Redemption Takes Wing

2/18/15

My sister and I buried my father’s ashes on a cold gray day last spring. We were at Zion Cemetery in Blaine County, Oklahoma, not too far from the farm my family settled illegally and then claimed in the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. You can see two sets of grain elevators from the graves of my grandmother, great-grandmother, great-aunts and now my dad. There’s not much else to see other than the ever-changing sky, a tiny abandoned church and an honest-to-God outhouse with a crescent moon carved into the rough wooden door.

It was really cold. Two days before, I had stared in amazement as snowflakes spiraled down outside the window. I had planned to camp out; it was the second week in April and who would expect snow right before Easter? On Palm Sunday, I sat in church and felt the earth tremble; an earthquake, my aunt told me brightly, a common occurrence in Oklahoma these days. A few hours later, the tornado sirens howled; a twister was tearing up the plains somewhere south of town. Oklahoma felt apocalyptic last April.

We scraped some dirt over the urn. A prayer would have felt pretentious. I’m not sure my dad even believed in God when he died. My sister and I held hands and sang a chorus of “Amazing Grace,” the wind snatching the notes off our lips.

It was too cold and I was out of kilter. We poked our heads inside the abandoned church; the windows were long gone, leaving only four walls of rough whitewashed brick and a rusty tin roof. Animal droppings littered the empty structure, huge, bigger than my thumb. The thought of an animal that size was frightening.

Two days later it was Good Friday, bright and warm. I was facing a sixteen-hour trip south, but Zion Cemetery called, and I obeyed my instincts.

On my way out of town, I heard bells. It was noon. My lovely little church in Birmingham has a most solemn Good Friday Service at noon; it begins with the church stripped bare of all its banners and fancy drapery and the clergy lying full-out face down on the floor around the altar.

Again an inner voice whispered, just as I passed a church. I pulled into the parking lot and crept inside, late for the noon service. They were reading the Passion Gospel and a lady in the back smiled at me when she handed me a bulletin. As we read the familiar story of Christ’s trial, persecution and crucifixion, my world and my heart began to settle into a rhythm: powerful, soothing and good.

My spirit was almost light as I left the church, and I stopped at a store to assemble a funeral feast. I got two pieces of cake, some bright ripe fruit, a little cheese, a styrofoam cup of macaroni and cheese. On an impulse I grabbed a handful of chunky, beaming sunflowers.

It took an hour to drive north of town, west down the highway past the grain elevators, then bump down the dirt road to the cemetery bounded by a rusty, sagging fence. It looked vastly different, which makes perfect sense: when the sky is nine-tenths of the display, a vivid blue infinity is a remarkable transformation from a lowering blustery gray.

I had a book with me, a funny one, by Terry Pratchett. I spread out a blanket under a splintery old cedar and read my book and laughed out loud. It felt good to laugh. My dad has a wicked sense of humor and he loved to read. I slowly ate half a piece of cake, acknowledging the joy in my dad’s sweet tooth and a family tradition of “dessert-first day.” I breathed, deeply: cedar, dirt, sky.

Now my heart was so light I was almost skipping. I scattered a few crumbs of cake a few feet away from the tree and invited the ants to my banquet. I laid the sunflowers in a row on the family graves and they smiled back at me: great-grandmother, grandmother, aunt, aunt, father.

I remembered I had a kite tucked away in my camping gear, and that endless sky cried out for a kite. I couldn’t get it up in the air; I have no talent for aerodynamics. But I tethered the string to the gravestone and it kicked around on the ground, yearning for the wild blue yonder. I sang a song from my favorite movie; it felt so good I sang another song, a Bible-thumping camp song from my father’s youth. I remembered his eyes matched the Oklahoma sky on a bright spring day.

I thought, for no particular reason, of things that frightened me and decided to look inside the old church one more time. I remembered the warmth leaving my father’s hands as I wept and let him go. I leaned into the empty window frame of the old Zion Methodist Church and heard a storm of wings and wind and watched, transfixed, as a Great White Owl burst from the rafters, paused, as if posing for a snapshot, and whirled out the opposite window, an angel of a different kind.

I laid my daddy’s ashes to rest on Good Friday last year. Today, as Lent begins, I wonder where my journey leads me now.

Home-Made Balm

So, here’s another procrastination:

Home-Made Balm

Dear Anna, I was driving home with the baby tonight

(keeping him up later than I should)

singing songs my mama used to sing

draping them over him like worn cotton sheets

appeasement he accepted

with only the smallest of whimpers.

 

And I suddenly wanted

those old melodies to travel through space to you

a soothing, tender layer of sound

wrapping around your heart,

your mind

(whatever part of you needs solace)

 

Somehow, I knew those soft strains were traveling to you

and I became greedy to share

all the little comforts of my ordinary life with you:

The fact that my girl’s grown an inch in a month

the breathtaking curve of the baby’s cheek,

plump and perfect like a peach

the feel of the dirt in my hands

and the firm green wholeness of the iris I’m transplanting

 

Dear Anna, I send you this home-made balm with love.

Sweet dreams, bright soul.

 

Procrastinating Again.

My youngest is off visiting college, hopefully one she’ll attend next fall. I feel funny and unsettled. I should be writing for money. But as acknowledgement of my feelings, here’s a poem I wrote in 2004:

(untitled)

Nobody told me

how dark it is at three am when the baby runs a fever

Nobody told me

how hard it is to keep saying “no” with love

Nobody told me, either,

about the blinding brilliance of my own child’s smile

or how soft the hair that receives kisses

before the boy is off again.

May 2004

Pizza for dinner.

We’re having homemade pizza for dinner. My kitchen is warm and filled with good smells. I am blessed.

I’ve not been very faithful to my plan to Write Now, but here’s a bit of something I wrote in 2010. My regular writing gigs dried up around 2008, so by then I was pretty desperate for work. Here’s how I wound up delivering pizzas and blogging under the pseudonym “Mama Marinara” on Janet Simpson-Templin’s great site Pavo:

Advertising on Craig’s List brought one response that sounded great. The company was “looking for honest people with a keen eye for detail to visit various adult sites online and write the things they like and dislike about each.” Now, I’m not squeamish. I’ve written some pretty racy limericks. I even modeled nude for an art class a long, long time ago. Adult magazines don’t automatically earn my moral outrage. The job paid $350 a week.

Read the whole piece here: http://karynzweifel.com/?page_id=109

I want to go camping.

SerenityThisWay

Here’s why:

If you ever want to get outside yourself and just observe human nature, there’s no better place than an RV park.  We take along our tent, a 35-year-old relic my dad bought on a whim when his marriage was bright and shiny and his understanding of my mother was surging toward its high water mark.  To my memory we never used it.

I didn’t even know we had it, in fact, until my parents divorced and honored me with a explorer’s pass to the physical detrius of their marriage.  It’s boxy and square and makes a lot of noise assembling the aluminum poles.  I’m quite fond of it.

read more here

 

Why Write Now?

Writers write, right? That’s my favorite writing advice from my very favorite writer. So Write Now is not just about getting assignments and earning money. Although I really like earning money.

Write Now is an exercise in self-discipline. I’m going to try to write more. Starting Write Now.

Oh, but wait. Here’s a procrastination. I have bunches of stuff I’ve already written. So I’ll post that here. So I can go make another cup of coffee, stare into the fridge, make a grocery list, call an old friend. Anything. Because writing is hard. Writing procrastination, now, that’s easy…

Here are some personal essays, available write now, if you want to buy the rights and republish. Because I like money. Did I say that already? Or you can just read them. If you’re looking for an excuse to procrastinate, I’d be happy to make a small contribution to the cause.

I’ll work harder at self-discipline. And write something new. That leads me to my favorite advice from my other very favorite writer: don’t worry about shitty first drafts.

Happy Halloween!

I’m so excited to have Dog-Gone Ghost Stories available again! (scroll down to yesterday’s post)

They all had to be retyped, since the “digital” version I had from 1995 was on big floppy disks (and were probably corrupt anyway.) Re-reading them was a pleasure, to remember the stories and the many people who shared them with me.

If you don’t have a Kindle, you can still buy a kindle book and download the app to read them free.

southernvampirecover

I’m working on getting Southern Vampires in print again. Here’s what a reviewer said about my first book:

A collection of 13 Southern folktales involving vampires of all sorts. From a charming lady who collects husbands, to a Texas family haunted by psychic vampires, to a vampire who “assists” the elderly, these tales are filled with Southern charm. This is a truly enjoyable collection of Southern folksy horror. Spooky and yet not grossly so. A charming way to spend a dark rainy night.
-Dayna Smith

Happy reading!

Now Out On Kindle!

DGGSCover

Dog-Gone Ghost Stories Available Again!

Just published on Kindle, second edition, with all-new full color illustrations by Kai Zweifel-Turner.

 New Orleans, a Ghost, Ouija …What Could Be More Fun?

–from “Looking For The Light”

The planchette spun wildly, moving so rapidly my fingers could barely keep up. Finally it settled on the “yes.”

“Look for the light,” Mark whispered. The planchette shuddered and remained on “yes.”

“Can you see a light?” The lamp behind Madeline flickered and the bulb expired with a soft pop. I moved the planchette to its starting place.

“Can you see a light?”

The plastic triangle vibrated under my fingertips. The little light over the stove dimmed and went out. The planchette began to inch slowly to the left toward the word “no.”

“Look,” Mark said urgently. “Look all around. There must be a light!”

The planchette trembled again and stopped.  The air was electric. My fingers felt cold, bloodless; I felt like I’d been hunched over the little triangle of plastic since the dawn of time.

…and 12 more spooky tales of canine capers, now available!

Don’t have a Kindle e-reader? Get the app for any platform free here!