Posts Tagged #iphone shots

Mnemosyne and the Muses

image of new orleans and flowers

Last night I woke in the teeth of the storm, shaking in a strange bed in a strange place. This time, it wasn’t a dream.

I woke to thunder so loud I could feel it course through me, over and over, the way a bass beat at a rock concert vibrates in your spine. Thunder so intense it rattled the old wooden double-hung window of the century-old shotgun house on Maurepas where I slept on Mother’s day eve, my youngest nearby, both of us startling awake and sliding into dreams again and again, as the storm rolled overhead.

The drifting and waking reminded me of the way I slept between contractions during labor, slept and woke, slept and woke, a nether world of sleep and memory.

Sliding between storm and sleep, the picnic of the evening before replayed. On  blankets spread on the banks of Bayou St. John we shared crusty bread, sharp cheese, black bean hummus, sweet strawberries and veggie stir-fry with gingery tofu. Wine and laughter. My dear ones and their dear ones, all of us sprawling together as the cloudy daylight slid into darkness, the bayou reflecting the lights of the big houses on the far shore.

There were seven of us, six twenty-somethings and one fifty-something: me, mother to two of the group, mother-aged for all. I felt a bit like Mnemosyne, mother of the muses, listening to the younger ones discussing their dreams and how they are bringing them to life. I marveled at their gifts, admiring their drive and determination without any maternal pride, because it’s become clear to me that I have very little to do with how even my own adult children turned out, apart from nurturing them and then getting out of the way as much as I could while they explored their gifts.

Mnemosyne—mother of the muses and keeper of memory.

Sitting in a circle with these beautiful young ones, I imagined how Mnemosyne’s heart must have swelled with joy, seeing the brilliance of the offspring she helped bring into being, one for every wild night she spent with Zeus, collisions of passions like storms in the night, wild creation birthing wildly creative beings.

Back to the storm of last night. This was not a normal Midwestern sort of storm, where the gods battle high in the heavens. This storm blew in at sea level, and I was inside this storm as if at sea, the little shotgun house a boat in the waves, the rain sounding like cresting waves crashing on the tin roof, hail pounding, windows rattling.

And in the morning, writing this—all magically calm again. Birds singing (where do they go, I wonder, in that kind of storm?)

On the shotgun porch as I write, it hits me how scared I’ve felt lately about the state of the world, about the global storms blowing the world off-course. This Mother’s day morning, I am hopeful again. The muses are at work, with their creative vision, their bravery and resilience.

It makes me want to forget the idea I sometimes have of being too old to join in. Because we can’t shirk it all off on the younger generation. That was what happened to my own generation, after all. All hope was thrust onto us to save the environment. Hippies turned to stock brokers as the impossibility of one generation creating change alone drained all energy. And here we are, sliding backwards. But from the bottom, maybe we can surface to a new world? If we all wake and work?

Even the old birds are singing hopeful songs this morning.

Even the worst storms eventually clear to a morning like this one, with sunshine and possibility.

Note: there is a wonderful section of New Orleans where all the streets are named for the muses. Read about it here: http://kreweofmuses.org/the-muses/mythology/

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Dear Mama

Pretty cloud in a blue sky

Dear Mama,

This year marks twenty-five years without you.

I took this photo because this sky made me think of you, tumbling me back to a warm late-summer night when I was a college sophomore. It was the year after Dad died, and the humid air felt heavy with unheld grief. Grammy was not in the nursing home yet, you were caring for her and no one was caring for you; I was away at college, mostly, or busy running from reality. You looked shrunken but never admitted weakness or asked for help.

Even so, you had a light, Mama. You were never defeated. I remember walking with you, under a sky such as this one, talking of nothing much, letting go of everything but the shimmering sound of the cicadas in the Black Ash trees that were still so lush and strong, and like you were then–still alive.

The ash trees are all dying now, or already dead, infested with borers. You are gone now, too. But that night, under a blue sweep of sky, under a parade of pink-edged clouds, we walked. I still walk, Mama. You gave me that love of moving slower than a bike or car ride allows, soaking in the small things that are everything.

We got ice cream cones at Friendly’s, peppermint stick for you, plain vanilla for me. We walked and laughed and licked the ice cream.

Back home, the smoke alarms were blaring. Grammy had put a pan of milk on the stove to heat, and forgotten about it, gone back to bed. Mostly deaf, the alarm didn’t alarm her at all. The sweet night turned sticky. Things do.

Her days, your days, my days–all numbered. They always were, weren’t they? No matter how we tried to pretend otherwise.

Looking back, I wish we’d spoken of the time. Not about its running out, so much. About its preciousness. Love, Mama. It is sacred. I see that now. I wish I’d loved you better, been brave enough, awake enough, aware enough to hold your hand and ask you if you were afraid, those Fridays in the Chemo center. We held hands. We watched Clarence Thomas’s supreme court nomination hearings. Conservative, which was your leaning, you never disbelieved that he was a womanizer or worse. Coke cans and pubic hair jokes, we watched, uneasy, as Anita Hill was picked apart, as the poison dripped into your veins and the TV we could not turn off droned on.

I wish I’d asked you about what it was like for you as a white Yankee transplanted to the deep south, about race relations back then, as the civil rights era was just stirring, about what it was like for you as a woman in your 20s, and 30s. About the men who maybe treated you like Clarence Thomas treated Anita Hill. About how Dad treated you, when you became a mother and he a breadwinner. About what it was like to be in love, and what happened after that part ended. About what you’d have done the same, about what you’d have maybe done differently, given the chance.

But I didn’t ask such things. I knew the past was full of traps. I was afraid, you see, to ask you anything “upsetting.”

We were resolutely cheerful and ‘brave,’ those afternoons at the Chemo place. If you can call it brave, on my part, not asking you what was ringing in my soul: “Mama, are you scared?”

Because I sure was.

And I bet you were, too.

When I saw this sky, and felt you magically walking with me again for a sliver of a moment, I knew that you’d have liked to have been asked, about being scared, but you forgive me anyway. Your spirit filled me, told me: Always speak from your heart. Don’t mourn the lost opportunities. Stay awake to the ones before you right now. Ask the questions.

So even though I didn’t ask you then what you’d have done differently, you told me today. And whether I believe in heaven or not—and I’m not sure about any of that, Mama—you are with me still.

In the skies, smiling down at me, pink-edged and glowing with love.

 

 

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My morning walk

An intersection, not far from the zoo.

An intersection, not far from the zoo.

Howler monkeys howl
sing lonesome songs in the rain—
carry me away

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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

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Per aspera ad astra

star photoPer aspera ad astra
(A rough road leads to the stars)

Oh, darkest secret, deepest fear:
I’m afraid I’ll never see the stars
Shining again—
Per aspera ad astra

A little prayer
Warm-breath whispered in my ear
By the blind innocent within
Who believes in light she cannot see

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Swimming thoughts

swimming poolI don’t know how I stayed away from the water so long. A (very) minor surgery interrupted my habit of swimming 50 or so laps in an indoor pool, a half-hour meditation for me, where I immerse myself, literally, in a flow of stroking, kicking, turning, pushing off, all the while counting out the laps over and over.

I swim as hard as I can. I am not a particularly fast swimmer, but I swim steadfastly. Speed is not the point. I concentrate on feeling my body in the water, on form, on breathing, on the dreamy beauty of the watery blue beneath me, on the mosaic-tiled black stripe I follow back and forth, back and forth.

Even so, stray thoughts inevitably bubble up, little silvery bursts, like my underwater exhalations.

They say when you are drowning your life flashes before you. I’m not drowning, but life has had its flooding moments lately. Last night as I pushed hard off the wall of the pool, the things I once was certain of flashed through me, more like a current of feeling than a vision, beginning with the childhood certainty that my mother would always be there to love me.

Certainty is an illusion, yet we think sometimes—most times—that illusion is truth. These illusionary truths, these certainties we cling to, like life preservers on a choppy sea, are the very illusions that will one day have us gasping for air, trying not to drown.

The last lap brought it home. Certainty is an illusion; Illusion is truth—So nothing’s true? I buried this tired and hopeless thought. I slept hard, and woke feeling fragile.

Then this morning, I heard a line from one of Gregory Orr’s poems, and I dove into some of his poetry and these stanzas floated up:

Grief will come to you.
Grip and cling all you want,
It makes no difference.

Catastrophe? It’s just waiting to happen.
Loss? You can be certain of it.

Flow and swirl of the world.
Carried along as if by a dark current.

All you can do is keep swimming;
All you can do is keep singing.

–Gregory Orr

(from Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved)

And somehow these words comforted me, and so to my swimming-mind puzzle there is now a hopeful ending (thank you, Gregory Orr):

Certainty is an illusion; Illusion is truth.
All you can do is keep swimming; All you can do is keep singing.

I’m not certain of hope sometimes, but I’m also not certain of hopelessness. Maybe uncertainty is truly the gift, after all? With that thought I turn, push off, keep swimming. It is just enough to make my heart softly sing as I kick and breathe my way through this watery December afternoon.

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I have been eating poetry

photo

New Albany, Indiana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been eating poetry

Wildly gorging on it,
like it was chocolate, and you know—

I cannot keep candy in the house.
I’d be fat as a tick, as Mama used to say.

Poetry is calorie-free, sweeter than syrup
but sometimes so bitter it stings going down.

I sat alone in a softly-lit hushed restaurant last
Saturday night, reading poetry, poetry, poetry

and savoring vegetarian chili, roast carrots and
a cold brown ale.

There is no happiness like mine:
so much poetry—no room, even, for dessert.

 

 

 

(An ode to Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Strand, who died this week.)

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