Mother’s Maiden Name


Swanstrom was my mother’s maiden name.  Looking back into her childhood of old photos, memories from her stories, and my own remembrance, I know a few things. Her father was a carpenter and built the family house in Iowa Falls, down the street from the swinging bridge over the Iowa River. As a child she played there when the bridge would still swing. People would drown in that river. My mother learned to swim and how to be a junior lifeguard and a Girl Scout. She could name the wildflowers and learned to go without during the Great Depression. Her mother, Anna Hill, was a gardener so I like to think that in the summer there were fresh vegetables to eat and her mother made bread. I know because I can still see her in the kitchen kneading the dough on a huge table, the old gas stove hot and ready to take the loaves. There were lots of mouths to feed, a big family of thirteen children, some already gone away, some to Oregon and Texas, or the grave. Vera, my mother, was the youngest girl born between two brothers. I see her old photos of a tomboy, up a tree or doing sports, her doll rarely played with. I like to think that she knew of love and loss because at her burial site a man stood watching in the distance and never said a word.


Mother’s Maiden Name

Big Sur Coast

“The tides are in our veins, we still mirror the stars, life is your child, but there is in me
Older and harder than life and more impartial, the eye that watched before there was an ocean.”            Robinson Jeffers

Traveling California Highway 1

past Point Lobos

“put me in a beautiful place

far removed from man”

to a lookout over Ocean View

at the top a small treed space

Tor House holds dear the things

of Robinson Jeffers and his wife Una

little cubbies set in the stonewall

small objects given by visitors

offerings to a reclusive couple

and the books

We climb the steps of Hawk Tower

forty foot tower over Carmel Bay

“making stone love stone”

Jeffers placed the “orphaned stones”

granite worn by the

Pacific Ocean

Gardens surround the house

there is Haig’s grave by the window

and I feel like I have been here

in a poem at this very place

the light from the window

shining on the loss of a thing loved

Big Sur Coast

Black Jack

Dad played the cards in his living room like he was in Vegas.  Teaching me Black Jack, always taking the card, take the risk when it really doesn’t matter.  No bets were made, no strategy, just seeing where the cards would fall.  As far as I know Dad never made it to Vegas.  He got drunk and played the game in the Vegas of his arm chair.  Jack, Ace, played up in hearts.  Dad taught me to play the cards.  He never taught me to gamble.  I could shuffle like a pro, deal fast, build to 21, make the split.  He always saw two nines instead of eighteen.  Double the risk, shuffle and cut, play the cards out.  Study and watch the cards fall, high roller from his living room Caesar’s Palace.  At times he would even shoot craps.

Black Jack

Gideon’s Rebellion

God told Gideon to rebell

against his father’s idols

take the seven year old bull

and pull down the altar of Baal

so he went at night with ten men

and the bull to tear it down

to cut down the asherah

that stood beside the altar

the sacred pole or tree

fell to the ground

and made into fire

a new altar of stone was laid

the bull became a burnt offering

In the morning people

wanted to kill Gideon

for destroying the idols

His father said, “If Baal is a god,

let him plead his own case

because someone tore down

his altar.  Let Baal plead his case

with him,” and he called

his son Jerubbaal

The father who lost the altar

the pole and the bull

did not lose his son that day

or the new altar of stone

to God

Gideon’s Rebellion