Saturday, September 6, 2014

What Mortals Be

Is it dreamed or dreamt?

Whichever, when the phone rings at 4:45 AM with the same IRS scam recording we have been subjected to all week, cerebral word choice gets trampled underfoot by reptilian brain stem reaction.

When we are awakened by a resident who wobbles out of bed at 2:00 AM in agitated confusion, that is bad news. The good news is that prescribed meds and an attentive caregiver can re-tuck her/him under the bed covers, probably for the duration until the phone rings in the office almost three solid sleeping hours later.

“Tragedy has serious and logical consequences. Cause and effect. Comedy usually doesn’t. You throw a person off a tall building in a comedy, he bounces. You throw someone off a building in a tragedy, don’t wait for the bounce.”  Robin Hemley

Mortality being what it is, we had best find humor in the illogic of it all or we’ll burn out as kindling for tragedy. That would be disastrous.

I no longer desire to push the foreign accent speaking scammer off a tall building somewhere in LA where he sleeps. However, the good news is that the well articulated English speaking female on the recorded message left a phone number. When we returned the call at 4:47 AM we “spoke” to a groggy male person. Yes, I have his number and can use it at all hours whenever whoever in our Home wakes in distress.

That is mortal humor and I am laughing.

Commas and hyphens were omitted intentionally. Sue me. It’s 5:00 AM.



Thursday, August 28, 2014


Aspects of mortality follow us like thunder trailing after a lightning strike low in the clouds too close to our window. Or the remembered scent of facial powder on a special Aunt’s soft cheeks.

I was stepping down into the garage from the kitchen when I heard my Grandmother’s voice, “Use your head to save your heels.” 

Grandma O lived on the first floor of a house with fruit cellar in the basement. So if she was going to make her way down to the fruit cellar, she reminded herself to mentally list what needed to go down and once down what would need to come up.

Today I was halfway to the pantry in the garage leaving behind the Tupperware container of brown rice on the kitchen counter. If I was using my head I would look around and see what else needed to be removed to the area where I was going. Once in the garage with milk in one hand and a can of chicken broth in the other, if I was using my head I would mentally review the menu and remember to bring in the bag of chocolate chips from the pantry for making cookies after supper.

“Use your head to save your heels.” I also should have checked the kitchen refrigerator for butter and now needed to trip back to the refrig in the garage. But I remember you, Grandma. Tea served in real china cups and saucers. The oil cloth covering the kitchen table. African violets on the window sill. A fuzzy bear stored in a basket of toys waiting for grandchildren to tumble out of the car and race each other to reach it. She probably didn’t understand the competitive urgency that dictated we give her a greeting kiss after we gripped the bear. For my part, I attempted to casually claim the back seat behind my Father because it would place me closest to Grandma’s door.

Grandma undoubtedly would not have picked this adage as our lasting remembrance but it has stuck, at least in my mind. A few years ago my Mother and I told stories about Grandma and she also remembered Grandma’s advice.

Mom laughed when I told her I remembered her frequent admonishment. I remember walking slowly home from third grade because I had been told a phone call from teacher to my mother preceded me. “Be sure your sins will find you out.” I found my Mother’s oft repeated warning curious and failed to understand for twenty years. Simply, recognize and clean up after your failures or you will continue to make the same mistakes. In my eight-year-old, uncomprehending mind, Mother’s adage was interpreted “be more careful not to get caught.”

And what mortal words have I left in my wake?  And you….

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Immeasurable Mortality

One of my favorite poems is by W. B. Yeats, 1865 – 1939. I include his life span because the dates place him in a historic time of particular culture, poetic form, with specific advances in medical practice.  Three score and ten was a hoped for age not often achieved.

We regret Yeats’ completed longevity bracket as it means he is no longer writing his wonderful poetry and essays. He undoubtedly would have had more to say. But we do not expect anyone born in 1865 to survive well over 100 years.  So from the perspective of 2014, his anthology was complete.

Because my longevity bracket is not completed, today I can read Yeats to my love and pass it on to my children who can read it to theirs. And to you.

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

When You Are Old is read with contemporary commentary in the following video. Interesting to me is the reader’s connection with the Ukraine, a site of so much bad death.



Tuesday, August 12, 2014


A Prompt may be a sticky note on the refrig as reminder to pick up milk, or the computer reminding me of a new password. Meditation uses the prompt of breathing, mindfulness the prompt of chewing food slowly.

I broadcast to writing groups a writing prompt suggesting the topic Mortality and received the following poems. They present two all too common platforms. I use the poems with the authors’ permission.

Of the Fall   2013 Mike Medler

Tell me where the laceration runs
in final hours, in dust where
you have poured it all
and sutures live a long way
off. Tell me of the marksman
and the empty field beyond
and your tactical advantage.
Tell me if you can
see pain, taste anger,
wrap your arms around
the pervasive and all-consuming
loneliness that leads
you by the hand now. Tell me
if you remember kinder
moments, as if to make it
all worth something, or
if it is all worthy of nothing.
Tell me why your seams
have split and spilt you
into shaking hands, a final
gesture, a fall from which
I cannot lift you, from which
none will rise. Tell me
of the fall, or nothing.



The Waiting Room

I hate the waiting room,
the comfortable chairs and polished tables.
The complementary coffee and tea.
The big screen quietly scrolling the
ephemeral patient status,
attaching numbers to

I hate the waiting room.
It’s like Russian roulette
when the surgeons walk in, fresh from the OR
battle, bloodshed and carnage carefully cleaned away.
We all hold our breath.
I’m sorry.
And then nothing is ever right with the
world again.
Quiet keening fills the air as
spirits transcend.
Spirits going on to better, we hope—
oh we hope, to a better place.
But leaving just the same.

And we are left with our grief.
And we know our joy is but temporary.
And who knows the what or the when or the how about tomorrow.
Or about any tomorrow.

I hate the waiting room.

2014  Sharon Anderson

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Our usual warm-weather-low-humidity has turned like a child looks back to see if someone familiar is near. In the Pacific NW rain magically ceases soon after Fourth of July and doesn’t reappear until late September/October. But our light sweater July evenings have dissolved into two days of November downpour and I feel cheated. Where has summer gone? Will it reappear?

Our yucca plants produced their white bell blossoms early and with extravagance. They were glorious for days, reluctantly dropping petals as they dried on the stock. Our neighbors’ plants were not so long enjoyed. The rain force bent the stems or denuded them. Their short season concluded face down in the mulch.

Unseasonable weather reminds me of a metaphor hidden in an Asian figure:
Talk about tomorrow
the rats will laugh

Assuming, hoping against hope, continuing in spite of, planning with no guarantees, are conditions of our mortality amid storm-beaten flowers, nurturing rain, changeable weather systems.  
In front of the wooden yucca stocks, the iris greenery feed their tubers. Spiking gladiolas are turning a shade of coral I would not have chosen. Mortality and death are complicated subjects. 

by Robert Frost

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question 'Whither?'

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?



Sunday, July 20, 2014


Sumptuous Mortality

Children’s veranda in the
lowbreathed summer twilight:
‘if I should die before I wake’ lingers
erosive     engraving

O     not alone     ‘my soul to take’.
The sweetjuice hay of nightbreath
smothers in luxury. Who doesn’t
burrow into being
deaf to not-life for

sleep, a time of sleep.
A handkerchief of waiting daylight blown
in esperance: enough.

Margaret Avison. Always Now. Volume Two.


What is our life expectancy? We look at ancestors who died in their 40s, early 60s, 80s. We consider the conditions of their living and passing, and extrapolate our years through the statistics of our improved nutrition and health care and presume we will live…more.

As children we kneeled by our beds and prayed the historic prayer, pushed ourselves up to slide over the sheet, dusting our bare feet off one on the other. Curled in the dark we silently amended the prayer, but not for a long time if you please.  The many versions first recorded in the 1800s are basically the same but they differ in the last two lines.  “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take” seems a heavy burden for a nine year old. Less Catholic prayers exhort angels to watch over me, or simply pray for safe guidance through the night. Considering the various plagues from which children in the 1800s died, any of the versions would suffice.

On Sunday night as we mentally move into the demands of Monday morning, we scarcely consider our death. We prepare to commence another week of busyness and stress. But a friend reminds me on Facebook that she has survived cancer and achieved another birthday. Others have not. Bear with me.