Who feared, as hope’s flowers unfolded,
that blossoms might fade
with unseasonal change
and petals blow free down the wind?
Who dreamed, when love’s singing first started,
that melodies drifting
through dissonant chords
might keen like a nightbird’s last cry?
Who dared with life’s dance just beginning
to partner with fates
unaccustomed to grasp
at the swift, sudden stumbles of time?
Who wept, at the journey’s frail ending,
for the path never taken,
the compass unused,
the years still untrodden, untried?
                                 ~  Linda Leinen


Comments always are welcome.

92 thoughts on “Ephemera

          1. Well, yes. There is that. But decay can be a slow process, and there are ways to reverse — or at least mitigate — some of that process. Every day, I use eye drops that have held my glaucoma in check for at least five years, and maybe longer. A century ago, I might have been seeing far less of this wonderful world at this point.

  1. A four month old, June 19 to Sept 22, 1925, a life never lived, and yet your words seem too, to be those of a long life’s last lament. Beautiful, Linda.

  2. Linda, this is beautifully written! The photo is tops, too, but your poem conjures up all kinds of emotions, ranging from melancholy to serenity. How fleeting is time, you know?

    1. Thanks, Debbie. There still are two words in the poem that don’t quite satisfy me, but in time I may find the right ones and do a revision. I very much like that you mentioned both melancholy and serenity. Our culture doesn’t have much time for either, but they can coexist in interesting ways.

    1. Some of the simplest and yet most touching gravestones I’ve seen have been those of infants and children. This favorite is in the Galveston Broadway cemeteries; it always reminds me of the line from the Biblical story: “the child is not dead, but sleeping.”

    1. The photo’s from the Hawley cemetery near Blessing. I’d gone there in 2016 to take photos of the monument to Shanghai Pierce and his family. I don’t remember what the weather was like, but there had been enough rain that the resurrection ferns on the oaks were looking good, and a few gravestones in a low spot, including this one, had a couple of inches of water over them. I really was taken with the sight.

    1. No matter how we wish life’s limits away, they stay. Coming to terms with them can involve sadness, but now and then a certain serene satisfaction emerges as well.

    1. You and Biene certainly have learned that lesson, Peter. Age may or may not bring wisdom, but it certainly brings a different perspective; that in itself can be a beautiful thing.

    1. It’s always pleasing when things ‘click’ in just the right way. There’s always room for improvement, but in the case of this poem, there are only two words I think might be changed. For now, it seemed worth sharing, and I’m really glad you thought so, too.

    1. Thanks so much. Like you, I’d be ambivalent about living forever, but a few more years would be nice. I laugh whenever someone asks, “What would you do if you knew you were going to die?” If I’m fast enough, I always ask, “You mean there’s an option?”

  3. A wonderful poem, Linda, terribly sad but beautiful. And a beautiful photograph.
    I grew up in an old house next to an old burial ground, where the last interment was probably over a century ago. Some of the old marble stones are illegible now and my dad told me one time, that after years of being bothered by that erosion and loss of memorials, he’s begun to find it to be a good lesson, even comforting in a way, because seeing that even stones fade and crumble away is a reminder to focus on how we’re living our lives in the here & now.

    1. I’ve had the photo in my files since 2016, and some of the words of the poem in mind nearly that long. It’s the Paul Masson approach to poetry: we serve no rhyme until its time.

      I’ve often thought that old stones of every sort — gravestones of course, but also old buildings, old streets, old landscapes — appeal at least in part because they make visible the tension between our human longing for permanence and the inevitable processes of natural dissolution and decay. Perhaps that’s part of the reason truly old cemeteries are so appealing. Their stones slowly are fading away, but without resistance, and without grief.

    1. The number of children and infants is especially noticeable in the oldest cemeteries, like the Hawley cemetery where this photo was taken. Etablished in 1854, it holds the graves of a number of historic Texas figures, and also a good number of unknown people. An out-of-control brush fire once destroyed about 80 wooden markers, and now there’s no certain record of who they were.

  4. I like the word danarhyne used in comment above, bittersweet. Not a lot more adventures for me here on earth’s soil, but I understand there are things awaiting that I will be eye-opening. By faith….and God’s grace.

    1. When she mentioned bittersweet, I had to smile. That’s one of my favorite plants: one that I used to go out to gather along the fencelines. Now that I think about it, that’s where bittersweet life experiences often are found — at the edges of our well-tended lives. Like pretty bittersweet berries, such experiences can be beautiful, too. And, they tend to last, like berries tucked into a vase.

    1. Every now and then I come across some researcher or organization that claims to be able to predict the end of my life. Apparently some people find that intriguing, but I’ll pass. That it will come is a certainty, and for many it comes quite early, but that’s the nature of all life. The dove taken by a hawk at my feeder yesterday might have seen the hawk, but she went out to feed anyway.

    1. I do enjoy structure; it’s part of the fun of haiku and etheree for me. Here, an almost old-fashioned structure worked out nicely. I’m glad for your appreciation.

    1. Thanks, Josie. I really like that last stanza myself. ‘Frail’ isn’t quite right for the rhythm, but I think I might have a revision that will make it even better. For now, it’s just fine as is.

    1. There was about two inches of water above the stone. Most of the cemetery was dry, but in this little swale, the stones had been covered with water for some time. That’s why the water itself was brownish; it was tannin from the oak leaves that had been soaking in it.

  5. Beautiful, Linda. And does age really matter in its message? I am forever grateful to the paths I have wandered down, to the loves I have known and now know, to whatever wisdom I have gained, to the friends I have, and yet there are paths not taken, experiences missed, and love lost… Thank you my friend, for your words.

    1. Age certainly doesn’t matter. In fact, the thoughts that eventually became the poem were grounded in experiences that had nothing to do with cemeteries or early death. You and Peggy are exemplars of people who’ve learned the lesson many seem to refuse; we get only one trip through this world, and while we can’t do everything, be everywhere, or experience everything, to the degree possible, we still should do, be, and experience!

  6. Spring isn’t the usual time for a memento mori, in both the poem and the image combination of spring green, fallen leaves, and inscription. Both are somber and very effective.

    1. And yet in a different hemisphere, autumn is making itself known, and different natural rhythms are beginning to take hold. That in itself is a kind of memento mori: as gorgeous as our local spring may be, autumn will come. Albert Camus once wrote, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” In like manner, however summery our lives, there will come the inevitable winter.

    1. So much of life is devoted to action, and appropriately so. That said, one of the gifts of age is time to look back at a lifetime of experience, and reflect. Sometimes the most cherished achievements seem less important, and the greatest sorrows reveal unexpected beauty. It’s the mix of it all that’s so satisfying. William Blake got it right:

      “Joy and woe are woven fine,
      A clothing for the soul divine,
      Under every grief and pine,
      Runs a joy with silken twine.
      It is right it should be so,
      We were made for joy and woe,
      And when this we rightly know,
      Through the world we safely go.”

    1. Thanks, Tina. To the extent that we’re able to notice those beginnings and endings, our notice is itself a kind of tribute. I can’t help myself; every time I see a squirrel that didn’t make it across the road, I grieve a little. Granted, there might have been a hawk waiting on the other side of the road, but life’s unpredictabilities abound!

    1. I think today’s jargon would make this a ‘scalable’ poem. That makes sense to me. There are plenty of parallels to draw between individuals and societies, including birth and death. Thanks for noticing that, and thanks for your complimentary words.

  7. The swift sudden stumbles of time..how very swift they are! This is beautiful and had my heart aching as I traveled back through my life. Not aching in a bad way, just aching at those swift stumbles of time and wishing time would slow down just a little.

    1. It’s odd about time’s passage. Most of us rarely experience it from day to day, but there are moments when we stop, and realize how many years have passed. On the other hand, sometimes time seems to collapse. In the grand scheme of things, your ancestors’ wagons could have crossed those prairies just yesterday. Some day, your grandchildren may look at photos like the one of you and your husband packing salt into the summer pasture and experience the same longing to slow down — or reverse — time.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ashley; I appreciate it very much. Some cemeteries — usually older ones — communicate a sense of serenity as well as sadness. Spending time in them always feels worthwhile.

    1. It does seem that way at times. On the other hand, I also like to remember that famous line from William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Even as we live in the present and anticipate the future, the past, with all its glories and tribulations, continues to resonate. Sometimes I think that’s what nostalgia is: less a desire to return to the past than an acknowledgement that it’s still with us, and living.

      1. I like to think so, because I do get nostalgic sometimes. It’s not that I want to return to the past, but I don’t want to forget it either. It shaped me, and I do like to hang on to the good memories. The bad ones, not so much. But that’s a choice I can make.

  8. Cemeteries generate a melancholy in me. They are uncomfortable places. I guess it’s not so much the thought of bodies decaying as it is the knowledge that so many stories remain untold. Just my few years on this globe and working for a weekly is enough to drive home the point that in these graveyards are many a story that should have been told. Your poetry brought that to the surface. Well done.

    1. Although cremation is gaining in popularity, I still prefer a good, old-fashioned cemetery where the stones at least suggest the stories hidden beneath the surface. Modern ‘memorial gardens’ with identical stones, neatly trimmed grass, and highly regulated flowers, leave me cold. It’s nearly time for the flowers to appear in Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries, and while I spend time photographing the flowers, I’ll also look for stories among the stones.

  9. This is a beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing it with us. If anything, for me, this poem captures the awareness and the reflection of time passing. It’s the realization that nothing is timeless…and that is both an awakening along with a sense of loss.

    1. Accepting the realities that come along with the passage of time can be difficult, but that acceptance also brings a certain serenity. Beyond that, learning to accept limits often saves us from a good bit of grief. There are things I used to do at work that I no longer attempt. I certainly have lost some of the strength and sense of balance I had thirty years ago; refusing to make adjustments for that is silly — or stupid!

  10. There comes a time when life begins to wind down. Things you once did easily become “usta coulds.” One way or another, either through retirement or illness, there comes time for reflection and you wonder about the roads not taken and begin to play “what if” with the past. . The Talking Heads’ song is relevant.

    1. That sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole. I knew the name of The Talking Heads, although I didn’t know the song you linked. Eventually, I figured it out. Somewhere along the line I was introduced to the video for the song “Stay Up Late” and thought, “What in the world?

      One of the best reflections on a life well and not so well lived comes from an old Houston boy. It’s my personal favorite for reflection just now: utterly realistic, and utterly optimistic.

    1. There are times when it’s impossible to know whether we’re moving forward or backward until even more time has passed, and we can give events that ‘backward look’ that provides a certain perspective. Perspective (sometimes known as wisdom) is one of the great advantages of age. People in their 20s and 30s just don’t have as much to look back on, and it’s sometimes obvious!

    1. Memories can be like feathers on the wind. They float in and out of our consciousness in ways that are both predictable and unpredictable, all while begging for attention. Sometimes I think unbidden memories — those brought by scent, or sound — are the best. Like Proust’s Madeleine, one can lead to another.

      1. Yes, I was just talking about this in class today. Memory sometimes masters us and sometime we lead the charge. I agree, the best are the unbidden ones that take us back to lovely times, or perhaps that bring those lovely times into the present.

  11. Thank you for sharing such inspired writing!

    I reckon I may be a contrarian, but I have now read your poem four times and it seems I’m in the minority in thinking it’s not sad. Admittedly, I have always been one of those “infernal optimists” so perhaps I just don’t want to see sorrow on the off chance I might become infected.

    Your offering reminds me I am still here to enjoy another Spring. After I am no longer here, Spring shall still appear to offer others joy and hope.

    A lifetime underachiever, I can only relate to one of your four stanzas. The phrase “… to partner with fates unaccustomed …” is how I continue to embrace life. I know there will be a deterioration in the quality of life leading to an ending.

    But oh, what will be around all the next bends until then!

    1. Can you see me smiling? I’ve had the sense that we were kindred spirits to one degree or another, and your comment confirms it. When I published this poem, I didn’t consider it sad at all. If anything, I was thinking about the unexpectedness of life, and its complexities. I certainly hadn’t made any assumption that an infant or child was buried beneath that stone, which I chose only because it was the best image I had of an ambiguous marker: one that might have served for anyone. Somehow, things took a turn.

      But poems are like clouds. The same cloud may look like an elephant to one person and a ham sandwich to another. As the country saying has it, “there ain’t no accountin’ for folks.” On the other hand, “reading into” a poem is a constant temptation; I found myself wondering if a whole variety of personal sadnesses hadn’t been “read into” the poem. There’s nothing wrong with that, but conveying or evoking sadness wasn’t my intent. A clear-eyed look at the vicissitudes of life comes closer, and even now, when I read it again, it makes me happy.

      1. Whew! I thought something was wrong with me! Well, something ELSE, that is. (There is a long list.)

        Yes, count me on the side of the “happy cloud” observers!

  12. Sadness, poignancy, beauty, all can exist together in life and in poetry. As we age I think for most of us life’s lessons teach us how to accept our mortality and that of life around us so we can appreciate better the beauty presented over time.
    An example of ephemeral beauty would be the early spring woodland flowers we await. Their time is short, determined by the sunlight’s ability to find its way through bare branches before leaves take over and capture that light before it reaches the ground.
    As always you have succeeded in finding “just the right words”.

    1. Thinking about our ephemeral flowers, it occurred to me that heat is the element that sends so many of them packing. It’s one reason people love late cool spells and rain; both help to extend the lives of plants like bluebonnets. Of course, some are even more delicate, like the blue-eyed grass. I’d never thought about the effect of leafing trees on the flowers below; it’s something to think about when I visit the forested land in east Texas again.

      As with flowers, so with life. There’s never any predicting exactly how circumstances are going to combine, or what effect each person’s life circumstances will have. That’s neither happy nor sad; it simply is. Accepting that, and moving on, makes happiness more possible.

      1. I think you have it there – acceptance is the essential for being able to cope with the effects of time and to be able to simply enjoy being alive. A beautiful poem and a beautiful image. Thank you for sharing them!

        1. You’re welcome, Ann. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem and the image. On the other hand, my memory of the blue-eyed grass was off a bit. It does fade with the heat, but yesterday I found fields suddenly filled with it. Because the flowers are relatively short, masses of them can create a kind of blue haze floating just above the ground. It will be gone shortly, but it’s gorgeous while it’s here. It’s an effect I’ve given up trying to photograph; I just enjoy it.

    1. Thank you, Dina. The cemetery where I found the gravestone is very old, and rather isolated, out in the country. One of these days I’ll go back and explore some more. After rain, the huge old oaks are covered with resurrection ferns; it’s quite a sight all on its own.

    1. It does have a lilt, doesn’t it? It’s the rhythm, I think. The first and last lines of each stanza scan in the same way — and my goodness, getting that to happen was a bit of a project. Every now and then I’d let it lie fallow, and then start again. More often than not, the right word or phrase would appear.

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