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Confetti of April Prayers: A Poem for National Poetry Month

 

April Is Also National Poetry Month!

 

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

While this entire month of April seems defined by COVID 19, please remember that April is also National Poetry Month. Throughout these extraordinary thirty days of April, I hope that you will take at least a little time to soothe your soul and lift your spirit with poetry. Furthermore, if you are participating in home schooling, I do hope that you will consider encouraging one or more young students to read some poetry and write a poem. For the very young ones, you may just want to try a rhyming game and then read a children’s book with a rhymed story to these little ones. What a wonderful time to bring some poetry into your home!

 

Confetti of April Prayers

 

Poem for older readers, by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

Alone,

I know

There are unanswered prayers–

At least, some seem unanswered.

While some people know well daily prayers,

there are rare prayers,

From those who usually do not care for prayer.

Next in line are the unexpected prayers–

Prayers in the midst of tragedy or triumph.

Also, there are the patient and impatient prayers–

As well as prayers from patients and medical professionals,

Pastors, parents, and politicians,

Post office clerks and police,

Poets and priests …

 

There are prayers from playgrounds and Ground Zero,

From farmlands and factories,

Sandy beaches and Basilicas,

Homes and hospitals …

 

However, with all of the overwhelming news of Corona,

How can there be enough prayers?

How can I pray for one person or group,

But not another?

How can I pray for all?

 

Then, I turned around and found

A wicker basket on the ground.

Inside the basket was

A rainbow of confetti.

 

Alone,

I heard an angel’s whisper:

“Say your prayers;

Then, throw some confetti into the air.

Your April prayers will go everywhere–

Where prayers are most needed,

For prayers fly safely with confetti

And then land gently upon

So many weary, but welcoming hearts.

 

* * *

 

Enjoy National Poetry Month!

Be well and poetry positive!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

April 1, 2020, Wednesday

 

Weaving an Easter Basket

 

Weaving an Easter Basket: A Lullaby for a Little World

 

Poem By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Why does this springtime seem so bleak?

Taken aback, I heard the news yesterday:

The Archbishop proclaimed no services during Holy Week,

No Mass in church on Easter Sunday.

 

So, besides holding hands together in prayer,

Let us use our prayerful hands

To weave an Easter basket.

We have seventeen days–plenty of time.

 

Let us start with a base of understanding.

Each spoke will stand as common sense.

The first reeds, first weavers, will be counted blessings.

Second weavers, double weavers, will be reeds of patience.

Twisted weavers will combine strength of spirit and endurance.

Finishing touches work into a sturdy handle of hope.

 

What shall we put into our Easter baskets?

Begin with a soft gingham cloth of gentleness.

Add a few decorative containers of kindness.

Insert a couple of cards of humor.

No, no–do not hoard items in your basket!

Let the basket overflow only with love.

 

Finally, tie a ribbon around the handle–

A ribbon for remembrance

Of better times, easier days,

Of daffodils that will perennially bloom

And trumpet mellow notes of good cheer

Until tiny lilies-of-the-valley harmonize a lullaby

And rock this little world to calming sleep.

 

* * *

 

Hug your home, stay safe and wisely well!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

March 25, 2020, Wednesday

 

Poem: Anniversary Aside (for My Four Leader Dogs)

 

 

NOTE: On this World Poetry Day, on this 30th anniversary of my working with four beloved and amazing Leader Dogs, and in the midst of these most extraordinary times–I share with you the following poem which I wrote this evening in the span of about forty-two minutes before Leader Dog Willow and I went on an anniversary walk. Of course, I will not count the time spent revising and editing this poem which I pondered off and on throughout the earlier hours of this Saturday.

 

 

Anniversary Aside

 

Poem by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Quietly, humbly, I show you my tiny grain of sand.

Can you see it? Can you feel it?

I do.

It is between my impeccably clean

Thumb and forefinger,

Where I roll the grain of sand

Back and forth, back and forth–

And I remember brightly and warmly–a little tearfully–

What this grain of sand represents:

My thirty years with four Leader Dogs.

 

Celebration of an anniversary is put aside

To concentrate on the ocean of happenings,

To poise and await a pandemic of patience,

To be alert to the cascade of kindness,

To pray for a preview of coming attractions

Wherein the world will be better, nearly worry-free, and much healthier .

 

Although I live across the boulevard from the Cathedral,

I hear no wedding bells.

Where is the anniversary cake?

Where is the Downton Abbey wine I saved for this day?

Where is the Holy Water?

The baptismal font lies empty–

But, perhaps, there, too, will be found a grain of sand–

Hope.

 

In this grain of hope

Which I touch and cherish,

I hold my treasured memories

Of the blessings of my life–

Four extraordinary Leader Dogs:

Keller, Heather, Zoe, and Willow.

On this 21st of March,

Three decades after first touching Keller’s harness,

All I need to celebrate

Is my guide-dog memories

And Willow at my side.

 

* * *

 

With wishes that you also will be able to celebrate the grains of sand, wherever you find them!

Count blessings, be kind, and stay well!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

March 21, 2020, Saturday

 

During These Extraordinary Times, Try Poetry as Therapy

 

During These Extraordinary Times, Try Poetry as Therapy

 

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

On this extraordinary March 18, 2020–I think of March 18, 1990. Thirty years ago today, I arrived at Leader Dog School for the first time–I arrived at a wonderful, new stage in my life. That March of thirty years ago was the bud that blossomed into a bright and beautiful new world of independence for me. Happily and most gratefully, I am still on that stage with my remarkable fourth Leader Dog, Willow. However, now we all have stepped onto a very different stage of life. On this new, unwanted stage of life, many of us need to turn to moments, minutes, and hours away from all of the news to strengthen our spirits. To where do you turn to calm your soul and stay connected while you practice social distancing?

 

During these extraordinary times for our nation and the world, how fortunate we writers are to be able to turn to our writing as a form of therapy! If you are not a hobby writer nor a professional writer, you may still want to try spending some of your time by writing a poem–or family history, journal of current events, or other type of prose. While some others may have particular challenges with staying at home, we can be thankful for being able to use some of this time to write for possible

publication, pleasure, and/or therapy. At times of trouble or challenge, I have and still do turn to writing poetry, walking with Willow, and reading. (I would add container gardening to this list, but Mother Nature has not yet given the “gardening go-ahead” to Wisconsinites.)

 

For now, I want to share with you a poem about poetry as therapy. Last Thursday, I shared the following poem with my small-group critique session which has met monthly for nearly four years; then, on Monday night, I shared the poem with a writers’ list to which I have belonged for almost eight years. IMPORTANT: Please note that despite a couple of lines in this poem, there is, thankfully, absolutely no word about supermarkets closing.

 

For my next post of the continuing series about my four Leader Dogs, please return to WORDWALK on March 21, Saturday, for a dog post on our 30th anniversary. Thanks, and try a little poetry therapy, such as the following.

 

 

To Your Health–Social Distancing

 

Poem by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Salud.

To your Health!

Toast with a cup of herbal tea

Or soothing poetry.

 

In times of trouble,

We should gather together.

However, now we must practice,

We must perfect

Social distancing

And weather this germ storm

Relatively alone.

 

In this world where too many

Do too much online,

We must now do more online.

Yet, have you seen the lines

For toilet tissue at the supermarket?

What will happen if the supermarkets close?

Will the National Guard deliver groceries?

 

When the National Guard knocks at my door,

Hopefully with rolls of toilet paper,

I will be writing poetry

Because, for me,

Poetry is therapy.

 

When I write poetry,

I lay aside my worry beads:

I focus only on the fancy and frivolity of the poem.

The words massage my tightened muscles.

The rhythm rolls me onto another shore.

The punctuation delights my spirit.

The revision is a tool I love to carve slowly.

The reading and re-reading of the verses embrace my soul.

In a poem, I find home, love, memories, strength–

The strength to awaken to a world

that will be a stranger to me.

 

Within this new, changed, strange world–

I will social distance–

While I dance with poetry.

 

* * *

 

Take good care, be kind, and be well!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

March 18, 2020, Wednesday

 

 

Heather–the “Summer” of My Four Seasons, Thirty Years with Four Leader Dogs

 

WORDWALK Presents a Month-long Salute to My Four Leader Dogs:

 

Part 2. Heather–the Summer of My Four Seasons, Thirty Years with Leader Dogs

 

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Happily continuing my month-long celebration of my thirty years of working with my four Leader Dogs, I now turn to a focus on my second Leader Dog–Heather, a creamy-colored Yellow Labrador Retriever who bounced into my life on April 15, 1998.

 

At 62 pounds, Heather weighed the most of my four Leader Dogs; also, she was the tallest and longest of my quartet of guide dogs. Naturally, this lovely Lab was also the strongest and required the most “handling.” Since she was so young when I received her–only 14 months–our learning to work especially well together took the longest period of time–approximately eighteen months after we arrived home in Milwaukee. Was the more challenging initial period worth the considerable effort on both of our parts? Undoubtedly, my energetic Heather and I ventured forth in ways that my first Leader Dog Keller and I did not. Thanks to Heather, I gathered the courage to follow her lead over the State Street wooden, historic drawbridge, then the Kilbourn Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, and Wells Street drawbridges. Eventually, my Yellow Lab became a solid, trustworthy, dedicated, Leader Dog who guided me for the most years in a wide variety of places and circumstances.

 

Coincidentally, the same person at Leader Dog School (Rochester, Michigan) trained both Keller and Heather. However, what different dogs they were! I clearly remember Tom Hill’s telling me in front of the downtown training center in Rochester, “Alice, don’t compare Heather with Keller.” Of course, my trainer recalled what an outstanding guide Keller was. Nevertheless, so much of how we perceive life is through comparison and contrast. Honestly, I did continue to compare and contrast my first two Leader Dogs; but I learned not to voice these comparisons. My determination to work well with Heather had to surpass any thoughts of comparison and contrast.

 

While I did seem to bond with the adorable Keller immediately, bonding with Heather took much longer. I distinctly remember the moment when I felt we had truly bonded as a team. During our first winter together, we were walking down Juneau Street. After we had crossed the busy intersection of VanBuren and Juneau and proceeded east, Heather uncustomarily took me on a path off the sidewalk and onto the burham for a short distance before returning us to the eastbound sidewalk. As soon as we passed the spot around which Heather guided me, a huge icicle fell and went splat directly behind us. A few paces from the ice-crushing scene, I stopped, praised, and hugged my amazing Yellow Lab. Did she hear the ice cracking from above, or did my Leader Dog notice an ice patch already on the sidewalk? I do not know: I only know that for various reasons, that moment gave me the trust I needed to have in Heather’s working abilities. Trust in one’s guide dog is such a vital part of the working relationship of a guide dog/blind handler team. Through that trust comes a natural and very deep bond.

 

Another unforgettable winter experience with my “summer” Leader Dog occurred on April 7, 2000, in the midst of a Wisconsin blizzard. Due to the weather conditions, when we left the college where I taught, we took the bus about half way home–instead of walking the entire route. After the bus stop at the major intersection of Water Street and Kilbourn Avenue, Heather had to guide me across Water Street in a high wind with horizontal snow. As soon as we were walking alongside City Hall, I breathed a sigh of relief. However, half way up the block, a surprise was ahead. As a snowplow came down the hill on Kilbourn, a slab of ice-incrusted snow fell off City Hall and partially onto Heather and me. For the first and only time in thirty years of working with Leader Dogs, my guide dog bolted away from me. All I could hear was the snowplow, the treacherous wind, and the echo of trainers at Leader Dog School saying, “Call your dog toward you.” Through the cacophony of noises, I yelled, “Heather, come!” Gratefully, within a second, I felt something at the left side of my left knee–my Heather, who had returned to a perfect heel. I only took the time to very quickly praise her as I picked up her harness and leash because I wanted us to walk away from City Hall and move up the hill as rapidly as possible. I did not want us to have to experience another slab of ice-incrusted snow falling upon us. While we hurried up the hill, I continued to praise her with the most thankful and happiest of tones. The remainder of the trip home was uneventful. As I dried her off in the warmth of our townhouse, I gave her more praise and my forever love.

 

Due to working at Milwaukee Area Technical College, Heather was a well-known guide dog. I think she loved seeing and being around so many people. During those ten years (1998-2008), I taught in various classrooms in different buildings at our downtown campus. Each semester when I had a new schedule, Heather learned our daily routes and routines very quickly. Typically, my schedule on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday was different from my schedule of classes on Tuesday and Thursday. However, with a few commands from me, Heather knew exactly where to guide me.

 

Also, my Leader Dog lay beside my desk at the front of the classroom. She never stood from this rest position until I told her to do otherwise or, on occasion, when the students began to close books and open backpacks a minute or so before the end of the period. Heather slept through or heard many of my lectures and knew when the time for the end of class had come: she certainly was a keen observer of my students and me.

 

On the last day of the semester of one of my smaller classes in a carpeted room in the Continuing Education Building, I thought that Heather was lying still beside my desk as I was giving some final information to my students. Gradually, I began to realize that this outstanding class of students were acting a little differently than usual. I walked to where I thought Heather was. She was not there. My students chuckled, and one young lady promptly explained that Heather had gone all around the classroom of U-shaped desk formation to bid farewell to each student. What a quiet greeter my Labrador was because I had no idea! Since my guide dog had nearly completed her rounds, I called her back to her place; and we all had an amusing, but very memorable moment for this English class.

 

Following in line with my sentiments, each of my Leader Dogs who worked with me at MATC had a special fondness for the college’s library. In the Main Building’s second floor, I only had to say, “Find the library” for each to take me directly to the large library.

 

At the end of most school days, Heather and I walked home. However, what we did could better be described as alternating between fast-walking one block and running one block all the way home, during our earlier years together. Despite her fast pace, she never once missed a curb.

 

On at least two prior blogs, I have written about my remarkable experience when Heather and I ascended the stairs at President Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois. I did travel the most with Heather. A most memorable trip in 2002 was to Colorado to visit my mother one last time. Despite Heather still having boundless energy, when she went into my mother’s bedroom to greet her as she was lying in her bed at my sister’s home, Heather came to an abrupt stop beside Mother’s bed. Then, my vivacious guide dog lay her big head on the bed beside my mother. Somehow Heather knew when to bring forth her calm, gentle, and caring demeanor. This moment was one of the sweetest I have witnessed in my life.

 

How can I put ten years with Heather into one blog post? I cannot. At the funeral of my mother, my second Leader Dog was at my side. Heather guided me home through nearly empty streets and sidewalks on 9/11. A few months after 9/11, Heather was beside me when we went to Great Lakes Naval Base to enjoy my cousin’s graduation from basic training. Only once did she awaken me and dance around my bed until I arose; soon after, fire trucks arrived at my large apartment complex to extinguish a small fire in the decorative wood chips around shrubbery which was a short distance away from my townhouse. So many tales to tell about this “summer” guide dog who brightened my life and warms my memories.

 

As my Yellow Labrador began to slow her pace more significantly, going up and down stairs became more of a challenge for her. During the final two months of the final semester she worked as my guide at MATC, we had to take the elevators instead of our usual numerous flights of stairs. At the end of the spring semester of 2008, I proclaimed Heather “semi-retired.” When I received Zoe, my third Leader Dog, on June 6, 2009–Heather became officially retired. However, I was honored and blessed to have two Leader Dogs for thirteen months–one retired and one new Leader Dog. Heather was very ready and happy to turn the harness over to Zoe, who became Heather’s best buddy and calming ”sister.”

 

While feeding my two Leader Dogs, I held one pan of food in one hand for Heather and the other pan of food in the other hand for Zoe. Yes, this was supper time at our home for thirteen months. Enjoying these two Leader Dogs together became the best thirteen-month period of my life. Finally, on July 1, 2010, Zoe and I had to bid farewell to my nearly fourteen-year-old Heather–until we all meet again at the “Rainbow Bridge.”

 

 

Take care, stay well, and thanks for reading this long dog post!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

March 12, 2020, Thursday

 

 

Thirty Years with Leader Dogs: Part 1. Keller

 

WORDWALK Presents a Month-long Salute to My Four Leader Dogs:

 

Part 1. Keller–the Spring of My Four Seasons, Thirty Years, with Leader Dogs

 

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

During this entire month of March, my blog posts will be “dog posts” because I will be celebrating thirty years of working with Leader Dogs. The exact magical and memorable date is March 21, 1990, when I received my first Leader Dog Keller, a stunningly beautiful reddish Golden Retriever. After my two pet spaniels, I loved grooming Keller’s long hair. Once, I measured the “feathering” on her back legs: her longest hairs measured fourteen inches.

 

Throughout these past three decades, my life has been truly blessed with my four guide dogs. “To everything, there is a season….” [Ecclesiastes 3:1] I can easily think of my four Leader Dogs as the four seasons of my life working with guide dogs. When I began working with Keller, she was the expert: I was in the spring of my time of working with guide dogs. She had much to teach me; and I had much to learn about working calmly, confidently, and successfully with a guide dog. During this “spring” (March 21, 1990 through December 15, 1997), Keller and I moved from Indiana to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where we attended Western Michigan University for a second master’s degree. My fast-paced, highly intelligent Golden quickly learned the campus of WMU, helped me to get to classes on time, and guided me home through a couple of blizzards and some deep snowfalls. In classrooms, she was quiet, still, and attentive. On the other paw, how excited she was to greet everyone who came to our apartment door!

 

We lived on campus–a campus that had a significant population of relatively tame squirrels who tantalized and distracted my guide dog. These squirrels were our major challenge. I am quite pleased to report that she did overcome this distraction–after some trying times. Much later in our working lives, Keller and I were casually walking down State Street in Milwaukee and then turned down Astor Street. Another pedestrian stopped us and said: “I just have to tell you that I am so impressed with your guide dog. A squirrel was running circles around the two of you, but your guide dog never paid any attention to that squirrel.” I just smiled and thanked the lady, but thought, “If only you knew what all we went through to arrive at this point!”

 

How well Keller worked at my side when I did my internship at the Michigan Commission for the Blind Training Center! Thanks to Keller, I made a turn to a new stage in my life and career.

 

During the summer of 1991, my family, including my young nephews, came to visit Keller and me. We went to one of the nearby beautiful beaches along Lake Michigan. Keller and I were enjoying a run through the deep sand. As we drew close to the waves, a wave slapped upon the shore. My Golden stopped abruptly and decided that the waves were a force of Nature to be left alone. She was happy to stay a safe distance from the unruly waves the remainder of the day.

 

Shortly before completing my internship at Kalamazoo, I secured a teaching position at Milwaukee Area Technical College. So, In August of 1991, Keller made another move and smooth transition to living in the downtown area of a large city–Milwaukee. Among as many as seven other guide dogs a semester, Keller always seemed to know her place as the Leader Dog who was setting the example as a seasoned guide dog. When she met a new person or guide dog, she would stay in a sit position and wave her right paw–yes, like the famous Lassie–at the person or dog–with or without my command to wave.

 

Besides doing all of the basic obedience commands and guide dog work superbly, Keller also did a great version of “Find it”–referring to what I had dropped and could not find. This trick of hers came in handy. When I told her to “Find it,” she would go near the object, lie down in front of it, and slap her right paw a few inches away from the lost object. Yes, indeed, her right paw would point directly to the object. When I was teaching in the Visually Impaired Persons’ Program of the Center for Special Needs at Milwaukee Area Technical College, my students really enjoyed watching or otherwise witnessing Keller’s doing this “find” trick.

 

Once when my dad and sister drove me back to Milwaukee from Indiana after the Christmas vacation, I acquired a nasty bout with food poisoning. Being so sick, I decided to go down my fourteen stairs; however, I fainted and fell down the last four or so stairs. Later, I was told that Keller immediately came to me and lay close beside me. In order to help me, my dad had to pull Keller away from me. She was always my “Golden glueball.” How I did love her!

 

Keller gave me the courage to live only with her at my side in a large city. The winters that Keller was in the lead were the worst winters of all my 29 years in Wisconsin. I recall days when the snowdrifts in our inner courtyard were so deep that I would change the position of her doubled leash to the “long” leash so that she could jump over the drift; then, while she waited for me on the other side of the drift, somehow, in my younger days, I managed to follow her path over the pile of snow. Oh, the snow piles at curbs that I remember traversing with her leading the way. What a marvelous guide she was! Keller was superbly trained by Tom Hill at Leader Dog School (Rochester, Michigan). Sadly, at that era at Leader Dogs for the Blind, students were not told the names of the puppy-raisers. I have always wished and still do wish I knew whom to thank for raising the puppy who became my first Leader Dog.

 

Each day around noon, Keller and I walked through the buildings of campus to go outside for a while. I distinctly recall walking over the skywalk from the Continuing Education Building to the Main Building when another MATC employee stopped me in the sunshine and told me: “Whenever I see you with your dog, she always is wagging her tail and looking so happy to be working with you.” I loved hearing these words and remember them fondly. Keller was born to be a working dog: she loved to work as a guide dog from the moment I first put a harness on her until her dying day. My beloved Golden had a tremendous work ethic–and she worked with such grace, joy, and devotion. When we were in training at Leader Dog School, the trainers had given a number of the dogs in the class nicknames. Keller was called “The Stellar Keller.” Indeed, she was stellar in both her guide work and demeanor. On her tombstone is carved a star in the upper right and the upper left corner. At the pet cemetery of a veterinary clinic near my hometown of Blanford, Indiana–Keller lies in rest and at peace beside my American Cocker Spaniel, Chico, and my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chelsea. Yet, of course, Keller lives forever in my treasured memories and in a part of my heart.

 

PAW NOTE: On March 11, my blog post will focus on my second Leader Dog, Heather. On March 18, my third Leader Dog, Zoe, will be featured. Then, I will end this special month of March with a blog post about my current Leader Dog, Willow. Please join us for this anniversary celebration on WORDWALK.

 

May all of your spring days be golden!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

March 4, 2020, Wednesday

 

 

From Boots: A Family-tree Poem

 

From Boots:

 

A Family-tree Poem

 

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

I am from boots.

I am from the Levone Valley–

The top of the boot of Italy.

I am from the boots in which my grandmother danced

Aboard the ship La Touraine

Which departed from Le Havre, France,

To take her over the waves and through Ellis Island

To a farm in Indiana.

I am from my grandfather’s boots

that were covered with coal dust

From a Vermillion County mine,

His boots that were covered with dirt

From the Klondyke farm,

His stained boots that pressed the grapes

He turned into red wine.

I am from the Army boots that his second son–

My father–Wore in the 638th Tank Destroyer Battalion

At the Battle of the Bulge.

I am from the boots

My dad wore as a firefighter,

As chief fire and safety inspector.

I am from the boots the Italian cobbler–

Joe Bello–repaired at his little shop in Clinton.

I am from the boots my mother wore

Through a snowstorm, as she trudged home

Through the impassable road, alongside the windswept field–

After putting up the mail at her post office

And then after leaving her car by Gisolo’s Grocery Store.

I am from the boots that my sister and I wore

To visit the real Santa in Santa Claus, Indiana.

I am from the Hoosier boots

That have walked through Wisconsin drifts of snow and icy sidewalks

Beside Keller, Heather, Zoe, and Willow–

Four Leader Dogs for precisely thirty years.

I should shine these boots

And keep them in my memory-heart.

 

* * *

 

With warm February blessings for you and all on your family tree,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

February 26, 2020, Wednesday