Sunday, February 18, 2018

ABOUT ALEX, ABOUT LOVE




His name was Alex. In the 1970s I was a preschool teacher at the Narragansett Parents’ Cooperative School on the seacoast of Rhode Island. Alex needed us in a unique way. He had a congenital heart condition. His parents and his doctors couldn’t operate on his heart until he was big enough to withstand it. He was 3, going on 4.

Alex’s older brother Jess went to the primary class, upstairs, with the bigger kids. He walked with a strut, leading with his chest, arms swinging fisted at his sides. His brown hair was tight and curly, giving him the look of a bull calf. But Alex was small, pale and thin. The tiny blue veins in his forehead and wrists were visible. My co-teacher Sue and I, plus volunteer parents, took turns rocking him in the big chair in the corner of the playroom when he was drowsy from his medication or just having a down day.


“Can you take Alex for a while?”

We’d wrap him in a blanket. I spent hours watching Alex’s face as he dozed with his eyelids half-closed. His eyes were the shade of a midwinter sky, gray and soft. His pupils would move lazily as he dreamed. Was Alex flying somewhere? Love poured from me, from each of us, as we held him. No one ever said “love him.” Nobody had to.

Alex’s Mom was named Mary Ann. She had to work full time, as her husband did, to save for Alex’s surgery and his high medical bills. She trusted all of us to look after him and we did. Sometimes I babysat for Alex and Jess at their home.

This is my sketch of Alex from 1977. He always wore a too-big baseball hat and a turtleneck sweater. 

I left the Parents’ Co-op to do other things. A couple of years later I was at a convenience store and saw Jess swagger by my aisle with a bag of Doritos. Another kid was behind him, a little shorter, but with the same barrel chested, belligerent stride. The image of his brother. I blinked. Alex? 

The kid gave me a blank look. Those grey eyes. He was Alex alright. A healthy, thriving version of the wan boy I’d held in my arms for almost a year. But he didn’t recognize me. “It’s Cathy. Don’t you know me?” Alex walked on. The boys were with their father. They took their places next to him at the cashier’s line, their backs to me.

Little kids forget when they get big. Almost-6 is eons away from almost-4. The surgery had been successful. Alex was well. But I felt ripped off. Where was my reward for my part in this miracle? For all that love? 

I recall the hours I spent with my kids when they were babies, glued to the spot where they slept, never tiring of gazing at them. Maybe this utter surrender to our infants, of memorizing their scent, their sounds, every aspect of face and body is a tribal act. A claiming. We will always be able to identify them instantly, pick them out in any gathering of children. Something else seems to grow from this vigil – a protective urge that refuses to fade, long past the time that kids become adults. Love is probably the best instinct we possess. And it calls on the best in us, often demanding a lot of work to achieve its goals.

I had loved Alex. Warmth and protection radiated from me during those dedicated, daily rocking chair hours. But I hadn’t understood, as a young woman, that the ability to love is in itself a privilege. I hadn’t the wisdom to realize that the Alex-sighting at the convenience store was, in itself, my reward for the time I’d given him. And he had given me. His image seems, in this bleak February, a bittersweet reminder of the power of Love.






    ( Words and images copyright Cathy Larson Sky)


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Our Journey with Parkinson's



Early this summer I shared a poetry reading with a colleague and mentor, Pat Riviere Seel at the local library. We had a few sweet attendees, including my husband, Patrick. I had written a new love poem for him, and as I read it, I looked out at his face. It was completely blank, a strange sort of stare. I kept reading, trying not to take his expression to heart, but it wasn't until his diagnosis not long afterward, that I learned the effect is called "Parkinson's Mask."

We had known that something was wrong for a long time. Patrick's increasing muscular weakness, his fumbling over simple tasks, his depression, what did it mean? We feared it was dementia, so when the neurologist diagnosed him in July we were not unhappy. 

We drove directly to a Dunkin' Donuts and talked over coffee and honey dipped crullers, holding hands I remember saying "At least I am not going to lose you. Whatever happens, you will still be all there. You will be you." I have watched my Aunt Margaret slip away from me because of dementia; she doesn't know who I am any more, and it has broken my heart (as many of you with similar experiences will understand).

As months have gone by we have had time to make room for Parkinson's in our lives. We have been learning as the symptoms increase. Our lives are going to change. I recently reached out for help with You Caring. If you would like to lend a hand, please forward the link  PATRICK'S YOU CARING WEBSITE  to a few of your friends, particularly musicians who know Pat and me, who might be interested.

In love and friendship, Cathy













Monday, October 30, 2017

POETRY FOR SAMHAIN

The poet at Samhain
Samhain is the old Celtic name for All Hallows’ Eve, October 31st




















Dragon of my self-admiration,
the time for roaring is over.
Come with me to winter’s cave.



















If you wish, I will whisper, down
the tunnel of your hoary ear,
praise for your lavender
and bottle-green scales, 
the gyrations of your
your whipping tongue --
but you must be still.

Tame your breath, warm the small
wood creatures below the hawthorn;
observe robins courting the holly tree,
eager for red fruit to soften, mature.

























Marvel while snowflakes float
and whirl, tumble from invisible 
nets in a cobalt sky.

Listen while children sing
in bright, piping voices.

Watch as the light from
their candles threads, winking,
through the groves at midnight.







All of this will happen without you:

The trees, brown sticks in the snow,
will worship the icy silence.





The branch’s trickling song will persevere
beneath silvery panes.











Emerald mosses, soft and wet,
will cling to granite and quartz, 
spread fingers through
furrows in the damp
bark of the leaning oak
who guards the spring.







Poetry by Cathy Larson Sky from her chapbook Blue egg, my heart (Finishing Line Press, 2014) 
Paintings by the famous Sulamith Wulfing
Photos by Cathy Larson Sky, from the family land in Spruce Pine, NC.

 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

LOVE (notes from a weary heart)



I’m not good at love
But I’m not bad at it either
I show up
I try
Maybe that’s all love is


I’ve hurt people who loved me
I’ve loved people who hurt me

Love and hurt seem to

Go hand in hand





Love is hard
An ambiguous art

Where does it live in me?
I can’t find it

It’s a lost continent
Among so many warring 
Places, inside




It has something to do with the color green



And a few times I have
Felt it arrive from nowhere
Most recently,
Outside a hospital gift shop











Love is not magnificent
Like a cathedral
Which cannot be God’s Love

Because I don’t believe
Love can be that big
It seems to work small














No one knows what it is
Everyone knows what it’s not

Not hate
Not killing
Not violence

Not screaming/hitting
(We tell the sandbox kids)


Little boy playing in the sand

I want to study love

And I tell myself I do
But what is there to learn?
More like, how much is there to unlearn?










I wish love could be large
I wish it could be contagious

Like war and
Like viruses

Unstoppable


Romance, Valentine, Together, Couple


Cathy Larson Sky      September, 2017


Thursday, February 16, 2017

LANCELOT VS FIDO

Twice in my childhood I was seriously humped by dogs. Once at a family summer camp. The older girls lip-synched to “How Much is That Doggie in the Window” for Talent Night. I was given the part of The Doggie; my lines, “Ruff Ruff.” As I crawled onstage on all fours, the camp owners’ terrier, Sporty, dashed in out of nowhere and mounted me from behind, clinging and humping while I tried to scurry away.

The whole thing was a spontaneous hit. All the grownups howled.

The second time, I went with my parents for a visit to some new neighbors. We were all in the parlor having soft drinks when I heard a dog whining in the basement. René, their French Poodle, our hosts explained, wasn’t allowed to greet guests. I begged to meet their pet, not understanding their protestations. How could a French Poodle, the popular image on everyone’s swing skirt (second only to the Eiffel Tower) and the inspiration for the Poodle Cut hairdo, be a problem?


Finally the neighbors gave in and opened the basement door.  René bounded up the stairs and made a bee line for me, knocking me to the floor for some frenzied humping. While his owners scolded and tried to restrain him, I scrambled behind the sofa. René broke loose and attempted to leap over the sofa before he was caught and again exiled to the basement. René had the full poodle coiffure but his pompom ears and tail made him even more sinister.



These brief encounters, what did they mean? What was their lasting significance in my life? As I matured, and began the search for love, each Knight in my life eventually revealed his inner Fido, your basic male Homo sapiens, a pronate in search of a supinate. 


Feminism arrived, and it became normal for lovers to assume either, or both, or some variation on the classic roles and postures. But I couldn’t figure out what this acute form of attention really had to do with love. My first taste of one of life’s eternal conundrums.

What do we know that a dog doesn’t know? Aristophanes, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Woody Allen: they don’t know. But they know the question is great material. Love. Lust.

Permutations.



 Are infinite.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

ABOVE THE BAY


Here is a picture of myself and my high school boyfriend Gregory in August 1965. We were 17 and 19 that sailing summer. Young love grew too complex and we lost touch for decades.  Now he lives in a seacoast city near London with the ocean a mere walk away while I look out my window to see the Blue Ridge Mountains and deer grazing fallen apples in my back yard. I couldn’t imagine in 1965 I would leave our home state of Rhode Island or the shores of Narragansett Bay. Greg and I have been internet pen pals since 1999, when I discovered on Amazon his first brilliant book on popular art and culture and sent congratulations. We talked and keep on talking. I sat down when we first got in touch and jotted down a rhyming poem to honor our shared past:

ABOVE THE BAY (1999)

A small boat bobs upon the bay
A mere speck in the tide.
Memory’s the vessel
Where youth’s dominion hides.

Love without love’s wisdom,
Love’s patience, or love’s care
Skimming over wavelets
Shimmering in the air.

Undiscovered sorrows
Just dreams, forgotten soon –
Too busy with the sunshine
Too rakish with the moon

Too full of life to know it
Too drunk with swollen kisses.
What is the stuff of paradise?
We wake to find that this is.

(copyright Cathy Larson Sky) 


 photo credit: G N Votolato


Saturday, March 12, 2016

TIME KEEPER for E.O.





Tonight the tempo is lashing. Ladies and lords chase an invisible fox. Inside the music I dive through choppy white water, cram notes onto the bow in random bunches. Lose phrasing. Lose connection. When Eoghan straps on his accordion (his box) there’s a change. Eoghan’s foot tap is steady. Metronomic. His fingers roam the buttons. Pleated bellows wad and stretch. 


I lean my good ear into the bank of sound, focus on Eoghan’s bandwidth. After a few measures, I’m in the flow. A friend takes the seat beside me. He’s eager. Puts his flute together, slaps its case shut. When he starts to play, he’s outside the beat. Flute’s a fluttering sparrow. He raises an eyebrow my way.  Help? But I can barely hold my own. We both start going under. Eoghan’s taking a smoke break. I shoot him a look.  Help!


Catching on, he drops his cigarette and raises the accordion to his lap. Couple of phrases, the tune’s back on track. When I mouthe thank you Eoghan holds my gaze and bows to me in courtly slo-mo. Never missing a note. When his head’s bowed, I swear I see a halo around Eoghan’s skull. Then (on the wall behind him) a golden tunnel. Ancestors stream through the ether, fine electrodes humming.