just the right extended metaphor would unfold before I’d even consciously completed the thought. Other days, every—word—weighed—heavy—stilted—and—deliberate. Yet I wrote. And then I shared. It’s an important lesson for my students to see the brilliance of writing one day followed by the frustrating lack of substance the next. My defeats comforted them just as my wins entertained them.
                And so today, I sit before my computer with its curser testing my abilities. I confront the blank page with cockiness. With boldness I defy the emptiness and fill the void.

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"The Aging of Love"

At first
            its warmth penetrated
                        cascading over me like sunshine        
                        murmuring to me with the rhythm of soft rain
            cleansing my spirit—
                        cool, sweet, crystalline
                                    Pure
                        swaying in the breeze
Then came
            sparking eyes
                        a trickle of laughter
                        following me forever
            Gummy Bears
                        Silky baby powder
                        the earthy scent of youth
                        rippling and dancing
Finally,
            the yellowing lace and wrinkling skin
                        a soft sigh of summer’s end
                        Autumn’s whispering
            bittersweet kisses
                        rounded
                        padded                                   
                        soft pats of affection

Copyright 1996 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman