The garden path

garden pathshe tippy toes down garden path
mid fragrant hedge of self-deceit
his idle words writ on the net
form stepping stones beneath her feet

she stops to browse a wall not hers
photos of his other life
a stunning bit of azure silk
the glint of diamonds on a ring
shout wedding day
in deafened ears

a look content upon his face
at family table fed with smiles
slows her merry made-up pace
turns hopeful moments into miles
of unfulfilled and foolish chase

she grabs the dagger by the hilt
and draws it from her broken heart
her wound will heal if given time
and a willingness to part
with journeys down that garden path
that leads to nowhere from the start

My life as a novel

An entry from my daily meditation writing from four years ago and still something to consider each day:

pulitzer prizeI feel better when I think about my life being like a great Pulitzer Prize winning novel—each chapter a new adventure or misadventure, each turn in plot clever and unexpected, and no cliched happy forever after endings. A novel that is an epic journey, chock full of interesting characters, whose lives unfold in mysterious ways. Plot lines that are wild and crazy, dramatic and suspenseful.

This is exactly how I should view my life. A future that will surprise me. A journey that will not turn out as I assumed, expected, or perhaps even wanted. I need to live and pray my way through this epic journey of mine. I hate novels that have predictable endings. So why would I want to live a life that turns out that way? I don’t even want to write a novel like that! And I haven’t. Watching my homemade trailers for Degrees of Obsession and Mother Tongue reminds me of how much effort I put into having story lines that both surprise and satisfy.

In my own fiction writing, I seek to create stories with a gritty realism and surprising plot twists. Ones with real meaning at the end, not just pat “happy endings”. I want my characters to learn something from the difficult experiences they go through, especially those of their own making. As an author, I know that what they learn is more important than what they originally wanted.

Every time I start boo-hooing over the fact that I don’t have that formula romance in my life, I need to remind myself that my life is indeed a great novel, one worth reading. As a reader of that life story, I don’t want the ending to be predictable, and I especially don’t want to read ahead and see what the final outcome will be. I just want to read each page each day and be filled with neither anticipation nor dread about what the next page will bring.

If I consider each day another page and not get ahead of myself or keep re-reading the past pages, I think that I will find that my life is interesting, unpredictable, and worthwhile. If there was a particularly sad or disappointing page in the past, re-reading it a thousand times won’t make it less so and, in the meantime, I won’t be focused on the new page for the day which might very well bring happiness beyond my wildest imagination. And if I miss the new page by dwelling on the past, hoping those past chapters will change their shape or character, I will never catch up—by then the new page will have become history and I will have missed experiencing what it offered.

Nor do I want to read ahead and skip pages because my story won’t make sense and again I will have missed the page for today. My life has been a great novel—pathos, excitement, romance in small doses, challenges, overcoming abuse, helping others, changing lives. The author of my life, whom I chose to call God, has drawn me as a main character with intelligence, humor, creativity, wisdom, the ability to figure things out and to adjust. He has provided juicy subplots and fascinating minor characters who have swept in and provided plot tension and then disappeared—but the protagonist (me!) has always survived and lived on.

As a reader I need to be interested in HER! She’s still here waging the war, having new adventures, being herself. Sometimes she’s sad and I can cry with her. I can hope that in the next few pages she’ll put it all into perspective, that she’ll realize that the author of her story has something much better in mind for her. She has been up against worthy antagonists—ones that added particular tension and suspense to her story. Will Dad come ever care? Will Mom be able to protect her? Will brother turn out to be sorry? Will so-and-so ever come back?

one pate at a timeThe author of my life story hands me just one page at a time. There is no other better version available at the next bookstore. After all, He wrote the Greatest Story Ever Told. Hey…I’m living in a best seller. And, to boot, He’s given me the talent to write myself. Do I want some sappy ending with a minor character that was written out of my story pages and pages ago? No, I want to see who comes into my life in the future. And I have to keep doing the footwork in the meantime. I can’t sink into inertia. I can’t stop looking for the opportunities for growth and happiness that are at hand. So, keep reading, Karen, and live out this day God has written especially for you.

Mimi’s morning

IMG_0896pitch black
door squeaks open
four little feet at the
bottom of sturdy legs
wrapped in Frozen flannel
pad over to my bedside
turn off my c-pap
can’t breathe
can’t sleep
peal covers off my
reluctant body

clock says 6:36
“get up, Mimi”
down two flights
bananas in hand
turn on Sophia the First

up two flights
gather outfits
pink stripe
polka dot princess
down two flights
distribute same
stern warning to get dressed or
TV off
clamber into shower
try not to slip on
treacherous tile

everyone dressed
up one flight
breakfast
cheerios for one
toast for the other
orange juice
sipped through snout of
dog…bear…whatever

assemble lunches
daddy fixed the night before
line up
backpacks
water
jackets
shoes
water down hair
slick back into
ponytails

clock ticking
mommy says 7:45
ready or not
everything on
down four flights of
red brick steps
van seat still blocked by
boxes of whatever
beyond my brain to
figure it out
mommy helps
off they go
chattering in French

up four flights of
same dangerous brick
gather garbage
theirs…mine
down four flights
stuff in cans
up four flights
count as exercise
dishes in dishwasher
down one flight to my
Provençal pink lime
hideaway
strangely quiet
writing time
8:01

gratitudes
children here and afar
productive
loving
grandchildren
smart
healthy

prayers for women
who have not my
blessings
whose exhaustion comes
not from hectic mornings
but from mourning
lives without
little ones to
pry open their eyelids at
6:36

Half a crazy morning in Bezerkely

dream fluffAfter a ten-minute search for the preschoolers misplaced lunch box and cahier de vie (at Ecole Bilingue each child has a photo-and-words book that they take back and forth between school and home to share what goes on in each place), we take off on the twenty minute ride with the three and five-year-old granddaughters babbling in French in the back seat of my Kia Soul. Delivered safely and even on time, I take off for my next task–calling AAA to tow the family van which had had three of its tires slashed the day prior in broad daylight. But AAA won five stars for being there in 15 minutes with a flat bed, with the driver being appropriately crestfallen and efficient. At Big O, my son-in-law takes over by phone and handles the new tire transaction. I’m a bit shaken so decide to try the donut cure at Dream Fluff, the famous donut shop at Ashby and College.

elmwood lineOn the two-block walk from my parking space to secure my drug of choice, I fend off fears that the tire slasher has moved on up from San Pablo Avenue to this neighborhood. Fighting to stay in the present, I start paying attention to my surroundings and am treated to Berkeley at it’s Berkerkly best. I pass the line streaming out the door at the Elmwood Cafe but not until I’ve walked past an elderly homeless man, his used-to-be-fluffy winter jacket pulled up to his ears. Six bags of recyclables and meager possessions are arranged neatly on each side of his scruffy boots. He waits patiently for whatever “next” lies behind his vacant stare.

la mediterraneeAt the entrance to the Cafe, two Berkeley officers in precision-pressed blues, one with Tony Curtis curls threatening to fall sexily onto his forehead, are being regaled by a tall and equally handsome but completely unpressed and dreadlocked gentleman whose description of the latest neighborhood drama spills out of his mouth at meth-speed, forgive the redundancy. Their patience matches his insistence and, in true Berkeley fashion, there is no hint of acrimony or threat of arrest. A few steps further down, outside my favorite restaurant La Mediterannee, a fashionista fourteenth-month-old points out two tiny scraps of trash to her politically-correct father who nods in all seriousness and confirms that leaving such flotsam on the sidewalk is indeed a mortal sin. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the freshly filled water dish and plastic tub of doggie treats outside the corner all-natural fiber clothing store.

Donut deal done, I start eating out of the proverbial paper bag on the way back to my car. As I drive away, the homeless man has packed up his belongings and is on his way to “next”. The police pair are inside the cafe, drinking coffee that they’ve paid for. And my morning ordeal disappears in the familiar politics of a world I haven’t visited since my crazed sophomore year at Cal back in 1963.

Mystic

Mystic by Thierry Tramoni de Bazzacone (Copyright Protected)

Mystic by Thierry Tramoni de Bazzacone (Used with permission and fully copyright protected)

Poem inspired by photo “Mystic” by fine arts photographer Facebook friend Thierry Tramoni de Bazzacone who lives in Ajaccio, Corsica

necromancer’s brew of
mussel encrusted rocks
bathed in frazzled foam

cavity-riddled molars
hungering to
devour some hapless vessel
raw

gargoyled reefs
drowned in
agitated waves that
somersault into a
winslow homer sea

poisonous mists
deadly enough to
infect stone
sending shelled and
scaly creatures
fleeing for their
lives

hiding place for
tales of woe and
bad endings
yet one that draws our
eyes and hearts into its
murky mystic soul

Love words

love words
love words slide from my lips
evaporating into barrier of
thick unforgiving air before
intended ears can hear

others ooze from
ink-soaked nibs or are
tapped into existence
laying useless
unread by
hardhearted eyes

I am neither heard nor seen
except by those who
hang on my thoughts out of
desperation or
devotion

Cinderella revisited

cinderella1

POEMS FOR RECOVERY by DR. KAREN STEPHEN AKA DOC FLAMINGO

sitting by the hearth
wearing soot dusted clothes that
beg to be washed clean

stirring gloomy embers with an
iron poker of obsession
hoping to relight passion in
dark dead coals

memories of bright flames
sear my brain
forgetting how fast they
consumed reason
turned ardor to
conflagration
leaving blisters on my
soul

fire that burned
more than warmed
then died
leaving me even more
alone in the
chilled solitary night

can I take my
cinderella self and
search the garden for my
fairy godmother
armed with wand and
pumpkins

not to find a prince
but to take
just one ride in the
golden carriage of
my life

Courtesy of the heart

To the reader: This poem was created from an incredible page published in a 12-step daily meditation book, which in turn was based on a quote by Goethe:

Goethe It gives me a goal to aspire to when my thoughts and actions are quite determined to go in a destructive direction.

courteous

POEMS FOR RECOVERY by Dr. Karen Stephen AKA DocFlamingo

courtesy of the heart
akin to love
out of which arises
pure courtesy in outward behavior

courtesy of the heart
seems detached
lacks the fervor of the vengeful heart
the disappointment of the longing heart
the envy of the seeking heart
the pain of the broken heart

courtesy of the heart
interferes not with the
life decisions of others
neither plays games
nor passes judgment
declines to give advice
has no need to seek approval
does not accept guilt
nor lays blame on others
appreciates
rather than criticizes

courtesy of the heart is
never snobbish
nor superior
finds no difference between
a president or a busboy
learns from everyone
welcomes new ideas
embraces strangers

courtesy of the heart
feels joy
instead of fear
sees with fresh eyes
even through tears

Mama’s boy

breath held to fend off the
whiskey vomit stench
his small fingers inch the bottle from her
limp grasp
like a deadly game of pick-up sticks

empty jim beam bottlepours the dark liquid down the drain
buries Jim Beam in a
garbage grave

then dashes out leaving
screen door ajar

garage peeling paintporch steps breached
sneaks along the lee side of the
garage
dressed in peeling paint
tears through
old man Smith’s petunia patch
lungs on fire

blackberryreaches his secret place
on the far side of the
blackberry hedge
hits the ground hard
squeezing back tears

her voice
too distant to be heard
still clack clack clacks
in his ears
mean drunk helicopter words
slicing through his brain

the same small fingers
pluck dark berries from their
prickly cocoons
liquid stains his
fingertips
blood or juice
it doesn’t matter

The notebook

IMG_0764vintage palms
suggest a
British empire hazed morning
a prim ruched bodice
gossamer covered arms
pen held delicately
scribbling a memoir of the
raj

five ninety-five price tag
on the back
speaks bargain store

if I remember correctly
(five years dim my memories)
a valentine’s gift
when I had a valentine
who celebrated my
writing

I meant to write on the
palm-shaded pages

IMG_0765but the end came before
a single letter was formed
before even the germ of a
literary thought
found its way from
my brain to the
virgin folio

which still lies unspoiled by
regret or rue
the void an
homage to
dreams unmet