Back to my writing circle

sky imageWednesday night is writing circle night for me. I write with some amazing, inspiring women, and look forward to it all week. In tonight’s fastwrite, we were invited to take a line from the poem, “Hunger” by Gunilla Norris, and write for 12 minutes to see where the line might lead us.

The title is the line I chose from the poem, and here’s what came up for me:

Light a light so we see the emptiness

Oh, please light a light, I’m so scared and alone down here where I live all by myself, defective and lost. I have no navigational equipment. No radar. Did you know you can be born lost? I was. Lost. A baby never meant to be, stillborn in spirit and left like a foundling, to search the earth endlessly, fumbling in the darkness—oh, please, please—light a light so I can see, really see, the emptiness.

Perhaps the emptiness is very small? Perhaps it is not so frightening, perhaps nothing bad will happen in this tiny or possibly endless darkness?

Perhaps I will just curl up in it, the way that lost bat, hunted by the cats, crawled into the folds of an umbrella overnight. How in the morning, I saw the cats staked out there, by the umbrella stand, and I knew: that was where the bat was hiding.

Imagining the bat flying around my head again, I summoned my courage and picked up the whole damned umbrella stand, big ugly ceramic thing, heavy, containing Totes folding umbrellas, Lydia’s old rice-paper parasol and also an umbrella that belonged to my Swedish grandmother, my farmor, an umbrella that has outlived dozens of cheaper ones. I dumped the mess of it out on the front lawn.

There was nothing there but umbrellas, no bat at all. As I put the umbrellas back in the stand, I peered down into the navy blue tunnel of farmor’s umbrella, and I saw something deep in the shadowy depths. I shook it out, and the poor bat, pathetic and frail, tumbled out, as threatening as a burnt marshmallow. Poor thing. Poor scared, dead thing. I left the bat carcass and the umbrella on the lawn, and headed for my walk. I couldn’t bear to pick it up yet.

Later, as the afternoon sun was shining, I stopped to study the creature. Such delicate wings, such fine fur, almost like brown velvet. A marvel of nature, this flying mammal. As I stared, a wing seemed to shudder, but the grass quivered, too. Just the wind.

I leaned closer. All at once the bat reanimated, surged to back to life like the killer everyone thinks is finally dead in one of those creepy movies that used to scare me. “It’s alive!” I cried out, couldn’t stop myself. But I wasn’t afraid. It was a miracle, this resurrection. A cause for joy.

The bat flew away fast and fearless, into a completely unknown world, no longer contained by an umbrella or a house or frozen up in fear. Off into the blue, alone.

As I’m thinking about a different kind of darkness, and my own ancient fears, I think of that bat, curled in the dark of the umbrella, not knowing when or if she would find her way.

Perhaps I will learn to fly like that, someday.

 

To the pond

frozen pondTo the pond

Yes, I’m boiling over
I’m stirring the pot,
I walk, listening

for the howler monkeys
their silence echoes
across the silver sky

A red-tailed hawk and a flock of sparrows
whisper in my muffled ears:
to the pond, to the pond, to the pond

words skipping like stones across water
like a needle, stuck
on vinyl that shines like black ice

To the pond, to the pond: insistent
like a tic, like the pot, stirring me
to the pond, to the pond where

three bubblers describe three circles,
liquid centers with white-lipped borders
ice edging dark water

A man is on the ice
walking slowly along the radius
as if walking to an altar

as if on a pilgrimage
he’s tracing an invisible labyrinth
trusting the ice to hold him, or not—

maybe foolish,
but I see only fearlessness
as I watch, breathing cold air

on the frozen edge
under the silver sky
alive

frozen pond

Alive like a stream

rainy day
I wish I had red boots.

Alive like a stream

When I was Lainey
I played with iron shavings—
scattered them all across
the Formica countertop

Mama handed me the big magnet,
lucky horseshoe-shaped.
I gasped as the slivers danced,
alive like a stream, drawn to me

I felt magical
God-like, even.
Delighted, oh so
powerful, but then:

I developed a tiny crack
my power faded
my magic leaked out, powdery, invisible:
on my bureau, my bed, my scarred desktop—

I was scattered.
No magnet in this world
powerful enough to
pull me together.

Powerless,
I drank poems to survive
dug up feelings sweet as
winter carrots, strong as

hurricane winds stirring up
long-missing particles
suddenly magnetic, moving fast
dancing home

in torrents, laughing
the way running water laughs,
the way Lainey laughed, magnet in hand,
so long ago

Influence

photo

Influence

Early stargazers coined the word
influence to describe how
ethereal fluid ‘into us flowed’
changing destiny: starlight, steering us

think of starlight flowing, think of it with me:
a glimmering river of it flowing,
washing into black velvet voids
filling the endless emptiness

changing darkness to insight—
pixie dust of healing
invisible oftentimes but— Oh!
how caring words can be forever felt

an ache in the sunny yellow kitchen
of my heart, where loopy cursive poems
were crayoned on construction paper
while soup bubbled, a brightness like

the stars the night of our first shared smiles
shining still, even on this dark January night —
beaming through time, flooding the bottomless
hollows of my heart, helping me steer

Running into a new year

photoThis morning while reading and reflecting, I came across a favorite Lucille Clifton poem:

i am running into a new year

i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twenty-six and thirty-six
even thirty-six but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me
–Lucille Clifton

“Yes, Lucille! Yes!” I found myself talking aloud to the book. (Okay, I know, I am crazy.) But she struck a nerve. It is so hard to let go of what I said to myself when I was thirty-six, (and forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight…) It is hard, sometimes, to love yourself enough to forgive yourself for not being who you once thought you might be.

It’s hard to accept your weaknesses as being part of who you are. But sometimes, your weaknesses contain important messages. Running from what I rejected in myself led me into deep confusion. And yes, I’m still confused, maybe I always will be. I’m accepting that as a weakness that helps me question the status quo.

I’m running into the new year, and it feels good. I’m focused on forgiveness and healing, within myself and in the wider world, too.

Wishing you peace and joy in 2015.

 

On the edge

Tamarack frond suspended in ice, Burnet Pond, December 2014
Tamarack frond suspended in ice, Burnet Pond, December 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I lie on my belly on the asphalt sidewalk. It feels cold, even through my down jacket, but the pond has frozen overnight into such beautiful swirls and filigrees of ice, and the morning sun is skimming the frosty patterns in a way I cannot resist. And so I lie down to get a good look. This is a benefit to being older. When I was younger, I was stupidly self-conscious. I’d have worried about what a passerby might have thought, how dumb I’d look. But now I’m at that wonderful age, an age I am trying (when not terrified) to appreciate. Middle age.

I don’t care anymore what people think when I’m taking my daily photos. I contort to get the right angle, I twirl to get motion effects, I regularly lie down on sidewalks if the shot requires it. Luckily, I’m not old enough yet that getting up again is hard. Though I’ll admit my knees groaned in the cold today, and hey—who am I kidding? Odds are good that I’m past the middle, maybe well past.

The clock that runs like a crazy squirrel in my head sometimes runs away with me. I count down backwards. It’s less than 10 months until I hit the age my father was when he died. Or, more hopefully, in thirteen years and eleven months, I’ll hit the age my mother was, when she succumbed. Or it could be tomorrow.

I count the other way, too, to counteract the gloomy final ball-drop thoughts.

Lying on the freezing cold sidewalk, studying the tamarack frond suspended near the icy edge of Burnet Pond, I think of how life’s edges are always so sweet, and how maybe instead of thinking of being in the middle, it’s better to live at the edge, in a place of wonder and appreciation. I’ve been to the edge. If I focus that direction, it all comes into sharp focus. Every new season, every morning’s perfect slant of light, every shared smile, every ached-for kiss — fills me with light.

Two years and eight months ago, my light nearly went out for good, and just a stone’s throw from this pond.

I rise up from the sidewalk and stretch my cold legs, remembering. As I take one last shot, my iPhone dies in my hand. Right then, the light in the treetops across the pond flashes, catches fire—the morning sun is reflecting off the top-floor windows in the tower at Good Samaritan, just over the hill. I know from memory that the light is streaming through the wall of plate glass at the end of the hallway on the Cardiac Telemetry unit, where I stood not so long ago, wired up and monitored, gazing down at the greening canopy of Burnet Woods.

The day I didn’t die, but might have. Every sunrise since has been a bonus. Even so, frozen within me are ancient worries, hard-wired worries about death. But I’m alive. I try to stay right here on the edge, feeling this sliver of now.

Now. Here, and alive.

ice photo
Burnet Pond, December 2014

 

 

 

 

 

Singing to the sky

sky photoSinging to the sky

On Christmas, I give Annalee flowers, and she tells me how
her friend’s husband shot himself, how she found his body—
she tells me how it looked, but I won’t say

At the nursing home, Jo Marie tells me her son doesn’t visit anymore
her eyes shine like marbles when she says
he plays piano, he sings, like a bird—but he won’t come to see her

Later I’m walking home alone, singing, and the sky swallows me
like I’m a lost bird, like I’m Jo Marie’s son, singing but no one can hear
I fly away into dark blue

deeper and wetter than Lake Michigan on a summer Sunday;
I’m sucked up into blue, lost in blue, blue is rippling in the wind
silky blue sky like a scarf in the breeze, tight around my neck

I can’t sing anymore, it’s so tight, but I keep flying, can’t stop,
wondering how high, until I escape the world—escape myself?
How high until I become something else

become an arrow flying straight, flying true, into blue—
graceful, locked on a path, at last—a path, at last—
a point, a target, an aim, a place to rest

I’m flailing, trying to fly through this wobbly altitude
the flowers and the bread, delivered; but me? I feel weightless, unheld—
Even gravity has slipped away

Shavasana at noon

honey bearShavasana at noon

Feel the golden light, he said
and I felt it, spilling over me
golden as sunlight through the honeybear
on the kitchen windowsill on a bright
October morning

You are held, he said. Let yourself go.
I let go—
sink into the waiting arms
of my mother, who sinks into warm earth
pulling me close, pulling me in

I go, go, go — into an opening
that yawns wide until I am twelve,
and I smell the honeysuckle air
tickling goosebumps along my
freckled arms out behind the white barn

weedy lawn and cemetery patch
Queen Anne’s lacy heads nodding in the wind,
corn stalks sighing in unison, I am there now
stretched across red plaid, watching the terns
high above me, on their way to the sea

High tide in yoga class

photoHigh tide in yoga class

Now it’s time to let go of anything that
does not serve you, she says
I sink into the stretch

Breathe in peace
Breathe out pain
Harp music: a lullaby melody

Hush a bye, don’t you cry…
I hear my long-ago self crooning,
round baby latched to my breast

Blacks and bays, dapples and grays
All the pretty little horses
When you wake, we’ll have cake…

Oh, I feel such an ache
Joy and despair, inseparable twins
Brightness paired with brackish dark

Time to curl up, like a fetus
a reminder, she says, that we can always
begin anew

Anew floods me. It’s high tide in Ohio
deep-etched patterns melt as awareness swells,
crests—suddenly, I taste salt