Alexandria (RIP Ronald Baggs, 1941-2014)

You never knew what talent you had
Until one year for my birthday
I asked for the greatest gift you could give
The story of your life

I wanted to know who you were
Before I first met you
A grey-bearded wrinkly man
At the age of thirty-nine

I was your last child 
Unplanned but not unwanted:
When the pregnancy was difficult 
And the doctors counseled yit to abort,
You and my mother
Unanimously decided to keep me 
Whatever the risk 
“You were the best mistake I ever made”
You always quipped

And I wanted to know who you were 
I wanted to know who you both were
You were thirty-nine and thirty-four
When I met yit, after all
And I was thrilled beyond imagining
When the chapters started to 
Pour in through the mail

You never knew you could write
But you wrote so well
With clarity, intelligence, humor, and depth
Not a word too much
Not a word too little
Little need for an editor there

You wove your life story seamlessly 
With current events of the day — 
What we now call history
(You were born in 1941 after all)
You included illustrations 
Ranging from silly cartoons
Of childhood mishaps
To aerial views of places you lived 
All tied together 
With the perfect writing style for the job

I loved reading your memoirs 
Alongside my mother’s
Because each made your personalities 
Shine through in your writing style and 
Choice of subject matter 

But you didn’t think you were a writer
Until you sat down and wrote
Mom said you always had it in you
But you were nearly seventy
Before you let it out

(When you were diagnosed with terminal cancer
Metastatized everywhere
No hope of cure
Months if you’re lucky
Days if you’re not
You told my brother 
“If there’s something you want to do
Do it
Don’t wait
None of us knows
How much time we have left.”)

But you were a writer
And you finished your memoirs
And started writing a novel
Based on our family history
During the Okie migration
When you became too weak to type
You dictated to Mom

She told me how thrilled you were 
That I was writing a novel too
I will finish this novel
No matter how long it takes
Because it meant that much to you
Even on your deathbed

You became a writer in your old age 
But you also became a storyteller 
Among the oldest still alive
On your family’s side
To remember
Not just your life
But the lives passed down to you
In stories
From the elders who came before

And now all that is gone
Your only older relative
Your aunt Voicy
Has severe dementia
Everyone else is dead
All that knowledge is lost

I shall seek that knowledge 
The only way left to me
By lowering myself underground 
Where the roots of our family 
Grow deeper and deeper
And the soil is rich with love

I won’t learn any stories 
I haven’t already heard 
Those died with you
Such a wealth of information died with you

I don’t think you fully realized
How much was hidden
In the caverns of your mind
Much like mine
Like dragons we hoarded rich sensory details
In caves hard to get in or out of
But when found
They shone like jewels

But even if I learn no more stories
From our underground root system 
I will be saturated 
In the essence
Of what it is
To be who we are
And the smell of rich soil
Will be its own reward

Understand that to me
Your death was not only
The loss of a loved one
It was also the burning 
Of the library at Alexandria 
And so is the death
Of anyone old
But especially 
An old relative
What is lost can’t be retrieved 

I only wish you were still here
To fill in the blanks
Between the stories
And to share our dragon hoards
And to smell the soil 
On each other’s skin
And know through smell
As through no other sense
That we are a part of each other

Continue reading

My Father’s Beard (RIP Ronald Baggs, 1941-2014)

when I was a child
I played with my father’s beard
sitting in his lap

when he was dying
they cut off part off his beard
to mail it to me

I would cry except
all my tears are locked inside
they cannot come out

some things are too hard for tears
some things turn my face to stone
some things make me ache to cry
some things make me ache and ache
no matter what, tears don’t come 

Guest Poet: Anna Baggs

My mother has been the hardest hit by my father’s death, for reasons that should be obvious. They were engaged by the time my mom was 15 and my dad was 20. When my father died, he was 72. That’s a long time together.

My mom dedicates this poem to her husband of 50 years. My favorite part is the ending (starting with “In sickness and in health”) — it contains truths in it that are usually only revealed by terrible suffering, but are also beautiful and right and amazing.

50 years 5 months 10 days How can I say they were not enough

when they were filled with so many adventures

so many plans realized

so many obstacles overcome

so many joys bubbling up in our days together

so many surprises unwrapped

so many special days celebrated

so many ideas nurtured to fruition

so much support for individual dreams

so many near misses averted

so many rough patches gotten through

so many problems overcome

so many hugs and kisses planted

so much love grown a heart nearly bursts to hold it all

so many laughs shared they echo inside me like a brook’s water over rounded stones

so much music and well worn books shared

so many pets loved and incorporated into our family

so much personal and professional growth fostered

In sickness and in health we supported one another

Until death do us part. And here is the surprise I find…

Death does not separate that which has grown together

and Love is forever and reaches through time in both directions

Bending back in our memories and forward in our hearts and actions.

No parting of spirits here….You will be in my heart forever….

Rest In Peace my best friend forever, Rest In Peace.

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Lament for Ronald Baggs (1941-2014)

It’s raining in Wasco today
It never rains in Wasco
But it’s raining there today
For it has lost its son
And the sky is crying

It’s raining in the Sierras today
Not snow, but rain, this time
It’s raining there today
For it has lost its son
And the sky is crying

It’s raining in Klamath Falls today
It rains there a lot, but this rain is special
It’s raining there today
For it has lost its son
And the sky is crying

It’s raining in Sunnyvale today
Never mind the name of the town
It’s raining there today
For it has lost its son
And the sky is crying

It’s raining in Palo Alto today
And we know why it’s raining
It’s raining there today
For it has lost its son
And the sky is crying

It’s raining in Redwood Terrace today
It’s a rainforest, so it rains
But today the rain is filled with sadness
It’s raining there today
For it has lost iits son
And the sky is crying

It’s raining in Campbell today
There’s a drought but it’s raining
it’s raining there today
For it has lost its son
And the sky is crying

It’s raining in San Jose today
Same drought, same unexpected rain
It’s raining there today
For it has lost its son
And the sky is crying

It’s raining in the Siskiyous today
Despite the recent forest fires
It’s raining there today
For it has lost its son
And the sky is crying

And I cry
Along with the sky
Sometimes out loud
Sometimes only in my mind
But my tears outnumber the rain that falls
For I have lost my only father
And I couldn’t know what that was like
Until it happened

Sometimes I open my mouth to cry
And no sounds come out
And the tears won’t come
But I feel the tears in my mind
Streaming down my face
Falling from the sky
Covering everything in sight
With the water
Of grief and love

Monsters on your side

A giant monster came into my room
She had big fangs for teeth
And shaggy hair on her face and arms
Huge claws in her front paws and feet

I was scared of her, I’ll admit it now
Especially when she roared
Her mouth got so big it split her face
And drool from her teeth, it poured

I thought she was going to eat me
Or at least bite off my arm
But it turned out she would do neither
She’d come to protect me from harm

The monster and I are now best friends
We love to walk down the street
Holding each other, hand-in-paw,
And scaring the people we meet

For it’s not every day you meet a monster
And not every day she deflects
All of your ideas about monsters
By showing up to protect

All I can say is with fangs like those
And claws of such giant size
To meet a monster like the one she is
I’m just glad she’s on my side

Continue reading

Your lil Southun girl

I hear echoes of you
In the way my mind forms words
Before the English teacher censor
Gets hold of them and twists them
Into unfamiliar shapes
That have nothing to do with
The way we talk

It’s everything from words like waller
(“Wallow”, to Northerners)
To phrases like he done gone
And ain’t, of course, can’t forget that one
Along with I’m fixin’ to go to the store

These are the words that appear in my head
Ready to use, yet somehow never used
Because the English teachers were just too good
They created internal censors
So I can’t even speak my own language
My own birthright
Without a fight

I still remember as a child
Before the English teachers
Before speech therapy
Before all of that

I’d say something like the above phrases
And you’d laugh
You’d call me “My lil’ Southun girl”
I didn’t understand what you meant
This was just the way we talked
But I felt happy
Because it seemed to make you happy

One time a commercial came on the radio
A man sang the line,
“I work an honest day and I want an honest deal”
I heard
“I’m workin’ on a stand, I want an orange peel.”
I wasn’t so sure about the orange peel part
But I was certain about the first part:
“I’m workin’ on a stayyyy-and…”
(“I work an honest day and…”)
When you heard that
You laughed your ass off
And called me
Your lil’ Southun girl

And I still didn’t understand
Why you said this at seemingly random times
It was just the way I’d learned to talk
And the way I’d learned to listen
I learned from you
And my grandparents
And the radio
And I thought
This was just how people talked

All I know is
Nowadays
My brain uses these words and phrases
When it’s coming up with words to type
And then censors them
Before they can get to my hands

But until then
I’m fixin’ to do something about it
Talk however the words come out
Throw out the English teachers
On your behalf

Because I’ll love you
Forever

Signed,
Your lil Southun girl