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 FRESH FROM THE INKWELL 

TUSCANY, O TUSCANY!

PRAIRIES WRITERS HOMEWORK:
FIRST 10 WORDS WERE PULLED AT RANDOM FROM A BOOK

“I want to take a closer look at the mural,” I tell my coworkers, as the last student leaves the building.

The library buzzes with preparations for my farewell party, due to start in thirty minutes. Fruit, veg, cupcakes, napkins are laid out in rainbow order. A Yellow Brick Road made of butcher paper is unfurled across the top of the bookshelves, for attendees to sign.

I walk on down the hallway, and enter the teachers’ lounge.

The boldness of the mural always takes me by surprise. Should it have more distance–like Veronese’s “Wedding at Cana” at one end of a huge gallery in the Louvre—for viewers to get a proper perspective on the Italian landscape? But we don’t have that kind of space at College Street Elementary.

Cuisine, literature, movies, home décor, everything is Tuscan in 2010, it seems. The faculty had grown tired of the previous mural, a fishing scene in muted tones, after a decade of lunching beside it. Our principal had conspired with Susan and decided we needed Tuscany.

So, how did it fall to yours truly to create the new mural? Because I am the Art Specialist. But what made me think I had time for this, my biggest undertaking yet, six foot by twelve? Flattery, mostly, plus the challenge and the fun of it.

I love paint! After watching the kids produce art for five years, it was my turn—with help from an overhead projector and a team of volunteers. They slapped primer over the old mural, and we searched online for soothing images of cypress trees and whitewashed villas.

While a clatter of utensils and voices echoes from the library, I take a closer look at the mural.

I touch the sunburnt tiles of the foreground building marked ALBERGO, an inn or restaurant. It is smooth, buttery, just the right tint of vermilion—a blend of students’ tempera, household latex, and acrylic flow medium. The shadows under the eaves are Patty’s work, applying what she’d learned in a watercolor class.

Angela, Wendy, and Debbie, less experienced but most enthusiastic, had filled the penciled fields with various greens and browns, using a nice dry-brush texture. We had twirled our brush-tips Van Gogh-style around the foliage, and debated the colors of the sailboats on the distant lake.

Are those purple splotches under the row of poplars unrealistic? That’s all right, if our aim is a place of escape, an oasis from the day-to-day stress of teaching.

Now I scan the boxy roofs, windows, chimneys of Tuscany, and see that all is well. I pull a black Sharpie marker from the pocket of my paint-spattered apron, to sign and date the bottom right corner--giving credit to Tan Chun, whose work inspired us.

My eyes follow the earth’s overlapping curves toward the farthest hills. The mural needs one final touch. In the cloud-blown sky, I place a bird, a simple V, the kind children like to draw. I add a second, then a third, each smaller than the previous one.

They represent three retirees: Patty, Debbie, and me, winging our way to new lives beyond the classroom—or in my case, beyond Texas to Kansas.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” drifts down the hall from a CD player.

It is time to go greet my guests and join the party. Read More 

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A MUSE NAMED APRIL

Last Monday was a perfect evening for a walk around the neighborhood in crop pants and sandals - warm, with a slight breeze. Rays of light burst through the clouds like a preview of Christ's return, and Nature sang His praises! Jet behaved perfectly on her leash, staying by my side, not pulling ahead as Shadow used to. I wonder if the young volunteers at the animal shelter trained her to do this. Even Carmen's three Pyrenees dogs kept their distance, and Jet didn't bark at them the way she does when in the front yard. We saw one swallowtail, one blue jay, two robins, three flocks of cedar waxwings, and a pair of cardinals in their customary nesting tree on Woolsey Road. The redbuds are in full bloom, later than in previous years. I prayed for the residents of these white and pink frame houses and mobile homes, especially the kids in an aging population. God is blessing our little corner of the heartland. Read More 
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KANSAS VOICES

This poem was published in KANSAS VOICES 2011, a book of winning poetry and prose from the annual Winfield Arts & Humanities writing contest. I wrote it while living in The Colony and teaching 3rd grade in Carrollton, north of Dallas, Texas. The judge's comments appear below.

CRYING FOR CRIDER (Adult Runner-Up)

I’ll miss you, Crider Road,
when you close for good tomorrow.
I’ve grown to love your curves and turns;
each bump and crack feels like a friend.
Today I took you extra slow,
admiring morning glories.

As green makes way for asphalt,
glass, and brick—a shopping strip,
a parking lot—I’ll miss the gentle herds
that grazed, their chestnut heads arched
over the fence, to taste the juicy grass
beside your sloping shoulders.

One afternoon at the top of the hill
all traffic stopped for a cow who jumped
the wire and crossed to the old white house,
now gone, burned down mysteriously.

I’ll miss the black-eyed Susan, daisies,
Indian blanket, along this slice of country
not yet dozed or razed for office blocks
and gated homes. Dear Crider, you weathered
water, drought, and hail throughout
my three years’ rural commute.

Sunrise lit my way accompanied by trumpets
as I conducted March of the Day on WRR.
Avoiding mudslides at the last bend,
I skirted ditches, ever expecting
an ambulance and diversion signs.

Laid off, redundant, dead you’ll lie, blocked
by barriers. The Josey Lane extension beckons,
broad, straight, flat. Swoosh! The traffic whispers,
Join us. This is progress. This is good.

"Hazel Spire's poem, 'Crying For Crider,' has the quality of a slow reverie. It successfully evokes the sadness of a pensive woman recalling details of her daily commute on a country road the day before the road is 'laid off' for good.

What strikes me most about the poem is its remarkable musicality. The poem's speaking voice, believable and natural, flows smoothly in and out of a lulling iambic pentameter: 'I'll miss you, Crider Road,' the poem begins simply. A few lines down, the rhythm changes; 'I've grown to love your curves and turns; each bump and crack feels like a friend./Today I took you extra slow.'

In this poem, Spire, a fine wordsmith, manages many poetic devices: assonance (curves, turns), consonance (dozed, razed), alliteration (sloping shoulders, weathered, water). These devices never seem overdone, but work together with rhythm and tone to create a longing in the reader for beautiful, temporal places like Crider Road."

~ Nedra Rogers, Poet & Teacher, Lawrence, Kansas. Read More 
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OKLAHOMA FALL

I wrote this poem a number of years ago when we lived in Texas, on our way to visit family in Kansas, knowing we would eventually retire to the country. It has been published in Runnymede News, Poets' Gallery, and Homeward Tracks.

OKLAHOMA FALL

Sunflowers bow dead heads,
their glory spent. Mimosa fades
with summer dreams, shudders
beneath a gray flannel sky laced
with wires. The swallows flit
in dark, shifting patterns.
The river lies drained, cobalt
shapes conforming to a copper bed.
Cream-faced cattle plod and graze,
plod and graze. Across the highway
stubble smokes where children
used to romp barefoot.

Today they ride a yellow bus:
It plows through the dust, past
the shuttered one-room schoolhouse
to the gyms, computers, labs
of a busier town. Established 1917
the drugstore keeps its corner watch
with vacuous eyes wearied by change.
Pear-laden boughs extend an offer
of pies for community suppers,
preserves for winter pantries.
Leaves skip down the church’s
tin roof, scurry like squirrels around
the sign below: Fall Revival. Read More 
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