To Love a Dog



During the first phase of my early morning walk, thin clouds of cold fog drift over the mountains, and I move as slowly as ice melting. It is autumn, and on this moist morning the forest appears to be a landscape painted in the impasto technique, painted in colors rich and textured, painted in pigments of burnt sienna, alizarin crimson, lemon yellow, hunter green, Prussian blue, cerulean blue, raw umber, venetian red, and yellow ochre. I am in awe of a thousand colors spread undiluted and wet over the forest.

Brody walks beside me. He's a bull-boxer. As the day dawns, I have no way of knowing this will be his last autumn in these mountains. We have explored the woods together for many years. I've been told that dogs can’t see the numerous color variations we humans see. Perhaps Brody doesn’t detect the artist’s palette, but I am sure he spots and feels things I will never know, never experience, never even imagine.

The sun finds the mountain tops, and shafts of pale sunlight come down the mountainside, shimmering on every color of nature. Trees whisper and slow dance. The sun spills like liquid into the creek. 

As I return to the mountains, without Brody, his body buried in the garden he loved, I feel his spirit surrounding me, rustling in the bushes and leaves, his presence so real I whisper his name. Standing at the creek we explored together, tears fill my eyes. My friend is gone.

I remember the night Richard and I took possession of him. We had arranged to meet the owner in the parking lot of my brother's car dealership in Macon. Sutton Acura. Right off the interstate. An easy location. Brody's adopted family could no longer keep him. He needed a yard and a place to run. 

Standing on the banks of the creek, I relive the night Brody adopts us. I remember waiting in the dark, headlights approaching. A car pulls up. The driver, the only human in the car, parks and gets out. The young man greets my husband and me. He opens the rear car door and a beautiful, energetic dog jumps from the seat. 

I see these moments in present tense. Brody jumps on us, licks us, runs around us, jumps on us again. I hear our laughter. The night is warm.

The young man hands the leash to me, and Brody turns, watches the man in the 4-door sedan drive away. I see my dog take a few steps toward the car and I hear his bark. Is he telling the man goodbye? Is he wondering why he has been left behind? He turns to me and my husband, walks with us to our car, and never looks back again. These memories dazzle like slivers of glass floating on water.



In the coming years, Brody hunts for old graves with me. We explore abandoned houses and walk along the Alapaha River. Together we skirt through vines to reach barns suffocating under kudzu. He stays with me when my shirt is caught in barbed wire. He waits for me to free myself. When I am lost, he walks with me. When I cry, he licks my tears. When I need to laugh, he plays.

He becomes my son's best friend and sleeps with him every night. Autism doesn't bother Brody.

He falls in love with my daughter and meets her at the door when she visits.

I am in the hills. Alone. The sun finds the mountaintops, and shafts of pale sunlight come down the mountainside, glistening on everything in its path. With eyes wide open, I once again watch the sun spilling into the creek. I whisper his name. Brody.

The day we put him down, he is in terrible pain and can no longer walk. There is no hope. His eyes prod our faces. In our den, I hold him and the family gathers beside us. The vet injects the only miracle left for our dog, injects it into his leg, the only cure for his pain, and Brody closes his eyes with a final breath. Tension washes away from his neck and limbs. He floats away.

I blink from my tears, and Brody is gone.
























We are one lucky family to have known this dog's love.

Life is beautiful. 

Brody.









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An Evening with Local Authors: Books Allowed!





Robert Reid Goodson, Director of Tift Theatre for the Performing Arts, has unveiled a lineup of local authors for An Evening with Local Authors

In 2000, after claiming the title of Reading Capital of the World, Tifton hit the national headlines for something as nurturing and inspiring as reading. I was living in Illinois at the time. Imagine my surprise when I turned the channel to CNN and heard Tifton—my hometown—being reported on for reading. Not football. Reading.

I have since discovered we are a reading community, and our local library is the center of it all. In Tifton, we pride ourselves in reading everything from chick flick to fantasy to science fiction to southern fiction to the classics and a great deal more. And poetry: let us never forget poetry.

Goodson aimed for a broad section of authors for this literary event to be held in downtown Tifton. He’s lined up authors of children’s books, Christian fiction, mystery, young adult, poetry, southern fiction, and other genres. Nine authors will be reading, discussing their works, and signing and selling books. I'll be one of them.

Let’s rattle our imaginations Friday night!

Where:  City Hall at the Myon, Tifton, Georgia
When:  Friday evening, March 20, 2015
Time:   7 PM
Admission fee:  $5



Authors:
Kat H. Clayton
Tracey Cox
Beth Hallman
Janie Hopwood
E.M. Knowles
Rebecca Hagan Lee
Raven H. Price
Brenda Sutton Rose
Pamela Williams

What else do I need to know? Light refreshments will be served.


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Moaning with the blues: DOGWOOD BLUES


The Alapaha River flows through DOGWOOD BLUES.


Told through the voices of its eccentric characters, DOGWOOD BLUES depicts life in Dogwood, Georgia, a small town near the soothing waters of the Alapaha River, struggling with change.

When Kevin Kilmer, award-winning New York author with deep roots in Dogwood, purchases a Craftsman in the historic district and moves back to his hometown to write his memoir, he shocks the community with his lifestyle and comes face to face with his past.

As spring blooms with the miracle of new life, Boone Marshall, a farmer and blues pianist, stirs gossip by bringing home a new bride, a nightclub singer from New Orleans, six months after his ex-wife’s suicide.

Every week, the women of the Honeysuckle Bridge Club gather at homes in the historic district to play cards, share gossip, and argue about local issues. Playing bridge has never been more fun. And Nell Sauls, a bridge club member for thirty-five years and a gossipmonger who keeps her nose in everybody’s business, creates gossip and drops it like bird poop all over town.

Dogwood residents draw battle lines over the upcoming liquor referendum, a vote that threatens to turn dry Creek County wet. Tommy Stone, a construction worker from Willacoochee, makes extra money by building unique Vote Yes and Vote No signs for residents to display their views on the issue in their yards.

The Alapaha River holds the novel together with liquid grace and the sound of ancient life. Spanish moss hangs like witch’s hair from the arms of native trees, and spring blooms with the magnificent beauty known only in the South. A new goat is born near the river. Music grows from the soil and from the bleeding heart of Boone Marshall. He plays the piano with a farmer's hands.

Brimming with opinionated and irreverent characters, and told with the mournful sound and rhythm of the blues, DOGWOOD BLUES is a story of betrayal, prejudice, forgiveness, and redemption. It is a love song to southern Georgia, a prayer played out with the blues.
DOGWOOD BLUES sings of the beauty of the southern landscape.




Praise for DOGWOOD BLUES:


This sassy first novel from Brenda Rose captures some of the conflicted and captivating characters of a rapidly changing South. The book poises on a fulcrum between cultures, between those digging in and those racing onward. It would be serious business if it weren't so light-hearted and funny. And like most Southern writers, Rose is obsessed with the mysteries of place -- the landscape comes fully alive beneath her pen. ~~Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, winner of the American Book Award, 2015 inductee into Georgia Writers Hall of Fame

Spring comes to Dogwood with a multitude of heavenly blooms. Much of the story takes place in Dogwood, Georgia and at a cabin on the Alapaha River.
DOGWOOD BLUES by Brenda Sutton Rose is a work of classic small-town fiction, evoking memories of "Cold Sassy Tree," by Olive Ann Burns. At the heart of Rose's fetching story is Lottie's Beauty Shop, where rumors come and go with its good-hearted customers. And then there's Nell, whose 60th birthday unleashes a bitter mood that runs dog-wild throughout the town. ~~Pulitzer Prize nominated Author Janice Daugharty, Writer in Residence at ABAC, in Tifton, Georgia, author of Earl in the Yellow Shirt

DOGWOOD BLUES weaves a tapestry of mysteries that are revealed one by one in a small Georgia town where everyone has at least one secret. Filled with humor and pain, bitterness and redemption, this atmospheric novel offers glimpses of wisdom in unlikely places and invites the reader to choose compassion above all else. ~~Elizabeth Jennings, author of THE BUTTON COLLECTOR

DOGWOOD BLUES is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Later, it will be available on Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, numerous local stores, and some B&N stores. It will be available on Nook, Sony, Apple, Kobo, and Diesel. Dogwood Blues is sold at Georgia Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village at the Country Store. It is also sold at The Cabin Shop and Moon's Pharmacy in Tifton. In Nashville, it can be purchased at Nana's House Quilt Shop.

You may contact me about DOGWOOD BLUES at brendaroseatbellsouthdotnet. When emailing me, please type the address above in the proper email format. It is listed in a manner to avoid Spam.

Find DOGWOOD BLUES on Facebook and “like” the page to get future updates. Share the link with your friends.



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Stains


(I wrote this poem about my mother, after her death, and read it at her funeral.)


With red clay between my toes,
and the sun setting over my head,
the ghost of my mother blows in,
riding on a honeysuckle breeze, oh lord,
riding on a honeysuckle breeze.
Her teeth, the keys of a piano.

I play her grinning ivory notes
with cadenced fumbling fingers,
splattered with paint, textured with scars.
A song rises up from the belly of my past
and rocks me in the bosom of buried memories.

My mama’s dress bears the stains of her life:
blueberries, blood, bleach, and breast milk;
She cradles in her arms a lifetime of love and sorrow;
Its brilliance nearly blinds me.

My fingers tire, 
as though I've played this song for years.
And the tune swells red, 

dying around the edges of a setting sun.
A magnolia breeze blows in strong, 

a heavenly taxi sent to carry my mother home. 
She will not say goodbye.
For there is no truth in spoken farewells.

I am pregnant with a poem,
my life lost in its stanzas.

My mama steps out of her dress
and drops it, an inheritance falling to my feet.
She stands alone: bathed, blooming,
burdened with nothing of this world.
Her body is naked and beautiful,
her wings gray and scorched,
her brown eyes piercing the brown of mine.

I watch her departure, her flapping wings:
She doesn’t look back, not even once,
not even to whisper my name: Brenda.

I lick the teeth of my piano mouth.

With a painter’s hands,
with a writer’s hands
with rusty wrinkled hands,
with hands soaked in the joys,
the sorrows, the spills
of my mother’s life,
I pick up eighty-one years of stains
And pull her dress over my head.

Her stains look good on me.




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Addition and Subtraction






It is a Tuesday.
The month is July.

In two days my mother will be dead.

As a writer I know to build the suspense one scene at a time. I know to stretch the tension. The rules of style, though I disagree with many of them, are tattooed inside me. But this is my story and I will tell it the way I want. To hell with rules. To hell with building suspense. Let's jump to the ending: In two days my mother will be dead.

Years ago I studied business and accounting, racing back and forth to classes while my children were at school, yet business and accounting didn't add up to the sum of my heart. From Chicago I dialed my mother's long distance number and she answered in South Georgia after two rings.  It took me less than 45 seconds to tell her I really wanted to be an “A” student.  She heard me speak of consonants and vowels.  She asked, “But isn’t a 4.0 an A? And you are a 4.0 student.”  

I responded, “Not really.  An "A" is the first letter of the alphabet.  If I wrote words, I would fall in love with A’s. But I write numbers and I will never fall in love with a 3.8 or a 4.0.” 

My mother did not understand.

I was filled with wine when I made that phone call.


Later, I took up an ink pen and learned the checks and balances of writing fiction. Writers learn pace and rhythm and timing and character development. Don’t feed the reader the ending too soon. Build tension.  Show. Do Not Tell. Never reveal too much too soon. Every textbook I owned said, “Wait.”


Waiting hurts.

I am not the first to break the rules of fiction.

But this is not fiction.

It is Tuesday.

And that's a fact.

My brother, my mother's middle son, knew something didn’t add up so he called the doctor, and she landed in the hospital.

Let’s do the addition.  My mother is admitted to the hospital in Macon. Monday, fourteen days after she is put in a room, we, her children, walk into the conference room to talk with the doctor. He holds her death sentence in his hands.  

Death sentence = CAT scan.  

We seat ourselves in chairs arranged in the shape of a U. I think quadratics. Eight of us are present. Some are missing, but we’ll keep the equation simple.

Cough + Pneumonia + Low sodium + Rib pain =  Advanced Lung Cancer.

Advanced lung cancer = 4 days.

In some instances, you will find a non-smoker in an equation of lung cancer.
My mother never smoked.

I watch her morphine drip. 

Drip / Drip / Drip / Drip. 

Minutes drip past.  Pain drowns in morphine.

On Monday she tells me to write about her life.  Tuesday, she no longer speaks. Twenty-four hours is the sum of silence, yet silence does not equal death. Not yet. Silence = Silence.

I sing to her in a near whisper, my soprano voice feathery, floating down in a slow dance, songs she sang to me when I was a child. A nurse stands in the doorway. She listens. Darkness swallows the room, drinks it up, as the night tastes my sorrow and hears my song, as the sheets sleep. The nurse in white will tell me to hush.  I know she will. 

She doesn't /  Tell me to hush / She props the door open / I croon softly / Snowflakes breathe me.

When I am not singing, and when I am not whispering, I count the seconds between my mother's breaths. One plus one plus / one plus one / plus one plus one / equals a breath. 
A breath plus one / plus one / plus one plus / one plus one plus / one equals another breath.  

Twenty-eight years ago I timed my contractions using subtraction.  First, I arrived at a number. As more contractions arrived, I turned to subtraction. 5 minutes dropped to 4 minutes dropped to 3 minutes. It didn’t take long for the contractions to rain down on me. Pain erased time and I called a taxi to take me to the hospital. Minutes disappeared into new life. New life arrived as a tiny girl with red hair and blue eyes.  Birth has a lot to do with subtraction.

Unlike birth, death requires addition. 4 seconds stretch into 6 seconds stretch into 8 seconds stretch into 10 seconds until we are not sure if she will ever take another breath. Time adds seconds between breaths until life eventually disappears into death. Nothing goes in and nothing comes out. Nothing.

One plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one. The hospice nurse counts along with me, reciting the same poem.

Outside, clouds swell and bulge and drip rain like milk from lactating breasts.

She is given her diagnosis on a Monday, 14 days after getting a bed in the hospital.   

It is Tuesday.   

We don't know it yet, but she will be gone Thursday at approximately 1:00 PM, give or take a few seconds, add or subtract a few breaths, a few memories.

4-2=2   

Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday=Thursday

She breastfed me when I was born.  It is impossible for me to remember those early months of my life, yet when I offered my breast to my firstborn, my mother told me she nursed me.  For 9 months she carried me in her womb and for another 9 months she breastfed me. 9+9=18. That’s more time than she has left to live. She doesn't even have 18 days left.

I tell her I cherished the minutes, the hours, the months I spent breastfeeding my babies, examining their ears as I held them in my arms.  My mother does not respond. I confess to her I cradled my babies as though they were the last poems left on earth, and I the author of those poems. My children were a single chapbook consisting of two perfect poems. One girl. One boy.  Their fingers, their lips, their eyes, their smacks, their gurgles, their ears, their hair. I memorized them. I know them by heart. I can recite my children. I will cradle my two poems forever. 

I tell my dying silent mother about the music of poetry, explaining assonance, repetition, alliteration, rich consonance and partial consonance. In the room of addition, I speak of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. A nurse hears me saying I like to read the fiction of Silas House and Sena Jeter Naslund. The nurse asks me about my favorite poets.  I turn and take in her green eyes, the color of spring, and tell her the poets I like most are people I know or have met.  She shakes her head when I say I like to meet my poets, look in their eyes, hear the tenor of their voices, search their faces for truth and rust and untold secrets. Jeff Newberry. Christopher Martin. Janisse Ray. Judson Mitcham. William Wright. Thomas Rain Crowe. Clint McCown. Sherod Santos. As the list goes on, the nurse asks about dead poets.  I tell her I have never met any dead poets.  She smiles at my attempt to be funny, then informs me that my mother is too far gone to speak, but I should feel free to talk to her all I want. Perhaps she hears me.  Perhaps she doesn't. The morphine drips, every drop a stressed syllable.  The nurse leaves the room and leaves me looking into a face cracked with age.  

I hear my mother's history thumping behind me. I feel the stains of her life covering my flesh.

If my mother hears, she hears me say I have no passion for numbers.  Never did. Numbers weigh heavy on me. 

Writing clings with soft arms and smells as fertile as a rich acre. Memory holds me in place. 

She does not speak. In her silence, she is the truest poem I've ever read. I taste the stanzas of her life.

On Thursday, I no longer count.  I simply sit, and I wait, not as a writer, not as a student of accounting who has forgotten all about numbers and can barely balance the checkbook.

I wait as this dying woman's daughter.

I am soaked in farewells.

We, her children, take turns sitting with her.
She is never alone.
Children. Grandchildren. Friends.
By noon, silence arrives one last time, flowing into every space of her room. And before long, silence swallows sound and color and seconds and equations and entire stanzas of old poetry, leaving new words. The sheets are breathless. The room is bruised. 
My mother is still warm. 
4-2-1-1=0

 *ZERO*

My kisses and tears cover her face and forehead. I add chapstick to her lips, first across the bottom, then across the top. I do not count. The counting is gone. Loved ones are here. I climb into her bed and wrap myself over her empty body. 

Weeks later, I find words sleeping on my pillow.







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Brenda Sutton Rose is the author Dogwood Blues