I’m pleased to announce the publication of my first poetry chapbook. I hope you’ll check it out on Amazon or (better yet) at the publisher’s website, to support small business! https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/the-invisible-suitcase-by-elaine-olund/
This is a picture of
fragile beautiful thing—
like your heart and every heart.
Tender red beating
strong enough to push gallon
after gallon of blood
around and around
two thousand gallons
day after day.
Or it might just be a tulip.
I’ve been a bit sick the last few days. Actually, I’ve felt really, really crappy, and unable to work until today. I felt both emotionally and physically ill. The anniversary of the election of the pussy-grabber, the unfolding exposure of so many #metoo stories, and the fact that there are still so many supporters & deniers of the pervasive poison of misogyny and abuse all collided with a nasty virus and exploded in bad dreams where I woke feeling in danger, panicked (and also, sick!).
The bad dreams are an old pattern, one I am learning to heal with writing and movement, study and support. I really thought I was past all that. But when it came roaring back I felt like I was a failure, like my efforts were futile in this world. I felt defeated there for a little bit. Old pattern, that.
But not all old patterns are damaging. I find drawing what is in front of me so very soothing. I draw, and then color or paint it in. This never fails to make me feel joyful in the moment. I drew obsessively during my whole childhood, then put it away, for the most part. Until recently. Now when I feel unable to drop down past fear, and relax into what I feel—I draw. Being sick, my usual go-to plan of walking and yoga and meditation just seemed too hard.
And drawing? It seemed too fun. (When untangling old patterns, maybe look for the fun, too? I feel better already.)
PS The poem in the picture is a line of a fragment, by the poet Praxilla of Sícyon, 450 BC. She composed many, many poems and was known for her scolia (short lyric poems for after-dinner entertainment). One of the lyric muses, only eight of her fragments survive.
Here is the fragment in its entirety:
Fragment 1 | Praxilla of Sícyon, 450 BC
Loveliest of what I leave behind is the sunlight,
and loveliest after that the shining stars, and the moon’s face,
but also the cucumbers that are ripe, and pears, and apples.
This fragment makes a wonderful writing prompt. Think about what is the loveliest in your life, in this moment. What would you miss, if you had to leave this moment?
The other thing I loved as a child was writing poetry and stories. Old patterns, re-emerging, to help me make new ones.
back through time
I lumber back through time unrooted
over boulders gap-eyed water glinting pink sunset
unrooted I slide through mud
into sand into lake
stone wash hillsides caving in
I am caving in
all I have to hold onto
all I can carry
this basket, sweet-grass woven
Inside is my pacifer
rubbery round I sucked hard to make the world
go away, and a half-empty pack of Marlboro Lights
that got me through the night
and my mother’s dark gaze, and the way I waited and waited
but she died when I left
In the sweet, sweet basket, a satin ribbon, blue of my father’s
wave and smile from the hospital bed in Kettering
I want, I think, to keep that?
I want to keep the window seat and the slanting roof top
on Cornell Place, keep it in the basket so I can climb back
lie, watch the sky with handfuls of clouds sliding by
I want to keep the way you said “why do you think you’re crazy?”
I want to keep the puzzlement of that
sweet belief sparkling
floating like golden moats in the sunset
I want belief, a thin film of it like magic dust
I want to carry my children’s laughter, and every single hug
and the brick of anger I lobbed through the glass window of us
I want to keep that, too, to remind me
broken is something to keep, too
But mostly I want to keep those giggles that skipped like stones
across the mirror lake
that shone like a string of lights in a summer garden
I want to keep every purring swirl I ever held
and even the ghost who stood there
watching me heartbeating fast, pretending sleep
It’s my basket. I can keep what I want.
The above was written in a twelve-minute fastwrite from a prompt developed by one of my classmates at Amherst Writers & Artist’s Workshop Leader training in Chicago this September. Along with my fellow students, I delved into the AWA method, which you can read more about here. I was drawn to the method, based on the work of Pat Schneider, because of her bedrock belief that every single one of us is born with creative genius, that EVERYONE is a writer/storyteller (regardless of educational level, age, or socio-economic status). Writing that moves us, inspires us, makes us feel, makes us laugh, makes us cry—such writing is the result of connecting to our deepest voices. Our true selves.
I already knew this to be true—that everyone has within them a unique and creative voice. I learned it from the skilled leaders and community at Cincinnati’s Women Writing for (a) Change, where I found my voice (which I had all but lost) in core classes, workshops, and retreats.
This summer it became clear to me that what I most wanted is to learn ways to unlock that magic for others. All kinds of others. People who aspire to write books, people who have written many books, people who want to write poems, people who don’t think anyone wants to hear their stories, people who think no one is listening, or that no one cares. The act of expression—genuine, authentic expression—is an act of liberation. For me, it is transcendent.
Writing is when I connect to my soul-self.
At AWA training, my classmates and I learned about taking creative risks, about creating an environment that welcomes the seeds of new ideas and allows craft to bloom. It was a transformational week.
I’m happy to say I’m a certified AWA Workshop Leader now!
Tonight I led my first small-but-mighty AWA-method workshop at Clifton Cultural Arts Center.
I think I will put tonight in my basket, and keep that, too.
Never lose hope, my heart, miracles dwell in the invisible.
love poem to the world, #16
The way my brain flares as I dream of you, electric
while purple finches sleep hidden in dark branches
how egg met sperm in warm depths and became you
while the soul of my mother sang in the breeze
the soft ocean roar when you press an ear to a silent conch
how sunny laughter spreads, fanning like spores on the wind
oh, see: the perfect geometry of snowflakes and crystals? what is
more beautiful than the curve of a femur or a rib or your smile?
I’m in love with the snaky way freshwater travels seaward, undulating
with the mystery of my fingers knowing before my mouth can say
and how patterns repeat: rivers and streams forking, ever narrower
like the web of arteries and veins inside my body, your body, every body
and the churning of the world, tides washing to and fro, forever
to and fro, to and fro, beating inside my heart, your heart, every heart
Fear-based attachments are physically addictive,
states the psychiatrist in the book I’m reading.
(Is that why this nightmare isn’t over yet?)
why ugly hazing rituals cement bonds
why that friend of a friend won’t leave her abuser
(Oh, and she may also know he’ll kill her, if she tries,
but people will still blame her, won’t they?)
And do you remember?
“love trumps fear,” said those hopeful campaign signs
I am relieved to find
I am not afraid of Donald Trump
after blustering “many sides” and “very good people”
After David Duke thanked him for his support
I would spit right in his face — I would
(though I am sometimes, often, afraid
I am not attached yet, it seems)
I would spit on Rush and Sean and Kellyanne, too,
though I don’t hate these people,
they are very dangerous
telling us to fear each other, fear our neighbors
passing out fear like shots at a frat party
— calling things by all the wrong names
sowing more fear —
“The greater your influence,” the evangelical preacher James MacDonald said,
“the greater your complicity, if you don’t call the Charlottesville attack what it really was: a heinous act of domestic terrorism entirely rooted in racial hatred.”
There’s an old story about the Buddha.
His enemies frighten an elephant, hoping it will kill the Buddha.
The elephant charges in panic and the
Buddha holds his right hand up:
Stop, his hand tells the elephant.
Then the Buddha sees the fear in the elephant’s eyes
sees that the elephant is driven by fear
and he opens with compassion.
He cups his left hand,
making a space for love,
and the elephant stops, and bows down to him.
So I think it goes:
open with compassion
love with all you’ve got
call things by their right names (don’t lie)
and say no when others try to crush you with fear.
I’m just trying to sort it out.
Figure out how on earth to respond.
Spitting won’t help.
Seeing might. Opening might. Standing up might.
(Remember, be brave. Don’t attach, don’t attach. It whispers your darkest names…but please, please, don’t fall in love with fear.)
someday I’ll love Elaine Olund
(after Ocean Vuong/after Frank O’Hara/after Roger Reeves)
Someday I’ll smile every time
I bump into myself.
Even when that self is a mess,
an ooze, tears and unwashed hair
and regrets that smell like
Marlboro Lights and malt liquor
And I’ll smile even when that self has
a pulsing nose zit and writes terrible poems
— I mean, why not? —
might as well plan for the worst-case.
That someday is
seemingly so near and
sometimes so far
like a wet glimmer always ahead on the highway
an illusion of cool
place I can dive into
dripping wet and laughing
it’s like that
I find myself and lose myself and find myself
again and again
in the stomach-churn backseat of the hot station wagon
sweaty and skinned-knees
appear and disappear as Pennsylvania miles
turn to New York miles
turn to Massachusetts miles
hot sun turns to clouds and clouds
turn to rain
And someday, Elaine, I’ll love the sound of your name
the way I love the sound of the rain
Someday I’ll love even your inconvenient needs
the ones that turn green and churn when interstate
turns to twisty backroads, dark night
you have to pee
not yet Mama says
in a little while
Someday I’ll love you — you used to be called something else,
remember? Lainey the baby who couldn’t wait
Lainey peeing on the side of the road,
hot urine a glowing stream
the one who can’t wait
the one needing
Someday Lainey will reappear
dressed for Halloween in the body of a middle-aged woman
(someday she’ll have to grow up, won’t she?)
— even though oh, she needs
still, even now, she needs and needs — damn it
at the very next exit or 268 miles ahead —
some sweet day that will maybe smell just like the bread my mother
took to baking when she was widowed, just for herself,
just because she wanted to
I will rise up, a miracle, like the punched-down dough
swelling up in a bowl in an avocado-green long-lost kitchen
I will be full, I will be home
I will look at myself and melt
melt like butter on
chewy warm grainy bread, fresh from the oven
I will love every last crumb of myself.
Notes: I’ve been thinking about self-love a lot, how hard it is. How essential and impossible in moments (which is why we need our friends).
I really am drawn to Ocean Vuong’s amazing work.
My piece (not really a poem yet, maybe someday?) is from a fast-write from a prompt based on Ocean Vuong’s “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” — a poem he notes is “after Frank O’Hara and after Roger Reeves”… which made me curious and google revealed Roger Reeves’ intro to his poem:
We can’t stay in poetry world forever. It’s a poem that I kind of wrote to myself. It’s a love poem, again. I read this poem for my MFA compatriots struggling in the muck of all types of criticism and self-doubt. It doesn’t stop. It will keep going. No, actually I was struggling in my MFA a lot. I don’t know if you guys are the type of poets that are trying to write poems that last beyond your life, which is what I’m always trying to do. I’m always trying to make something that can outlast me, because why else would we make something? Frank O’Hara is a guy I always turn to. He had this one line in his poem — I can’t find the poem again because you know Frank O’Hara has a lot of poems — and it’s a poem where he says “someday I’ll love Frank O’Hara.” I thought, that is the best thing to say in the middle of a poem — someday you’ll love yourself. So I said, I’m going to title a poem “Someday I’ll love Roger Reeves.”
Try it yourself — read Vuong’s poem and then take a deep slow breath and write for 10 minutes beginning with “Someday I’ll love (your name here)” …see what happens.
I wondered what they find to talk about now
after all those summers, baking hot
all those winters, pelted with sleet
still standing, side by side, steadfast together
do they ever wish they could escape,
or do they both secretly dream
of deeper connection, a current
transcending their important jobs,
their high-tension roles
or maybe they don’t talk at all, just sing
and tell jokes and laugh
maybe they are still best friends?
anxiety field notes, entry 1.
What you resist, persists
so, if you RESIST anxiety,
it will PERSIST?
What you resist, you bury.
What you bury gets stuck.
Some things cannot be buried.
(Most things, actually.)
Seeds can, and should be.
Flowers should not be buried, if you want to watch them bloom.
If you bury flowers they die, they rot.
Bury anger deep in a trash can like a lit butt
cover anger with an placid lid, a smooth smile, it will smolder
poison the air
you will breathe it in
it will permeate every single cell in your body.
Unburied, anger dissipates, harmless as a whiff of stinky stinky cheese
but buried—it kills love.
Speaking of love:
Love cannot be buried, kept like a secret journal in a sock drawer.
at first, confined love smells like lavender, like a sachet,
love has to grow in the light.
Love has to see the sky in the morning
see your smile in the night.
Speaking of your smile:
Longing, what of longing, my specialty?
What you resist, persists—
does this mean I should not resist the fear
of you, so warm, fading from my mind?
Or does it mean I should resist this fear,
so your smile persists forever in my heart?
Speaking of hearts:
some questions are best buried,
dark-eyed as apple seeds
planted deep in my heart
to grow as they will,
wild upstarts, bearing sweet fruit, in time.
A letter to my chiropractor:
When I saw you last December,
your warm fingers on my neck felt reassuring —
it’s pure trust, letting someone adjust your spine.
“Relax,” you commanded, for I was tense.
The muscles surrounding my precious cervical vertebrae
relaxed into your palms.
I told you I was tense because I was worried,
really worried about the Trump administration…
Your healing hands moved to my shoulder, the tricky one.
You felt, you pulled, you pushed,
you said, with a chuckle: “Oh, come on, now.
You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
I said I worried about my friends and loved ones,
the non-Christian, the non-white, the LGBTQ, and immigrants, too.
And, that I was also very worried that my ACA insurance
would be taken away, that I’d not have any insurance
because hey I’m old enough now to have a track record
and anyone with a track record
involving two near-death medical experiences
looks like a big old pre-existing exclusion
Your right hand was on my thigh, left hand cradling my shoulder
You pulled me back against your body, almost lover-like,
to twist my spine
(real healing requires trust)
You said, “Oh nothing will change!
Relax! No one’s gonna take your insurance away.”
You were not the first white professional man
to hush me, tell me everything would be fine.
(I’m just sorry that you were wrong.)
Business may become very lean, doctor.
It seems strong spines have gone
out of fashion in many circles.