Ghostliness

 

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“I woke up this morning completely tangled up with a child who snores and sleeps with eyes almost fully open. His bony feet are always kicking mine, he head-butts me in the ribcage half the time, and turns and elbows me the other half.  I got up, granted myself the slow luxury of French press coffee brought back to bed and read until he woke up and began to read too.”

I found the above, with the picture, in my drafts here.  I’ve been working on a post that’s kind of a complicated synthesis of lots of stuff, but I feel bad that there hasn’t been a prompt this week, so I was digging through the archives of unposted half-started almost-thoughts.

Tonight I was at work until pretty late.  And tomorrow I’ll go to work pretty early. I worked hard today.  Cleaned my desk.  Wrote some emails.  Did some poems.  Figured out some technology.  Smiled at some people who didn’t exactly deserve it (you know who you are, haters).   When I stood up to leave work, I thought, “I’m a complete fake.”  I don’t know why I thought that.   But the ghosts of past insecurities can be mad hard to shake, can’t they?  They haunt me sometimes as I walk home in the crisp cold.

I think about ghosts a lot.  Not just because of Halloween, but because I like the idea of ghosts.  I like that so many people who are otherwise devoid of magical thinking sort of believe in them.  And I like that I am as qualified as anyone to define the rules of ghost hood.  I like believing that there are things I can’t see and can’t know.  Even living people can be ghosts in absentia.  Social media can make everyone you’re ‘friends’ with a ghost in your decision making process even when you’re alone, if you let them.  And I can haunt someone if I want, even while being alive (though it’s frowned upon).  Here’s a ghosty poem for you.  Do with it what you will.   (And by ‘what you will’ I obviously mean write a ghostly poem and haunt my inbox with it)

 

by John Philip Johnson

She kept its bones in a glass case
next to the recliner in the living room,
and sometimes thought she heard
him mewing, like a faint background music;
but if she stopped to listen, it disappeared.
Likewise with a nuzzling around her calves,
she’d reach absent-mindedly to scratch him,
but her fingers found nothing but air.
One day, in the corner of her eye,
slinking by the sofa, there was a shadow.
She glanced over, expecting it to vanish.
But this time it remained.
She looked at it full on. She watched it move.
Low and angular, not quite as catlike
as one might suppose, but still, it was him.
She walked to the door, just like in the old days,
and opened it, and met a whoosh of winter air.
She waited. The bones in the glass case rattled.
Then the cat-shadow darted at her,
through her legs, and slipped outside.
It mingled with the shadows of bare branches,
and leapt at the shadow of a bird.
She looked at the tree, but there was no bird.
Then he blended into the shadow of a bush.
She stood in the threshold, her hands on the door,
the sharp breeze ruffling the faded flowers
of her house dress, and she could feel
her own bones rattling in her body,
her own shadow trying to slip out.

Dreams

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“Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.”
Cheryl Strayed

I don’t always remember my dreams, but the ones I remember always seem to be telling me something, and often I believe them in a way that I can’t believe reality.  The other morning I woke in a strange place (I’ve been traveling a little bit) and recalled vividly being in a room with an arched ceiling with nooks in the walls rising all the way up, filled with all these different beautiful glowing blue and gold blown glass bottles.  So many I couldn’t count.  And I felt completely loved when I woke. As I am writing this, I understand that my dream was perhaps telling me that I am surrounded by walls of fragile vessels (I think that’s all of you, my dears), that are providing light for me, but also require my care.  What a gift from my subconscious.

The night before my father died–he died across the world, so I was likely dreaming as he died–I dreamed of storms.  I woke, went back to sleep, fell into the same dream.  After he died, he was in my dreams often–though as soon as I asked him a question, he disappeared.  It was through a dream, months later, that he finally convinced me that he was really gone.  I woke up weeping. Tears had eluded me for the most part up until that point, but on this trip, away from my responsibilities, in the company of someone I felt safe with, my mind finally allowed me to feel his death for the first time.  I trust my dreams, because I trust my unconscious self–the parts of me that aren’t constantly looking for a grounds and justification for my instincts.  In my dreams I just know. There’s a great Carl Jung quote (that I don’t feel like looking up, so I’ll paraphrase) about how it is likely that we are constantly dreaming, but our conscious minds are too loud for us to get the messages from our dreams while we’re awake. I love that idea.

Below is a fantastic poem about dreams. Ask yourself four questions about dreams and answer them with authority. The authority is key, I think. The asserting knowledge. Here are my four questions (which you are welcome to use):

What do you thirst for in that quiet space between wakefulness?

When you dream of the dead do they dream of you too?

What dreams to you wish to press into the sleeping eyes of your children?

What name do you call yourself by in your dreams?

Four Questions Regarding the Dreams of Animals

by Susan Stewart

 

1. Is it true that they dream?

It is true, for the spaces of night surround them with shape and purpose, like a warm hollow below the shoulders, or between the curve of thigh and belly.
The land itself can lie like this. Hence our understanding of giants.
The wind and the grass cry out to the arms of their sleep as the shore cries out, and buries its face in the bruised sea.
We all have heard barns and fences splintering against the dark with a weight that is more than wood.
The stars, too, bear witness. We can read their tails and claws as we would read the signs of our own dreams; a knot of sheets, scratches defining the edges of the body, the position of the legs upon waking.
The cage and the forest are as helpless in the night as a pair of open hands holding rain.

2. Do they dream of the past or of the future?

Think of the way a woman who wanders the roads could step into an empty farmhouse one afternoon and find a basket of eggs, some unopened letters, the pillowcases embroidered with initials that once were hers.
Think of her happiness as she sleeps in the daylilies; the air is always heaviest at the start of dusk.
Cows, for example, find each part of themselves traveling at a different rate of speed. Their bells call back to their burdened hearts the way a sparrow taunts an old hawk.
As far as the badger and the owl are concerned, the past is a silver trout circling in the ice. Each night he swims through their waking and makes his way back to the moon.
Clouds file through the dark like prisoners through an endless yard. Deer are made visible by their hunger.
I could also mention the hopes of common spiders: green thread sailing from an infinite spool, a web, a thin nest, a child dragging a white rope slowly through the sand.

3. Do they dream of this world or of another?

The prairie lies open like a vacant eye, blind to everything but the wind. From the tall grass the sky is an industrious map that bursts with rivers and cities. A black hawk waltzes against his clumsy wings, the buzzards grow bored with the dead.
A screendoor flapping idly on an August afternoon or a woman fanning herself in church; this is how the tails of snakes and cats keep time even in sleep.
There are sudden flashes of light to account for. Alligators, tormented by knots and vines, take these as a sign of grace. Eagles find solace in the far glow of towns, in the small yellow bulb a child keeps by his bed. The lightning that scars the horizon of the meadow is carried in the desperate gaze of foxes.
Have other skies fallen into this sky? All the evidence seems to say so.
Conspiracy of air, conspiracy of ice, the silver trout is thirsty for morning, the prairie dog shivers with sweat. Skeletons of gulls lie scattered on the dunes, their beaks still parted by whispering. These are the languages that fall beyond our hearing.
Imagine the way rain falls around a house at night, invisible to its sleepers. They do not dream of us.

4. How can we learn more?

This is all we will ever know.

The poem linked below is from What is This Thing Called Love by Kim Addonizio (which if you’ve been hanging around me lately you know I’m always carrying around and ordering for other people–I ordered my third copy yesterday). I have had almost exactly the dream she details here, though mine was several pieces of paper, that I was risking everything to catch up to. You could write to that instead, if you like. You know, write whatever you want. You know, just write. And send me your writing if you like. I got four poems in my inbox this week. I was overjoyed. FOUR. If you didn’t send me one of those four, you are on the hook, baby.

In Dreams by Kim Addonizio

Mothers, mothers mothers…

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I’ve been thinking about mothers and motherhood–I mean, sure, we all have–it’s the most important, complicated relationship in our lives, isn’t it? But I’ve been thinking about it more than usual. As a mother, and as a child. You know when there’s a concept that you’re thinking about and everything else you read and see seems to come back to that? I’m there with motherhood, in this really full-body way. We’ve always had a complicated thing, me and my mother, not in a particularly difficult way, but because we are so different and so similar and from two different cultures and from the same culture. I love that lady very, very deeply–my very existence feels so dependent on her. When I was a child I would check her breathing in the night. (There, I told you something super weird about me as a kid, that’s the emotional equivalent of being blood brothers) Even now, when she is so far away and not part of my daily life, the thought of the fact of her mortality can bring tears to my eyes. Yesterday Hurricane was calculating what her age would be when he graduates high school, and I had to go find something else to do.

But as tethered as I am to her, I wonder whether I know her at all. Whether I see her at all. Whether the mask she wears, of mother, of my mother blinds me from actually knowing her. What a shame that would be. A few years agp, I came across the poet Marge Piercy through this 4 part poem, “My Mother’s Body” which destroyed me. I had to read it over several months. Seriously. Had to put the print out down and walk away. Here’s section 3 below. Holy. Shit. Right? Read that last stanza–“My twin, my sister, my lost love,/I carry you in me like an embryo/as once you carried me.” Right? How are you carrying your mother in you? What parts of your personality, your mannerisms, the way you fold socks or scrape a plate or lay out your clothes or navigate the world have been passed down. This is inclusive of men here–so don’t you dudes act like this ain’t a prompt for you.

Send me your poems, I’ll send you my love. Actually even if you don’t send me poems, I’m sending love. It’s the only thing I know to do when the world is constantly repeating its own mistakes. I learned it from my mom.

From “My Mother’s Body,” By Marge Piercy

3.

What is this mask of skin we wear,
what is this dress of flesh,
this coat of few colors and little hair?

This voluptuous seething heap of desires
and fears, squeaking mice turned up
in a steaming haystack with their babies?

This coat has been handed down, an heirloom
this coat of black hair and ample flesh,
this coat of pale slightly ruddy skin.

This set of hips and thighs, these buttocks
they provided cushioning for my grandmother
Hannah, for my mother Bert and for me

and we all sat on them in turn, those major
muscles on which we walk and walk and walk
over the earth in search of peace and plenty.

My mother is my mirror and I am hers.
What do we see? Our face grown young again,
our breasts grown firm, legs lean and elegant.

Our arms quivering with fat, eyes
set in the bark of wrinkles, hands puffy,
our belly seamed with childbearing,

Give me your dress that I might try it on.
Oh it will not fit you mother, you are too fat.
I will not fit you mother.

I will not be the bride you can dress,
the obedient dutiful daughter you would chew,
a dog’s leather bone to sharpen your teeth.

You strike me sometimes just to hear the sound.
Loneliness turns your fingers into hooks
barbed and drawing blood with their caress.

My twin, my sister, my lost love,
I carry you in me like an embryo
as once you carried me.

A Right to a New Voice

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Friends, that picture above is me, in 1981.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has recorded a commencement speech to be played at Goddard College’s graduation this weekend. I don’t know what happened in that incident in Philadelphia three decades ago. I wasn’t there. I’d venture that nobody reading this was.

Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the police officer shot and killed in that incident, is still very sad. Nothing that anyone can say or do (or not say or not do) will change that. Her husband, who she loved when she was a very young woman, is dead. The life they imagined for themselves never came to be. Grief is a solitary conversation. I know a little bit about it, I know that it has no expiration date, there’s a part of you that stays in the moment you lost someone you thought you’d have forever.

I also know that three decades is a long time. Plenty of time to change the course of your life, plenty of time to learn new things, to write books, to contribute to your community, to discover truths that no one else has discovered.

My work, my life–my belief system–hinges on the capacity of a human being to grow and transform. That the entire conversation about a man who has lived an extraordinary life, who has accomplished an extraordinary amount under some of the very worst circumstances any American citizen is forced to live in, is about none of that, but rather about something that he denies doing three decades ago, is terrifying. Do we want to live in a society where we cannot accept the human capacity for transformation? Where voices are silenced?

I witness people changing daily. Sometimes they tell me things that break my heart. Sometimes they tell me the worst things they have done and wait for me to flinch, to turn away from them. They wait for me to confirm their worst suspicion: that they cannot be forgiven. That they have done things that are so awful they have nothing good to give. 22 veterans commit suicide everyday, many of them believing just that. But we have the most to learn from people who have been to the edge of the human experience. People who have suffered and have witnessed suffering, who have overcome violence that originates in themselves and violence from outside of themselves. We have things to learn from Mumia.

Lots has happened since 1981. Let’s talk about some of that.

Congratulations, 2014 Goddard College Graduates. You’ve come a long way too.

Edited to add the link to his address.

Changing Stories

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The amazing Kate Gale ran workshops for us last week. She shared some poems she loves, read us some of her own incredible work and then challenged us to rewrite our own stories. Kate shared this incredible poem by Brynn Saito (linked here at Drunken Boat), and another poem by Saito. Kate’s prompt was about writing a new story so you know where you want this arc to go. But I don’t know if I’m quite ready for that. I might need to go back and rewrite the old ones first. Be sure that I’ve not thrown out the baby with the bath water.
What strikes me so much about the poem below is its sweetness. Dear story, dear lover, you are beautiful and I chose you with my eyes open, but now I must go. You are the one who gave me the courage, ‘told me I was wild’ but that very thing that you awoke in me is what I must honor by leaving. But not without gratitude for your gifts. No blame. A very peaceful thing. It is what every goodbye should be. So before I can write my next story, I have some peace to make, some good to remember, some gifts to reopen and put on the mantle.

What is the thing you must walk away from? What era in your life must you leave behind? You were there for a reason, some good came of it. Hold that. Whether it’s a person, or a time, or a battle, or a job, or even a feeling, write to it as if it can hear you. Write to it with gratitude for lessons learned.

I wish you peace and a capacity for gratitude. Be well, keep writing, keep sending me poems. This world is large, but

The Palace of Contemplating Departure

You wandered through my life like a backwards wish
when I was readying for deliverance.

I was ready for release
like a pinball in God’s mouth
like charanga on Tuesdays
like the summer in Shanghai

when we prayed for a rainstorm
and bartered our shame, then we tore open oranges
with four dirty thumbs.

And the forecast said Super
so we chartered a yacht
and we planted a garden on the unbending prow

but the sea said Surrender
with its arms full of salt, and wind shook the seeds
from our shirt coat pockets

so when we washed up on the shoreline of sunlight
near the city of wind
we were broken and thin, like wraiths at a wake.

But you tilted your head up and told me I was wild
so I lifted my life
and I lifted your life

and we wandered through the gate of radiant days
then we married our splendor
in the hall of bright rule.

And I thank you again: you gave madness a chance
and you lassoed the morning
and we met on a Tuesday
in a dance hall in Shanghai
and I left you in a leap year for the coveted shoreline

and you wept like a book when it’s pulled from a well.

But you were the one who told me I was wild
and you were the one who wrestled the angel

and I knew when I left you
that courage was a choice
and memory, a spear,
and the X of destination is etched on my iris
and shifts with the seasons—

don’t think of the phoenix, think of the mountain.

But where will I go now with my tireless wonder?
And when will I again be brave like that?< />

Monotone

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I’m trying to memorize some of my own poems, which is an interesting and embarassing exercise. Like: not only do I think my words are so important that I have to write them down, but I also think you should read them and now–holy self-importance–I’m repeating them to myself over and over again all day long. I only started to do this with poems that I’m pretty satisfied with and intend to share at readings and such. But as I’ve been spending time with these poems, I’ve been finding little and big changes to make–as big as the ordering of stanzas, as little as changing individual words here and there. I was talking to a group of friends who are performers just before I started this process, and everyone shared a slightly different system for their own memorizing. I came home and tried bits of them all (because I have really smart friends). One suggestion was to attempt to memorize in monotone. While I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why that’s a good idea, I think in terms of editing poetry it might be particularly useful. If we are trying to create pieces of writing that will translate from the page and into the minds of the reader, we must imagine the most apathetic reader and start from there, right (I suppose an alternative is to find a teenager who is chronically bored and have him/her read it aloud).

Below is my mother’s favorite poem, the very first poem I remember memorizing. It is impossible to read this in monotone. The word choice requires you to slow and speed as Frost wants you to. We’ve done an exercise with this poem in writing workshops in the past, passing the poem around the room and having each person read it in turn. It is an exercise inspired by Denise Levertov’s “The Poet in the World.” Participants definitely looked at me like I was nuts, but when we got to about the fourth person, the skepticism began to fade away, and the readings were more and more sincere and simultaneously playful. But the poem withstood the test of accents, gender, reading speed–you name it. Try reading the below in monotone and see what I mean. Or tell me you disagree and that I’m an idiot. I can handle it.

This week I want you to listen to your own poems again and again–one that you’re really happy with, or one that you’ve been struggling with–either way. Repeat, repeat, repeat–read the poem aloud ten times, waiting at least a minute between readings so you’re sure to actually listen through. Get the sounds right, make edits.

Two final points:

1. Glamping (glamorous camping) is made even more glamorous when you get to go hang out with your awesome friends in the woods and then come home and sleep in your own bed. Above picture is from said “glamping” trip, near the power lines. Because these are city woods, people.

2. Why is Trombone Shorty so good? Do any of you care to make an introduction? I bet we’d get along so well, and I know he’s in town…

Now get serious, you slackers.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
BY ROBERT FROST
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I can’t do this

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I’ve been having some really serious “I can’t do this” moments lately.  The voice in my head has been saying, with some frequency, in the past few weeks, Why does anyone care, why do you care, why can’t you just be happy with life the way it is and stop trying to do more stuff and why do you need to write books too?  Why don’t you just garden?  Dig up weeds and feel proud that the weeds are dug up.  Shower the dirt off your skin, remove it from underneath your fingernails and go to bed feeling like you did a day of good work.  That sounds nice, that sounds simple.  That sounds like an ordinary Saturday.  Do you know that some people have ordinary Saturdays, Seema?  I don’t think watering your plants would make you cry.  And you and your kids could eat the plants, if you planted the right ones.  Wouldn’t that be a good hobby?  Good luck eating f-ing poems, Seema, you idiot.  You picked an awesome, useful passion.  

And so on.  The reason is this: I have some difficult writing to do.  And I don’t want to do it.  I’m embarrassed by the mistakes I’ve made, I’m regretful of things.

I read the poem below, by Mohja Kahf this morning.  The thing about being embarrassed by someone you love is that for an instant–you are putting what you believe to be true about the opinions of strangers over what you know to be true about someone you love.  It happens all the time as a parent, as a child, as the friend of someone who speaks their mind about their bodily functions in the grocery store and you’d rather they didn’t.  I’m trying to outgrow it.  I haven’t.  But this poem reminded me so much of all of that, and all the ways in which revisiting things with the wisdom of experience and then sharing them with the world can be an extraordinary gift to anyone who stumbles upon that honesty on a poetry app (a real, worthwhile thing you ought to get) or in a book.  How then the same person can go into her day and feel a responsibility to handle it a little more honestly and be a little better because some poet wrote down some spectacular shit and gave it to the world.  So I’m gonna do this.  And it’s going to suck.  But you’ll be there, won’t you?  Doing the same thing with the little corners of your life?  Writing down the embarrassing thing your Moms did and sending it to me in image-laden staggered lines?  That’s your prompt.

It seems like everywhere I go, the more I see, the less I know.  But I know one thing.  I love you. (Been listening to the hell out of that song–trying to make it the family anthem, the kids aren’t into it, and hate how I sing it at the top of my lungs. Jerks)

 

MY GRANDMOTHER WASHES HER FEET IN THE SINK OF THE BATHROOM AT SEARS
By Mohja Kahf

My grandmother puts her feet in the sink
of the bathroom at Sears
to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,
wudu ,
because she has to pray in the store or miss
the mandatory prayer time for Muslims
She does it with great poise, balancing
herself with one plump matronly arm
against the automated hot-air hand dryer,
after having removed her support knee-highs
and laid them aside, folded in thirds,
and given me her purse and her packages to hold
so she can accomplish this august ritual
and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares

Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown
as they notice what my grandmother is doing,
an affront to American porcelain,
a contamination of American Standards
by something foreign and unhygienic
requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray
They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see
a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom

My grandmother, though she speaks no English,
catches their meaning and her look in the mirror says,
I have washed my feet over Iznik tile in Istanbul
with water from the world’s ancient irrigation systems
I have washed my feet in the bathhouses of Damascus
over painted bowls imported from China
among the best families of Aleppo
And if you Americans knew anything
about civilization and cleanliness,
you’d make wider washbins, anyway
My grandmother knows one culture—the right one,

as do these matrons of the Middle West. For them,
my grandmother might as well have been squatting
in the mud over a rusty tin in vaguely tropical squalor,
Mexican or Middle Eastern, it doesn’t matter which,
when she lifts her well-groomed foot and puts it over the edge.
“You can’t do that,” one of the women protests,
turning to me, “Tell her she can’t do that.”
“We wash our feet five times a day,”
my grandmother declares hotly in Arabic.
“My feet are cleaner than their sink.
Worried about their sink, are they? I
should worry about my feet!”
My grandmother nudges me, “Go on, tell them.”

Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see
at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,
all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent
in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum
Even now my grandmother, not to be rushed,
is delicately drying her pumps with tissues from her purse
For my grandmother always wears well-turned pumps
that match her purse, I think in case someone
from one of the best families of Aleppo
should run into her—here, in front of the Kenmore display

I smile at the midwestern women
as if my grandmother has just said something lovely about them
and shrug at my grandmother as if they
had just apologized through me
No one is fooled, but I

hold the door open for everyone
and we all emerge on the sales floor
and lose ourselves in the great common ground
of housewares on markdown.

The Thing Is

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I put the kibosh on video games for the weekend and the kids were pissed. They were so pissed that they were hell-bent on being miserable. They were so hell-bent on being miserable, they almost succeeded. But they didn’t, because life is awesome and full of wonder. Even when you’re fourteen and no one understands you. Even when you’re eight and it seems like your mom is hardly ever around and when she is she’s obsessed with vegetable eating. The lesson that I keep having to teach them (and myself) is that the decision to be miserable and the effort it takes to uphold that decision will almost always cost you more than it costs anyone else. And there’s enough in the world designed to make you miserable, you don’t have to actively engineer misery (I say this, but believe me, I do plenty of searching out misery myself). The difficult, necessary thing is to reach–for miracles, for love, for laughter and forgiveness. I work hard to remind myself to look through kaleidoscopes, to marvel at ordinary magic, to believe in possibilities, to dream and trust my dreams and be amazed by my own mind. To want what’s good and believe I can have it.

The picture above is an evolved piece of artwork at Goddard College. One person whose name will not be mentioned, wrote Seema wouldn’t wanna be ya. Another kind soul added the “I heart.” I wrote that pictogram of how I’d spell my name if I were a little less literate (C+a drawing of a Ma). And the wise woman poet Shomriel Sherman (click on the link and sign up and read some of her wisdom) posed with it. The thing I love best about being a poet is that other poets send me poems (also that I get to write staggered sentences when I’m too full of emotion to focus on grammar). Shomriel sent me this poem, The Thing Is by Ellen Bass, which came just as I needed it, just as I was ready to succumb to the grief. Poets know.* I have shared this poem with lots of people since, and it keeps renewing me. So I share it with you, and I invite you to write one entitled “The Thing Is” about the thing you do to part the curtain of grief and let the light through, no matter how many times you’re kicked in the (literal or metaphorical) dick.

The Thing Is
by Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

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he doesn’t look miserable at all, does he?
 

*My belief that poets know can get dangerous, because then I believe that I know something, but actually I don’t always. Sometimes what I want gets confused with what I know. Maybe I should say OTHER poets know to be more accurate.

Do I Seem Invincible?

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In case you haven’t noticed: I screw up. I lose my temper and I am insecure and I give up on things because I get scared and then I regret it and then I fight to get them back and then I think maybe I was right in the first place. I embarrass myself when I drink too much, feel hurt when none was intended, turn hysterical sometimes. None of that means that I don’t also work hard, love fiercely and earn deep love and respect from people I admire. It doesn’t mean I’m not talented and hilarious and great company. Allowing the places I am cracked to catch the light is terrifying and essential. And allowing the places where I give off light to shine freely without apologizing for that shine is essential too.

We are husbands, wives, mothers, sons, brothers, sisters, survivors, failures, successes. But the space between how we actually inhabit those roles and the lofty connotations of those labels leaves us feeling as though we are impostors, as though we’re not living up to some standard of manliness or motherliness or even kindness or friendship, because we’re not perfect. But nobody is, no matter how unshakable they may seem. Everyone hates the people they are supposed to love sometimes, everyone feels terrified that people are going to find out how little they actually know. But each of us simultaneously has an immense capacity for grace and love, we each know things no one else knows quite as well. We can inhabit strength and weakness simultaneously. In fact, we can’t NOT. Writing this poem is about claiming that gray space, giving it voice. What if we all did that? Wouldn’t it be easier to live in a world where no one expects perfection, but is instead grateful for honest vulnerability? That’s the world I want to live in. Shit, that’s the world I’m gonna live in. Starting right here, with you.

The poem below is from a Warrior Writers’ anthology (that handsome devil chillin’ with me is Kevin Basl, a kickass writer who edited the anthology and wrote its stunning foreword). Their fourth anthology is beautiful and full of art and writing that will change your world. Buy it here. Let me know what you think.

“American Soldier” by Michael Anthony

(Inspired by a Carol Wimmer poem)

When I say…I am an American Soldier
I’m not shouting I’m better than you,
I’m whispering, I was a boy and now find myself a man.

When I say…I am an American Soldier
I speak not only of this with pride
I’m also confessing that I stumble, make mistakes,
And need competent leadership to help guide me,
So I in turn, can be a competent leader.

When I say…I am an American Soldier
I’m not trying to be strong,
I am professing that I am weak
And need the strength of my peers and country,
To help carry me on.

When I say…I am an American Soldier
I am not bragging of past successes
I’m admitting that I have failed in the past
Admitted the mistakes, and tried to right the wrongs.

When I say…I am an American Soldier
I’m not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible
But my country needs me, and I soldier on.

When I say…I am an American Soldier
I can still feel the sting of pain,
From seeing those I care about die,
While we fight for those we love.
I have my share of heartaches,
So I call upon the American people,
To help guide our soldiers, when home.

When I say…I am an American Soldier
I’m not saying anything,
I’m just a simple man,
Who was called upon by his country…
To fight.

So the prompt is to write extensively about a single role you play or the multiple roles you have, in stanzas shaped like this:

When I say I am…
I’m not saying…
I’m saying…
(expand on the above, with a metaphor for bonus points)

Super Moon

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I am in Plainfield, Vermont this week (via Brattleboro, where I got to have a brief dip into the beautiful world of my sweet friends Emma and Mike). Yesterday I drove with new and old friends up and up unfamiliar roads to find the best view of the ‘Super Moon’ cresting–our same old beautiful, constant moon, appearing larger and clearer on the horizon. The entire experience was a poem: listening to a radio station based on Ignition Remix by R. Kelly on Spotify, the repeated backing up and changing course as we sought out our spot, the silliness of serious people, the wildflowers growing on the mountainside. The pleasure of easy companionship found on a simple, sudden expedition. Here’s a little rough poem about it, inspired by that adventure and also by Twilight by Henri Cole (at the bottom). Every meaningful experience is a metaphor, an echo of the larger things you are experiencing and understanding but you don’t have to force it, which can get intimidating. Write with specificity about some experience in nature, and see what emerges. Then edit and strengthen.

Much peace, my dears. I’m away this week, so response time might be slower than usual, but you know I love poems in my inbox no matter where in the world I happen to be.

Super Moon
For Anna, who suggested the expedition

This rented minivan churns rocks
from unfamiliar mountain roads we travel
in search of a different view of the same moon
who followed us each down faraway streets
while our clumsy childhoods unfolded.

There are no directions to follow,
no single well-lit road sign leads us
to a marked vantage point,
announcing that we have arrived.

We borrow a field from people who never left this place,
have watched the seasons of these mountains
for all their years.

When we return to our temporary lodging
inches closer to ourselves, we drink cider
and marvel at the speed of objects moving across the sky
wondering if we’ll know whether we reached the highest point,
not sure we’d ever want anything to look the same every night.

Twilight BY HENRI COLE
There’s a black bear
in the apple tree
and he won’t come down.
I can hear him panting,
like an athlete.
I can smell the stink
of his body.

Come down, black bear.
Can you hear me?

The mind is the most interesting thing to me;
like the sudden death of the sun,
it seems implausible that darkness will swallow it
or that anything is lost forever there,
like a black bear in a fruit tree,
gulping up sour apples
with dry sucking sounds,

or like us at the pier, somber and tired,
making food from sunlight,
you saying a word, me saying a word, trying hard,
though things were disintegrating.
Still, I wanted you,
your lips on my neck,
your postmodern sexuality.
Forlorn and anonymous:
I didn’t want to be that. I could hear
the great barking monsters of the lower waters
calling me forward.

You see, my mind takes me far,
but my heart dreams of return.
Black bear,
with pale-pink tongue
at the center of his face,
is turning his head,
like the face of Christ from life.
Shaking the apple boughs,
he is stronger than I am
and seems so free of passion—
no fear, no pain, no tenderness. I want to be that.

Come down, black bear,
I want to learn the faith of the indifferent.

Henri Cole, “Twilight” from Blackbird and Wolf. Copyright © 2008 by Henri Cole.