the storycurator
stories about real life and creativity

a blog by jan doets

 

it had been hot and still all night
the French windows open
and only a faint hot breeze

morning brought a cooler wind
sweeping up to our house from the garden below
a frantic rustling and clatter of dry leaves—
a wind that had been lying in wait
and now it was time to strike

turning and twisting through the trees and flower beds
like a serpent, a dry dawn wind chasing away summer
a furtive wind, a coolness, a force
that would change everything

a shutter banging at regular intervals, trees agitated
and muttering, pine needles flying across the floor—
as if the trees were storming the house

and Natasha in a white suit, dressed for the city I think
battled a white curtain, a Japanese paper blind
that had come alive
that was blowing violently back and forth, snapping
like a gib sail
as she struggled and shouted my name
and the redwoods wailed
and the cedars cried in the fury of a rainless storm

 

Stuart Dodds

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the pelican,
serene in flight,
crash-lands
on the water
all arms and legs—
the ducks slip into the Bay
with barely a ripple

a lone cormorant rides the waves
a black coquette on the green water—
its disappearing act unequaled among creatures

amidst the clamor of shore birds at low tide
across the mudflats, an excited congregation is singing out of tune

it’s a hectic scene and a joyous one
as the birds exult in their brackish banquet

still, I search for clues to our own lives
in the rapid movement of a cormorant,
among the coots, sandpipers and terns

in vain

the marbled godwit knows nothing of John Calvin
or Presbyterianism

the brown pelican borne aloft
in motion so right and natural
—could it not fall out of the sky more gracefully?—
knows nothing of the rebel factions fighting in Syria
nor does the oyster catcher
with its fine crimson beak
suspect there is a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan

on a rock
the snowy egret poised
on yellow feet—
a marvel of indifference!

 

Stuart Dodds

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“Young Alexander conquered India.
He alone?”
–Bertolt Brecht

When Americans say “I am remodeling my house”
they don’t mean personally—
they have help, interior designers, plasterers and sheet-rockers
to do the work
when they say
“I am building a house”
they are not actually building it
they may not even have started
it may be a dream

and when they say
“She has buried three husbands”
it is a matter of form
it doesn’t mean that she laid them in the ground herself
one after the other
although it speaks for her resilience, her instinct for survival—
there would be priests, pall bearers, cemetery workers
and it would happen over time

the English lost their false modesty when they came to these shores
—those that survived that cold confrontation—
and I, too, will lose my diffidence
adopt the heroic style, the royal “I”—
no longer ashamed of my cravings and accomplishments

I had hovered over my possessions like a ghost—
now they are mine!
I will stake my claim to this earth
and build on it a house
and it is I who will go down in history

 

Stuart Dodds

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The women of central Oregon
are loud and clear—
speaking with an outdoors voice
even when they are in the house

the men speak low and softly
at all times
humbled by their presence

if the men get too airy-fairy
and drink too much
these warrior queens
stand ready
to take over

 
Stuart Dodds

 

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When Uncle Willie wrote to me
he would write for them both
and sign his letters
“love from Uncle Willie and Aunt Virginia”

when Aunt Virginia died after a long illness
he signed off with “best wishes from Uncle Willie”
as though his love for me had died too

he became a compulsive traveler
learned Mandarin Chinese
took a trip up the Yangtze river
and became an expert on the classical gardens of Suzhou

postcards with carefully wrought messages
came to me from Western China, Mongolia
from Sri Lanka, Sabah and Surabaya—
and all alone in these distant places
(without Aunt Virginia as a cover
for such overpowering sentiment)
he let the word “ love”
slip quietly from his vocabulary

 

Stuart Dodds

 

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He loves every country but his own
and knows more about the plumbing in Ancient Rome
than what it would take to repair the pipes
under the sink in his house.

He has stood on the rim of Kilauea
and offered flowers to the volcano Goddess

He has been to Ulan Bator and back
yet he cannot summon the energy to telephone
or write to his old Scottish aunt
 
Stuart Dodds

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worse than the fighting
were those times following a violent scene
when my father
offered his hand in friendship

after the hullabaloo—
my mother shouting, my sister crying—
within an hour
it could happen—
an offer of peace

not a direct offer
rather a nervous suggestion
that there was no reason why we could not be friends—
how could he know
that I had learned to enjoy this war
and found it preferable–
its clean lines of battle—
to an uneasy truce?

how could he know
that dodging blows and trading insults
had became for me
(if not for anyone else) a sport?
how could he know
I was touched by his remorse
his desolation
and found it too intense to bear?

 

Stuart Dodds

 

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One minute like a savage cat
and then like butter
a tone of voice
full of respect and caring
for the man you just fought

During that fit of savagery
you lost me
I wont need your solicitude
nor will I retaliate

I will be kind and considerate
and you will go on as usual
and you will never know
the change you wrought

You have made me as wary as you
and as sharp
and you will not have noticed
that closing of the heart—
from now on, I am shutting you out

 

Stuart Dodds

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Weeping may spend the night

 but joy comes in the morning.”

                             –Psalm 30

At first, I thought it was a change of shift—a traumatic event for an ICU patient when the nurse he has come to depend on and nearly fallen in love with, in the course of a long and difficult night, vanishes without warning or farewell and is replaced by a total stranger.

But this was a different kind of commotion, with many new voices and lots of laughter. Adding to my discomfort, a man in the next bed, hidden from me by a curtain, never stopped groaning, quietly for a while to himself then breaking out in full and tragic song. I had asked my nurse about him earlier and she said he wasn’t actually in pain.  She said, “He doesn’t like it here.”  No one, it is true, came rushing to his aid.

My nurse had vanished and the party atmosphere grew louder and louder. It was a situation that occurs sometimes in a workplace, or in certain public places like a restaurant, when people who know each other— who would seem to travel in a pack–come in and take over and because of their social standing or their connection with the establishment are not challenged until they become really obnoxious—and then it takes someone in authority or with nerve to say loudly:  “Excuse me, this is an ICU and we have some very sick patients here who need rest and quiet.”  No such person spoke up.

With limited vision from where I lay, I could see young Indian doctors with stylish three-quarter length white coats speaking with British accents, and nurses who looked more like movie stars than nurses, with inappropriately long hair, although they too were dressed in white.

I not only felt deserted, I was becoming suspicious. I was in need of pain medication and the leads to my heart monitor were tangled up with the IV line. “I need some attention,” I called out to a woman in blue who happened to be passing by.  I wished I had spoken with more authority or that my voice had sounded stronger although it may not have made any difference. She was exceptionally well made up and altogether more glamorous than you would expect a nurse or hospital technician to be at this time of the night, or morning. “A nurse will be with you in a moment,” she said, leaving me with the impression that a new order was in force and nursing was not one of its priorities.

I began to suspect that the entire ICU (at least this ICU for there was talk of another one on the same floor) was being emptied of all real patients and its medical staff in preparation for a performance of some kind, a scene in a film or installment in a television series, and all the new people were actors, directors and crew members.  I wondered about my neighbor whose agonizing drama continued uninterrupted by any hospital care whatsoever and, if, in light of what the nurse had told me about him, he was conforming to a script.  Whatever his role, I had a sense that I was the only real patient left and, as such, I was a problem.  I was made to feel I didn’t belong and felt menaced by the situation. In my worst imaginings, I thought they might try, somehow, to get rid of me, or do me harm.  In my weakened condition, I certainly could not defend myself nor could I get up and walk away.

All of a sudden and without a sound, my nurse, Michelle, appeared at my bedside.  In the early morning sunshine, she looked beautiful—with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders.  She had been sleeping. When Dante Alighieri encountered Beatrice for the second time, after a period of nine years, and she returned his greeting, he could not have been happier than I was that morning to see Michelle with her familiar smile and her tired but friendly dark eyes.  “How we doing?” she said.  I was going to ask her for an explanation of all that had gone on before but decided against it.

My sense of persecution had ceased upon her arrival.  My surroundings had changed too.  All the beds around the room that had seemed empty were full again and the nurses station was alive with normal chatter and the rustling of paper.  There was not a sound from the next bed.  Had my tragedian died and been carried away?

After being made comfortable and presentable—freed from all of my tubes and connections—I was ready to be wheeled into Recovery. On the way, I saw my neighbor for the first time. A nurse sitting at his side was feeding him with a spoon and I waved “Goodbye.” He was grinning from ear to ear and waved back. For him, too, the terrors of the night had passed.

 

Stuart Dodds

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These harbingers of peace and stillness
seem to be helmeted
and armed
their demeanor
in the twilight
is stern

floating across seas
on turtles and sea lions
they have come to cogitate
in these marble halls and corridors
to issue a warning
from the depth of their being—
creatures of reproof
models of calm

having reached a truce in the great struggle
they are not without art—
in the light of dusk
with their weapons sheathed
their bearing holds a certain theatrical menace

captains of thought
and rapt attention
with an arrangement of clothes quite cavalier
quite beautiful
they sit in command of their space
and fill the air with shadows

 

Stuart Dodds

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