The Snow Comes Early In The High Country Of Alaska

October 11, 2016

When I was twenty-seven and living at a remote Air Force base near the North Pole, I wrote the following poem with a newborn cradled in my lap and a yellow legal pad absorbing the scribbles of my restless pen. Back then, the days seemed endless and my thoughts came faster than I could catch them. The temperature outside hovered around thirty below zero. Somewhere off in the distance, beyond the Alaska Range, my husband flew his single-seat fighter high above the snow clouds.
When I was twenty-seven and living at a remote Air Force base near the North Pole, I wrote the following poem with a newborn cradled in my lap and a yellow legal pad absorbing the scribbles of my restless pen. Back then, the days seemed endless and my thoughts came faster than I could catch them. The temperature outside hovered around thirty below zero. Somewhere off in the distance, beyond the Alaska Range, my husband flew his single-seat fighter high above the snow clouds. (Photo by Tom Rodgers, circa 1985.)

 

The Snow Comes Early

in the high country of Alaska.

The midnight sun

has long since vanished.

The days are now short-lived;

dawn, noon and dusk less than a handful of hours.

The birch are stripped naked;

their chocolate chip trunks

sticking out of the snow.

The hills of Tanana Valley

are like mounds of flour dumped on the floor

from an opened sack.

And we are the inhabitants

in this whitewashed land,

where sixty degrees below zero

can kill even the strongest of men.

But we are risk takers!

Riding the open road of the military…

a journey we often complain of,

but a dream voyage for others

fenced in by fate.

So let us be thankful

when winter sets in,

that we are here, at the top of the world-

Closer to our Maker,

when the snow comes early

in the high country of Alaska.

© Kathleen M. Rodgers   — Alaska 1985

My Ode to the Jonquil

Posted February 13, 2016

Jonquils, photo courtesy Ms. Starlene DeBord
Jonquils, photo courtesy Ms. Starlene DeBord

Jonquils

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…

Kathleen M. Rodgers 

Author’s note: Jonquils make an appearance in my 2nd novel, Johnnie Come LatelyThis poem holds special meaning because I wrote it in 1986, three years after losing my youngest brother and months after giving birth to my first son.

I Did Not Break You: a love letter from a mother to her daughter (and her daughter’s response)

Posted December 17, 2015 

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

by

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)

by

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 S. Cairns

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.

Katherine A. Cairns

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.

“A Little Boy’s Dream”

Posted June 13, 2015

 

"Wings of the City" by Mexican artist Jorge Marin in Sundance Square, Fort Worth, TX. As my husband, Tom (a retired fighter pilot/commercial airline pilot), stepped up and spread his arms out against the sculpture, I thought of a poem I wrote for him many years ago when he was still flying fighters. “A Little Boy’s Dream” captures my husband’s childhood dream to fly.
As my husband, Tom (a retired fighter pilot/commercial airline pilot), stepped up and spread his arms out against the sculpture, “Wings of the City” by Mexican artist Jorge Marin in Sundance Square, Fort Worth, TX, I thought of a poem I wrote for Tom many years ago when he was still flying fighters. “A Little Boy’s Dream” captures my husband’s childhood dream to fly.

 

 

 

“A Little Boy’s Dream”

© Kathleen M. Rodgers From the book, Because I Fly (McGraw-Hill 2002)
© Kathleen M. Rodgers
From the book, Because I Fly, compiled by Editor Helmut H. Reda (McGraw-Hill 2002)

 

 

 

“When I Became My Words” by Zachariah Claypole White

March 20, 2015

"At age 9, Zachariah had just won first place in the Carolina Parent Magazine writing competition, and his prize was to read his story at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham. (He needed a stepping stool to reach the podium.) After the event, the wonderful Cathy Davidson asked how it felt to read his words. In response, Zachariah wrote his first poem. He hasn't stopped writing and performing his words since…”  Award-winning novelist Barbara Claypole White
“At age 9, Zachariah had just won first place in the Carolina Parent Magazine writing competition, and his prize was to read his story at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham. (He needed a stepping stool to reach the podium.) After the event, the wonderful Cathy Davidson asked how it felt to read his words. In response, Zachariah wrote his first poem. He hasn’t stopped writing and performing his words since…” Award-winning novelist Barbara Claypole White

When I Became My Words

by Zachariah Claypole White

I stepped up to my fate

All my work lay before me

My legs were shaking

My heart was quaking

My hands became a mouth

And I became my words

My skin became pages

My heart became a pencil

And I wrote my soul

My legs were shaking

My heart was quaking

When I became my words

©2004 Zachariah Nigel Claypole White

Barbara Claypole White with her talented son, Zachariah, this past  Christmas.
Barbara Claypole White with her talented son, Zachariah, this past Christmas.

Zachariah’s bio:

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

 

The Unfinished Garden by Barbara Claypole WhiteEnglish 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. The In-Between Hour by Barbara Claypole WhiteHer third novel, The Perfect Son, has a publication date of July 2015. For more information, or to connect with Barbara, please visit barbaraclaypolewhite.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lady Let Him Fly … a poem that keeps touching lives

Susan Hunter's first husband, Bruce Netardus, was killed 8/10/92.
Susan Hunter’s first husband, Major Bruce Netardus, was killed 8/10/92. Her mother had it rendered in needlepoint.

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.)

The Lady Let Him Fly

 Never once

did she bind his wings;

take away his boyhood

paper-airplane-dreams;

Matt and Amy Netardus at their father's grave in Arlington National Cemetery.
Matt and Amy Netardus at their father’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

 

nor try to force him

down to earth

when it was the air and sky

that beckoned his worth.

 

Matt and Amy Netardus as adults revisiting Arlington.
Matt and Amy Netardus as adults revisiting Arlington.

Never once

did the lady

hold him back,

or trounce his joy

for an air-to-ground-attack;

nor weep like a spoiled child

when he ventured into the blue wild.

USAF fighter pilot Bruce Netardus clipped this copy of my poem from the Spring 1992 issue of Daedalus Flyer and stuck it under a piece of glass on his desk. After he died a few months later, his wife found the poem and she contact me 22 years later to tell me her story.
USAF fighter pilot Bruce Netardus clipped this copy of my poem from the Spring 1992 issue of Daedalus Flyer and stuck it under a piece of glass on his desk. After he died a few months later, his wife Susan found the poem and contacted me 22 years later to share her story.

 

In the background she would wait

chasing away twinges

for her fighter pilot’s fate.

 

With wings straight and unfurled

he and the titanium bird

lifted above the runway’s end

seeking freedom on the wind.

And when he did not return

the lady waited proud and strong

knowing he’d been – “happy all along.”

From the book Because I Fly (McGraw-Hill 2002).
From the book Because I Fly (McGraw-Hill 2002).

 

And when the aged hands of Father Time

called him home

beyond the sky,

the young flyer smiled

because the Lady Let Him Fly.

© Kathleen M. Rodgers, 1987 Alaska

After Paul's first husband Mike Ayotte was killed in a plane crash in 1990, she found comfort in reading The Lady Let Hm Fly. A few years later she met Dave Mills and he made her smile again. They are pictured here with their daughter, Maddie.
After Paula’s first husband Mike Ayotte was killed in a plane crash in 1990, she found comfort in reading The Lady Let Hm Fly. A few years later she met Dave Mills and he made her smile again. They are pictured here with their daughter, Maddie.

 

 

 

 

USAF Lt. Mike Ayotte killed April 4, 1990.
USAF Lt. Mike Ayotte killed April 4, 1990.
Paula (Ayote) Mills cross-stitch peom PG
After Paula’s first husband was killed in an A-10 crash over Louisiana, she had “The Lady Let Him Fly” cross-stitched and framed. It hangs in her home today. (Click on the image to enlarge.)
MWSA Dispatches Magazine, November 2011.
MWSA Dispatches Magazine, November 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herod’s Babies

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.

Herod’s Babies

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

 

One of the saddest stories is about Big Boy. He was a big white cat from Greenville County Shelter. He was the staff’s favorite and was a big white hunk of love. The officers there at the house heard noises coming from the underneath the house, and they opened the crawlspace door.  Big Boy walked out and fell down. He died in route to the shelter.
One of the saddest stories is about Big Boy. He was a big white cat from Greenville County Shelter. He was the staff’s favorite and was a big white hunk of love. The officers there at the house heard noises coming from the underneath the house, and they opened the crawlspace door. Big Boy walked out and fell down. He died in route to the shelter.

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.

http://www.examiner.com/article/prominent-anderson-county-animal-advocate-charged-with-ill-treatment-of-animals

Bio:

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.

One day when we’re grownups…

One day when we’re grownups

we’ll leave behind

our schoolyard bullies

stop name-calling

and throwing spit wads and rocks

at others

for being different.

 One day when we’re grownups

we’ll hold hands

with our neighbors

step out of our comfort zones

and look into the faces of strangers

and see ourselves…

 

Author’s note: Please add your own line or two in the comment section. Let’s continue the dialogue.

The author at age ten.
The author at age ten.

 

 

Homecoming Queen and the Football Star

1953, USA --- Original caption: 1953-A homecoming queen smiles and waves from the back seat of a convertible. --- Image by © Jack Moebes/CORBIS
1953, USA — Original caption: 1953-A homecoming queen smiles and waves from the back seat of a convertible. — Image by © Jack Moebes/CORBIS

 

The homecoming queen

and the football star

out on a date

in Daddy’s car.

They’re the popular kids

in the town’s high school

that plays by

its own set of rules.

She wears a gown

and traditional crown.

He holds a pigskin

and helmet for the pose.

He’s the cream of the crop

and she – the unblemished rose.

After high school they’ll marry

and raise a mess of kids.

And some Saturday night

they’ll sit reminiscing

over the way things used to be:

before she wore aprons

and pockets of fat,

and he had hair

under his helmet

and the spare tire

rested in the trunk.

Their children vie

for the titles this year.

They keep the spirit of harvest alive

in small towns across America.

They’re the homecoming queen

and the football star…

the heart of the parade

in the convertible car.

© Kathleen M. Rodgers  ~ Alaska 1986

 

My poem inspired Denise Norris to purchase these charms for her mother, Johnnie Dale Norris, who was a homecoming queen and whose husband was a football star.
My poem inspired Denise Norris to purchase these charms for her mother, Johnnie Dale Norris, who was a homecoming queen and whose husband was a football star.

She’s Come Undone

"She's Come Undone" is my interpretation of this photo. What is yours? Feel free to post in the comment box below the poem.
 Maybe she is all of us who’ve ever come back from grief, hardship, disappointment or simply discovered that we’ve entered our  second childhood.   

8/27/13

 Stepping out of the pool

wearing nothing but a dare,

she looks around.

No roofers in sight,

only the neighbor’s cat

curled under the Mimosa 

and a gecko doing pushups on the fence.

She crosses her arms in front of her

covering herself like a shield.

It’s the Pilgrim in her you know.

Then slowly, she drops the facade,

lifts her arms wide

and does breaststrokes in the air.

The stars aren’t even out,

high noon howls at her back

as she glides this way and that,

barefoot in the sun,

pirouetting in grass that’s still green

until the scarecrows come out.

 A hawk flies overhead,

his high-pitched keeee calling her

to join him.

She takes off across the yard

and decades fall behind her,

shedding the years until she is five

and running through sprinklers.

 Diving into the blue,

she torpedoes through the water

propelled by an energy

she hasn’t felt in years.

 When she comes up for air,

she spots two lily pads of cloth

floating nearby…the discarded suit.

 Flipping on her back,

the buzz of a light plane catches her attention.

And she laughs at the moment

 when she defied convention.

 © Kathleen M. Rodgers