On Realizing That We Never Learn…

flanders field

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

On Trying Too Hard…

I’m heading to a workshop at the John Campbell Folk School this weekend. On collage. And I am anxious about it. There I’ll be, with all those accomplished artists.


I’ve spent the last weeks gearing up, getting collage-ready, scissors with blades so sharp they cut with just a glance, modge-podge jars in every room, ephemera gathered with abandon. After all, I can’t just show up with an “ordinary” collection; there must be something that will draw admiring, slightly jealous glances.

Then cutting, pasting, always looking for the edgy, out-of-the-ordinary combination. I am exhausted.

And last night I stepped back to take a look. My creations scream “trying too hard,” even to my eyes. Whatever creativity I might possess does not come to the fore when demanded, any more than I respond when a militant voice tells me to obey.

So, a lesson learned. In art, in life, trying too hard never works. Best to use that energy to get comfortable with who we are, and appreciate the talents we possess. So that’s what I’ll be working on.

Never too late for a life lesson.


On Mother’s Day, My Mother’s Hand…

My mother’s name was Hyacinth. And so on this day, a remembrance of this complicated, beloved woman…

Image result for image hyacinth

My Mother’s Hand                                                  

My mother’s hand was full of diamonds –

rings strewn carelessly on her bureau

in a china dish my father found in an antique shop

in East Baltimore.

She never wore a wedding ring,

at least not that I remember.


She spoke of a ring my father gave her,

before they married,

inexpensive, a black onyx with a diamond chip.

Her mother made her return it,

but they eloped instead.

Such children, an onyx ring.

I wore it for a while,

then lost it.

I wear a similar ring now, expensive, designer,

I see her, him,

my high school self.


My mother’s hand, full of diamonds,

never held a cooking spoon or a baby bottle,

but a pen, a beautiful script,

and shorthand, the Gregg method.

Her journal,

or perhaps only some writings now and then,

in shorthand,

her way of keeping her secrets.

She taught me to write my name that way.

I looked for it in her writings.

It wasn’t there.


My mother’s hand –

piano keys.

Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Chicago,

I only play in the key of C she would say.

but she sent me to Peabody.

I can play in any key, yet don’t have her touch, her spirit.

The last time she played,

her fingers, her muscle memory, not failing her,

diamonds still on her fingers.


Hands less beautiful in time,


jewels removed in the nursing home,

to keep them safe, they said.

She didn’t miss them,

she, with her manicure each week

to the very end.


Don’t grieve when I go, she said.

I’ve had a wonderful life.

****    ****    ****

This poem is part of my chapbook, PortraitS. If you care to, you can read more by going to my website:  cynthiastrauff.com



On Flowers, and May, and Memories…

Gardens surrounded the house where I grew up. I didn’t appreciate them then, took them for granted. But, in these fine spring days, I find myself drawn back. Such beauty in my midst, and I unaware. So, these memories – I wonder how accurate they are. And then wonder if it matters.

Flower, Flora, Nature, Season, FieldLily-of-the-Valley

These filled an area in the lower gardens. A rickety bridge, then a field of green with small white blossoms. I wasn’t allowed to cross, to tread on these delicate plants. We all watched, from afar.



A wooden pergola covered the entrance to our back door, weighed down with aged wisteria. Each year the arbor sagged a bit more under its bulk. One morning, as we opened the door, we found that the wisteria had won out. It, and the trellis, lay on the ground. Though the plant roots remained, it seemed that the plant never recovered from the loss of its structure, and that year was the year that it bloomed its last.

Image result for image lilacs


My grandmother’s house was in back of ours, she of the green thumb. Everything she touched thrived, unlike my mother, and me. Lilac trees, white and purple, lined one side of her house. I remember taking bouquets of lilacs, wrapped in waxed paper and tin foil (as we called it then) to my teachers, their desks replete with a bounty of roses and spring flowers from eager students – or eager parents.

Image result for image snowball bush

The Snowball Bush

I happily happened on a Facebook post about snowball bushes. How wonderful that someone else remembered, these now so out of favor that they are confused with hydrangeas. They lined a hill on one side of our house, white, heavy with blossoms that lasted only one day in a vase, meant to be where they thrived, in their own environment, not for us humans to conquer.

And I end with



A bed of peonies that greeted us as we rounded the driveway, not only with their color, but with their scent. Again, too brief a season, giving us a reason to stop, to pay attention. For so much of what we love is fragile, lasting what seems only a day.

A life lesson, no?