From One Poem to Another

This morning, my friend Chris sent me this poem, which inspired me to write my own poem.

To Be of Use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work headfirst
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

___________

Untitled
by Nicole Dunn

I want to invest in people
who can keep up with me
or lead the way;
who aren’t intimidated by how I show up;
who don’t feel it necessary to cut me down
in order to make them self feel better;
who have strong backs
and soft hearts, like me.

I want to associate with people
who know what their work is – and do it;
who don’t consider it bad ass that I
ride a motorcycle or play drums like I meant it;
who make it no big deal that I do what I do;
who can grow and shine their own light
and not shrink or shirk away
in the presence of mine.

(NOTE: The “strong backs and soft hearts” is based on a core teaching of Roshi Joan’s “strong back, soft front.”)

The importance of reading hard books

There are some books I read because I really don’t want to (like the one I’m seen holding in the pic above). Books that are hard on the heart. Books that need to be written and read by those of us who don’t have a frame of reference or personal experience to add to a particular chorus of people who are suffering, struggling in shadows of silence to the detriment of us all.

There are some books I read because I am interested in being an agent of change in my world-sphere, and an agent of kindness and goodness that resonates throughout space and time; because I am deeply invested in doing my best to keep my love-light shining like a beacon in the darkness.

There are some books I read because not to read them is akin to a kind of death, a sterilization technique where I tell myself I don’t have the time or that reading is only for entertainment or intellectual learning. But I say this: what are words tossed on a page, bound into a book, if not a direct telling of a hard and terrible truth we are not permitted to voice aloud or able to hear with the same ears that subscribe to the old adage ignorance is bliss?

It’s like this: I can either further my jacked-up ego by never pushing myself to grow or I can intentionally choose to face discomfort for the betterment of my people.

Here’s to the books that tow a hard-freaking line; the books no one wants to read for fear of shaking our complacent world view up like a snow-globe; the books that will disrupt our inner matrix, resulting in the inevitable crisis of conscience: how do I dissent from the norm and rally against the system, without descending into an ocean of cynicism and despair?

 

52-Weeks of Thank You’s

For those of you who are a much appreciated devoted follower here, you might recall that each January, in lieu of New Year’s Resolutions (which I’ve never been a big fan of), I adopt 2 or 3 new mindfulness-based practices to weave in throughout my calendar year, which I then switch out for new practices the following January.

This past January, one of my new mindfulness practices was to embark upon an exercise that I read about on the Random Acts of Kindness website: 52-Weeks of Thank You’s.

The concept is pretty self-explanatory: each week, I craft a thank you letter/note/card to someone. I’ve been including friends, family members, and also local businesses and organizations. I’ve done a total of 44 thank you’s thus far, with this week marking week #45 of 2019.

I made labels to affix to each card (see pic above) and my personal commitment was to not send these thank you’s via the less personal route of email but to instead write them out by hand and send them in the U.S postal mail, putting some love into the dwindling art of letter writing.

This practice has been quite an interesting new road I’ve been traveling on, with some weeks harder than others to drum up my next person/business to send a thank you to. Still, even when it’s been a bit challenging or I’ve had the thought Oh man, I have another thank you card to do already? Didn’t I just do that?! angling myself in the direction of sending direct thank you’s to people and businesses has been nourishing to my own sense of connectedness.

Over the years, I’ve invested in a number of different gratitude-strengthening practices and this is what I’ve discovered for myself personally: the more I practice seeing and touching gratitude in my life, the more I see and touch more reasons to be grateful – and the stronger my sense of gratitude becomes, the more joy and ease and sense of connection I feel as a result.

The Dragons

The dragons, standing outside of their first apartment

To listen to me reading this blog post on my podcast, click here.

I thought temporarily about keeping this room a mausoleum in his honor; a room that even though he was no longer residing in would stand a testament to his place in the world as forever our son. For a few months it stood as he left it and we were content to carry on as we’d grown accustomed to in rarely entering it.

But as I’m not keen on going limp in an effort to make it harder for the future to usher me forward, after a suitable period of mourning his departure, I decided it was time to rebrand his childhood room.

And it’s in here that I am putting pen to paper right now on this gray autumnal Saturday, the opening day of hunting season. Save for a bit of itchiness of energy, I’m enjoying this slow burning day.

His dragon puzzle we glued together, after realizing its completion was a hard won victory we never wanted to repeat, still hangs on the day-glow orange wall, a color he chose when one year for his birthday we gifted him with a room makeover. There’s a PAC-man poster and a Yoda sticker by the light switch. Save for these wall hangings, his bed and a few other small trinkets, it’s all that remains of his 15-year long reign.

Now, Mike’s chain mail and our collective books line the shelves and my writing desk sits facing the south wall.

In less than 2-weeks, in the same year we both turned 40 and my mom turned 60, he’ll turn 20.

I’m glad not to be one of those kinds of parents fixated on reliving the past, unable to meet my stepson where he’s at and for who he is right now. I’m glad I’m not the sort to utter such common phrases as: remember when… and you used to be so _____ when you were younger.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a work in progress when it comes to figuring out this new life phase and how best to show up for and with an adult for a stepson. I’m still locating my place in the world of things. But I’m glad to be invested in the process and I trust I will find my footing over time. I reckon it will be like most things: akin to tuning a guitar. My best approach is not to be too loose or too tight but to locate an in between harmony.

One step we’ve taken is to stop referring to our son and his girlfriend, who share an apartment together a few blocks away, as “the kids.” Around the house, we now affectionately call them, “the dragons.”

Don’t ask me how we came up with dragons. There’s no backstory to share. All I know is that it’s working to help us in the process of letting go. And my growing sense is: letting our children go, with love, support and an open door, is one of the best offerings we can give them.

 

My week in poems

Penned this morning: 10/17

It’s safe to fashion poems
about birds in flight
or on perched parade.
It’s safe to cover such topics
as accentuate the earth,
the sky and the uprising of varied landscapes
in their wild glory.
And don’t get me wrong,
I write script about all of these
marvels with great pleasure and frequency.

But I am pressing now in another direction
alongside the birds and sky,
one much less safe and cozy.

One that pushes the envelope,
urging an important inquiry
to form on my lips,
and on the tip of my writing pen
amid the candle flame flickering
in the early morning darkness:
where is the middle ground
between angrily amping up
and letting go in heart heavy defeat?

________

Penned on 10/16:

Things are changing
and I am no longer interested
in sparing others hard truths
at the expense of my own.

There is a price to pay for silence
when words are what need
to be ushered forward.

There is a toll the body
accrues when niceness
overrides honesty.

Hang on, dear ones.
This is going to be a bumpy ride.

_________

Continue reading

Morning Fire

6am.

Full moon soaring like a child’s heart that doesn’t yet know to keep it buckled up for safety. I started a fire out back – the best decision I’ve made in a long time – with the rich supply of sticks and thickened branches from our recently fallen elm limb.

When I lift my gaze, I can see both points of light cutting through the slowly lifting darkness. Sticks burn quick, so I’m up resupplying the blaze in frequent intervals.

My long hair will carry the scent of burning wood well into the day, perfuming the air in my wake until I shake it loose when next I shower. A badge of honor to be sure.

7am.

I’ve reinvigorated the fire with more sustainable fuel so that I can draw this grace-filled morning out a little while longer.

A backdrop of crows and the snap, popping of the fire stood in for my morning chant, as I sat in meditation in the glow of the flames and the sinking moon.

Sticky Saloon

There are more people than seats or room in this bar, downtown on a Thursday night, and I wonder who chose this subpar venue for such an important event.

We’re sectioned off from the may-lay of intoxication, still, this bar floor squinting under florescent lighting has seen its share of misery – just like those whose feet grace its linoleum facade. Perhaps it’s this commonality that binds us to this location, verses some more comfortable, more spacious, less seedy place.

This Me Too reading is an ovary fest. Still, speaking to the choir has its merits. Empowering others out of the darkness of their shame to join the chorus of Enough! is perhaps the only way to burn this whole thing down.

Strange as it sounds, I feel rather like an intruder. Perhaps this is why there are not more men here. I have no voice of experience to lend to this particular chorus of women. But I put great stock in learning, knowing, and understanding the systemic issues that plague our collective consciousness, so here I am.

And so maybe this sticky saloon isn’t the worst place for this dialog to ensue. Maybe this hotbed of back alley lusting for something profoundly missing is right where we need to be. A place to match the darkness of this topic and meet it face-to-weathered-face.

As Harrison said in a poem: there is a place in us to weep for others. So maybe this is it.