Sunday, 24 August 2014

Canvassed Starry Nights - Mag 234

©Shers Gallagher 2014

In the land of van Gogh
I have wandered 
by canals and dikes
of blanketed hills,
with gold-faced flowers.
And of Vincent's world
I have whirled and danced 
amidst the oils of heaven's glory
retold in canvassed starry nights.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Lydi, Jeff and Andy


©Shers Gallagher 2014

She had suffered a substantial loss while gaining something more elusive, and it felt odd to disclose that she had met the love of her life. But knowing was enough, and she never told anyone else. Yet, was it also enough to live life on a shoestring? Lydi was no longer used to such a life, though she had in her youth run away from home and experienced living rough for several years. This, however, was a long time ago and she was not quite sure how to live within her means anymore. 
Lydi had also recently lost her house to a man she had once known as gentle and kind. When they met Jeff was a wisecracking teen with photographic memory that he used to beat everyone he knew at chess, including herself. Now he had turned on her and checkmated her out of her house by making a calculated move to sit on the unpaid mortgage till the bank foreclosed and they both lost out. His point, she gathered, was simply for her not to have any of it, no matter that he shot his own self in the foot. This was love gone wrong, love turned vengeful. 
Lydi met Jeff on a summer’s day when the geese were still playing in the fields and he had stopped showing up for university courses, his youthful head crammed full of counter-culture propaganda about a cracked social system. And he announced to her and the near empty streets that he wanted to begin living life in parody. She, being a few years younger, thought he was nothing less than wonderful for wanting to drop out simply to kiss the sky. And this began their journey through philosophic hedonism with Lydi following Jeff, like sister to brother, in a childish sense that life goes on even when you’re youthful enough to ignore it. And it was this very delusion that caused their fall, which was not a great one because they had time and parents on their side. It wasn't long after that, including a bit of coaxing from the families, that the two got married, bought a house and had children of their own. 
As the past they’d lived in parody began slipping by, so did the couple’s delusions. Clarity replaced obfuscation, and the two soon woke up to the fact that their lives merged really hadn't much in common at all. Jeff stumbled upon religion on his way to adulthood while Lydi found God in forested trails. He developed a thirst for success and drank on the side while she started colouring up her life with paints. Jeff dreamed of being somebody, while Lydi only wanted to capture on canvas illusions she couldn't hold onto while raising a family and working to finish a degree to generate more family income. When she found community theatre to be an enjoyable venue for her artistry in the form of set design, Jeff found sport and was gone most weekends racing with a local cycling team. The kids in most modern families are often ignored, but theirs they watched growing up together as they grew apart. To her credit, Lydi did try counselling. Jeff wasn't having any of it, however. He only mocked the latest psycho-babble, thinking himself too smart to succumb to that while slipping further into spirits that Lydi came to resent. 
Life went on like this for quite some time, that is, till the day Jeff blacked out while driving and almost killed a public school girl riding home on her bicycle. This was when the marriage truly began to crumble and fade.  
When Lydi graduated college, she went to work worrying only about the children who, in turn, played long hours with friends in the forested paths close to home. To her, they appeared happy and oblivious to the world of adult problems, which added to Lydi’s psychological entrapment. Life went on this way for quite awhile: working, worrying, ignoring, and not really liking living together anymore. And, yet, she stayed and stayed. Jeff stayed too. And Lydi stayed some more, that is, till the day she openly met Andy and Jeff secretly met Kim.  
Now Lydi reached across a waxy pine-wood table to kiss the strong Scottish nose of her lover, Andy. They were sitting over coffee in a town café of her clarified years with Jeff, those years she had awakened to after their more playful days together. She thought of them all with a tinge of sadness, though only presently was she feeling some kind of peace. Thinking again: ‘What is so powerful about love?’ And it was a slow but pleasant burn of the heart when she had first caught sight of Andy while painting the set of a play he was, not acting in, but mixing the music for. ‘What is so powerful about love?’ She couldn't look away as he eyed her back, his smile catching hold.
That was two years ago, and they were there in town this day because of a botched child visitation. Her son Jamie’s birthday was planned to be spent with them, but a mix-up of lawyer dates and an ex-husband’s sabotage prevented Lydi from seeing him. Andy had purchased tickets to a baseball game that afternoon, but Jamie was off swimming with friends at a water theme park and unaware that they were coming to pick him up for the game. Lydi took this personally, cursing the ex and dumping the presents they’d brought with them at his door before leaving. She left before Jeff could see her cry. Only Andy had got an earful, which he sort of expected, knowing her frustration with the ex who, for all his self-pity, had moved in Kim shortly after the break-up. 
“Games, games, and more games.”     
“What was that?”
Lydi grimaced. “Sorry to drag you into all this. My ex does like his games. Only I don’t like it that he’s involving our kids.”
Andy nodded. “Rather low of him. But children are resilient. No worries.”
“Yes, I know. Still…they shouldn't have to go through this, all this crap with us.”
“And in a perfect world,” Andy said with a chuckle. 
“Wishes would be horses,” she answered back. 
At that moment, Lydi thought again that she had lost everything yet nothing, gaining instead an inner-connectedness. She no longer owned her own home but lived in a two-bedroom flat, working harder to split the expenses of teacher and musician. Only love had no price tag attached. ‘Yet, this is life worth living,’ thought Lydi. ‘All the rest is window dressing.’    
The season was turning now and it would soon be time for life to travel inward toward its roots. Memories storing, leaves dropping and drifting while skirting sinking waters or falling to the ground and soon trampled underfoot…as all life in its season does.
Aisling Books

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Rodeo Princess and the Cowboy - Magpie 231

©Shers Gallagher 2014

he leapt from the vehicle,
yelling to the cowboy that he had crossed the line.
And the rodeo princess dusted her jeans and adjusted her bra
before spinning her rope into a dust bowl of lazing lizards,
scattering them as she did
and lassoing just for fun a few cactus that were in her way.
Then she turned to the cowboy, awaiting an apology. 
But he spat and cursed her 
before popping the lid on a tall can of beer.
She breathed in and out slowly, 
taking in every inch of his self-amused smile
and then threw her rope, 
knot-tying him like a piece of chattel
and hearing him swear like a moon-calf 
as her lasso got tighter and tighter.
Oh, he whimpered and pleaded,
saying he would never again take advantage of her.
But it was too late for this cowboy.
The rodeo princess had made up her mind.
She would leave him there, 
a lone wolf among the coyotes, 
as she shifted into drive.

Aisling Books / Magpie Tales

Monday, 30 June 2014

A Gipsy’s Hand - Magpie Tales 226

©2014 Shers Gallagher

What I wouldn't give for all my days of childhood
to re-enact the play of wonder
shrouded in a gipsy's hand,
foretelling of no past,
which there had been little of so far,  
but of days and dreams of adventures to come.

What I wouldn't give for all my days of pubescent wonder
when love was but a whistle along an uncommon path
absorbed in misty-eyed youth
with songs of the unfulfilled romantic,
comparing life more to a budding flower
than any hand of reckoning.

What I wouldn't give for all my days of young adulthood
when life was both a struggle and a play
at becoming what the hand foretold
and of the willingness to be its player
in dreams and schemes of practically reckless abandon,
the risk that is taken by any hopeful dreamer.

What I wouldn't give for all my days of reliving the dream
the cards foretold,
laid out in the gipsy’s hand,
the basic plan written in the dust of stars 
that I still shake my head at.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

A reflective moment on childhood imprinting....

©2014 Sherry Gallagher
Flashback to childhood and all the messages we receive in the form of praises, corrections, scolding and  moralistic advice. Hold an image in your head – one of your most striking images: see it, hear it, own it. How did it make you feel? How does it make you feel now, if anything? Has it affected any of your life choices, especially the way you see yourself in the world today?

A strong personal example: I vividly remember being eight years old with one older brother and two younger. Though the eldest was closest to me in age, as a child I remember him being distant, as one choosing to go his own way and having as little as possible to do with the rest of us. Whenever we were together in the same room I felt him ignoring me. When I followed after him he would ditch me whenever he could. Growing up, I observed him liking his own friends and playing with his own toys that I don’t ever remember him sharing with the rest of us. 

The brother after me was one I felt made to feel responsible for. I was in second grade and he in kindergarten. And one day after school I forgot to come by his class to walk him home. This was my task I was given to do, and upon entering the house my mother asked after his welfare. Where was he? It was then it hit me that I had forgotten him. Nowadays I seriously don’t think any parent in their right mind would make an eight-year-old child responsible for walking their five-year-old sibling home from school every day. Yet it was a different time in the early 1960s. And, in all fairness, I don’t recall my mother being angry just concerned. She told me that the elementary school had called to say he was still waiting for me. When my brother got home he was angry and crying, telling my mother his teacher had said I was a ‘Don’t Bee’ as opposed to a ‘Do Bee’, because I had left school without him. This seems silly now, but back then I was distressed that I had forgotten him. 

All my life I have felt responsible for others’ welfare. And I have chosen a career path in keeping with such feelings of responsibility without realizing where this deep-seated angst had come from. Flashing back to this particularly poignant moment in time, I believe I can pinpoint one of my earliest recollections as to where and why.

And isn't it incredible to think how seemingly innocuous moments early on can pattern one’s whole life perspective? 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

The Follower of Dreams

©S. M. Gallagher 2014

Shall I start by saying that I have always been a follower of dreams, my pilgrimage beginning by a rainy day window? We long for what we don’t have; and, for me in my eleventh year on this planet earth, it was always a yearning for adventure that beckoned, alluring and unreachable. It was, alas, for a different age than my minor years. But I oh so wanted to board Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki and sail with him and his crew in their ‘Ra’ expedition to Easter Island. I knew all about it, of course, having just read the wondrous tale in my mother’s condensed version of the Reader’s Digest. Only years later would I be able to actualize this dream – somewhat – as in 2010 I visited the Norwegian museum where all the Heyerdahl boats, rafts and sundries are stored, well-preserved and treasured by a culture that venerates its explorers. 

Growing up, I quenched my thirst for adventure in stories written by my own hand and books printed by others. I suppose it’s the former, and maybe influences of the latter, that brought me to the stage where I could act out my daydreams and fantasies. Yet I was always the shy performer, turning to drug and drink when I got older to combat my horrific stage fright. After suffering the problems that come with substance abuse, I eventually gave it all up and decided to exercise my brain more academically. I don’t know if this was a mistake or a blessing, as academics tend to be pedants – both highly interesting and unwittingly dull – not to mention born grammarians who dot every ‘I’, cross all their ‘T’s’ and mind their ‘P’s’ and ‘Q’s’. Yet I had married, in the meantime, and began raising a family while rationalising that my toned down behaviour was good for the boys, if nothing else.


The dreams persisted as addictions dissipated, and my first plan of return was to study medicine, a subject I found fascinating. Yet I was no admitted scholar of maths and science and would limit my focus to nursing or nutrition, which I knew quite a lot about as a practising vegetarian. Yet a persuasive professor saved me from my plight; or, was it he who cursed me? Anyway, he cajoled me into the humanities where I obtained degrees in linguistics and secondary education. And while applying myself at school I generated income by bagging groceries and part-time modelling assignments, something I’d done in my youth. Though the glamour shoots soothed a waning ego, they also left me feeling hungry all the time. So they did not last the year before I ate donuts again - yum. I also got back into music, composing Christian songs before returning to raunchy renaissance. I had faith but I was just not saintly enough to frequent circles of the ‘perpetually nice’ too long before gagging. Only in the leaving did I feel I could breathe again and be, well, normal but not without some guilt that comes, not with spirituality, but with the institutionalised sense of wrong doing that is often mistaken for faith.

 Returning to school, I realised limitations I’d had with my
initial medical training. In looking back, a lot of it had to do with my dropping out of school early on when others were learning basics like periodic tables and calculations of protons and neutrons. Giving myself time and perhaps a refresher course could have resolved any feelings of inadequacy and doubt about being on the right degree tract. My qualms about basic education ran deep, however; especially considering how children are often taught early on. In my own case, I was tested while changing schools at the age of twelve and found to be one who would these days be brought into a gifted and talented programme. Back then I was only separated from classmates and given a slide rule to solve difficult math equations with. I was completely uninterested and ditched class whenever I could, meeting a fellow renegade by a water fountain and discussing with her more important things like the latest top ten song list on the radio. Our instructor was none too pleased when he found us, and neither were we with him. I believe that children come to school excited and motivated to learn. At some point, their passions are tempered, even dulled and turned off. Only in alternative education have I observed young people still keen on learning in school. And this is what I pursued with my first degree into graduate school: how to teach youth and keep them both excited about and engaged in the subjects they are learning. I still remember the title of my master’s thesis: ‘How to Build Foundations for Castles in the Air”, in which I discussed a need for holistically based learning without taking the ‘baby out with the bathwater’, so to speak. 

My second degree upped me to the college level, as I never
did find a permanent position in the school of my choice simply because it was a great learning environment that no other instructor wanted to leave. But leave I did, ending up teaching at a local community college, four- and six-year colleges. As my children grew older and my personal relationship split apart I ended up teaching overseas, whereby satisfying my wanderlust. 

I had fun teaching the year as a visiting professor to the University of Moscow in Russia during an economic crisis, and old lessons learnt as a teen runaway surviving on meaner streets came back into play. Though Russia was an initial culture shock, I soon grew to love the rugged land and its diverse population of peasants, intellectuals and artisans. After Russia I immigrated to the Netherlands, not being able to feel totally at home again in the States during the President Bush years. 

I also loved the two years I taught in Beijing, China, both before and after the 2006 Olympics. And because my grandfather was Irish, I spent as much time as I could getting to know the land of his father and forefathers, even working two summers for a language institute based in Dublin. What came out of this experience was an appreciation of a people whose love of music and storytelling I identified with, but whose superstitions and culpability rooted in the doctrines and dogmas of Catholicism I did not. 

These days I stick closer to home, my wanderlust appeased after travelling all over the United States, China and most of Europe. I only want to visit friends in Italy, a land whose food, art and culture I love and have yet physically experienced. I gave up performing long ago and only teach part-time and do freelance exam work for the British Council here in the Netherlands. I have written six books to date: one that is not my story but based on experiences growing up in America’s counter-culture; another that is derived from personal observations of the Russian culture about a young girl whose expatriate father has gone missing; a 3-part mystery series first set in Ireland and based on my travels; and, the last, a collection of short stories, songs & poems and travelogues. 

I’ve had a decent life with some regrets, as do we all. Yet if asked what I would do over again I could not even begin to surmise what I would change. Knowing what I know now, living the colourful life I have lived, which includes my precious children, their partners and grandchildren, how could I fathom one change of heart or deliberate act in alternate space? My only regret is not living closer to my children and my grandchild overseas. I miss old friends too, yes; some have already passed on, others have retired, and still others like me have a ways to go yet. 

If I were to leave off with a thought to carry me for the rest of my days it would simply be my own personal quote: A generation forgetting its laughter is enslaved to its own foolish despair. We're here but for a moment. Selah.

But what I really want engraved on my tombstone is cited from Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’: "My mother cried – but then a star danced and under that was I born." 

Aisling Books

Raised by a Flyboy Father

©Shers Gallagher 2014
...who could not sit still.
Over miles with him
we 'rode or bust'
to this and that highway
and some other byway
that stretched across
the Great Divide. 
He settled in the end,
back to where he started.
And I like him,
having been raised in motion,
could not sit still.
Over miles alone
I trekked
across lava rock that glistened
like jagged points of death
and Steppes that went nowhere
until they sank into the sun.
Only then,
like my father,
did I arrive with a yearning 
to come back home.