On My Mind: the writings of Sarah Bracey White                                                                                        

 
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    My Life Is Not As I Expected

I arrived late at the altar of marriage,

long past my fertility use-by date,

On our family tree

my line ends abruptly.

Unable to seed the future,

I mine the past

dig deeply,

into veins of familial misfortune

bear witness to stories,

long suppressed

behind sugar-starched, lace curtains.

 

My revelations inspire fear

in those who hide the truth

behind forced smiles.

Or seal their lips

with fermented libations.

They would have me write fiction

cloak history in gossamer,

present images that

bear no resemblance

to those whose genes we share.

 

They whisper that I,

childless, unfettered

free of impressionable children,

have abandoned self-control

in favor of self-indulgence.

Perhaps they are right,

for I disdain high pedestals 

that require vigilant balance.

Instead, I tread the fallow fields

and spread the stories

of lives lived when life

had to be raked from barren soil.

 

My written words

shall carry forward  our history,

that it may be uttered

by the young who follow me.

Unlike those before us

who discovered truths

and tried to express them

in a time and place

where their voices could not rise

above a whisper,

this next generation will be armed

with knowledge of the past

And able to build a life

On the pedestals of truth.

I send this gift into the future

It will be my offering

from beyond the grave.

 

             * * * * * * * * *

 

      Final Goodbyes

This time, I part the iron gates alone,

Lilies heavy in the cradle of my arms.

20 years ago,

I was one of four grieving girls

Brought here to bid farewell

To the portal

Through which we each had passed.


A year later, we came back

And lowered the shell

Of the father we never know

Into the waiting arms

Of the wife

Who cherished his name

Long after he'd left her.


"Together in death,"

My sister said,

As if that made everything

Alright . . .

Washed away the years

Of longing,

Stilled my anger.


Did I alone recall summer evenings

When, shielded by darkness,

My mother voiced regrets?

While I nursed secret dreams

That he'd come home cleansed,

Make us whole again,

Banish the shame we felt?

But he never did. Tired of waiting,

I set off to find solace for my pain.

Still I search.


Angelic statues

Gaze across the grassy knolls.

Bronze markers hug the earth,

Sometimes inverted

To reveal vases

Filled with new blooms.

Gifts, outside death's doorway.


As I search

The manicured glade

I wish for a North Star

To guide me to my family's plot.

Is this a pathway?

Or do I tread upon

Someone's unmarked bones?


Why does this familiar place

Yield no names like mine?

Have the givers of my life moved?

Should I drop my pain here

To seep into the earth?

The sky grows dim.

I must go where I am expected.


I set the lilies upon a just-filled grave,

Whisper farewell.

to its unnamed occupant.

The wind, caressing my face,

Bids me farewell in return.

I close the gates

And walk away.

               * * * * * * * * *


           Boxes

Memories of boxes

keep me contained,

stymie the exuberance I feel

with each new dawn.


Her voice, loud and clear

despite the grave

warns me to stay in line

be not the first

the new to try.


But all is new to me

For I’ve not lived before

And carry no memories

of repercussions

from failed attempts

at self expression.


Boxes lined her dressing table.

Each contained a memento

some cherished, some scorned,

all solid-as-plaster

holding up,

holding in,

holding out

Hope for resurrection

Never to be set free

like me.

When boxes fall apart

and dreams set sail

on deaf ears and open eyes.

 From “Learning to See” workshop 

             * * * * * * * * *

 

Claiming My History


Though long separated from my roots

I claim southern heritage.

I, who hated my South Carolina birthplace

and those there who held me inferior,

because of my skin color 

now proudly hail the South

and its formidable strength.


My mother refused to leave her home

though it dishonored her dreams

and destroyed her family.

She held fast, stayed the course

assuring me that one day

I would understand her refusal to flee up North.


She was right. Now I understand

the chains that held her captive.

Memories like thick molasses

coated the pain of her daily interactions.

History entwined with moss on Cypress trees

and white magnolias flourishing from gnarly branches

fed her faith and kept her going.

Raging storms that threatened destruction

tossed her ship about,

etched lines around her eyes,

took her breath away. Still, she stayed the course

to give me a home and an identity,

in a place where children like me

often became invisible.


No silver spoon served my early meals

from china bowls on which my name was scribed

but loving arms protected me from harm

And planted seeds as grand as any man’s,

I grew in spirit and in flesh

Soon yearned for even better than the best

That was arrayed before me in my youth.

And then, I returned, pen in hand,

eyes and ears wide open,

to wrest my birthright from lips long sealed

And pay tribute to this gift inside me

That has survived long enough to be opened.

 

                        * * * * * * * * *

 


A Lasting Impression


My father IS no more,

and was not, when he was,

At least, not for me.

My mother spoke no words of him

Though often I caught her dreamy-eyed,

Adrift in a sea of passion

that caused her skin to flame.

(I could only guess it involved him

since I knew she loved no other man.)

Startled, as if discovered in transgression,

she'd chastise ME, as if it were I who had sinned.


He disappeared before I could record his face,

And no man-made images of him inhabited our house.

So, I fanned the embers my sisters tried to drown,

Begged them to paint me a picture.

They did, using our bodies as reference points.

Said my oldest sister's lips were full, like his,

Our brother's high forehead was a perfect replica.

My piano playing sister's slender fingers rivaled his own.

And me? I had inherited his heavy-lidded eyes.

Still, that was not enough for a lasting impression.


Now, I stare into my father's casket

And long to touch his face,

But am afraid to mar the powder that separates us.

So instead I memorize what I see: gaunt hands

Crossed upon themselves. Strong chin. Silent lips.

Hair grey at the temples. So dignified, so peaceful.

Did he go willingly, not caring that he was leaving behind

A daughter in need of a memory to last her lifetime?

I whisper, Daddy, and spill tears onto his silent face.

Then, I turn away, tightly clutching my lasting impression.

 

                      * * * * * * * * *

 


          A Gathering of Crows


A boisterous murder of crows convene

Settle in pecking order upon a sacred site

Wings finally freed from wasteful exertion

Eyes intent, focused inward, reflecting.

The cawing cacophony defies comprehension

Yet, like water over ancient river rocks,

They soothe weary passers-by, draw them close 

In hopes of absorbing this life force.

Under cover of darkness, protected by one another

The murder finally sleeps. And dreams new dreams. 

Morning breaks. Feathers rustle, then spread.

Beaks feed upon tender morsels, newly brought to light.

Soon, they will return to where it all began

Fortified, renewed. Eager for the journey 

Anxious to explore challenges yet unseen -- but sensed. 

Ready to crow.

 


Written during summer-of -the crow,  July 15, 2007

 

               * * * * * * * * *

 



Tears and Laughter  
(In-Memorium, for Lisa Sullivan, my beloved niece)

When death claims a loved one

The heart cries out.

But anger does not quell the pain,

And tears cannot assuage the longing.

When the loved one is young,

The misery is multiplied by regret.

For milestones never reached,

Feats never accomplished,

Potential never fulfilled. . .

In the valley of the shadow of death, 

The list of complaints grows long.

And yet, if our loved one cried every tear,

And laughed all their laughter,

They completed their assignment in this life

And could turn the page to pursue their journey in the next.

Those of us left behind can only press into service 

The lessons they imprinted on our hearts

While we cry all of our tears, and laugh all of our laughter.

                       * * * * * * * * *


                  The Stage

Forty is too young for a star to leave the stage

And enter the wings alone.

Yet, she did -- this child I loved beyond reason.

Was she unafraid at the calling,

And went willingly? Or did she resist, 

Pleading for time to complete her self-less dreams? 

You were her favorite,” they said.“She loved you so much...”

In the valley of the shadow of her death 

These words bring no consolation,

Only regret and guilt. 

I should have seen... should have insisted... 

Should have done something to save her. 

A river within consumes me.

I see, and feel, nothing

Want no consolation

From strangers or friends.

Instead, I whip my wounded soul,

Hoping to bring forth tears that will cleanse my flesh

And connect me to the spirit who lies beyond the vale.

But nothing can bridge the divide. She is gone, gone forever.

Like candle flames, 

Photographs flit across my mind.

Comforting me, assuaging my guilt.

Reminding me of the love we shared.

The orchestra plays its overture

While tears burn pathways down my cheeks, 

And meet in the valley near my heart.

From afar, she cues me to into the spotlight.

I wipe my eyes, take her cue, and walk on stage.


    * * * * * * * * *


          Friendship

                             (for Ann and Linda)

 


Often burned

In the flash-fires of friendship

I shield my flesh with distance

Until I can no longer resist

the pull of my heart’s desire

And dash into the circle

Where I dance with pure abandon

But always retreat

just before the music ends

While I am still intact

Though full of longing

For yet another encore

Within the flames.

                       * * * * * * * * *

 

 

 

Solace


In times of fear and stress,

I calm myself by reciting the Gettysburgh Address.

That historic gathering of melodic words 

soothes the angst of modern life.

I can almost hear Abe’s voice – 

sonorous with the heavy burdens 

of the country he governs – 

lifting his words, like smooth stones

and floating them across a bloodstained battlefield

where soldiers await marching orders 

for a war far from over.

Somehow, it taps a deep, primordial vein.

Puts my cares in perspective,

and lets loose upon my spirit

a hope that I too can rise to the occasion.

Assures me I am not alone. 

Gives me the courage to stand,

and fight for what I believe, 

and for what I want.

It makes me feel

I am but one part of humanity’s puzzle.