Something Lithesome This Way Comes

Lithesome describes something that’s graceful and flexible, like a ballet dancer or a willow tree bending in the wind. Use the adjective lithesome when you need a delicate word to describe a person or thing that bends and turns easily, whether it’s a jaguar in the jungle or a young gymnast on a balance beam.



There are things brewing, things I want to write about, but none of them are whole. Some are slithery beasts, like down-deep, from the mud base, pond-water creatures…things that I can’t get my hand around for purchase (and maybe—eeuyewww,—I don’t want to hold onto that slimy thing). Some are just forming, like oobleck in its haze-phase: they are abstract, too insubstantial to explore with words just yet.

I go searching for topic alternatives, and they all run too fast; I flutter forward, but I can only get a glimpse of them, disappearing around a corner far ahead of me.

Then it is Friday night, and I don’t have a topic for my Saturday blog post. I head to my last resort: the prompt jar.


I unscrew the lid and hand the jar to Jim. He swirls the pieces of paper inside; he digs down deep and pulls out a one-inch yellow square. He opens it up and reads, “Lithesome.”

He hands it to me with an interested look.

“Lithesome,” I say. “Huh.”


I know what lithesome means. One day long ago, I WROTE it on that little square, after all. But I take the little piece of paper from Jim, and I thank him, and I go upstairs to the quiet writing place.

And I look up lithesome.


A person that bends and turns easily…I have seen the word used to describe ballerinas and twig-thin models, but never to describe me. Once, back along a rock-strewn road a lifetime ago, I was twig-thin.


But I don’t think I ever bent or turned easily.


At dinner I was flipping through People magazine. I am not even sure why it arrives each week; it must have been a bonus prize for ordering something or other.

When it slides through the mail slot, we snort and discount it. “People?” we say. “Who reads this shlock?” And then we leave it on the table so we can page through it, loving shlockiness, indulging a guilty pleasure.

Beautiful people crowd the magazine’s glossy pages.

“Who is that?” asks Mark, stabbing a finger, and I see that it is Jared Leto and a younger woman, a Russian model. He is 49; she is 26 or so. They have been together for four years, but those four years (the magazine tells me) have not been smooth ones.

He is dark, thin, bearded. He looks intense. She is fair and slender. (“She looks anorexic,” Mark says. “Too thin!”)

She smiles at the camera with a certain kind of energy that suggests she is probably bendable. She looks lithesome.

For some reason, that jogs Mark’s memory.

“Have you ever heard of the singer, Lizzo?” he asks.

I have not.

He tells me that she is a beautiful young woman who is NOT lithesome. She is large, Mark says, and quite happy with it.

She is the kind of woman, he ruminates, quite comfortable wearing a bikini. And if you don’t like it, don’t like the way she looks, she’ll just tell you to go away.

I look Lizzo up on-line. She is a beautiful woman, and she is a big one. “Lithesome” was not coined to describe her, but I bet she bends and turns easily, too.


This week the first hot-hot day came, upper nineties, bringing that pending, just-you-wait feel with it. I walked early, did a little yard work, then holed up in the air-conditioned house, catching up on classwork.

The sun beat down, and the air shimmered.

Toward late afternoon, clouds began to gather. The heat grew closer, pushed down, moist, and the air was like a gasped breath, never expelled.

As we ate dinner, the wind began, softly at first. The small leaves on the tree by the kitchen began to tear off.

The wind grew stronger and bolder; those fallen little leaves were scooped up and tossed. A laughing, wicked spirit was playing.

All the trees joined in then; soon the rain began, hard, furious; it pounded while the trees thrashed.

The small tree by the kitchen bent and swayed; it was lithesome.

The big trees out front flailed and wrenched. Branches flew down, and nosegays of leaves; sweet gum pods detached and bounced through the rain popping in the street.

Those big trees knew how to bend and turn, but they didn’t make it look easy. Each wrenching movement cost a little piece of tree-something.

The next morning, the yard and the street were scattered with tree detritus, and most of the little tree’s leaves were on the ground.


It’s funny. I have been thinking about trees lately, quite a lot more than usual. We walk on the new path at the college on hot days, the Joe’s Run Trail. We wander through a shady woods; we cross a sturdy bridge over a sparkling brook, and then the path turns woody again, paralleling the road for a ways.

The trees there have personalities; they make me think about blowing the dust off my sketch pad and sharpening a pencil.

There is a big tree, a wise old tree, with interesting silver bark. In places the bark has seized up and made scarred shapes. I walk by and neck hairs rise, just a little; it looks like this tree has a graven eye; it looks as if it this tree is eying ME. And then the silver bark settles down again, smooths itself.

The smoothness has been irresistible to people with pen knifes. The silvered trunk is trusted to tell the tales of old lovers, to remember dates of events we can only guess at, to testify that this certain person was, once, here.

And then the shiny, almost metallic, surface splits again, and a resigned, etched eye peers out.

That tree would be “The Watcher.”

There is a tree with the bark blown away in a swirling swoop; burnished wood slopes down into a plunging root. It looks, for all the life of me, like a proud, sturdy woman showing off a well-turned ankle.

I could sketch that tree and call it, “The Flirt.”

There is a slender tree with long, long branches. One wraps around a nearby companion, holding it back from the fray. Another branch reaches toward the path, as if signaling.

I’d call a drawing of that tree, I think, “The Crossing Guard.”

The Crossing Guard is the only one that qualifies as lithesome, but all the trees feel like they are ready to move and to bend.

And maybe they do when we’re not around.


I am reading, oddly enough, a novel about trees: The Overstory, by Richard Powers. He starts by throwing out the stories of different people, different families. There are immigrants and travelers; there are happy, well-adjusted folk, and there are seekers and strivers, the ones who can never quite sit still.

There is, for each of those characters, a tree connection, that slowly, slowly—almost as slowly as a tree might grow,—brings those folks together.

There is a beautiful lithesome character in the book. I will not tell you her fate.


Lithesome! Early this week, Mark and I headed out for an early walk; the world was dewy and cool, and in the semi-circle of iris plants just before the foot of the driveway, a tiny trembling fawn nestled.

It startled us; we startled it.

The tiny thing’s nose quivered; that trembling nose was outlined, I was surprised to see, with a scant row of white fur.

“Where is your MOTHER?” Mark asked it, and then we both thought to fumble for our phones, to take the baby’s first photo.

It looked at us, perplexed, and then suddenly, it was air bound, running away, pointed, in the space of a breath, completely  in the other direction. Liquid, fluid, other.


We keep looking for that little furry one to come back. We haven’t seen it yet.

“I hope,” says Mark, “that baby found its mother.”


Life, this year, has certainly moved and bent. One week, we are shopping, stopping for a nosh at the coffee shop, planning an outing, getting ready for a face to face class, thinking about travel.

The next week, we are at home and hunkered down, ready to face a long-sequestered spell.

When, finally, things seem to be ready to ease up, we are planted, facing an entirely different horizon than we previously contemplated.

What, we ponder, will life grow to be like now?


And, thrust into our thinking, a senseless act of brutality anchors our gaze on things we would not look at. Here it is, the tragedy says. This is racism. Stay and see. We cannot look away.

The times demand bending, moving, changing.

The changes won’t be lithesome; frozen limbs will creak, will groan. There will be snapping and discomfort and laments.

But change has to come.

Or maybe it has to be here NOW.


I will seek, this week, to appreciate things lithesome, and to accept that I will never join their ranks, will always be an appreciator. But, bending, moving…those are movements I can aspire to, as I flash an arm down to capture that slippery, elusive thing, as I blow cool breath on the haze and help it grow whole.

4 thoughts on “Something Lithesome This Way Comes

  1. Kim Allen

    Be lithesome where you are planted. Be the lithesome you want to see in the world. It is the tree who is lithesome in a storm that does not break. Be like the tree. Interesting to focus on one word. When I think of lithesome, I think of the practice of yoga, and the philosophy behind it. Good read !

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