Monday, January 22, 2018

The scent of not-belonging

The scent of not-belonging fills my nostrils yet again
as I contemplate a visit to that place I don't fit in.
It's been a while; I've grown and changed,
developed competencies that fuel
a sense of completion,
and still this invitation comes
and the child within me quails at the thought.

One thing for sure: I will not dress
as other than myself this time;
and comfort won't be sacrificed for style.
I am the one whose gifts shine through,
and will honor that uniqueness with a smile.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Holy communion

I remember a time,
riding a subway in New York
after visiting a home for unwed mothers
when all the narrow ads they post in that space above the windows of the train
seemed to be selling sex,
or at least using it to sell --
cars, jewelry, clothes, insurance,
everything stank of sex, and I thought --
what choice did those young women have?

And as I stared, there came into my brain
the ancient words of my old red prayerbook --
not Rite II, but Rite I --
"We are not worthy so much
as to gather up the crumbs under thy table,"
and then,
"Christ have mercy upon us,"
and somehow all of it -- the memory,
the ads, the old black woman
with her heavy sack and swollen ankles,
the angry thin young men in their hoodies,
pacing up and down,
the salesman in his shiny suit
with the pants a bit too short,
the young girls cracking gum and giggling --
everything, and everyone I saw
glowed with a kind of connecting light,
as if they all wore evanescent robes,
and sang in some celestial choir,
but then, of course, the iron wheels squealed,
the lights inside the car blinked on and off,
and we shuddered to a stop inside
some grimy white-tiled cave,
and half my choristers left the train,
still shimmering in the aftermath
of that brief Holy Communion.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A gradual subsiding

I am watching now, my brain, as it ages,
and noticing how some days
it seems to want to kick back
and take in the wholeness of things; to revel in the play of light,
the scent of green,
the texture of the paint;
while on other days it seems to grow crisp,
arranging, organizing, rejoicing
in the thrill of accomplishment,
attuned to every detail as a function of the task.

But always, in a corner,
hangs a blanket with a mind of its own.
And certain topics -- computational,
political, mathematical --
always seem to want to hide behind it.
And I'm seeing now,
as I examine the blanket more closely --
its dull pink woolen scrape against my skin --
that I've always assumed (or excused) it
as an aspect of my gender.

So now that we seem to have
so much more flexibility in that area,
I wonder if the blanket was imposed or innate.
I've just assumed it was intelligence
that carried me away from the patterns
of behavior assigned to my gender,
past the proscribed femininity of my sex;
that the part of me that questions
and is curious was male,
and the placid imprecise was the female.
But now, as I stare at the face in the mirror,
that grows more placid and imprecise --
and yet less feminine -- with age,
I have to ask: must losing our edge always imply
some descent into dullness? Is it really a loss?
Or might it be considered
a gradual and grace-filled subsiding
of the boundaries, impediments to wholeness and connection?

Friday, January 19, 2018

What losses we endure and anticipate...

Looking at your poem,
enumerating lives you'd known and lost,
I thought I'd write one, too.
I didn't think I had quite so many goodbyes to recount,
til I began to write them down.

Early on, there was Barbara,
and my grandparents, whom I barely remember,
and much later, Jeannie, from The Witness --
the first of the brains to be consumed from within --
and then that awful year,
with Martha on her birthday,
then Eston, and your mom -- two more brains, consumed --
and then my mom, and so my dad remarried,
and then died... that was hard.
There was Lou, of course, and Jon -- two more brains,
also consumed...

And then there were the children,
so very many children:
the dentist's son, who skied into a tree,
and his best friend, who later shot himself beside that grave.
Dean's son, and Garth, of course,
with all the losses that entailed;
Anne's daughter, from an overdose of drugs,
and Katie, beautiful Katie, her whole body
under attack, then lost at 12,
which set me on this path that I still follow...

And then, of course, your Dad,
who seemed to leave behind
much more than he took with him.

And there are the local ones --
Chloe's father, and then Mac,
Denise's husband, and then Frank --
but somehow those don't have quite the same impact.
Does that mean I'm growing jaded?

I don't think so, because I can feel myself
waiting for another shoe to drop.
Will it be yours? That tumor they removed
from your brain was so enormous,
that I'm awash in the memory
of all those other brains consumed,
but I'm trying to stay optimistic for your sake:
I so want all those new therapies to work.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Back to the roots

We who teach still have so much to learn.
The more confident I grow,
the likelier I am to make mistakes,
because I begin to think that I can just skip over,
overlook the simple things,
the little things that even after all the time I've spent
still function as the root that grounds our being.

It humbles me, this never-ending return to the comma,
and the verb. My gratitude to my persistent 5th grade teacher
for all that time spent writing at the blackboard,
diagramming sentences; for learning yet again
that every action needs its clarity:
its subject, and its object (if it's transitive,
and so many actions are)
and that all antecedents must be clear and not confusing;
that facts have a power all their own...

And all of this translates into clear responsibilities in life
which, when lost or abandoned, could lead, in fact,
to chaos -- even death.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


You, who call yourselves the faithful,
finding a home in the uninhabitable sky,
talk of unity, of wholeness, and relatedness,
seeking an end to dichotomies and disasporas,
keeping your sights turned up and out
so as to miss the brokenness and failure
that surrounds us closer in.

You know the air you breathe
has been inside my lungs, do you not?
You are not immune to me.
You'd see that in my eyes if you didn't look away;
you'd have tripped over my cane if you hadn't looked down
as you passed by.

Listen. My pain is a script
that's been written on your bones as well as mine.
How can you not limp with me,
echoing my scented approach
to this ragged tent that I've strung up
below the overpass?
Can you not see how my blue tarp ripples
in the wind as you drive by?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Physics or psychology?

The physicist is telling me that it's a law:
a substance can only be affected
by what it can produce.
And so of course I'm wondering
if that might somehow be tied
to that psychological phenomenon I see so often,
in myself, and in others -- you know the one --
where the behaviors you find troublesome in others
are so often behaviors that you don't see in yourself
(though others see them, and are equally troubled);
the shadow that is cast beyond the curtain of unknowing.
the things that we assume motivate others
are so often the very things that motivate ourselves...

So then I have to ask:
would we even be affected by choices others make,
or things others say,
if we'd never thought of doing or saying them ourselves?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Not mine

Those moments when you know you've caught the wave;
when the poem, or the painting, or the play
surges through you with a pounding force
to thunder onto the page, or onto the canvas
with a power and a grace that you'd never have
the hubris to call your own.

And always after, you look on it
and stare in stupefaction:
That was mine? How did that happen?
And the rest of life's spent seeking
for the chance to have that happen yet again.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Two Woman Play

I am trying to write a play
in which two women talk;
some conversation which does not involve a man.
It turns out to be harder than it sounds. I mean --
you don't want them just talking about their kids --
that's just a box --
and the mother/daughter theme's been overdone.

I talk to women friends all the time,
and we almost never mention men.
So why is this so challenging, you ask --
and I've no answer yet. I'm pondering
(as women do) the possibilities.

Is it because a play needs some tension?
Some crisis to resolve, a learning to unfold,
an insight to reveal, and the things I contemplate
are just too personal?

Or maybe it's because I ask too much of myself:
to create a situation that has not been explored before,
and yet could be totally relatable?
Something I know and have experienced,
so I don't need to research it
and my characters can truly speak as they feel...

And why is that so hard to find, you ask?
Are women's lives predictable?
And if that's true, then must that mean
there's nothing to be learned in these familiar situations?
Or is it just that men will always intrude?
Or might it be that women (at least in my experience)
get caught up in their roles, and the words that they then utter
are so circumscribed by societal expectations
that they rarely speak their truth?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

This voluntary exile

This voluntary exile from my own soft bed,
your loving arms, my studio, my favorite chair --
I know you wonder why each year I choose it.
I say, of course, that it's a chance to be fed
without having to plan, to shop, or cook.

But really it's a date, a conscious engagement
with that part of me that still longs to believe --
as I once did --
that everything has purpose;
that if I listen I will learn;
that incantations of familiar words --
Pity the afflicted, shield the joyous --
will somehow ease the burdens
of the friends whose hearts I carry with me
in these bags, and in my heart.

It's a gentle admonition to return to the earth,
to wander among the trees
and stare out at the mountains;
to be refreshed by the rain or snow,
and fueled to return to you
reinvigorated; fed; enriched by the quiet, and the dark.

Friday, January 12, 2018

I'm not sad

It's almost back to normal now, this house--
the table and its driftwood lamp
back in the corner where the Christmas tree once stood,
The wooden heron backon the wall,
the creche on the dining room table,
waiting to return to its box,
the thick orange cord which fed the lights on the tree
sits waiting by the door to the garage.

The living room is dark now,
when I wake up in the morning;
no colored lights invite me to the chair where I now sit.
The couches echo with the laughter of invading millennials --
the fan blades overhead still spin a bit
with their giddy anticipation,
powered by the hopes and dreams of the young.

Bing Crosby's been returned to his square plastic shell
and the Cambridge Singers classical falsetto --
music and musicians destined never to grow old --
are tucked back on the shelf
below the aging CD player.

In the silence, the fish tank gurgles
and the nameless fish our kids brought home
so many years ago still swims in his small tank
as I sit in my rocker
and remember.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Let it be

Let the rain sound its delicate timpani
on the skylights in my living room.
Let the rattle of the register remind me
that the heat is on, and I'll be warm
despite the cold outside.
Let the schoolbus drivers, stopping in the dark
for every child who stands dripping by a mailbox,
find their way,
and let the mothers return to quiet houses
and warm a cup of coffee before tackling
the chores of the day.
Let the commuters board the ferry
with their papers and their cups
and their intentions for a more productive day.
In the quiet, and the dark,
let the days begin to lengthen.
Let the rhododendrons waken,
and their buds begin to fatten.
And let the dogwood in my garden
rejoice in her new surroundings;
let her roots spread and deepen
and her branches stretch and yawn
with delight at the ferns
who worship at her feet,
unfurling tiny fingers
in hopes that they might catch her silver petals when they fall.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

All those black dresses

I didn't watch the Golden Globes this year --
I'd already promised I'd go somewhere else
before I realized what it meant I would be missing,
and, much as I'd have preferred
to spend the evening in my comfy chair
watching all those big black dresses
and hearing all their speeches
(and isn't that the best of both our worlds --
Barbie Doll dresses and radical feminism?)
I'd promised,
so I didn't.

But now, in the aftermath,
I'm remembering my own years in the theater:
the acting teacher at the high school
(now deceased but still revered)
who always slept with his prettiest students;
the men who grabbed my ass or copped a feel;
the face of the woman, relentlessly pursued
by the fat rich actor who (unbeknownst to us)
had filed for divorce;
the tumbling man with his bold tattoos
who refused to wear any pants beneath his kilt;
the young girls, staring intently into the mirror,
applying lipstick and rouge to lips and cheeks
that needed neither;
the old woman who refused to let me ever take her picture,
because "no-one can take a good picture
of THIS ugly face."

And the lights are everywhere -- the footlights, and the spots,
the ones around our mirrors,
and the blue light that keeps us from tripping
over furniture backstage --
and each one throws a shadow; that's where the dark things happen.

Everywhere we looked
there were couples being formed
and dissolving; eyes assessing the potential
for a play-long assignation;
the eyebrow raised,
the sly looks, and the tears,
the hope and disappointment and despair
all thrown into relief.

Standing on the sidewalk beneath the solitary bulb
that casts its circular illumination
below the stage door,
the tailor slouches, smoking,
while in the nearby shadows
the ass removes his mask to steal a kiss
from a reluctant fairy queen.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The end, that nourishes the beginning

You brought me flowers just before Christmas:
so thoughtful -- all green and red and white,
though mostly green,
which is why they're still glaring at me
from my kitchen island -- the greens -- salal,
and some other bits I can't identify --
are still so healthy
we barely notice the reds (now black)
or the whites (which droop)
and their desperate cries --
Throw me in the trash!
I can't be seen like this!
No makeup in the world can repair
the ravages to this face!

Looking at them's a bit
like looking in the mirror --
the foliage is still there --
the hair, the brows, the lashes pale as always --
but the bloom of youth is gone,
replaced (I like to think)
by something that speaks less about appearance
and more about endurance, and about resourcefulness:
what's fragile has been peeled away,
sloughed off, and what remains
is some unwitherable essence,
aware of its inevitable end and yet
determined to continue, to nourish what comes next.

It watches as the ornaments and lights
are slowly stripped from the brittle Christmas tree;
as the stockings with their family names
are tucked into their box,
knowing all the while that the wreath will be left hanging
on the front door for the tiny birds
that come back every year to build their nest
in that soft curve above the bow.

Monday, January 8, 2018

A voice of my own

Her voice was lovely --
(of course; I knew it would be,
you would settle for nothing less)
and her energy warmed the stage,
lifting all of us up,
even as the corners of your mouth kept turning down.
So serious you are now,
and so sober, after all the laughs we shared.
I felt guilty for the joy my life is now,
and spoke the truth when I told her
I had always longed to sing but had no voice --
just not for that,
and not for you, it seems --
I do sing, but not for my supper.

Just last month I sang for a dogwood tree.
She came to me all bright with berries and scarlet leaves
and spread her coat upon my lawn,
and now stands naked, arms outstretched,
an invitation to sing again,
to walk her plush red carpet and stand beside her;
to launch a chorus of hallelujahs,
gratitude to all who brought us here, and with a flourish
she'll clap her thin brown hands like some amateur magician,
showering us both with her pale white blossoms.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


We'll be riding the ferry again tonight,
going to hear my ex-husband's third wife sing.
and so, of course, my dreams last night
were haunted by the past.
This aging thing's so curious --
the memories we keep,
and the ones that we let go --
they pass each other on the street,
and raise an eyebrow in acknowledgement:
what's remembered has so little, they know,
to do with what's important, or life-changing --
the really big ones lurk behind the trees
as the lesser ones drive by, holding out their hands in hope
that snow, or fog, or falling leaves, or happiness will bury them forever.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Gypsy Moths

I'm remembering the year
when all our community
was reading Cannery Row,
and our library held a short story contest --
to write a tale in Steinbeck's style --
and my story -- about my aging neighbor, Eleanor --
won the award for  "Most Steinbeckian."

I remember also how disappointed I felt
when the library failed to announce the winners,
on their website, or in the local paper --
I so needed this new community of ours
to know I could be gifted...

So it's good, now,
in this year of ordinariness,
to remember, instead of the award and the disappointment,
the subject of my story: Eleanor,
and how she taught me about the moonsnail eggs;
that the annual infusion of sugar ants
could be halted with Lemon Pledge;
that the gypsy moths devouring our beach roses
would never get their wings
if I blasted them with Formula 409;
and finally,
that even if you were determined
to age gracefully alone,
the time would come when a fall in the night
might leave you shivering on a cold tile floor for hours
until a well-meaning neighbor arrived
with your daily gift of oreos,
and hearing no answer, opened your door
to find you naked, lying in your own puddle of pee,
and called the EMT's, whose clumsy attempts
to re-hydrate you caused a heart attack.

Less than a week later she was gone, my intrepid neighbor,
dying in her hospital bed while her children stood there arguing --
two of them trying to save her soul
by forcing her to accept Jesus;
the other two demanding that they let her rest in peace.

All my life a caterpillar,
struggling to grow her wings.
What Formula is this, its mortal chemistry
crafted in my own imaginings,
could leave me struggling for breath among the roses,
my protective chrysalis dissolving, unfulfilled?

Friday, January 5, 2018

To-Do List

A host of minor duties crowd around,
pulling at my skirts like restless children
crying out for attention.
Sadly, the quiet ones, the simple ones,
often go unnoticed --
even though each has its own importance --
until, days later, I remember --
Oh, yes, that one -- and feel guilty,
as if I'd driven off from school
and left a child behind.

All these shoulds we carry on our shoulders,
giving them bouncy rides
to make up for forgetfulness,
grow heavy. I am sinking under their weight,
like the old woman with her groceries
who struggles up the hill to her apartment
looking ahead without the thrill of anticipation
to another night where her tired knobby fingers
open yet another can of soup
to pour its contents into a rumpled saucepan
which she places on a hotplate,
hoping she'll remember to turn it off
before the contents burn, and ruin another pan,
meanwhile wishing, secretly,
that she could just fall asleep
and let the whole place burn down to the ground,
taking her with it:
taking her sore hands, her tired back,
her unpredictable bladder,
her loneliness,
her memories,
the pictures of the children
she never sees.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

New Car Blues

I bought a new car yesterday –
First time in 14 years –
(my old car leaks and smells of mold, and dead mice)
and in spite of all that,
the buyer’s remorse is crippling.

Awake and trembling at 3 am,
I reassure myself by saying,
“Look at how much juice there is in this.”

Because, hey – if I listen hard,
I hear my mother’s voice
When I objected to the clothes she chose for me,
Proclaiming, “you always had to have things your way.”

My husband took me out for dinner after,
To celebrate this latest acquisition –
The result of almost a year of shopping,
Countless test drives, and 3 hours of waiting
For the dealer to gather up all the paperwork –
But I am so distraught I can barely eat,
And I can’t drink cuz I have to drive,
So we box up my Chinese chicken salad
(the only meal I could even contemplate)
and head for home.

The heater, which I need
Because it’s 33 degrees outside,
Gives off relentless burning fumes
(I gather this is normal, but it’s choking me,
and I can’t detect, beneath the smoke,
that delicious new car smell)
and all the way home I play with the seat adjustments,
trying to achieve the comfort I thought I felt
when I first tried this model,
trying to ignore the voice that’s trying to be heard –
“I don’t think this seat’s going to work for you.
You knew it was a problem right away,
From the moment you first drove what’s supposed to be
Your exciting brand new car.
I’ve been poking you for hours –
Why didn’t you speak up?”

… But what about the shoulds? I ask –
It took so long to get here,
we've already made two trips,
the seat worked great in the other one,
And I did a year of research – I KNOW this is the right car.
And there’s my mother’s voice again:
“You should have bought the one you sat in that worked.
But NO, you HAD to have this color, didn’t you.
Well, you deserve to be uncomfortable
For the NEXT 14 years.”

I dish out a bowl of chocolate ice cream
to soothe the voices down
And now I’m waiting for the sun to rise
So I can take a picture
And send it to my girls.
It’s such a pretty shade of blue…

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Beginnings: An Ordinary Year

Knowing I was hoping to get a better creative balance in my life, a dear friend gave me a journal and a book of poetry for Christmas -- A Field Guide to the Heavens, by Frank Gaspar. The poems have an ordinariness to them that I find particularly appealing, and since I've begun reading one a day as part of my morning meditation practice, I'm finding I'm writing poems of my own in response.

So I thought I'd publish them here, and attempt to keep going throughout the year.

Herewith, the first poem of an ordinary year:

Hard to sit

I find it hard to sit these days:
My thoughts tumble in like puppies,
lively, curious, plump with desire
and hungry for recognition,
flattening the thin green blades of wisdom
as they clamber over one another,
reveling in their familiar closeness,
their fuzzy warmth,
the proximity of nourishment to feed their wiggly souls...

My breasts ache with the longing to feed them.
Some other darker vision wishes
the flattened blades would rise again and score them,
so they'd run away,
and quiet might return.