Magpie Tales Photo Prompt No.7-"A Year of Mourning"

A Year of Mourning

My heartache is renewed by a fresh pierce of pain
How will we ever face Christmas without you?
The season holds precious memories
This time is the hardest of all.
We will miss you more
Than one could imagine
As we approach the final stage
Of our first year of mourning.
January saw our tree slowly dying
As it lay neglected on the porch
Something you were spared
Your death not comprehensible.
Spring brought me daffodils from bulbs
You gave me that very last fall,
When they appeared, I cried out loud
And lay down in all that golden glory.
Mother's day shattered my emotions
While pounding the ground for your garden
A gift that would help to heal my soul.
Summer was long and steamy
I spent a week wandering
Old halls, calling for your ghost.
Autumn brought splendid colors
Sprinkled throughout my yard
I found I could not cope, it was just too hard.
Winter came with a sudden burst
Brilliant snow white, shining clear
That made me hurt for that last day
Of your last year on Earth.
New Year's eve descended, suddenly we were there
The anniversary of your death
We did not hurt any less
At the end of this year of mourning.

There was no doubt in my mind when I saw the lovely daffodil photo that I would have to use this poem. Daffodil bulbs were one of the last gifts I received from my mother in the Fall of 1994, and of course when they came up in the spring, after her death, it was the most amazing gift from heaven. I cannot look at daffodils without this memory. So, thus the reason for not writing a new poem for this Magpie. Thanks!
©Janice Stiles-Boults, poem, "A Year of Mourning", page twenty-four from the book "A Year of Mourning", previously published©1996, 1999, 2005.


Magpie Tales Photo Prompt No.6-"Nails To Feathers"

Nails to Feathers

It was becoming rather tedious, but it was a good paying job, and I still had another year of grad school, so beggars can’t be choosers, right? My job was to lie on a bed of nails, which I did in a staged performance five days a week and weekends at the Museum of Science in Boston. I also did my “act” several times a month in the labs at M.I.T. for the students majoring in Physics. There were mistakes and injuries in the beginning; it took many hours of training and a calm patience. I didn’t have many friends, they couldn’t quite grasp what it was I did, and for the most part, they thought I was weird. Yes, it is an unusual practice, but one that has been a cultural tradition for meditation and relaxation in India for thousands of years.

One might think of the freak show at carnivals or the circus; that dark ominous tent, full of the strange and bizarre, but it wasn’t anything magical or mystical at all. Most of those acts were exaggerated to be shocking, but were totally phony. Changes in entertainment led to the decline of these human sideshows, and some states banned or outlawed them all together. The exhibition of human oddities, “freaks of nature”, can be traced back for centuries. Strong man, tallest, oldest, shortest; then there was the elephant man, spider boy, camel girl, the bearded lady of Geneva – and, the man who sleeps on a bed of nails! This act was to express bravery and lack of pain, when in fact, it was a simple physics demonstration on the principles of pressure.

Freak shows were popular in the United States between 1840 and the 1970s, and in many states one can still find them. In the 1630s, Lazarus Colloredo, and his parasitic twin brother, John Baptista, who was attached at Lazarus' sternum, toured Europe. The early 19th century brought Chang and Eng, "the original Siamese twins", to an exhibition in America. P.T. Barnum arrived in London with Tom Thumb, the famous midget. Coney Island was the sight of the World Circus Sideshow,” operating from 1922 to 1941 by “Professor” Samuel Wagner, known as “The Godfather” of the Coney Island Freak Show. These bizarre anomalies were eventually scientifically explained as genetic mutations or diseases, and so-called freaks were no longer feared, but given sympathy instead. Lying on a bed of nails, however, wasn’t all that freaky, it just took practice, and it was actually beneficial to the body.

In Russia, in the 1980’s, physicians found that the effects of the bed of nails showed great results for the immune system, metabolic rates and decrease in stress levels. Psychological changes also occurred; with aggression levels decreasing, alleviation of depression, and a sense of well-being developing.

The trick is getting on and off the bed; my technique was to roll onto the bed in one quick motion, once the body weight is evenly dispersed, there is no risk of injury. If you try to sit, or put a hand down, that area will receive the brunt of pressure and cause the nail to puncture your skin. In early training, three pieces of plywood are set on top of the nails; once I am stretched out, an assistant removes each board from under me, and I remain balanced on the nails. Other methods have beds with railings, so you can slowly lower yourself onto the nails. I have a few scars and puncture holes here and there, but I have it down to, well, a science, and rather enjoy the stimulation, my body very accustomed to it now. Overall, I rarely have emotional issues, being quite calm and balanced, and I don’t suffer from any health problems, so I would recommend the bed of nails as extremely therapeutic.

This job has helped me earn a living while in college, a “hit the nail on the head” kind of idea, because I will soon earn my doctorate in Physics after eight long years of studying. It has been hard as nails, I’ve bitten my nails, I could have spit nails at times, and of course, it's been a real bed of nails. When I go home each night to my single dorm on the top floor of an old brownstone, the one item dominating the room is a giant featherbed!

©2010, Janice Stiles-Boults
Information courtesy of Google Searches & Wikipedia
Photograph courtesy of Willow
@ http://willowmanor.blogspot.com/
Willow, of "Life at Willow Manor", began Magpie Tales in February. Every week writers sign up and then post a poem or fictional story to go with a photograph prompt that Willow provides. Check out http://magpietales.blogspot.com/ to join in the fun!



Fruitlands' fine art collection contains over 100 Hudson River School landscape paintings, more than 230 19th century vernacular portraits, textiles, and works on paper. The collection also contains silhouettes, mourning pictures, documents, framed textiles, and glass plate negatives.

The Hudson River School is generally thought to be the first identifiably American school of art. During the early 19th century artists like Penneman, Durand, Cole, and Fisher began painting natural scenes of America. Artists like Bierstadt and Church among others held fantastically popular art shows in New Your. Many of these early works featured areas in upper New York State, partly as advertising for the emerging tourist industry which attracted people from the city up the Hudson River.

Early 19th century vernacular portraits illustrate rural New Englanders and the bonds that had held rural communities together. We can find signs of the times in the portraits that were produced in rural New England between 1800 and 1850. The primitive portrait painters frequently included details that help us understand what their patrons valued and how their world was changing.

Spring Equinox, 1:32 pm edt

March 20, 2010!


Magpie Tales Photo Prompt No. 5 - "Matched Pair"

The task at hand was given,
Handle it with care;
Palm the difference tomorrow
Drop the cross you bear.
Wooden nails claw the surface
Screws resist the scratch;
Pointed and stern, you are fingered,
As the one holding the match.

©Janice Stiles-Boults
Photograph courtesy of Willow
@ http://willowmanor.blogspot.com/

Willow, of "Life at Willow Manor", began Magpie Tales in February. Every week writers sign up and then post a poem or fictional story to go with a photograph prompt that Willow provides. Check out http://magpietales.blogspot.com/ to join in the fun!


Out My Window

There is still snow in the yard, here in the woods of Southfield.

Brilliant sunshine and warm temperatures help!

We are in the meltdown, water is beginning to flow!


Magpie Tales Photo Prompt No. 4 - "The White Elephant"

The most enchanting lady, "Willow", started Magpie Tales in February. Every week writers sign up and then post a poem or fictional story to go with a photograph prompt that Willow provides. Check out http://magpietales.blogspot.com/ to join in the fun! Also visit "Life at Willow Manor" http://willowmanor.blogspot.com/ -Awarded the "Blog of Note" in February 2008, with almost 250,000 visitors since!

Magpie Tales Photo Prompt No. 4:

Photograph courtesy of Willow @ http://willowmanor.blogspot.com/

Hi folks! Thanks so much for visiting my blog and following "Magpie Tales." When this week's photo came up there was no question in my mind what I would submit - but please be forewarned - it is a much longer piece than what we have been seeing on "the Mag". Thanks again for reading! Cheers!

The White Elephant

A great day was coming to the village - The White Elephant Sale - and my little child mind could not imagine what this could be! For a week, I rummaged through my toys, because Mom said I had to donate to the white elephant. “Everyone on the street is gathering items, cleaning out their barns, baking pies and cookies,” she said, arms deep in flour, wheeling the rolling pin across the flat dough on the counter. We would be contributing to the white elephant, and I had to do my part.

Well, I had no idea why a big elephant would want my old puzzles and games with missing pieces, but I was not going to argue with an elephant! Moreover, seeing such an animal was worth being good and doing what I was told to do, so I filled two boxes. A few items, however, went in and out of the toy chest several times before I could make a firm decision to let them go. Mom then gave me a big bag and asked that I pick out clothes from the bureau, things that are too small, and I managed to fill that too. Still, it was beyond me why a white elephant would want any of this stuff.

The morning finally arrived; up the street we went, holding mom’s hand and carefully clutching a basket in the other. Underneath the cloth were hot sticky buns, dripping with confectioner’s sugar frosting. Mom carried a much larger basket with thick green glass jars of homemade tapioca loaded with plump raisins, and dozens of Snicker doodles; she made the very best.

Approaching the churchyard, the strangest sound came echoing over the hill. Mom told me it was the organ grinder. "What?" I had visions of the beautiful organ at the church cut up and turned into piles of sawdust. Then I saw him, decked out in an array of colorful clothing, carrying a big piano on his even bigger belly. A thick leather strap around his neck, and one hand on the side of the box, helped to balance the barrel organ. The other hand turned a crank to make the music come out, and what a noise. I did not think it was music at all; nothing like the records Mom played every afternoon while ironing. A tiny white-headed monkey on a long leash was hopping all around him, tin cup in hand. The organ grinder started up a lively, screeching tune, went tottering down the hill toward the village green, the monkey sitting on his head.

Mom would scold and say, “come along, pay attention to your basket, please, watch your step,” but there was so much activity, so much to see. In a fenced-off area near the parking lot, ten white ponies with flower wreaths over their braided manes were high stepping and dancing about, showing off. As I got closer, I could hear their funny little whinnies and I wanted to dash over to pet them all. “You will see them later for the circus performance,” mom said, and I figured that is when I would see the white elephant. I skipped ahead of her, anxious to get to the show; she promptly called me back to her side.

All of a sudden, a massive black horse came roaring up out of no where, the rider dressed in every color in my crayon box, with a floppy hat on his head that had bells hanging from the tips. There were bells and shiny chains all over his clothing too, and he jingled as he reined in the snorting, stomping horse and hopped off. “What is he supposed to be,” I asked mom, and she whispered, “He is a jester, or court fool, who will entertain the crowds this afternoon.” Before I knew what was happening, I was lifted off my feet by the jester-fool-man, and plopped in the saddle, where I proceeded to grab handfuls of hair in my chubby little fingers. Holding on to that mane with all my might, I screamed at the top of my lungs, begging to get down. Back on solid ground, I ran immediately to hide behind my mother, scowling at them both as they tried to soothe me while stifling their laughter. Jester-fool-man produced a big swirled lollipop from a satin bag hanging at his waist, and handing it to me said, “I am very sorry I scared you little Princess.” Ignoring him, I brushed itchy course hair from my hands, upset to see long black strands stuck on my new white cotton dress. Mom helped, and we got it all off, then she gave me a cookie from her basket. “Thanks,” I muttered, not wanting to let go of my anger, thinking to myself, did I ask for a ride on that horse? Did anyone ask if I wanted to be ten feet off the ground!

Gathering my basket, and my wits, we set off to the grange hall to deliver our food. Once inside, I quickly forgot about the horse incident, as I gazed at long tables with row upon row of pies, warm and wafting scents across the room. There were towers of fudge, cut in tiny squares resting on glass plates, and mountains of cookies that resembled a mini forest. Our big pottery platter held the sugary pile of snicker doodles, that I stacked, and when I placed them in the middle of those dark mounds on the table, they looked like snowcapped hills. I lined up the jars of tapioca too; they sparkled like emeralds under the round hanging lights of the high ceiling hall.

We headed to the kitchen to speak with our neighbor who was handling all the iron cauldrons of hot cider, rapidly bubbling on the giant cook stove. Another stove held large speckled tin coffee pots, perking away, and an old black kettle of boiling water. Mom held me tightly by the hand, as I looked at all the simmering pots that seemed about ready to blow their lids; I did not want to be around for that mess. Tugging on her arm, and interrupting her, she finally agreed to let me go out the side door and wait there while she helped Mrs. Sansel get it together in the kitchen.

I crept along the side of the building to the front where I would be able to see the whole village green, keeping an eye out for my mother in case she popped her head out the door to check on me. The organ grinder person was in the middle of a ring with the white ponies, and costumed people were standing on the horse’s backs as they pranced around. It was fantastic! I ran back to tell mom we just had to go now, the show was starting! Then the church bells began to ring, and everyone walked together across the road to take seats on long wooden benches. Soon I heard someone announcing that the white elephant was beginning; it was that jester-fool-man on his black horse, jangling his way down the street, a large megaphone in his hand. “The white elephant has begun, come to the white elephant,” he boomed. I quickly grabbed for mom’s hand, expecting for sure that the giant beast would be lumbering down the road any minute. Instead, many people started moving toward the roped off area behind the old factory. The men were anxious to place bids for the tools and tractor parts on display; the women longing to finger the bolts of fabric and sample the bottles of perfume or try on the latest fashion hats that the traveling salesmen offered from their wagons.

At the ring, I was almost close enough to touch those pretty ponies and could see the costumes of the women riding atop them. The outfits were beautiful; glitter galore flashing brightly under the noon sun. Men joined the women, wearing matching sparkly shirts with white stretchy pants. They began doing flips in mid-air, landing precisely on the saddle each time. I held my breath as they twirled and spun around, afraid they would miss the horse and fall right off, but no one did.

The organ grinder was coming around the outside of the ring now with his monkey jumping on the spectators, pulling at their pockets. Everyone began to plunk coins into the monkey’s tin cup that he would thrust right under their noses. Mom tucked a few coins into my hand, and said it was to pay the grinder man for his music. I did not like his music and told her so. Her terse response was, “one must always appreciate another’s musical talents, even if you do not like it, and never say that to someone, it would be criticizing their personal taste.” "What?" I would have to contemplate that bit of wisdom later. I did think the little monkey was cute, and probably had to do most of the work, so when it was my turn I would give him the money. The monkey’s name was on his tiny hat - Joseph - and he jumped right on my head and began petting my long curly hair. Adorable, I just loved him, pulled him to my lap, and filled his cup with coins. Joseph pulled one coin out and gave it back to me, and the red-cheeked grinder man chuckled, “now how about that, he wants to reward you for being so nice. We thank ye kind lassie!”

Mom stood up chatting with a group of her friends, who had their small children in tow, many of them my playmates; we tried to dash after the grinder man and his monkey, but it was time to go to the Punch and Judy show. The older kids knew just what this was going to be, and took off for the painted wooden box stall over by the pond. As we settled on the grass, a puppet head appeared from inside the box. It looked like a mini version of the jester-fool-man except for an ugly hooked nose that almost reached his big jutting chin. In his stump of a hand, he carried a big stick almost as large as himself, which he immediately started using on the next puppet that popped up from under the box. I understood his name, it made sense now; he was Punch. As they bounced and turned on the little stage, I could see that Punch had a hunchback, and really was not very nice to the girl puppet, who I assumed was Judy. The voice coming out of him was a squawking sound, mingled with a gleeful cackle every time he hit Judy with his stick. Everyone was laughing - I did not think it was very funny – especially when a third puppet, a tiny baby, poked its head up from under the stage. How could Judy be happy if she was clubbed in the head whenever she spoke to Punch? And she kept dropping the baby while struggling with the stick; it all seemed rather violent if you asked me. The poor little baby would emit a sick mewing sound, which sent Punch into more cackling laughter and Judy screaming.

I lost interest when I spotted my Dad striding across the upper edge of the green, arms loaded with boxes and machine parts. Mom said I could go with him if I wanted as this was the last show of the day and she had to help with cleanup at the hall. Off I went trying to keep up with the long legs of my father as we headed for home, a barrage of questions and stories pouring out of me. He never said much, but once we got to his workroom, he called me over to see what he was lifting out of a bag. “Look what I bought for your mom - her birthday you know - end of this month.” He held out a chunk of rock in a deep mauve, swirled with milky whiteness, foggy and rosy at the same time. Dad called it crystalline quartz, said it was rare. Shining his flashlight for a better look, the rock refracted the beam and twinkled in my eyes. He would carve it into an animal figurine using all his fine chisels and sculpting tools. First, he wanted me to take my time, and think about what animal was mom’s favorite, then let him know. I only needed a few seconds to picture a beautiful deer, the white-tailed doe with soft brown eyes, and told him. He nodded and smiled; I smiled too, because I knew that in a few weeks his gift would make Mom very happy.

Overall it had been an exciting day, a few moments a little too exciting, but an adventure to tell about just the same. I was full of cotton candy and soda pop, had sampled several pies, as well as many cookies, and could not even think of finishing dinner that night. Drying off after a hot bath and pulling a blue nightgown over my head, Mom said, “scoot along to bed now, I’ll come tuck you in shortly.” There were visions of dancing horses and sequined costumes, little Joseph and his coin cup, running through my mind as I climbed the footstool to get onto my big brass bed. Mom tucked me in tight and we kissed goodnight as I had a last thought before drifting off to sleep - I never did see the white elephant!

©Janice Stiles-Boults


Welcome March!

"No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn."
- Hal Borland -
Winter Angel ©2010 JanBoultsPhotography


Magpie Tales Photo Prompt No.3-"Ghostly Weight"

Photo courtesy of Willow @

"Ghostly Weight"

The door was yanked open by what appeared to be the cleaning woman; with a large mop in hand she shielded me from four little dogs that were yipping excitedly as they charged down the hall. She grumbled over her shoulder, “Come on in, quick!” then slammed the front door. Loud music was blaring and I heard a voice from the second floor calling out, “get the dogs for goodness sake, and turn that damn radio down”. A few seconds later, the voice yelled again above all the racket, “tell that young girl I’ll be down shortly, put her in the parlor.” I was ushered through double doors by the mop lady, who promptly shut them with a clank as the iron latch handle slid into place. I could hear the dogs scratching their way up the wooden staircase when the man upstairs whistled, and a vacuum started up in some far off area of the big old farmhouse. There was a sudden hush; I turned and looked into the most extraordinary room, chock full of treasures.

Now I’ve had my years dealing in antiques; ephemera, glass and chinaware, furniture, and I dabbled a little in art, but by no means have any great knowledge on the subject. The work here, however, was unmistakable - Milton Avery, and what must certainly be a Picasso, dominated one wall; John Singer Sargent and Frederic Remington another; over the fireplace were four oils by Homer, and another wall held a photograph of the very lady of the house walking in a garden with Georgia O’Keefe! The multitude of urns, pottery, baskets, sculptures, and Indian artifacts overwhelmed the senses. Such an impressive collection of Primitives and historical memorabilia made the room pulsate with energy. Artwork covered all the wall space from floor to ceiling, and books were piled on every available tabletop.

I sat down on the plumped up Chintz covered sofa among numerous hand-crocheted pillows and just gazed around. I got right back up again as my eyes came to rest on a measuring scale across the large room. It was magnificent, the best one I had ever seen, a great example of a balance scale, or ‘equal arm scale’. Shaped like the letter T, with a thick cross beam, chains are attached to hold brass pans that hang on either side. It was tall, about four feet, and almost that wide, and stood on an old trestle table. All the various size weights were in a line at the front of the scale, secure in little cut out squares at the iron base.

I picked up the one kilogram weight when the lady of the house spoke right in my ear whispering, “it’s haunted”. Startled, I dropped the weight, and looked up to see the massive scale move. My hostess said, “Aha, the scales have tipped in your favor my dear, come sit down now.” She moved around the room turning on small lamps with colored glass shades in lovely designs, surely Tiffany or Bradley & Hubbard lighting. Soon the room was bathed in muted tones of amber, rose, and gold; the setting sun cast long fingers of pink and orange across the floor. The lady was looking out the big bay windows at the lingering light, and said, “I’m scared to be alone, and I just hate the dark.”

Commotion and barking dogs in the hall indicated her husband was ready to leave and she excused herself for a moment, I walked back to the scale. There was the one kilogram weight in its holder; I didn’t pick it up from the floor when the little old lady came sneaking up on me, and the scale was in the even, zero position. I shivered, feeling chilled I moved closer to the fireplace watching out the window as the man of the house, along with the cleaning woman, piled suitcases, crates and the four dogs into a Mercedes wagon and drove away. The house was quiet.

When the lady returned she looked sad and lost, distracted. I asked if she put the weight back, and what she meant when she said something was haunted. She must have seen the fear and hesitancy in my eyes; after all, I was here for a job which would require that I stay at the house with her while her husband was on a business trip for ten days. “Oh bother,” she said, “Don’t mind me it is nothing. The house is almost two hundred years old, and has a voice of its own with things that go bump in the night, creaks and groans, you will get use to them.”

She motioned for me to follow and we went out through the hall, across a vast dining room and into the kitchen. Urgently she began to run through a list of instructions, “You can come each afternoon at dusk and leave at dawn; I don’t need to see you in the morning, but we might cross paths. You will stay in the North wing, the staircase back here goes directly to the guest rooms and bathroom, anything you might need is in the cupboards. Feel free to use the library, or den to watch television, grab what you want from the fridge.”

We climbed a steep, twisting set of stairs to a long, very narrow hallway. “I don’t need any attending to, just knowing you are here in the house is all I want, can’t be alone at night,” she said, as she began opening doors and switching on lights. “I’ll be in my suite at the other end of this hall, which comes out at the staircase to the front door; wander around, you can’t get lost, the rooms and hallways are all interconnected. It is time for the NPR show I listen to each evening, so I’ll retire now, rest well my dear, goodnight.”

I chose a book of poetry from the nightstand next to my bed, and settled into an overstuffed wing back chair near a tiny fireplace in the corner of the enormous room. The wind was rattling something on the house, and the radiators would pop and hiss every so often, it was a cold winter night. Lost in reading, the little fire turned to embers and the room grew cold; I decided to venture to the cavernous kitchen to make tea. I heard a thud, then another and another, each one getting progressively louder, but not any closer. It was coming from downstairs, maybe the parlor. Wrapping myself up in my robe, I stuck my head out the door - nothing, no sound. I crept along the dark hall to the top of the front stairs where I could hear the radio coming from behind a closed door - the lady’s suite - she might be asleep by now, so I did not want to disturb her about the noises. I went down to the parlor, fumbled around to find the lights and discovered that each weight from the scale was on the floor! While putting them all back in their holders, a cat brushed up against my legs and I nearly screamed out loud. “So you are the culprit”, I said as the cat just yawned and winked at me and darted off toward the kitchen.

Tea in hand, I returned to my room, rekindled the fire and resumed my reading. I must have dozed off; something jolted me awake, the thuds of the weights dropping to the floor again! I glanced at the clock on the nightstand and a shiver went up my spine – there was the cat, curled up at the foot of the bed. This time, I wasn’t going back downstairs; I hurriedly shut the door and jumped into bed, the cat climbed under the covers too and started up a purring and kneading ritual. I didn’t sleep, listening, waiting all night, the cat at my side. I wondered how I was going to get through nine more nights in this obviously haunted house.

As I was preparing to leave at dawn’s first light, the little old lady came tottering down the stairs, reaching in her sweater pocket, she held something out to me. “This was in my bed when I got up this morning, can you put it back, please,” she said, very nonchalantly as if this was a daily occurrence. She handed me the one kilogram weight for the balance scale, and with a twinkle in those green Irish eyes, whispered, “See you at dusk, my dear."

©Janice Stiles-Boults