Come walk with me

Come walk with me among the stones and trees, away from the distractions and we will reflect on what truly matters. . . .

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Sunday afternoon….quieter than the morning that came floating down…slanted sunlight of the fall….

I remember a day like this, yet so different. The sun coming in the kitchen windows, warm and full, quiet.  I wanted to save that day. I wanted to save us.

There have been other days….lost and lonesome, yearning for a warm bed, dreading the dark night. Others were just full, quiet as wood smoke, lovely as leaves, days without longing.

Photo by J Denise Coalson

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Down, Down, Down…..

We were just sitting around enjoying the live music at a local restaurant -- a couple of my friends and a couple of women I had never met. One of my friends is suffering from depression and we talked about what a struggle it is. Then she just poured out her story,

You know my dad was in the slammer for 17 years…he killed my mother…put her body in the trunk and the smell caused the neighbors to call the cops….

It was years ago but how she get past that pain? She can't. She simply can't.

The lady I didn't know was doing cross-stitch with her daughter. She began explaining how her husband had committed suicide. But that was not the worst part--he had been missing for two years.

How does she get past that loss?

On the stories went, each woman at the table sharing a little of her experience. I talked of my divorce, the loss of my home and how the husband I had loved so dearly had wanted me dead. I don't know how to come back from that. It has changed me.

Each of these women had been changed. We talked about the importance of talking, sharing, reaching out. We all talked about expressing gratitude each day for the little blessings that aren't really so little--food, our pets, being out with friends.

When I arrived home, I had an email from another close friend: Her daughter, from whom she had been estranged (after the ex told the child horrible stories about her mother) had passed away. My friend had longed for a reconciliation, a moment she could put her arms around her child and tell her she had always loved her.

What could I possibly say to comfort my friend on such a loss?

Such profound losses--at yet each of these women is generous, and loving, and positive. I am blessed.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Prayers for the Vulnerable

So much on my mind today….horrified by events in Paris and elsewhere around the world. Continued prayers for my friends who are directly affected by these circumstances, and those I do not know. Yet, in observing the outpouring of outrage and support, I am reminded of how much we tolerate here at home. 

Women and children in America are far more likely to be hurt or killed by someone in the home. This will not change until there is ZERO tolerance for domestic violence. It is rare to find a household that has not been touched in some way. 

The walking wounded are all around us. We desperately need more and better mental health professionals and facilities. We see the evidence of that every day. And while I am 100% for taking out the terrorists who would kill us, I am also 100% for addressing, in a meaningful way, the violence that surrounds us on a daily basis across the nation. 

Prayers for the millions in that situation right now.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


He was humble, meek even, this man who murdered his wife. The sheriff was giving me a tour of the jail and introduced me to him through the bars. I had never knowingly met a murderer before, though I have known several since.

He looked normal.

This was the first murder trial I covered as a reporter. I was 20 years old, naive. Each day, the sheriff brought this tall, lanky, quiet man into the courtroom. He was facing the death penalty. He was polite, kind.

He blew his wife's head off with a shotgun at point-blank range in front of dozens of witnesses, including policemen. She had left him because he threatened to kill her. He waited for her to get off work, forced her behind the wheel of the car while he sat behind her in the back, the shotgun against her head.

She was screaming.

It was quitting time. Factory workers poured from the doors into the parking lot. They scrambled back to call police. Some just stood and stared. He kept telling her, "Drive on, just drive on."

He wanted her back. He loved her.

She was screaming.

The cops told him to drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun.

He fired, they fired.

They hit him in the shoulder and as they approached him, he begged, "Don't hurt me, Don't hurt me."

He sat meekly in the courtroom.

Before he killed her, he killed her husband. She was the only witness and it was ruled accidental something or other. They built a house with the insurance money and then he said he was going to kill her.

She was tiny, tiny. Short, very slim, long brown hair.

She lost a baby while they were together. I found the tombstones the other day.

He got life in prison, and he got paroled.

She got a beautiful tombstone.

Friday, June 5, 2015

This Little Life

This little life
a whole person
a little spirit
contained for a time
touched my heart
then wisped away
I mourn you, long to hold on
to you
This little, fluttering life,
this precious, little life.

Monday, May 25, 2015


Memorial Day. Salute. Raise the flag. Lower your head. Utter a prayer.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


It is time to renew my passport. I have been watching travel shows on public television. Today, they visited Cologne and I longed to see more details, to see something familiar, to spy the priest who had stood with me through mass. More than anything, I long to return.

I long to see new places. Scotland. Wales. Ireland. The Isle of Man. The Manx Museum. Hadrian's Wall. I long to ride trains again. The Ice. The narrow rail up the the mountain to Lucerne. I long to get on a boat, to see the view from the midst of Lake Zurich once more. But I'd like to tour the Rhine.

I want night to fall on an outdoor cafe with little white lights and foreign languages at the next tables, clinking wine glasses and easy laughter.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What's Wrong

She does not make eye contact in the grocery store; perhaps she did not notice me. That's probably it; she did not see me. Behind her, with her grandson on his shoulders, is her boyfriend, the man who left her naked and beaten on her front porch. He is powerfully built, tall, broad-shouldered, rather handsome.

He is very good with her grandson, she had told our support group, and her grandson adores him. Yes, I had to admit, her grandson looked happy on this man's shoulders.

My stomach churned with anger and disgust. "You are what is wrong," I wanted to scream at her. "You are the reason the cops and judges don't pay attention! You! You! What's wrong with you???"

I say nothing.

I know what is wrong with her. I know, because I know. I know how desperate she is to be loved and desired, how undeserving she feels, how, if she only tries hard enough to please this man, he will love her. He will love her.

This is what's wrong.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Caspar David Friedrich, The North Sea in the Moonlight

I have been thinking of Oostende, on the North Sea.

Even though it was July, it was chilly and rainy. We walked through the mist to the hotel. The old world lobby suited me; the dark, heavy wood, the high ceilings, the huge, yellowed posters of old ships.

We walked down to a quaint restaurant. It was yellow, and the windows were steamed over. The people at the table next to us were from Italy. I ordered fish and the chef brought it to me himself. We walked along the dock where houseboats were tied up, squeezed next to each other as tightly as socks in a drawer. We could see the lights inside, the wine glasses, the small televisions.

It was a lovely evening.

The next morning, I walked out alone. Tourists came over, and speaking French, asked me for directions. Mostly, people assumed I was French when I was alone.

I had no idea that I loved the North Sea until that first night in Oostende. It awakened something I had never known, or had forgotten before I was born. It seemed a great mystery, swirling energy, rich, boundless, timeless.

I long to return tonight.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Hymn for Today

We are a garden, walled around, 
chosen and made, peculiar ground, 
A little spot, enclosed by grace, 
out of this world's wide wilderness.

 --Isaac Watts

Thursday, April 30, 2015


My divorce decree arrived in the mail today. Two stamps with images of Maya Angelou were on the envelope.

Now I know why the caged bird sings.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Heart Will Always Listen

The hall is empty.
The music changes everything.

* * * * * * *

The Hollow.

We lived in the Hollow, the hollow of the mountain, and a great blue wall rose around us. The windows of my sixth-grade classroom framed the landscape. It was an ever-changing masterpiece. Fall, winter, spring--the mood changed as if Bierstadt were sitting just outside with his palette and easel.

We each had a box of pastels and I drew a clipper was voted second best in the class. Betty Ann had drawn a mermaid perched on a rock...odd selections for mountain children.

My great, great, great, I lose track of the greats, grandfather was a bowlegged sailor who fought his way through the Indians to make a home far from the coast. He would have dozens upon dozens of descendants who never saw the ocean but had images of clipper ships coming closer and closer in their minds' horizons.

The waves rose and fell, mountains and hollows, mist sprayed from the splashing of creeks on rocks, and the fog, the fog billowed and rolled from the foot of the mountain all the way to the sea. On those days, mountain people recalled the oceans they had known, though not consciously, of course, just in their hearts, their bones.  They stood on the pinnacles and watched the ravens and hawks sail and dive with no place to light in the vastness, so that they were forced to return to the arks of cabins and barns.The mountain folk stood and they remembered.

They swore they could hear the waves crashing at the foot of Fisher's Peak.

Friday, April 24, 2015

What's Forever For

Michael Martin Murphey's voice is pure as butter -- rich, satisfying, sustaining.

I see love-hungry people

I see them, too. I see me, hungry for love and for life. It is 1980 something in the kitchen of our restaurant. Mama and my little girl and Michael Martin Murphey's voice,  rich as cream, while Mama made dumplings for supper.

If love never lasts forever, 
Tell me, what's forever for?

Mama nodded as she worked, Amen, Amen.

She worked the flour and lard and milk, looking down, thinking, somewhere else.

My little girl and I were going on a picnic, packing a lunch for the Shot Tower at Fosters Falls, straight up I-77. It was summer, and the Queen Anne's lace softened the road's edge. New River rolled below us like forever, like all our days, all the days that had ever been and ever would be. The sunlight on the water reflected for years afterward.

Photo of New River at I-77 by Denise Coalson; used with permission.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


We were sitting in our hotel on Sunday morning when I glanced at my phone; it was 9:02.

People were having breakfast, checking out, loading their cars. The sun was shining. It was a cool, spring morning.  Life goes on.

Just blocks away, people were marking the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. We had visited the memorial the day before and the experience overwhelmed the senses--the gates/walls that stand on either side, one with 9:01 etched into it, the other with 9:03-- in between, the black water, the empty chairs, one for each person. There were flowers, teddy bears, Dr. Seuss books. It was quiet, very quiet, even with so many people.

Twenty years. 2-0 years. Twenty whole years. Facebook. Smartphones. 9-11. Birthdays. Christmases. Graduations. Weddings. Sunrises. Sunsets.

I was in Oklahoma City for an awards ceremony, a celebration. Celebration. Anticipation. Cowboy hats and turquoise. Happy folks. Rewards.

The space ...between how I live my life now.

My friend has lost both her children. They were grown. They had lives, real lives, friends, jobs, hobbies. 

* * * * * *
We toasted one another with wine, made new friends, grabbed old ones. Pictures. Pictures. Pictures. Save the moment, savor the moment. 

* * * * * *
The morning after....9:02. People are happy, making coffee, having breakfast. 

The space between anniversaries.

Monday, March 30, 2015


This was my recurring dream:

I am walking up a road with high banks on either side; it leads farther into the mountain and there is a white farmhouse at the end. Clouds are gathering; it is going to storm. Opening the screen door, I step inside the kitchen and there is an empty chair. An overwhelming sadness washes through me, carries me as if on a tide of grief. 

"They have taken him away, they have taken him away."

The sadness is everything, everything.

* * * * *

Mama and Daddy worked second shift and I stayed with Granny and Grandpa. I slept between them at night. Grandpa always slept with his back to me, facing the night.  It was like the great wall of the Blue Ridge.

In the summer, there was a box fan in the window and the warm, pink scent of mimosa settled on us like dew. The mantle clock marked each moment, striking it into forevermore, keeping time with Grandpa's breath. The night was like a rich, velvet blanket, stitched with the song of the whippoorwill and the gentle winds in the willow.

It was everything.

* * * * * *

In winter/spring of 1960, Grandpa was taken to the sanitarium at Catawba, across the mountain. They thought he had TB. Tuberculosis. Consumption.

It did consume us, all-consuming grief. I was not yet two years old. We believed he would die, Granny believed he would die. The tears turned to snow, and it piled up, snowing every week without melting until the snow drifted over roads and porches and pushed against chimneys. A soldier was found dead in his car at Fancy Gap, buried in a drift. We passed these banks of snow, bundled in Daddy's car, the sun glittering on our sadness. Our sadness was pure, so simple, profound as the cloudless sky between the blizzards.

There are memories I only have through my aunts' and my mother's description: I pitched a fit when they had to do a TB test, though it was painless. How could I trust these foreigners who had taken my Grandpa away? Then there was Grandpa's roommate, who years after would write to him and ask about his little girl. When Grandpa wrote letters home, they were addressed to me, "Dear Debbie and All."

After weeks of breathing treatments and rest, the doctors declared Grandpa did not have tuberculosis but had lungs scarred from years in the coal mines. They also declared that he had twenty-five years more to live. And though that power was not theirs, it was true.

* * * * * *

Grandpa had his chair at the table. If someone happened to be sitting in his chair when he walked in the room, they simply rose without a word. It was a small kitchen and Granny like to rearrange furniture. Sometimes all she could do was turn the table so it went longways instead of sideways. Grandpa's chair did not move, so his place at the table sometimes changed. His chair, always, in front of the window, facing the door, facing everything for me, for us, for all of us.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ball of Gold

I am blessed to know inspiring souls. From my friend, artist Thom Ross, with a photograph by Dan Frick:
"A man saw a ball of gold in the sky;
He climbed for it,
And eventually he achieved it -
It was clay.
Now this is the strange part:
When the man went to the earth
And looked again,
Lo, there was the ball of gold.
Now this is the strange part:
It was a ball of gold.
Aye, by the heavens it was a ball of gold."
--Stephen Crane
I remember this poem from sophomore high-school English and, once studied I never thought about it again.....until many many years later when I began to consider the role of myth as a component of historical truth. It was then that I recalled this poem. It is like this:
Take Wyatt Earp. In the movies he is heroic and noble etc....this is Wyatt Earp the ball of gold. Yet when we actually study who he REALLY was, Wyatt Earp, the man, he's clay like the rest of us. In our disappointment we walk away; yet when we turn back to view him, lo, he is that ball of gold.
This is why all those realistic or traditional paintings that "artists" paint are always so boring to me.....regardless of talent and technique, they are ALL paintings of clay. But when the artist backs away and gets away from the pure reality of the subject, lo, it becomes gold.
This short poem by Stephen Crane is EXACTLY what I mean.

It's exactly what I mean as well.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Troubles, Bubbles

The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. The rain in the foothills falls, soaking the ground, soaking the cardboard boxes that blew off the porch, soaking. . . .

The claw-foot tub is deep, long. I painted the outside with black enamel, covering the years of red, blue, purple, yellow, chips, scrapes, episodes. The shiny black shell comforts me while I soak. The bubbles. . . . tear drops. . . . tea pot. . . . salts.

Rain, tears, tea--the basic elements. They seep into my pores, take away the pain. A big fish, a great whale is waiting for these troubles, enough to sustain him. Yes, they will keep him floating a long, long, time.


Friday, February 27, 2015

At Some Point

At some point, you simply become weary of grieving. It is boring.

You are open to new experiences: throwing rocks, throwing plates, throwing fast, throwing out, throwing up. Something must break, something must give, something must go. It must be this gluttonous grief--all consuming, all knowing, all in.

It has to go.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Heart of Nothing

The universe equals zero. Nothing. I heard so on NPR.

If you pull up the four corners of the universe like a quilt, it equals zero. Zero. Nothing.

It makes sense.

Trivial. Of little consequence. No thing. Not anything. Nonexistent.

A thing that does not exist.

Like a wife or a lover.

Once the universe, but pulled up like a quilt, she is nothing.

So what becomes of the Nile and Niagara Falls? Where does the rain forest go? What of Mount McKinley? London? Are the red, double-decker buses still running? Is the hungover saxophonist still wailing on Bourbon Street? Are the pilgrims buying carved cedar souvenirs in Bethlehem?

The heart of nothing is everything-all that is, all that was, all that will be.

Absolute zero-- throbbing, whole, full.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


This is our routine:

I fall asleep on the love seat watching TV. The chocolate-point Siamese curls up to sleep on top of my legs. He is heavy and I am reluctant to make him move when I wake up a couple of hours later to get into bed.

It is a four-poster bed with heavy cover. It is not the crocheted bedspread Granny made, but it is the same, from an estate sale years ago. Thick twine, once white, now aged, torn in a couple of places, a small stain, a small accident, a mistake made decades ago. The cotton weight is comforting. The cat follows, jumps to the cedar chest and up onto the bed. Sometime in the night, he prowls. Sometimes I hear him crying or conversations he has with the aloof black female, Athena.

In time past he would jump to the bed and look in our faces. He would find my husband and curl on top of him.  The cat always chose him.

The pink dawn barely seeps through the sheer curtains. The cat always rises first, makes his rounds, and returns to bed. He walks up to my face and I raise the cover so that he can snuggle next to me. He purrs, against my body, grateful for the warmth.

Even if it is just me.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

like goo

We loved like goo...sticky, messy, sweetly oozing into the empty places. We looked with googley eyes upon one another. We slobbered like happy Pavlovian dogs at the sight of one another. We danced--my head nestled into his neck, his arm pulling me tightly to him, our rhythms . . . .

I wish I could look into his eyes, look long enough, deep enough, to see if I am in there somewhere, to find him, the messy man who loved me. I would find the poison and I would find the antidote. I would rewrite the script.


One-two, buckle my shoe, three-four, shut the door. . . . Open the gates, lock the gates, sunrise, sunset.

Who is locked in, who is locked out, what is locked away? Do the spirits slip effortlessly between the posts, whispering past the chains and padlocks? Perhaps they are grateful for the quiet, the stopping of traffic and no trampling upon the ground. Perhaps the locking of the gates allows them to roam freely, safely, unobserved.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Midnight Rider

This is not the life I thought I would be living.

We are on the phone and my friend's voice squeezes through the wires, bounces off the cell towers. Her words hit me from all directions.

Nor, I, dear friend, nor I.

Her husband dead, suddenly, accidentally. She does not doubt his devotion. He is present in every cell, every corner, yet he is missing, missing from the kitchen doorway, the ride to work, his side of the bed, the other side of the argument.

My husband . . .  I do not know what to say. My husband is forbidden to speak to me, to touch me. It is for the best, but was not always so.

Sometimes grief comes from nowhere, that vast nothingness. It appears as a cowboy hat or an Allman Brothers song:

Well, I've got to run to keep from hidin'
And I'm bound to keep on ridin'
And I've got one more silver dollar

And I don't own the clothes I'm wearing
And the road goes on forever
And I've got one more silver dollar

And I've gone by the point of caring
Some old bed I'll soon be sharing
And I've got one more silver dollar

But I'm not gonna let 'em catch me, no. . . .

(copyright Gregg Allman and Robert K. Payne)

I hear him in the high notes and I quiver. The longing I thought was gone ... is not. It courses through me like quicksilver and I wonder (as does my friend), where is that man who awakened every passion? Does he no longer exist? What form has he taken? Of this earth or not, what does it matter? All is changed. In an instant, all is . . . I don't know is all.

Midnight. Longing is like quicksilver, toxic and pulsing through my veins. I  play the song again and again.