Today I was looking at this newest piece of fiction I’ve written and I asked myself, “Where did that even come from? How did I get to a place where I would think such a story into existence?” And then I remembered this poem that I wrote back in 2003.
When I look back
And try to see how I’ve come
To where I am today
I recognize a few landmarks
But there is
I have slipped through the forest
Glimpses of the mountaintop
The slant of the sun
The moon between the branches
I have crossed a few paths
Maybe walked at the edges
Of some fairly well-trodden roads
From time to time.
But it is impossible to tell
Where I’ve come from or
How I’ve gotten here from
Wherever I began.
No path. (4/18/03)
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“This is not a bear.”
That is what Magritte would say.
A bear is very large,
Warm and alive,
With shaggy fur,
With claws protruding from every paw.
I knew a dog once
Whose name was Bear.
He was large, warm, alive.
He had shaggy fur, teeth, claws.
He was not a bear.
He was a dog.
Sometimes my friend calls her husband
Her husband is large, warm, alive.
A bit shaggy.
He has teeth, no claws.
He is not a bear.
When we call something, someone
We mean to evoke, invoke
Is that magic?
Which evokes “bear” more completely:
A sketched figure, which has the form of a bear?
Or the word,
Which conjures in both our minds
The living creature itself?
Used with intent
Heard with attentiveness
Words have strange consequences.
They come alive.
Words can make things happen.
The magic of words is not
Just a thing of long ago.
The magic still happens.
Ideas move from my mind to yours
With only a word.
The word is not the thing itself.
The word is the magic.
What would I do if the world were ending, which of course it is, as it has been ever since its beginning, just as you and I and all of us have been dying ever since the moment of our conception and maybe even before that?
So the question does not hinge on “if” but rather on “what would I do?” which must necessarily become “what will I do?”
What will I do, given that the world is ending and I with it?
It seems the only rational thing is to give myself over to being exactly what I am – a curious and passionate participant-observer in this whole doomed project. In fact, the finiteness of the project and the minuteness of my role in it is exactly what makes life so very, very precious. No time for pretense, for visions of eternity (which is also a thing although not my thing nor yours). No time for quarreling with the neighbors over transitory possessions or evanescent ideas (mine are ultimately as silly as yours). No time for anything but walking together, hand in hand, and laughing at the joyous unexpectedness of this opportunity to be exactly who we are.
“Discouraged” 8 x 8 shadowbox
Early morning walk.
I greet my neighbors.
“Morning,” I say in passing.
I can’t yet say “Good morning.”
It isn’t good.
And it won’t be good
Everyone can feel as safe as I do
Walking through their neighborhood.
Until the woman in the headscarf,
The youth in the black hoodie,
The man who is fluent in Spanish,
The lady in the wheelchair,
Until all of us can be safe.
Safe when we roll down the car window
For the policeman who pulled us over.
Safe when we put our arms around
The one we love
Right out there in public
No matter who it is we love.
Safe when we speak a language
Other than English
Or English with our parents’ accent.
Safe when our disability means
Maybe we take a little longer at the ATM.
Safe when we’re the only woman on the bus.
Safe when our visa has expired and we’re
Too scared to go back to our broken country.
I want to know what it’s like to be you.
I can put on a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt
And experience the hateful stares and scoffing comments.
But I can also take it off.
It doesn’t tell me how you feel every day
Walking around in the skin you were born with.
I can speak Spanish with my friends
But no one assumes I don’t speak English.
I can wear a headscarf like I did on cold, windy days
When I was a girl. We all did that.
No one would assume I was a terrorist.
I don’t ask that we always be comfortable.
Because safe is really important.
I have done nothing to deserve my privilege.
You have done nothing to deserve less.
Someday I will go for my morning walk
And say “Good morning!” to everyone I meet
And mean it
And know it is also a good morning
We have work to do.
Please, can we do it together?
I huddle inside my chrysalis
Afraid to let go of the idea
Of being a caterpillar.
I must give myself wholly
To nameless, formless wonder.
Trusting the seed within.
When the chrysalis finally breaks open,
What will emerge?
A glory-winged creature
Or the dried-up husk
Of a caterpillar?
“Flow (What was your face before your parents were born?)” 16 x 20
One of the things I do for myself as a writer (and a human being) is attend a weekly “Zen Writing” class at the Austin Zen Center. One of our leaders is Kim Mosley, a man of my generation. His Jewish training and mindful curiosity always add a special note to our discussions. He’s been posting about the Torah on his blog, and this week’s post captivated me. Here’s an excerpt:
“So what’s the deal? We often strangle and misrepresent objects when we define them. As D.H. Lawrence wrote, we take experiences and make them into ideas. We tend to worship the representation rather than the more ethereal experience. Where one is limiting, the other is limitless. Where one can be understood, the other can just be felt.”
It reminded me of a small poem I wrote a number of years back:
All that is
Arises from all that is.
There is no other origin,
Of that which never originated
And never ceases
Which some call God
And within which others
In silent awe.
You’d probably like Kim’s artwork that goes with his blog. Here’s the link: http://kenshinsbarmitzvah.blogspot.com/2016/01/starting-over-parshah-vitro-jethro.html
When she smiles,
You forget all about the lazy blue eye
That seems to search for something the rest of us
When she laughs,
You don’t see the postmenopausal whiskers
On her chin.
Her awkward gait is fine
As she strides to the front walk
Where she spreads food
For homeless cats.
She likes books with pictures –
Shirley Temple, Johnny Cash, Princess Di.
Words are difficult.
Her older sister orders for her at the pancake house.
Later, they stand together
In the edge of the surf
Remembering the same beach, years ago,
When Mom and Dad took them there to play,
Long before worries of work or elusive pin numbers
Or rent or keeping an old car running
Overtook their lives.
The older sister’s square shoulders carry them.
The sister with the lazy eye has sloping shoulders.
She pays her way with smiles
There’s a place at the intersection
Of sadness and consummate joy
Called “the blues.”
I’ve built a house there,
a house I don’t live in.
I spend most of my time
Up one street or
Down the other.
I’ve tried painting other rooms
In other houses
With the brush
Used on my corner house,
But I never seem to get it right –
Always a little too bright or
A little too somber.
My house at the corner
Is always full of musicians
(or their music, after they’ve moved on)
The occasional novelist passes through.
A few artists have left paintings there.
I feel more alive in this house
Than anywhere else.
Even when I’m alone.
Even when there’s a crowd of friends
Everybody’s welcome here.
(This poem needs another line or two for resolution,
But there is no resolution
For the blues.)
From the broken place in the retaining wall
I can see where the rains
Formed a rivulet
Leading down to where the water
Even when the rains never come.
The flow moves on through still, deep places,
Through playful shallows,
Down to the lake where my friend
Walks his dog at sunrise.
Over the dam, it’s a river again
(as it always was, underneath)
Flowing on its meandering course,
Crossed by repeating bridges,
Onward to the sea where another friend
Walks her dog along the beach at sunset.
And out on the far shore of the same sea
(it’s always the same sea)
Another friend repairs a wall
Broken by a recent flood.
ON THE OCCASION OF GOING VISITING ON THANKSGIVING DAY
As the years go by
Become more fond of pie.
(Apple, pumpkin, cherry,
Rhubarb, or blueberry,
The fruity sweetness.
The crusty crispness.
maybe a scoop of BlueBell.)
Would it be so wrong
If the pie I promised
Had one piece gone?