I saw the first jonquils yesterday. Maybe six to a cluster, dressing up an otherwise barren garden in late February. I was just passing by on my way to the house when I looked up from the road and was taken back by this sudden gold. Buttery trumpets turned up to the sun, a subtle sign that spring had come. They’re the jonquils! Some call ‘em daffodils. The first to sprout forth after winter’s kill. From gnarled old bulbs planted deep in the earth, come these bright sunny jonquils to welcome in spring. But they’re more than just pleasing and pretty to me. They’re proof that life, though harsh as it seems, still gives us a flower to rekindle our dreams…
Author’s note: Jonquils make an appearance in my 2nd novel, Johnnie Come Lately, re-releasing in hardcover large print February 21, 2018 from Thorndike Press, the leading large print publisher in the United States.This poem holds special meaning because I wrote it in 1986–three years after losing my youngest brother in a tragic car accident–and months after giving birth to my first son.
I’m honored to present two poems that have touched me deeply this year. Please leave your comments for both authors. I know they would love to hear from you.
I Did Not Break You
Randi S. Cairns
I come from broken.
I come from “be quiet” and “know your place”.
I come from “don’t be seen” and “do as you’re told”.
I come from secrets and broken promises and scars.
And yet there you are.
You live in high volume.
You sing in the shower, and the car, and anywhere your voice will carry.
You dance in public.
You look in the mirror and smile at your reflection.
You paint in bright colors and outside of the lines.
You speak candidly.
You defy respectfully.
You share your heart freely.
I look at you with amazement.
How did you come from me?
You so whole and me so broken?
You stand in defiance to the idea that the universe hates me.
How could a universe that hates me give me such a gift?
I wonder at the magic of all you are and all you will become.
And marvel that all of my dark and twisty places have not diminished your light.
When I have taken my last breath, my greatest accomplishment will be this.
I did not break you.
An Unconventional Love Letter (A Response)
Katherine A. Cairns
You are not broken.
You’ve felt loss.
You’ve been bruised.
You’ve been beaten down.
But you are not broken.
You have given life… and saved it.
You’ve brought college graduates, musicians, and artists into the world.
You’ve given voices to those who could not speak for themselves.
You are not broken.
You have, however, been given a broken ship.
The sails were torn and the bottom full of holes.
You were set to sea in choppy waters.
But this does not make you broken.
With no crew but yourself you have kept that ship afloat.
Exhausted from trying to keep the water at bay?
…A lesser woman would have sunk.
A broken boat does not a broken captain make.
I will be your anchor.
I will be your safe harbor.
For you have been mine.
I was given a mighty ship, but did not know how to sail.
You were my anchor.
You were my safe harbor.
And I learned how to sail by a captain who had been through choppy waters.
With a boat full of holes and sails torn.
A mighty ship and calm waters do not a good sailor make.
You are not broken.
You are fierce.
You are brave.
Your ship does not define you.
I have heard your heartbeat from inside.
You are not broken.
Randi Cairns is a nonprofit professional, consultant and freelance writer. She is one of the coauthors of Stories Around the Table and a frequent blogger in the military spouse space. She has written for NextGen MilSpouse, Spouse Buzz, Homefront United Network, and the Military Family Advisory Network. While she wears many hats, Randi’s favorite gig is parenting the world’s four greatest children.
Katie Cairns in her junior year of college, majoring in Business. She shares her mother’s love of words.
Randi explains why she wrote her piece:
I grew up “hard” and way too quickly. I vowed that when I had children of my own – they’d grow up “easy” and at their own pace. I had no real frame of reference for the right way to raise your kids, but I knew for sure what didn’t work. I created a backwards guidebook and promised myself that if I simply did the opposite of everything I knew, my future offspring might have a chance. Then I crossed my fingers and prayed.
My prayers were answered with four amazing munchkins who every day remind me how blessed I am. No really – every day I hear some version of, “Aren’t you lucky to have us?” I agree with them wholeheartedly. They were the inspiration for the first part of this piece. When I shared what I had written with my first born, Katie, she responded in kind with the most beautiful words I’ve ever read. Her response (given with her permission and blessing) is the second poem.
Zachariah Claypole White is a multi-published poet and an award-winning singer-songwriter. His poems have appeared in numerous publications including Highlights Magazine, and both his poems and lyrics have received many awards including a silver medal at the national level of the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. He is a former winner of the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poetry Series (middle grades) and was featured in the Durham Magazine as one of the “best and brightest” high school students in The Triangle area of North Carolina. In honor of his openness about fighting obsessive-compulsive disorder, the magazine dubbed him The Warrior Poet. He is currently a student at Oberlin College, where he is majoring in creative writing. YouTube video of Zachariah performing one of his slam poems about OCD: ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdCxeUFupCc
English born and educated, Barbara Claypole White lives in the North Carolina forest with her family. Inspired by her poet/musician son’s courageous battles against obsessive-compulsive disorder, Barbara writes hopeful stories about troubled families with a healthy dose of mental illness. Her debut novel, The Unfinished Garden, won the 2013 Golden Quill Contest for Best First Book, and The In-Between Hour was chosen by SIBA (the Southern Independent Booksellers) as a Winter 2014 Okra Pick. Her third novel, The Perfect Son, has a publication date of July 2015. For more information, or to connect with Barbara, please visit barbaraclaypolewhite.com.
I wrote this poem for the wife of a USAF fighter pilot after his plane hit a mountain in Norway in 1987. Over the years, the poem has appeared in numerous military journals and in the book Because I Fly (McGraw-Hill 2002). It’s also depicted in needlepoint and cross-stitch, and I am always honored to learn how it keeps touching lives years after I wrote it. (Click on each photo to enlarge the image.)
Mary Elizabeth Todd was moved to write “Herod’s Babies” after learning that a woman everyone trusted in the animal rescue world was arrested for ill treatment and neglect.
The stories I heard wretched my heart;
The pictures seared my mind, and
The faces of the survivors scarred my soul.
It is the pictures I see when I close my eyes
Of tiny kitten feet lying in the rooms,
Alone and how their mothers must have hurt for them.
I saw the eyes of the mothers who grieved their little ones.
The depth of their loss was so deep
I could not perceive.
I thought of a story I heard- some say it is not true,
These forlorn mother cats and their lost kittens
Reminded me of the baby boys that King Herod killed.
King Herod heard that a new king was born;
He could not have that happen.
He sent his men to make sure that it did not occur,
For if this king dies as a toddler or a baby.
He could never be crowned king,
But he forgot about the mothers.
Mothers can be fierce when their children
Are at risk. The soldiers did not expect this-
Women obeyed and did what they were told,
But these women fought because they were mothers.
We never hear when the story is told
Of how those mothers had fought.
Those mothers whose infant sons were ripped
From their arms, and killed before their eyes.
Mothers who died trying to guard
Their toddler sons from the slicing swords of men.
Men who grew sicker of their task,
And just wanted it to be done.
When it was done the soldiers rode from town
With images of mothers weeping over their tiny boys,
Of mothers lying dead beside their infant prince
For in a mother’s heart her son is always her prince.
They reported the job was done but in their heads
The images never went away.
It is the images of those kitten feet
And the eyes of their haunted mothers
That stay with me and make me wonder- what went on in that house?
Mary Elizabeth Todd
July 1, 2014
Mary writes: “On June 19, 2014, the trust we had was shattered. Since she has not been convicted, she allegedly neglected the cats in her care and was arrested and charged with a felony act. From her house 50 plus dead cats and kittens were removed and 32 were removed alive- four of which died since then. They were starved and had no water. Some were never even removed from the carriers when they were handed over to this woman. The others are now in rescue with various degrees of medical issues.
I saw these Cats on June 26, 2014 at Anderson County P.A.W.S., the shelter that had them at that time.
There was one mother cat whose eyes haunted me.
I have seen pictures of her from the shelter. She was a protective mother and had lovely eyes. Now she was battle-scarred and losing one of those lovely eyes but the depth of her sorrow spoke volumes. She had no heart to live for. I believe it was broken. She died over the weekend.
Ash Truesdale compiled a massive photo album of these poor creatures rescued from shelters of their photos from the shelter. There was close to 500 photos from at least 16 shelters over the southeast from approximately April 2013 until June 2014. One friend had been to what most of us call the house of horrors and took pictures the Sunday after she was arrested with the landlord’s permission. The house and its lovely hardwood floors are ruined.
It is what I saw in these pictures in almost every room (the deceased cats were removed by this time) that has haunted me: tiny kitten feet.
Many of the rescued cats have medical issues, and the shelters are full. If anyone wants to help, please send me a private message on Facebook and I will get you information on how you can help.” ~ Mary Elizabeth Todd in Starr, SC.
Mary Elizabeth Todd wrote her first poem when she was ten years old. Her father was also a poet, and she remembers growing up observing him composing and reciting his work. Her poem “Hiding Axes” was published in the Oberon Poetry Journal. Mary is a retired foster care worker with the Anderson County Department of Social Services. She worked in that capacity for twenty-eight years. A 1974 graduate of Erskine College, she began doing cat rescue work in 2013. She lives in the woods in Starr, South Carolina.