Hair flowing loosely with flowers falling with each step, her tambourine flicking sparks with each rattle, wrapped shirt tails revealing she now has a bejewelled belly button flicking light matching the mirrors in her blousing loose cotton maxi skirt, Janis Joplin has just arrived on this beach. Drinking in the salt air and cool mist, she is swaying to waves crashing in and out, each time creating ribbons of blues, silvers, purples, fleeting sunset-orange, white froth, and back to blues all the deeper and fuller. Deep from her throat her heart surges in breaking songs matching each falling crest. Dumbfounded, I stare. I know who she is, yes, but I know no more than three of her songs: Freedom found when she sings about Bobby McGee, a wail when giving a piece of her heart, then that Mercedes Benz song that caused so much turmoil years after she died. I knew them only from the AM radio station I listened to growing up crackling with static, accentuating her gritty, gutsy voice. Does she realize it's me? "Jan, yes you" bemused, I look to see if she's speaking to anyone else, but now she's right before me. "Let me tell you, I've been journeying over this earth over forty years now, close to fifty. We were supposed to meet, but you were only three when I died. I was supposed to come and meet you when you cried in heartache- I've been there. I would have understood about the risks and adventure. When everyone else was worried, I was going to be the one to whisper encouragement. . . why not? So, my death was not the plan - but hey, life's improvasition with planning for a back-up band. It's the improvisation that gives you voice. . . " She caught another deep breath of seaside air as cooling summer waters tickled over her toes, and she gasped a loud, long laugh. "Are you expecting a stereotype? The fast life? If only I'd lived long enough, I'd be drinking the teas - chai, matcha, chamomile - teaching yoga and music therapy, and falling in love every damn chance I'd get." She smiles at me, clearly looking right at me. "Ah, yes, I was supposed to be in the fights for equal rights, and the marches -- oh! those fabulous marches. I just took it all too seriously but not seriously enough. Why did I listen to the meanness? Why did I doubt myself? It wasn't about me in the small me. It was about me being part of something bigger -- the ME I was supposed to be." She's stopped the swaying, and she has grown fuller and brighter. "Don't be afraid. You've got today, tomorrow, and at least a few days more. Be bold. Be brave. Be beautiful. Have fun. You don't know what's coming, but remember about the improvisation. The electricity doesn't come from the guitar. It comes from you. Make your life a song. . . ." She disappeared, but the sparkles remained. The starred sky dipped down to the beach where I stood, the heavens and earth somehow connecting as the waves crashed in.
At five, “A shepherdess” I told him
For the tender lamb of my bedtime poem,
The freedom of the meadows and valleys,
The gentle pace and active, hard work.
At fifteen, “An actress” I replied
For the thrill of self-discovery and
My commanding voice carrying to the back wall
Where I connected with last row’s quietest people.
“A world traveler” at twenty-five
I had journeyed half a world away
And fallen in love with the people among castles,
Fountains, windmills, and castanets.
As my brother grew sick, I again found the beauty of home
Revisiting our memories in bus rides,
Childhood swings, and climbed trees
Before the final goodbye.
At thirty-five I knew the desire of wanting
Time to stop.
Time to grow.
Time to discover, laugh, dream, bicker, cry, giggle, and share deepest delight
Just one more time.
At forty-five, I asked for “grace and peace”
In the moments of quietly sitting, holding hands,
Humming songs, and thanking my father then my best friend
For our time together, the blessings they had been.
Now at fifty, a shepherdess’ steadfast protection over gentle ones appeals to me.
Teaching for a lifetime, can my voice carry to that student in the last row?
Spanish coasts and mountains beckon me to a pilgrimage.
Beyond any outward journey, though, I most yearn for one moment more with those I love.
World, my amazing World, you sustained me
When death came near.
Winds first rustling in wild torrents flew me
To the hospital, where waiting doctors listened for
Sirens above the whoosh.
Water iced over in silver-white edges cracked in support and
Traction in the frenzy of gurneys and running emergency bustle.
Candles flickered during desperate prayers in the darkest hours
That night when tiny flowers found strength in their mulch-covered seeds.
You, my World, embraced me then comforted and saw us through.
World, my nurturing World, you comforted me
When death stepped aside.
Trees in February’s chill dug into the deepest soils
Past dried leaves, left over snowed tears, and
Knotted growths to pull up the delicate leaf buds of
March, slowly, shyly gazing through my hospital window
Teaching me that roots grow within us all
Bringing life when we most need the breath for one more day.
World, my brazen World, you goaded and prodded
Me in defying the daily deaths of apathy, fear, and resignation
As I returned home yet needed more healing.
Sun shining into my home brought no soft rays of light but
Instead fire-flight wings of energized determination,
Allowing for my own tears to well-up and flow,
My hurt to howl out in springtime’s wind songs,
My knees to gratefully sink to soft muds and new grass in cries of humble gratitude
Following wobbly steps and murmured fears.
You celebrated and inspired
Recovery through a dark passage.
Your flames would reach up, billow, and tower to illuminate new paths or
Grow smaller into candle flames to warm each pastel spring morning to a golden afternoon
World, my miraculous World, you celebrate with me
A rebirth in this summer a year of trials, growth, and wonder after that first shock.
Winds elevate to make me want to fly or coo to me
Water in storm torrents or soft mist cleanse me
Your minerals, rocks, and soil connect me to a deeper, richer inner-well
Your fire warms for energy and ignites my determination.
World, my amazing, nurturing, brazen, miraculous World, thank you for my life.
Hello, All. I’m Jan, an English teacher at Longview Community College in Greater Kansas City. I’m also a wife with a wonderful partner (Steve,) big sister who finally at age 50 isn’t so bossy anymore (that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it,) cerebral aneurysm survivor, enthusiastic reader, and wanderlust. Any of these may be in my writing, but my own writing has gone beyond these few identities.
This is my first marathon, and I’m starting with 1/2 and 12 prompts. I seek ways to attend writing retreats or readings of any sort. I’ve been creating my creative space and personal time anew these past few years. Hope, tenacity, and humor have helped me move forward, but it is writing that has grounded me and given me “roots” for the strength I need. Besides, it’s fun. I’ve always written alongside my students, but that often came from responsibility. I continue that as part of my work, but I now write here and elsewhere for myself.
I’ve been discovering the ins and outs of this site and e-conversing with various people on the Facebook page. Check that out if you have the inclination.