All posts by Individual Poet

We’re Sick!: Everyday Magic, Day 891

We just had a thermometer contest: whoever had the most normal temperature won, and I lost. Both Ken and I have what’s likely a wicked incarnation of the flu despite earnest flu shots and sincerest wishes not to be lying on beds or couches for hours while our half-dreams bleed Excel spreadsheets into family members long gone into recipes for cakes made of fruit and abstract equations. First I came down with it, spending the weekend and much of today horizontal, then Ken caught up with me because when it comes to true love, misery really does love company.

The kitchen counter is full of various over-the-counter de-mucus-ers, the knightly Tami-flu, and each of one our own bottles of Recharge, a great electolyte-inflused drink without all the sugar of Gatorade. My plan to fly to Vermont tomorrow flew away very as quickly as my fever so now I have a re-booked flight for Thursday. And we just watcheimg_3062d one of the great films for any sick people (in addition to The Big Lebowski), Groundhog Day, taking special care to count all the days Bill Murray woke up again to Sonny and Cher (42 in the film although I researched how it would actually take over 8 years for him to be an expert at piano and ice-sculpting).

“Doesn’t it feel like you’re dying?” I asked Ken earlier. “Yes, that’s exactly how it feels,” he answered, leading us to ponder if, at the moment of death, we would remember this crazy strain of flu. Yet there’s also the living that goes on regardless, and little moments of gratitude in spite of headaches, body aches, sinus aches, sore throats, and crazy coughing tirades, like when we visited with friends via a phone conference in Columbia, MO. and Plainfield, VT. to compare notes about who’s got snow (one of us), who’s got the flu (three out of four of us), and whose crocus are blooming (three of us). Or when ate the incredible soup a friend brought over and re-affirmed the power of soup to change and save lives. We’ve found our fat cat trying to stuff himself into a small box hilarious as well as the new John Oliver “Last Week Tonight.” We’ve sprawled across our facing couches saying stupid things that made us laugh or fall asleep, and we’ve drunk tea.

When we’re hit by particularly uncomfortable and even painful illnesses, it’s easy to say what each of us have said: “how do I get through this?” But the answer, like the answer to any stretch of time, is that you just do, and since this is the deal, why not find between the squeezing and sleeping whatever specks of joy are all around?

When Things Fall Apart (Or Seem To): Everyday Magic, Day 890

Since the inauguration our family has been living out a microcosm of the macrocosm. While the details aren’t mine to tell, let’s just say that we had one of those unjust life incidents in which we discover that, contrary to popular human opinion, there’s sometimes (translation: often to always) no real ground when it comes to what we can count on and control. Macrocosm-wise, this also feels true for many of us who are partaking of the buffet of letter- and email-writing, phone calls, marching, and all manner of resisting unjust policies stinging our hearts, violating our values, and crashing apart our ideals and safeguards.

In such times, I go back to Pema Chodron, particularly her anchoring-to-reality book, When Things Fall Apart, in which she writes,

We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

I remember when some close friends of ours were going through major marriage re-evaluation, both of them hurting but shining. They told us, “Then you realize there truly is no ground, and it’s terrifying and exhilarating.” They made it through and have been together for the likes of close to 40 adventurous years, and I’m so grateful to them for their example of courage and clear-seeing at the fall-apart times.

Yup, it’s a panoramic swirl of falling apart and together, and along the way, often all at once, there’s a careening dance of agony, ecstasy, anxiety, heartbreak, hope, amazement, and many moments when we can really feel our beating heart. Sometimes it all comes together at 4 a.m. when one of us wakes up to exhaustion, freak-out, and wonder. Sometimes the calm of trembling cedar trees against overlapping clouds reminds us to breathe. But always, there’s both groundlessness in such times, and the real ground, where we will walk soon, in a hurry to get from house to car on a cold morning, so that we can aim ourselves toward (what else?) love in whatever form shows us why we’re here.

“Dedications” and the Women’s March in Topeka (and Everywhere!): Everyday Magic, Day 889

img_2993
One of the men I was talking about — my husband Ken — plus Dot Nary, who gave a superb talk and her husband

Today I was given the enormous honor of speaking at the Women’s March in Topeka. I’m blown away by the speakers, all of whom opened our eyes and gave us new insights and courage. Thank you, Women’s March of Topeka organizers, and thank you to fellow speakers Elise Higgins, Fatima Mohammadi , Stephanie Mott, Dr. Glenda Overstreet Vaughn, Dr. Dot Nary , Ana Maldonado, Paulette Blanchard, Representative Barbara Ballard , Heather Ousley, Alise Martiny , Reverend Sarah C. Oglesby-Dunegan, and the spectacular emcee Dr. Beryl New.

I dedicated my reading today one of our local heroes, Dr. Josie Norris, who has helped thousands (tens of thousands perhaps) women do right by their bodies and babies by founding the Topeka Birth and Women’s Center (where our three kids were born). Here is the poem I wrote for today:

Dedications

This is for your grandmothers and mine,

one who left a Midwestern home where she was abused

to work in a Brooklyn button factory and make a new life,

the other who boarded a ship at nine years old,

not knowing from English or America,

to escape the pogroms that killed her mother.

This is for your mothers and mine, who joined with

My friend Rachel Black speaking truth to power
My friend Rachel Black speaking truth to power

other suburban moms to fill buses with their children

so we could march against the Vietnam War,

and who taught me that be a woman meant to be a feminist.

This is your aunts and mine who gave up a singing career

for marriage because she had to choose, and this

is for your daughters and mine, who never had to think twice

about belting out her songs on the streets and in the clubs.

This is for your nieces and mine, who were abandoned

at railway stations in India but made it through the needle’s eye

to an adoptive family in Missouri where they found

love, education, and a future. This is for your sons and mine

who grew up washing dishes and laundry, and learning to use

their privilege to hold open the door of justice and opportunity

for those previously locked out. This is for the men we love—

your husbands, friends, allies, coworkers and nephews, and mine—

who stepped back to make room for us to step forward,

who have asked instead of answering, who are here today

in body or spirit, ready and already breaking open their hearts

alongside and because of us. This is for your sisters

of origin, of choosing, of fate and mine, all of our beloveds

who keep turning the trauma of sexual abuse,

the micro and macro violations of catcalls in the street

or silencing in the office, and the fear storms that come

from not having enough safety, food, shelter, healthcare

and access into a greater capacity to march or roll,

to speak solo and in chorus, to love who we are called to love

with our widest and deepest dedication to this life,

the generations before and ahead. This is for us:

this moment of knowing how alive we are,

and how this life is rising in us and raising us up

together from this moment on.

I also read “I Will Not Be Afraid of Women,” which you can find right here. Please also consider signing up for my blog (see link on the right) and my email list (I promise not to give the list to anyone and not to send out more than one email a month) by clicking here. You can see all the powerful speakers and musicians (yay, Skirts!) from today at this link (I’m at 1 hour, 33 minutes or so).

Tucked into the Clouds: Everyday Magic, Day 888

img_2966For days, it’s been overcast with an active sky varying hews of gray in between tossing out ice pellets, a bit of sleet and freezing rain, a lot of regular rain, and a smoky sense of being. Although we avoided the potential big ice storm in this town, thankfully keeping our electricity and most trees intact, there’s no sunshine to be found for miles, which doesn’t cheer me.

But what there is: a dog napping on the couch behind Christmas lights adorning shelves for the cats to climb and sleep on, skillet corn bread baking in the oven, and Ken typing on his computer to my right, and classical music on the radio to my right. The ice-encased tall grasses around our house are free to shift slightly in the warming air, and for the first time in days, there’s some variation of gray with darker clouds on top and foggy horizons lightening up to almost white. There’s also hot tea in the mornings and warm piles of quilts at bedtime, piles of books, a happily-used simg_2965ewing machine and lots of colorful fabric, and a lovely time to pause and watch the junos and chickadees eat the birdseed on the deck.

Eventually, the clouds will dissipate, but for now, here we are despite whatever human-made turmoil rolls into and out of form close by or far away. In the distance, here is also a lone great blue heron winging her way back to the water as whatever is changing unfurls in its quiet and active ways.

“Kansas Just Wants to Be Kansas”: Everyday Magic, Day 887

“Southern California Wants to Be Western New York” is the title and subject of one of Dar Williams’ songs about what happens when the left coast suffers from yearning for a post-industrial crisis. On January 4, I got to read this poem along with other poems I wrote that riff off songs from Dar’s “Mortal City” album. Given that one of my most ardent fans (my son Daniel) said I should share this on my blog, here we are, and here’s a video of this incredible song.

Kansas Just Wants to Be Kansas

Southern California may want to be western New York,

but Kansas just wants to be Kansas, large and hidden in plain sight.

Too bad the earthquakes have migrated north, fracking us out of bed

to land on ground not used to shimmying. Too bad about the politics too,

shocked out of their long stay of sensibility, and smelling like

the aftermath of tragedy. Yeah, Kansas just wants to be Kansas,

weather-weary and not taking any prisoners, ready for whatever

the sky between the Rockies and the rivers storms together

past, present and future in the sweet smell of rain and heat lightning.

Kansas doesn’t want to be San Diego, swanky and silk in its

Mediterranean rags. We’re just not a picturesque Vermont town

ambling down the side of a mountain, or Texas where the heat is as intense

as the chutzpah. Kansas certainly doesn’t ever want to be Iowa,

all dressed up in its big-box statehood but with brighter ribboning interstates.

We just want to continue to be your friendly waitress at 2 a.m.,

able to carry six different slices of pie cascading down one arm,

and in the other hand, a pot of coffee, fully-loaded, ready to serve you

something that makes you forget about the desire to be what you’re not,

and remember the beauty of the wind, an old train that arrives

ahead of schedule to say, “yes, you’re finally home.”

“I Will Not Be Afraid of Women” and Other Dar Williams Inspired Poetry: Everyday Magic, Day 886

xrm4tiidlrvud8m074mkTonight, I have the delight of opening for one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Dar Williams, in her performance at the Lawrence Arts Center. To get ready, I wrote a bunch of new poems, all inspired by Dar’s lyrics from songs on her Mortal City album since her current tour is a 20th anniversary celebration of that groundbreaking album (“Iowa,” “The Christians and the Pagans” and lots of other Dar classics are on it).  While I’ve spent the last month writing these poems, the one I’m sharing here — dedicated to my sister-friends — came in a rush while taking a break from revising other poems). If you’re in Lawrence, come on down tonight to the arts center at 8 p.m. and join us! This poem steals lyrics (italicized) from two songs — “As Cool as I Am” and “Iowa.”

I Will Not Be Afraid of Women

 

Because I learned early and often that when it comes

to all those falls from great and gruesome heights,

there is no one like a sister, and it’s worth driving all night,

ten miles above the limit, and with no seatbelt,

to sit at her table and drink her tea while she agrees

that we’re here to dance out of the lines even if it means

we singe our hair in ways we can’t remember the next morning.

I will not be afraid to go to her, and to her, and her, and her

my whole life: the ones who hold my stories

like Christmas ornaments, careful not to drop the glass ones

or make fun of the ones made by my children’s baby hands so long ago.

I will hold her 3 a.m. phone call, when she says,

“it’s all broken or it’s all better,” and when I call,

she’ll remind me why we’re lucky in this life,

sistering me away from hoarding the horizon, and toward

the new song we’ll write, then sing over and over until we’re sure

it always existed, just like this friendship, and this one, and this one—

each made of of cedar and wind in the long walk at dusk,

lukewarm coffee we drink anyway because it makes us laugh,

or a long nap on her couch in the middle of a December day

when I didn’t know where else to go, so I went to her

with my tattered heart and shining breath, to say, “please,

gather me up,” and she did. I will never be afraid of the mirror

she is or holds up, and the real life beyond that mirror

where we get in her car and drive for the love of motion.

The Day After Christmas: Everyday Magic, Day 883

The day after Christmas is a clearing and arrival at once on the other side of what too often has felt like a great divide for me (check out why Christmas has been like the Dread Pirate Roberts to me in this post from 2014). Emerging from a mysterious case of food poisoning or taking bad supplements or a weird-ass virus, I’m especially relieved to be on the shores of December 26 where I’m no longer crawling to the bathroom or tossing myself awake out of stomach-turning nightmares.

Beyond whatever kept me collapsing on my bed most of Christmas day, there’s the lightening of the weight of this holiday, the big Kahuna of mainstream culture, blasted from all directions for weeks leading up to it, while many of us labor and delight under its anticipation. This year, I got to labor and delight in setting up a tree to wrap in lights and and Hanukkah gifts, and string lights in assorted places around the house because who couldn’t use more light, especially this year? We also hosted Christmas dinner for the family, which I could only made brief guest appearances at between trips to dreamland.

Awake and grateful now, I meet a mostly-clear sky, and luxuriate in Kansas Public Radio playing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Symphony #5 in D Major after days of overcast choirs churning out carols. Our annual Hanukkah party awaits later today, and New Years is coming as well as many other ceremonies, including a funeral for a beloved community member, but for now, there’s a tiny celebration of landing on the other side of something — a holiday, an illness, a bout of pressure, a stretch of cloudy weather, and what is beyond I can name, but know is burning brightly in the center of my heart.

Wherever you are, and whatever wraps around you, I wish you a lovely and refreshing day-after, and a glowing and meaningful day of December 26.

Winter Solstice and the Shortest Day: Everyday Magic, Day 882

Nora Jones sings on my computer, Natalie naps under a Tardis blanket on the couch, and Miyako the cat bird-watches in the windowsill. It’s mid-afternoon on the shortest day in the year, but the sun fills this room as if it’ll always be here.  A crescent of blackbirds shoots out of the far-off cedars, crisscrossing some of the other birds in flight. On the highway to the southwest, car windshields gleam to broadcast news of their adventures.

I love the winter solstice, and how it brings us into close-up witnessing of the effects of light and darkness as well as what is right now. The snow on the fields in the distance tells of weather past and to come. The pacing dog wants only the usual affection or food. The light in particular is exquisite on these annual bonsai days.

For all of us, I wish peace most of all, and all the gumption and grace to make and keep re-making that peace.  I also share this poem from my book Landed to mark the world gathering up more light.

 

Winter Solstice: 4:22 p.m.

 

The blunt air morning-stark,

a glass light that levels everything,

makes me forget my intention for this or that,

the insistent hands home to roost

even if my walk is sodden.

Trees gleam like bronze etchings

rising from the cacophony of

cell phone rings, car tires’ turnings.

The night must have its way

even against the snow geese slightly lost

until they find their rut in the wind.
The solstice is a bird with feathers so black

they mirror the buildings, then lift

to land back to this date in time as if time

never left its perch. The motion of breath,

or a wayward finger tapping on the wooden desk

aged by light. The inward turn of stillness,

a slight sway as if standing on a bus, holding

tight to the bar when the wheels mount a sharp corner

and something completely new appears.

Solstice and then the world at this point

flips over, begins arming itself

with light.

Beyond the Dark Tunnel of Mid-December: Everyday Magic, Day 881

As a kid, I dreaded the stretch between New Jersey and New York City when our family station wagon would descend into the underworld, otherwise known as the Holland Tunnel, to cross through the dark waters of the Hudson River. Since then, every mid-December, I feel like I’m transported to the way-back seats of that station wagon to watch the lights of the tunnel sweep over us at regular intervals, all the time praying we make it back to the open air and neon swirls of what’s on the other side.

Part of it has to do with the truncated length of each day, only about 9 and a half hours long near the winter Solstice, but a bigger factor is the quality of darkness. When it gets dark, it gets really dark: a black charcoal darkness that makes driving home past sunset feel like I’m back in that tunnel, especially when I’m beyond the reach of street lights, and the inky clouds wrap tight around those on earth.

This year, the nights seem longer because the son of dear friends, someone we had watched grow from boy to man, died suddenly. I look into the big blanket of gray, frigid air with sadness in my heart — for the sorrow of a beautiful man’s life cut short, and for the seasons of pain my friends and their family are inhabiting. The anniversary of another big loss approaches in a few days, and despite the warmth and lights of winter holidays, I often experience December as having a particularly hard underside.

December has a way of reminding us of what despair echoes within and around us, but it also calls us to see anew in the dark. I think of how David Abram, in his writings, teachings, and in  conversation with us, talks about “the good darkness.” In his book The Spell of the Sensuous, he writes:

The story [of the sun’s journey] follows a kind of perceptual logic very different from the abstract logic we learned at school. It attends closely to the sensuous play of the world, allowing the unfolding pattern of that display to carry us into a place of dark wonder.

In this time of more night than day, there’s exactly “the unfolding pattern” and the subsequent “dark wonder” now visible not just because of what this darkness reveals, but what it conceals, which for me encompasses a lot of bright and shiny distractions. These long nights make it easier to see in the dark, and to see how much our lives are patterned by forces and sources far more vast than our thoughts and habits of thinking.

It turns out this darkness isn’t really a tunnel, but a time to wander through the open and mysterious space on the other side of whatever we’re tunneling through in our lives. It’s also this: a call to learn more about the art and necessity of slowing down, and although I’m a slow learner, I’m looking toward how I can hang out more with what is in between cooking something hot to eat, sleeping more than usual, and right now, watching the dark cedars wave hello or goodbye against the darkening sky.

Birthdays, Graduations and Charmed Lives: Everyday Magic, Day 880

img_2834A month ago, I found my old charm bracelet that my parents gave me in 1972. It had two charms to start me out, one for my 12th birthday and another for my graduation from junior high school with room for charms in the future, such as marriage, children, perhaps even grandchildren. In the time I grew up, it was common for women to have charms for rites of passage and other markers mapping the trail into and through adulthood.

I’ve come across this bracelet before, like a treasure lost in a pond that comes ashore haphazardly, and put it away again as a relic of my past. But this time I realized it was time to wear it again. The only problem was that my almost 57-year-old wrist was bigger than my 12-year-old one, so off to Goldmakers we went where Monty managed to somehow make a few new links, not easy given that each tiny link is entwined very fine strands of gold. When I picked up the bracelet the other day and put it on, it felt oddly familiar, and within hours, I remembered how its tiny, sharp jewels had a talent for catching on threads of sweaters and shirts. But it also felt great to wear probably my oldest material possession.

Over the past few days, I realized I didn’t need to add charms to mark occasions and game-changers over the last 44 years because “birthday” and “graduation” pretty much say it all. There are new beginnings to celebrate, births of insight, starts of projects, and the old refrain that to live is to continually begin again. There’s also constant graduations: what we’re finally able to finish, release, or shed img_2837because it’s done or no longer serves us. Of course, not all graduations are liberating: we leaves places and people who are home to us, we lose friends and relations to change or death. Time is one big graduation and birthday machine, churning out opportunities for moving on whether or not it’s our will or desire, and if we’re lucky, celebrations of hard-won leaps and landings. The irony of graduation is that another word for it  is “commencement,” new beginnings, which circles us right back to birth and birthdays. Like seasons that birth themselves, then die into the next season, every moment can be a touchstone, perhaps even a charm to remind us to open our eyes to the vibrant life — even if bitter, painful, tender, or grief-stricken — happening right now.

Tomorrow, on my birthday, I’ll wear my charm bracelet again and try to remember how  I’ve been blessed with a charmed life eve if it catches on my sweater and pulls out a thread here and there. And for all of us today, I want to say, Happy Birthday, Graduates! Keep on shining.