Death, Natural and Not

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“The moment you accept your own death, something in you changes.”* Words spoken by a Ukrainian refugee slumped on a shelter bed, phone in hand. Resigned. Her words resonate, a reminder of my mother’s decline. 

Mom has changed. She says very little, sleeps a lot. No more raging temper tantrums over how much butter there is on the toast. Little things matter little, big things less. Nothing big like Russian planes threaten Mom. Nothing external. Nothing like this Ukrainian woman faces. And yet she is upended. Shuttling from hospital to rehab, death has crept inside my mother, weighing her down.

* From The Economist April 30, 2022 “The Wreckage Within.”

Ode to Post-Pandemic Gophers

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The last time we met you was before Zoom was the go-to way to say “Hello.” A long time ago, but we remember.

Your three year old was a baby. She’s distant, no interest in meeting strangers. As long as you hold my phone for her, she likes the photo of the lizard camouflaged in the dirt.

“The ground is moving.” Enough to entice a child to get acquainted. It’s a tuft of dried grass, to be precise. A nose pushes up, sniffing the air, reluctant, the way we were when we took the risk to picnic in the park.

Never Try to Outsmart a Comedian

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Priest asks Jester to amuse him. In an elaborate ruse, Jester collects 300 roubles from Priest’s wife to buy 1200 pounds of fish. No fish. Priest doesn’t much like that trick. He can’t catch Jester, so he’s out the money.

Jester tricks Merchant by substituting a goat for himself. He tricks seven greedy jesters three times. The change ups are funny, as is staying one step ahead of a powerful adversary who’s not up to speed.

Abused by the jesters, Jester lures them into sacks to drown in the lake. An early grave to those who can’t outsmart a comedian.

From The Jester in Russian Fairy Tales by Aleksandr Afanas’ev

Migrants

Photo by Peter Kessler

They flew in shield shape, banking together. Not a bird was out of formation. The fluid group landed in a mulberry where they plucked juicy fruit, bringing the tree to life with their acrobatics and mid-air high jinx.

Such handsome fellows, masked like robbers, with subtle rusty red and muted yellow highlights on their mourning dove grey cigar bodies.

My camera disrupts them, but not before I have a picture. A silent order travels through the troupe, wings flutter together, they move with one mind. They will be back; they have no choice. It’s how they earn a living.

Golden Bird Lays Pretty Eggs

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Lottie perched at table, beheld a patterned pysansky preserved in waxed glory. ”Exquisite egg.”

Nina sipped tea. “Family heirloom.”

“European,” Lottie asked.

“A tale from Ukraine goes with it. A girl found hundreds of golden birds stiff with cold, helped a few, and found homes for the rest. ”

“How kind.” Would that there were more kindness.

“In spring, the villagers who’d fostered them released the birds who Easter next flew to each house. This egg and hundreds of others appeared on doorsteps throughout the village, a thanks from the grateful birds.”

“A beautiful story, more so even than the eggs.”

Stir Things Down

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The dates to celebrate spring are close this year, within a month, and yet some religions seem far apart. They fight each other. They fight among themselves. “They are young,” Eostre said, “or maybe a bit territorial, those men.”

This ancient goddess brought them all together: old and new religions, female and male deities. The witches stirred a brew of love, the opposite of hate. They loaded it into clouds that rained tears on the land that had dried to dust. Cracked seeds opened into bulbs that bloomed lilies, all kinds, fields full. The perfume of peace filled the air.

Foolish Woman Not So Dumb

Baba Yaga, foolish old woman, rattler of chicken bones magicked from soup. Her elder son nurses historic delusions. In the younger one, hope persists. Hers is tough love at best. Battles rage. Forgotten, the soup gets cold.

Baba Yaga makes a cake with pears, no mushrooms. She absorbs the stove into herself, casting a spell on the forest. Her heart, a net to catch the half-cracked madness. The cake, an irresistible odor summoning the children to the table in Baba Yaga’s stilt perched house. As they eat, she turns the house upside down, shaking up what had seemed inevitable.

The Truth at Slant

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A bomb exploded. The bean stalk shook. A clear violation of fairy tale neutrality. Reaching a hand through the palace window and grabbing a Russian MIG, the giant nearly ate the pilot, but there was no salt.

The poor man shivered.

The giantess finished an aleph in her sampler. “Young idiot, you could have hit the Golden Goose.”

“That’s a fairy tale,” said the pilot.

“Poor deluded man. Hermie, call that nice rabbi in Moscow. We need a golem.”

A light broke in the pilot’s face. “Because first we came for the Ukrainians?”

Zelda smiled, though it was more complicated.

WW&Co Spells and Meals

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Dear Ms. WW:

A formerly satisfied customer, your instant meals have saved my bacon when work emergencies and toddler meltdowns prevented me from putting a nutritious dinner on the toadstool. Unfortunately, last night’s Cricket Stroganoff seems more potion than stew. This morning I woke up with a warlock.

Lest you think my husband left me, I would submit that the warlock has warts. The pattern fits my husband’s down to the T on his back. Our favorite. In addition to a refund, please send an antidote to restore the love of my life to himself and me.

Yours,

Tabitha Toad

The Ragnarök

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Líf and Lífþrasir lived in a tiny hovel on the side of a wild fjord north of the settled lands. Rippling through infinity, Thor came to them. He carried the couple to Hoddmimis holt. “From you, generations will spring.”

The gods went insane; a war of destruction, an ecological nightmare. Three winters arrived with no summers. Yggdirsil, the world tree, nurtured the couple. All the while, morning dew was their manna from heaven. Wandering, nestled in the warmth of moss, sheltered by the forest, emerging with the sun, nurtured by salt water, they rebuilt after the Ragnarök. They repopulated Earth.