Kekekabic by Eric Chandler

[Reviewed by Victoria Lynn Smith]

Leo at Parent Lake in the BWCA

Kekekabic, Eric Chandler’s second book of poetry, will be released May 20, 2022. Prepublication sales for the book will run from January 18, 2022, through March 25, 2022. Chandler is the author of Hugging This Rock: Poems of Earth & Sky, Love & War (2017). He has won the Col. Darron L. Wright Award for poetry three times. His writing has been published in numerous journals and magazines.

Kekekabic combines prose and haiku in a poetry form called haibun. In 2018, Chandler wrote a poem after each of his workouts. His goal was “to pay attention to the world” during his workouts in the wilderness, in Duluth, and on the road as an airline pilot. In his introduction he states, “It’s a loss if skiing through the woods is just a workout. All these miles moving over the earth under my own power have meaning.” Chandler’s poems invite us to move over the world with him and share the meaning he finds as he runs, hikes, and cross-country skis.

On the cover of Kekekabic, Chandler’s dog, Leo, sits on the shore of Parent Lake in the serenity of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). Leo invites us to open the cover, read the poems, and reflect along with his hiking companion about being outside in nature. Chandler shares his wisdom about the outdoors in a haiku:

I think more people

should go outside. I think they’d

be much happier.

This resonates with me because on a bad day if I go outside, my spirits lift. Reading Chandler’s poems lifts my spirits too. Nature is an important theme in Kekekabic, and Chandler poems nudge us to go outside.

Chandler’s imagery appeals to the senses. About one of his runs, he writes, “The wind stacked the pack ice up at the fond du lac. The yellow sun sends a yellow stripe across the open water and it hits the shelf of ice and disperses. Brilliant sparkles randomly dot the expanse as the shards reflect the sun.” After a day on the Kekekabic trail, he writes, “Tail-slapping beavers sounded like full-grown men jumping into the lake.” Chandler’s poetic imagery will linger in our minds long after we close his book.

Leo joined Chandler on the five-day hike in the BWCA along the Kekekabic Trail. Chandler wrote a haibun for each day of the hike. The haiku he wrote on the fifth day—

The sound of peace is

my dog snoring on a rock

on a wild lakeshore

—mixes the wonder of nature and the joy of sharing it with family, which includes his dog. He writes of his daughter’s first time on cross-country skis: “I felt like my heart would explode due to an overload of blue kick wax joy, gliding through the trees in silence.” In another haibun Chandler recounts a run along Lake Superior with his son. They find a teddy bear on the path, and his son turns around and races back to where they had just run from to return the teddy bear to a child. Chandler’s poems remind us that small, quiet moments spent in nature with family are special.

Chandler studied the Japanese poet, Bashō, to learn about haibun. He quotes Bashō: “People often say that the greatest pleasures of traveling are finding a sage hidden behind the weeds or treasures hidden in trash, gold among discarded pottery.” In haibun that reflect Chandler’s workouts in large cities, he has taken Bashō’s words to heart—finding the sage, the treasures, and the gold among the grittiness and complexities of urban settings.

Some of Chandler’s haibun explore the theme of urban settings and nature colliding. In Fort Lauderdale as he runs, he notes “That crisp thread between the light blue of the sky and the dark blue of the water” in the distance. But as he observes the sky and water, he runs “Past the cigarette smokers. Past the marijuana smokers. Past the guy lifting dumbbells while he stands at the seawall, looking at the ocean while his car speakers thump.” He continues running down to the water where he concludes, “I got a moment’s peace and then found my way back to my room through the noise.”

Chandler’s poems written after running in cities, combine the beauty of nature and cityscapes with a harsher reality of urban landscapes, a comparison that invites us to think about people and nature as “reaching toward” one another. He writes, “Downwind now, I was struck that the world of man and the world of nature kind of reach toward one another at the border. The palm trees grow out of the sidewalk and the beach chairs cover the sand.”

In his haibun poems, Chandler encourages us to move through life with meditation and awareness. He encourages us to take journeys with family, friends, and our dogs, but also to take some journeys by ourselves. His poems inspire us to go outside and move through our world.

[For more information about Eric Chandler and his writing, click HERE to view his website, SHMOTOWN. Kekekabic will be available for prepublication sales at Finishing Line Press starting January 18, 2022, through March 25, 2022.]

Day 30—A Gift of Kindness in Silver and Garnet

Today’s earrings arrived in the mail on November 4, 2021, otherwise known as “Day 11” in my series of blogs about earrings.

I began blogging about my earrings because I was having a blue day on October 25. I decided I needed to do something like I did before the pandemic. That something became earrings. I often wore earrings before the pandemic, so I decided for thirty days in a row, I’d wear a different pair each day and blog about them.

Wearing the earrings did make me feel better. Blogging about them gave something to write about. Having a friend proofread my blogs provided camaraderie.

Some stories came together easier than others. Some days I babysat my grandkids and other days I didn’t. I’d like to say that on the days my grandkids weren’t here, I wrote my blog faster and finished it earlier, but that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the words to tell a story and have it say what I want it to mean. And the stories were about more than earrings.

On Day 11, I received a surprise in the mail. A small padded envelope with a bulging middle rested in the letterbox, lounging with junk mail.

I recognized the name on the return address; the envelope was from a writing buddy. Inside, wrapped in tissue, were a pair of silver and garnet earrings. Beautiful. Old fashion. A style from a time when women wore long dresses that flounced along their feet. A movie still of Jane Seymour from Somewhere in Time flashed through my mind. I’ve never seen the movie but that image of Seymour with her hair swept up at the back of her head and a pair of Victorian earrings dangling from her ears, is filed in my memory bank.

What made these earrings special was the note that came with them. My writing buddy wrote that these earrings had belonged to her, one of the many pairs of garnet earrings she had been given over the years for her birthday. And these were a pair that she had especially loved. She wanted me to have them. She had been reading my earring blogs, and they had moved her.

It’s a gift from the heart when someone gives you something they’ve cherished. I started to cry. She gave me beautiful earrings, and she gave me a piece of herself, her history.

I saved her gift to wear for today’s final blog about my earrings because I can wear them tomorrow and every day through Thanksgiving. I don’t have to pick a new pair of earrings tomorrow.

I’ll wear them through the holiday and often because I’m thankful for her act of kindness and generosity.

A good thing came in small package—on a day when I thought nothing interesting would arrive in the mail—to bring me joy and adorn my ears.

Day 29—Earrings without a Turtle

Circa 2017

These earrings remind me of Bayfield, Wisconsin, because I bought them on a day trip to Bayfield with my mom. I liked the curve of the hoops and dainty pearls. After paying for them, I slipped them in my ears because I’d forgotten to wear earrings that morning.

Over the span of fifty years, I’ve been to Bayfield with family and friends and have fond memories of the small town on the hills overlooking Lake Superior. But one of my favorite memories of Bayfield doesn’t include me.

***

My mom took my first son to Bayfield when he was three years old and still an only child. I had to work, so they went by themselves. On the way to Bayfield, they found a turtle on the side of the road, and Mom stopped and put it in her car. When they arrived in Bayfield, Mom found a hardware store and bought a wash tub for the turtle. My son had a new pet, and the pet had a new galvanized home.

They ate lunch at a restaurant and Mom let my son order fries with his sandwich. If we ordered my son a meal with fries, he’d eat the fries and leave the meal untouched. Most of the time, we didn’t let him order fries. But he was with Grandma. He had fries for lunch—just fries. His sandwich went uneaten. But grandmas don’t scold about that sort of thing.

Mom went into a few clothing stores where my son entertained himself by crawling into the middle of circular clothing racks while she shopped. He invented his own world.

In one dress shop, he fell in love with a clerk named Sabrina. She was about twenty, petite, with big brown eyes and dark hair in a pixie cut. Mom said he followed Sabrina around the shop, talking to her, smiling at her, looking at her moon-eyed. He wasn’t happy when they left the store, and he was parted from his new love. But that’s the way it often is with a first love—it breaks your heart. My son’s May-December romance was doomed. But his three-year-old heart rebounded quickly. After all he had his turtle. And Mom took him to the shore so he could throw rocks in Lake Superior.

Before leaving Bayfield, Mom had second thoughts about bringing the turtle back to my house.

“Do you think the turtle will miss his family and friends?” she asked him.

My son thought so.

“Do you think we should take the turtle back to his family and friends?” she asked.

He did.

They set the turtle free, and returned with an empty wash tub. My son had parted with his first love and his pet turtle, but by the time they arrived home, he had moved on.

“How was your day?” I asked when he came in the house.

 “It was the best vacation I ever had!” he said.

Mom had a way of making an ordinary outing into a small adventure for her grandchildren.

***

On the trip to Bayfield when I bought these earrings, it was just Mom and me. My sons are grown with families of their own.

We didn’t see a turtle or toss rocks in the lake, but we had lunch and ate our fries and sandwiches. The dress shop where my son fell in love with Sabrina has been closed for years, but Mom and I still reminisced about her and my son’s first case of puppy love.

When Mom retells the story, I wonder about Sabrina, who’d be in her fifties now. Does she still live in Bayfield? Did she ever have children of her own, perhaps a little boy who fell in love for the first time when he was three?

Day 28—Happy Earrings

Today’s second choice

Today’s earrings are happy earrings. They’re also the second pair I put on this morning.

The first pair were sad. Their hooks are too small, so the earring in my right ear couldn’t dangle because the hook was squashed against my earlobe. I removed the earrings, which are nice enough, but I won’t wear them again. I bought them, so I won’t feel guilty deserting them.

The hole in my right ear is almost two millimeters higher than the hole in my left ear. And, it’s not because my right ear is higher than my left ear. The clerk in the store where I had my ears pierced miscalculated.

I thought about having my right ear pierced again to lower the hole, so earrings that are meant to dangle, can dangle. I was told to let the old hole close up first to avoid a potential tear between the old and new holes. That would’ve taken months, so I’ve kept my uneven hole. Instead, I’ve learned not to buy earrings with small hooks.

My friend Sandi bought these happy silver and green earrings for me on one of her cruises. Before today I’d only worn them a couple of times because I had lukewarm feelings about them. But this morning when I put them on as a second choice and looked in the mirror, a heatwave of happiness blew over me. How did I not love these earrings from the start? They bounce and swirl. They catch light and throw it back through the air. They’re sassy and amusing. They’re an incarnation of my friend Sandi.

The first time I met Sandi’s son, he said, “I’m surprised you and my mom are such good friends because of your age difference.”

“Yeah, your mom’s a little young for me, but I overlook that,” I said.

When he stopped laughing, he said, “Touché.”

Sandi was seventeen years older than me, but in numbers only. Her son knew exactly what I meant.

Today’s earrings are happy and young at heart, just like Sandi was. If not for my “Thirty Days of Earrings” blogging, I might not have ever worn them again.

But, today these earrings danced beneath my ears, and I felt young at heart.

I will wear them again, and often.

[Click here to hear Frank Sinatra sing “Young at Heart.”]

Day 27—A Super Clean Earring

About five years ago, my husband and I went to visit my mom in Michigan, and I forgot to wear earrings—I had left the house with naked earlobes! In my defense, we always leave ridiculously early. It’s a nine-hour drive plus time spent stopping for food, gas, and bathroom breaks. And we lose an hour driving east.

I didn’t like being earringless, but I didn’t want to shop for earrings. I decided to go without. I lasted for a day.

I turned to Mom for help. Did she have a pair of earrings I could borrow?

We mined through her jewelry box. I spotted a pair of gold and pearl earrings that I hadn’t seen her wear. She was happy to lend them to me because while beautiful, they weren’t her style. She likes silver earrings sized to pack a visual wallop.

As much as I loved wearing the earrings, I couldn’t ask her for them, so I was thrilled when she asked me if I wanted them.

A couple of years ago, I went to take them off at night and discovered one of them missing. I looked everywhere in the house because I felt certain I had both of them when I came home from work. I checked the floors, the sweater I had worn, the sinks, the dishwasher because I had been doing dishes. I checked the stairs, my car, the driveway, the garage, the deck.

I didn’t tell Mom. I didn’t want to admit I had been careless, or believe the earring was gone for good.

The next day at work, even though I still thought I had lost the earring at home, I emailed my coworkers a picture of the lone earring, asking if anyone had found its companion.

Coworkers were sympathetic: “Sorry you lost your earring.”

After a few days went by coworkers asked: “Have you found your earring?”

No, I hadn’t.

After a few weeks went by coworkers asked: “Did you ever find your earring?”

I hadn’t.

I kept looking in places I had already looked.

Two months passed.

One evening I opened the dishwasher to put away dishes. On the bottom of the dishwasher, in plain sight, was my earring.

It had spent two months—approximately sixty wash cycles—in the dishwasher, probably behind the bottom spray arm.

I told my coworkers who asked: “Was it okay?”

“Yep, it looks just the same.”

Another coworker asked: “Do you still have the other one?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t throw away a gold and pearl earring my mom gave me.”

But I had been thinking about having a jeweler make it into a pendant for a necklace.

I’m glad I procrastinated.

Day 26—Remembrance Earrings

In 2014, the day before her 47th birthday, my cousin Cally died of a heart attack. No one expected her death. She was young, full of life, part of the world.

Her mother is a cherished aunt of mine.

In remembrance of Cally, I made a quilt from scraps to give my aunt on the first anniversary of her daughter’s death. I purposefully chose to use scraps leftover from other quilts that I’d made for family and friends.

That so many pieces of other people’s quilts should be part of Cally’s quilt seemed appropriate. She touched so many lives. It didn’t matter whether or not she knew all of the people I made quilts for because she wouldn’t have known all of the people her love, laughter, friendship, and charity inspired and touched. Acts of kindness ripple from those we know to those we don’t know. It’s the premise of paying it forward.

When I finish a quilt, I sew a label on the back of it. Cally’s label was special because it was large, eight by ten inches. Using a special technique, I transferred three photos of Cally onto the label. In the first picture, the winds of Wyoming blow her dark blond hair off the sides of her face. Behind her a dirt road heads to the foothills of a mountain range near her hometown. Scarves of white clouds flutter though a blue sky. Cally is both smiling into and squinting against the wind. She’s about fourteen. All things are possible.

In the second picture, Cally is standing with friends in a market in Morocco. Cally loved to combine travel and adventure. She rode camels on this trip.

The third picture is a candid portrait of Cally, probably in her 30s. Her head is turned almost to a profile. She’s watching something or someone we can’t see. She’s beautiful. Her brow, nose, cheekbone, and jawline proportioned like a statue of a Greek goddess. Her given name Calandra is of Greek origin, meaning singing bird or lark. In her left ear, she wears an earring. I can’t see the details of the earring because it’s out of focus, but I like what I can see. It’s dainty, but not too small. It hangs down from her ear, but not too far.

I was twelve when Cally was born. Most of my memories of her are when she was a baby and a toddler. After her parents moved from Wisconsin to Wyoming, I didn’t see Cally or her older brother for years. In the early 2000’s, sometime after Cally had children of her own, her uncle who lived in my town died. Her mother, brother, and she came for the funeral. Cally and her mom stayed with me. We became reacquainted; the twelve-year age difference no longer mattered. We visited, ate meals together, and laughed a lot. I never saw Cally again, and after she died in 2014, I treasured that time we spent together.

Today’s earrings belonged to Cally. One is a moose and the other a polar bear, both large, magnificent animals that are in peril as the earth warms. My aunt gave them to me when my husband and I drove to Wyoming in 2016 to visit. They don’t match. My aunt didn’t know why there was only one of each. These earrings weren’t sold as a set—each earring has a different rubber back. But I’ve seen earrings that are meant to be a mismatched set. Perhaps Cally and a friend each swapped an earring with one another as an act of friendship. It’s something Cally would’ve done.

Perhaps Cally lost the mate to each of these earrings. Like me, she wasn’t going to throw an earring away because then both would be lost. And because a lost earring is sometimes found.

I wonder if she ever wore them as a mismatched pair like I do. It’s something Cally would’ve done.

Day 25—Grand Marias Earrings

Today’s earrings are silver with Thomsonite stones, which are found in Minnesota.

Over the years my mother and I have trekked to Grand Marias every June. We like to eat at the Angry Trout as soon as we get to town. If the weather is nice we eat outside, but last time we ate inside because it was cold. June is capricious in the Northland.

After lunch we visit small art galleries, walk along Lake Superior, and shop at the Lake Superior Trading Post. Mom bought these earrings for me at the Trading Post in June 2019, the last time she came to visit. June 2020’s visit didn’t happen because of COVID-19 lockdowns. And this year’s visit was on-again-off-again, as COVID cases rose and fell, and we all got vaccinated. Ultimately, this year’s visit was canceled too. Instead my husband and I went to see Mom in July.

One year Mom and I took my sons, about 13 and 8, to Grand Marais for a few days. We stayed in a small hotel on Lake Superior. The boys had their own room with a TV and a remote control. They thought that was big stuff.

We started each morning with a hearty breakfast at the Blue Water Café, a cozy diner that both locals and tourists enjoy.

The first day Mom and I dropped my sons off at a small lake to fish. Flies were the only thing that bit. The next day we booked them an afternoon outing on a charter fishing boat on Lake Superior. They came back with a lake trout, but I don’t remember who caught it—maybe the boat captain. While they fished, Mom and I walked around town. She and I weren’t baiting hooks or cleaning fish.

For lunch one day, we gave them some money and sent them to Sven & Ole’s Pizza while Mom and I ate at a charming old home that had been converted into a restaurant. Grand Marais has a little something for everyone.

Mom had wanted to take us to Disney World, but I’m glad we went to Grand Marias instead. I liked our quiet vacation in a small town surround by natural beauty. I liked letting the boys fish and eat pizza and have a hotel room to themselves.

I like my Grand Marais earrings. They look good with that gray, white, and pink hand-me-down sweater Mom gave me.

I miss Grand Marais.

[To learn about Thomsonite stones click here.]

Day 24—My First Pair of Earrings

I was eighteen the first time I got my ears pierced. A couple of weeks later someone bought me a pair of novelty earrings. I remember only two things about them: I didn’t like them and they were mostly red. With the logic of an eighteen-year-old, I removed the earrings which had been inserted with a piercing gun and let the holes in my lobes close up and heal. If I didn’t have pierced ears, I wouldn’t feel guilty about people giving me earrings that I didn’t like and didn’t want to wear. I gave the red earrings away to someone who liked them.

Four or five years passed, and I had my ears pierced again. After wearing the surgical steel earrings for the required time, I dumped them and bought these gold earrings. I wore them for months before I bought any other earrings.

I was in middle school in the early 1970s, when my mother and aunt decided to join the sisterhood of women who were ditching clip-on or screw-on earrings and getting their ears pierced. Money was in short supply, so they chose the do-it-yourself route and pierced each other’s ears, a method generally used by teenage girls at the time to get around parents who wouldn’t give permission.

I’ve heard the story before, but it’s been a while, so I asked my mother about it again.

“Tell me again what you used?” I asked.

“Needles, ice, and brandy were involved,” she said.

“Did you use a potato behind your ear?”

“Oh, yes,” she said.

The potato stabilized the earlobe for piercing and kept the needle from stabbing a neck or finger. The ice was to numb the lobe.

“What was the brandy for?”

She wasn’t sure. She thought they used it to sterilize the needle and wipe their earlobes before she and my aunt pierced each other’s ears.

“Maybe you drank it,” I said.

She laughed but didn’t think so because neither she nor my aunt cared much about drinking and neither liked brandy. But I like to imagine my mother and aunt sitting in the kitchen, each tossing back a jigger of brandy then banging their shot glasses on the table, bracing themselves before shoving a needle through each other’s ears.

“We used cheap earrings too because we couldn’t afford gold ones,” she added.

My mother eventually had her ears pierced twice because she didn’t like the position of the original holes. So, she let the old ones close up, and had her ears pierced again. But not by my aunt.

Day 23—Earrings and Necklace Combo

“I like your earrings,” a kindergartener said while I tried to get his sixteen classmates to hang up their coats and line up along the wall.

Did he really like my earrings? They do dangle and shimmer. Or did he sense that I was frustrated and needed a compliment? I was frustrated. Is a kindergartener that insightful? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But he validated my choice of earrings for the day.

“Thanks,” I said, then returned to organizing seventeen children. I subbed in his classroom today—my first day of subbing since March 2020. After being vaccinated and getting my booster shot, I felt ready.

I chose today’s earrings based on a necklace I always wear with a pale gray top with three-quarter sleeves and a large cowl-like neck highlighted with three pewter-colored buttons. I bought the top and necklace at The Little Gift House in Solon Springs, Wisconsin.

Before the pandemic started, an old friend and I would meet there for lunch, conversation, and a little shopping. The gift shop’s variety of goods is eye candy for adults. They have delicious food, and their desserts, coffee, and smoothies are scrumptious. They’re still open for business.

I bought the earrings at Lotus on the Lake in the Fitger’s Building in Duluth, Minnesota. I bought them to wear with my necklace. Lotus on the Lake closed in January 2021. I don’t know why they closed. My mother and I liked the store and always shopped there when she came to visit.

Today’s earrings may seem bland compared to the festive necklace I pair them with, but that’s by design—the necklace is the star. People compliment the necklace, never the earrings. But today a kindergarten boy said, “I like your earrings.” The earrings shouldn’t get smug about this because, having just come inside from recess, my coat covered the necklace.

It was good to be at work today, even if it felt like trying to ice skate after a long absence from frozen waters. The outfit and jewelry I wore made me feel good—gave me fortitude to face a day with energetic kindergarteners.

But I still needed a nap when I got home.

Day 22—Earrings and a Swedish Bible

I don’t remember where I bought these earrings, but I loved them at first sight.

These earrings have no connection to a person or place. So, I put them on and decided to see what the day would bring.

What the day brought was a Swedish Bible sent by my aunt and delivered by mail. I don’t read Swedish, so I can’t read a word of scripture in this Bible. And after looking at the pristine pages inside this Bible, I wonder if anyone else read it.

But I translated the inscription: August Ljungquist, Minne af Confirmation dagar, 28 Maj 1882. (Memories of Confirmation Days, 28 May 1882.)

On May 28, 1882, my great-great-uncle Patrick August Ljungquist received this Bible for his confirmation. He was born in Sweden in 1868 and called by his middle name August. In 1869, at the age of one, he sailed to America with his family, who settled in Stillwater, Minnesota, where August grew up. As an adult, August worked as an insurance agent in Pennsylvania where he married a school teacher named Elizabeth and had one son. August died in 1952 at eighty-four.

The outside of August’s Bible is worn, but the pages are pristine.

Between 1909 and 1911, August had two brothers and a sister-in-law die from tuberculosis, and another sister-in-law die from heart failure, leaving a total of seven children orphaned. Makes me think about children who’ve become orphans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

August’s Bible is 139 years old. When I first held it this morning and fanned through its pages, I wondered if August’s parents, Johann and Eva (my great-great-grandparents), ever held it.

I know this Bible was given to August for his confirmation. What I don’t know is why he didn’t take it with him when he moved to Pennsylvania. Maybe August never learned to read Swedish, even though he most likely spoke Swedish before he learned English in the public schools. He and his family would’ve attended a Swedish church where Sunday services and religious classes were presented in Swedish. The Swedes, like many other people uprooted from their homelands, worked to maintain their language and culture after coming to America.

Immigrants or not, at some point we all reach into our past with grasping fingers, hoping to hold a remnant of a past life that’s unraveling and fading.