In the place where trumpet vines bloomed in the desert, an arbor hung over some children while words danced poetry above their heads.
Seated there in the shade on hard wooden benches, their small fingers curled tight around fat pencils, thin pencils, crayons too, they crafted rhymes, for even children, especially children, are poets. Unrelenting Arizona sun thwarted by a leafy cover, they were content with this happy art of words. They batted the occasional fly and bee, and birds joined too — a little nest up in the corner of the beams — and all around was a rosy glow.
My mom built this arbor herself, a crude frame of worn, untreated timber just waiting to sliver anyone who rubbed the wrong way. It seemed spacious as a child, but really it was only about a 10 by 12 foot structure. Rustic, but refuge, in this Sulphur Spring Valley. She fought nature and place to create this haven, and being such a small woman, this was a herculean task. She was a transplant from the east, and if she could try to grow in a desert, why, too, shouldn’t these flowers bloom and this arbor give shade?
Trumpet vines crept together with wisteria and honeysuckle. Dominated by the flamboyant and vigorous bright orange trumpets, these vines twisted an artist’s canvas over the entire arbor, magnificent leafy green and colorful, which surely unbeknownst caused poetic thoughts to stir.
It was the summer of 1978, and I was eight years old. My mother, who loved poetry and words as life itself, decided to form The Little Rimers. It was my sister Heather and me and about six other neighbor children, and this was about the best thing my mother did for me in my whole life.
Big canning jars of sun tea for the kids, sweetened just right — I’d watch it sit out to brew and that was nearly as good as its refreshment — small tea cookies, and handmade cloth-bound books for each child to write her rhyming words there in the arbor. There were haikus and acrostics, riddles and limericks, and all sorts of silliness.
I wrote about Christmas and Thanksgiving and Shoes. Theresa’s poem about a hunter cat was so good I was sure she’d copied it from somewhere. And never could I have imagined that this little book from the arbor would carve out such a substantial memory, and I wonder if any of those other children remember too?
Before we moved to this place, we lived in Tucson, where I was born, about an hour northwest. There, my mom belonged to a poetry group called the Rimers of Tucson, and as far as I know, it was the only time in her life that she had a “social network” or group of friends. I mostly remember, in addition to numerous white-haired ladies with elegant speech, being locked out of the house during poetry meetings that my mom hosted, confined to play in the back yard, possibly even harnessed to a tree, but on at least one occasion I snuck in through an open window.
I was born during this poetic and productive period in Tucson, and even named after one of these poetry group ladies. But my dad relocated our family and here in this remote desert place, far from city life, it was just us children for her, so she created the Little Rimers. (I know, it’s not spelled properly, it was meant to be that way.)
My sister Nancy, she hated to write poetry. My mom would demand poetry, telling her as a little girl — you can’t come out of your room until you’ve written four lines. She’d get so angry, being forced to write poetry, and so she hated it. I never knew this until Nancy told me recently, because I only had this lovely memory of writing poetry in the arbor. Nancy, being seven years older than me — a teenager at this time — had no use for rhyming with eight-year-olds.
After that summer in the arbor, it gradually fell into neglect over the ensuing years, like its poetry was all used up and the last orange trumpet had blown its horn. I wonder if the verse of the summer of ’78 was a moment like the Isabella, the rare butterfly in the French film Le Papillon? The character called Julien, the old grandfather figure, said in response to little Elsa’s sadness about the brief life span of the butterfly (three days, three nights), “It’s a life. A butterfly’s life.”
It really may not seem like much, an arbor in the desert, but well, it is my life and my arbor — and poetry. I heard of a rare flower that bloomed once every 30 years, whereupon the plant would die but leave behind several smaller plants which then would flower after a few more decades. Sometimes, rare and beautiful things are like that, and quite unforgettable.
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