Tribes

 

The picture above was one I took from the back corner of an auditorium where I was lucky to get a place to sit on the floor, with my back against the wall, behind the speakers, to hear some of my literary heroes talk about process and feminism and the body in literature.  That crowd, which made the room uncomfortably warm, was also a really beautiful thing–all those people willing to cram together to listen to a conversation that is so dear to my heart, a conversation that I couldn’t even begin to have with most of the dearest people in my life.  That’s the thing about this conference–on the one hand it makes me feel unbelievably lonely and lost to be in such a crowd and on the other hand it makes me feel like I’m lost along with some other really cool people.  Because it’s National Poetry Month, I’m going to make a little bit of a leap to connect my first poetry love to this post.

I got “My Wicked, Wicked Ways,” a book of poems by Sandra Cisneros from my mother when I was thirteen.  I think it’s clear she didn’t read it before giving it to me–I was a huge fan of Cisneros’ work and this was the book I did not have.  When I was eighteen and just married (that’s right–eighteen and married), I lent it to a friend and never got it back.  When I was twenty-nine and divorcing, someone I love gave me a new copy.  

That year I went to AWP, a conference that is magical and dreadful by turn, and got it signed by Sandra Cisneros herself.  She hugged me (she hugged everyone, but that doesn’t make it less special). 

When I read the book again, some smoke of a past self rose from the pages.  Rereading something that impacted you can do that, like a ghost of some other self is sitting next to you.   In the preface poem (below), she characterizes these poems as coming from a chunk of her life, a “Who-I-Was-Then,” which I think encourages honesty which then (you know where this is going) defeats shame. Because we make mistakes, and we try to grow and change and learn and do better. We can be held hostage by the lapses, or we give that era a name (“The girl grief decade”) and then try to figure out what we were trying to figure out during that time, by doing those things.  

You came here for a writing prompt, so here it is.  Read the poem below.  Then set the timer for 20 minutes and think about the height of your self destruction.  Remember?  How you used to be WAY worse than you are now.  What was that person running from?  What were they searching for?  Who were they trying not to be?  Was there a turning point, a moment you knew, not because someone told you, but because something clicked into place, that you needed to make some changes?  Write about that too.  You can do anything for 20 minutes, quit being a baby.

One day, you will look back on these days that you’re living now and be able to see a story emerge from this too.  I promise.   

PREFACE

“I can live alone and I love to work.” –Mary Cassatt  
“Allí esta el detalle.”—Cantinflas

 
 

Gentleman, ladies.  If you please–
these

are my wicked poems from when.

 The girl grief decade.  My wicked nun

 years, so to speak.  I sinned.

 

 Not in the white-woman way.

 Not as Simone voyeuring the pretty

 slum city on a golden arm. And no,

 

not wicked like the captain of the bad

boy blood, that Hollywood hood-

 lum who boozed and floozed it up,

hell-bent on self-destruction. Not me.

 Well. Not much. Tell me,

 

 how does a woman who.

 A woman like me. Daughter of

a daddy with a hammer and blistered feet

he’d dip into a washtub while he ate his dinner.

 A woman with no birthright in the matter.

 

What does a woman inherit

 that tells her how

 to go?

 

My first felony—I took up with poetry.

For this penalty the rice burned.

Mother warned I’d never wife.

 

 Wife? A woman like me

 whose choice was rolling pin or factory.

 An absurd vice, this wicked wanton

 writer’s life.

 

I chucked the life

my father’d plucked for me.

Leapt into the salamander fire.

A girl who’d never roamed

beyond her father’s rooster eye.

Winched the door with poetry and fled.

For good. And grieved I’d gone

when I was so alone.

 

In my kitchen, in the thin hour,

a calendar Cassatt chanted:
Repeat after me—

I can live alone and I love to…

What a crock. Each week, the ritual grief.

That decade of the knuckled knocks.

 

I took the crooked route and liked my badness.

Played at mistress.

Tattooed an ass.

Lapped up my happiness from a glass.

It was something, at least.

 

I hadn’t a clue.

 

What does a woman

willing to invent herself

at twenty-two or twenty-nine

do? A woman with no who nor how.

And how was I to know what was unwise.

 

I wanted to be writer. I wanted to be happy.

What’s that? At twenty. Or twenty-nine.

Love. Baby. Husband.

The works. The big palookas of life.

Wanting and not wanting.

Take your hands off me.

 

I left my father’s house

before the brothers,

vagabonded the globe

like a rich white girl.

Got a flat.

I paid for it. I kept it clean.

Sometimes the silence frightened me.

Sometimes the silence blessed me.

 

It would come get me.

Late at night.

Open like a window,
 
hungry for my life.

 

I wrote when I was sad.

The flat cold.

When there was no love—

new, old—

to distract me.

No six brothers

with their Fellini racket.

No mother, father,

with their wise I told you.

 

I tell you,

these are the pearls

from that ten-year itch,

my jewels, my colicky kids

who fussed and kept

me up the wicked nights

when all I wanted was. . . 
With nothing in the texts to tell me.

 

But that was then,

The who-I-was who would become the who-I-am.

 These poems are from that hobbled when.

 

                                      11th of June, 1992

                                            Hydra, Greece

Teaching

20140624-144926-53366709.jpg

Last week someone said, “You act like you love us.”

I assure you, I am not acting.  I love you.  Not ALL of you (there are some assholes, and I doubt they’re reading this), but anyone who feels my love is feeling it because it’s there.  Because I value your journey and know that if you have arrived here, hell-bent on getting better, asking questions that make me work harder to master my own questions, you will get better–we both will.  I told someone wonderful last week, and again today (perhaps you are here reading this), “You’re going to be okay.”  I said it without a hint of doubt.  In fact I had no doubt.  Have no doubt.  If you want to get better, you will.  It won’t be tomorrow.  And it won’t be without some slipping and some darkness. but it will come.  I am proud to know you, am terrified of this brief responsibility I have, am grateful for what I am learning about the capacity of the human heart through watching yours expand and heal itself.

I don’t love because it’s my job.  Nowhere in my job description does it say to love anyone.  I love because even in your darkness, your light shines through.  Even when you can’t see it.  So read the poem below.  Write “Try to praise the mutilated world” then write “Remember…” do it again and again.  Remember that there was a time when you felt light, when you saw beauty and witnessed evidence of the capacity of people to be good, to do good.  Know that you yourself are someone’s evidence of beauty.

 

BY ADAM ZAGAJEWSKI

TRANSLATED BY CLARE CAVANAGH

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

 

Evidence Based?

  

Earlier this week, I was honored to recieve an awesome award from the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore and my handsome tuxedo-clad son took this picture of me. There was something about the experience that felt kind of like being at my own funeral.  I don’t know how to explain that further, but I think the picture above might go some distance toward explaining it.

The next morning, while the darlings slept fast in the darkened hotel room, I woke up as usual at 5:30 (sweetheart, the to do list and the writing brain do not give an F*** about your award) and I took my bag of books to the lobby and drank coffee in the parallel company of all kinds of lovely strangers.  My favorite was a very nicely dressed older gentleman telling his wife, “I think I’m still tipsy.”  I was even (I’m pretty sure) in one family portrait.  But most of all, most of all, most of all, I finished “Raising Lazarus,” by Blair Justice and J. Pittman McGehee.  I am sad that I have read all that they had to say to me.  As you know, if you are visiting me here, I’m very interested in how we know what we know, and who exactly gets to decide that our methods of knowing are valid (or not). And why it is that we so often don’t trust what we know. I can experience a story giving me chills, or have a dream that tells me something important, or feel better after dancing around with my dearest, littlest, bestest friend.  But I still rely on validation by research and am quoting the articles that report, through blood draws and physicists, and a control group, that stories can affect our emotions, that we have a connection to a universal psyche and wisdom, that dancing and laughter and being with someone you love makes you feel good.  

Why do we put so much time and effort (and millions of dollars) into proving what we already know to be true, so we can then beg for the thousands of dollars necessary to convince people to do these things, which they have forgotten they already know.  What is this?

And by the way: Ma, I miss you.  Nobody else has talked to me in days either, I’m sorry.  I return to the world tomorrow.

So your prompt is to read the poem below and then, as in the second stanza below, ask a question and then answer it with complete confidence. For example:  

How do I know you will write to this prompt?

Because question marks are invitations.

You all know how to hit a girl’s inbox with poems.  Do it.

Making a Fist

Naomi Shihab Nye

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern
past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my
questions,

clenching and opening one small hand.


On the Backs of Mistakes

  

This week I had writing groups with people interested in learning from me and one another, poems in my inbox, sunny days, Cinnamon Toast Crunch on sale at the grocery store.  I hung out with friends and family, made it to yoga, wrote some things.  Kids snuggled beside me.  My apartment is clean.  I did the laundry.  I got paid.  All the ingredients that should me feel really solid and grounded were there.  But this week there was a darkness and self-doubt that clouded my flow.  Darkness has a source as surely as light does.  And it takes a lot more to put it out.  It’s not at all like blowing out a candle, it’s more like uprooting something that keeps trying to grab you.  As I wrote about it and tried to find the source of my particular darkness, I realized that I’ve woken to nasty emails from my ex-husband many mornings this week.  And while I don’t really believe the things he says about me, I am susceptible to them; they burrow into my psyche, remind me of that powerless self doubt, the person I used to be, the mistakes I’ve made.  And when I have to respond (because amid all the nastiness are real things we have to discuss as coparents) I find myself doing that old balancing act of trying to being true to myself and standing my ground but also trying not to make him angrier because we are so intertwined, and I know how willing he can be to feed his own flesh to the fire of his anger, how if I let myself be lost in the vortex, I can become charred myself.

I’m not telling you this so that you can be angry on my behalf, tell me that I’m none of the things he says I am.  My sister already did that.  I am writing this to remind you, and myself, that the mistakes we’ve made will continue to rise on occasion, will continue to be a source of darkness, and our work will often be writing to discover which of our many mistakes is darkening our minds today.  My poet friend Shomriel (you’ve heard tell of her) sent me the poem below in the middle of the week.  “You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,” is your starting line.  Set a timer for 20 minutes and write.  Discover the source(s)) of your darkness, and continue the long work of putting it out, or at least containing it.  It’s long, difficult work, that will leave you scratched and bruised and tired.  It’s your life’s work.  And mine.

Best of luck, my dears.  I’m with you.

Antilamentation 
by Dorriane Laux

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering
any of it. Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

Keep Showing Up

IMG_4919

It feels pretty good to accomplish big things, to complete projects we’ve started, to end a week of writing and creating art with a big, awesome performance as we did this week.  But it can also leave you feeling empty somehow.  A feeling of, Now what?   

I imagine some of the writers I worked with last week feel that way.  As though the burst of hyper-charged creative adrenaline dissipated and writing such strong work was a one time deal.  I feel that way whenever I finish something that I’m really happy with or something super awesome happens to me.  What if I never do it again?  What if that was the only piece of good writing I had in me?  What if being an extra in a Drake video was the absolute high point in my life?¹ What if Drake becomes less cool and I can’t use that story to impress people in bars?² 

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about it in her amazing TED talk about creativity.  If you haven’t watched it and you’re feeling stuck, you should.  I’ve watched it many times over the past few years.  Dean Young says, “Our poems are what the Gods couldn’t make without going through us.”  They propose that the things we create are not in fact, ours, but rather are given to us, if we’re in a position to accept them, we catch them³. By putting on all the gear–the mask the glove, the chest shield, the knee pads, and crouching in the dirt again and again.  By not surrendering to our spectacular failures (which will always outnumber our successes) or the fruitless days when we crouch and wait and get absolutely nowhere.  And on days like that, the days when my fingers seem to widely spaced to catch anything, I am gladdest for the simple device of the refrain, and all the material that develops when you create rhythm by just re-entering the poem again and again.  So read the below poem by Adrienne Rich and hear the incredible Mahogany L. Browne read her poem Working Title.  Then choose a refrain that acknowledges that you are trying to write a damn poem.  “I am writing this poem…”  “The name of this poem…” “I know you are reading this poem…”  Then set the timer for 20 minutes and write.

¹this is not actually true

²unlikely

³sports metaphor because I’m versatile

 

 

I know you are reading this poem 
late, before leaving your office 
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window 
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet 
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem 
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean 
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven 
across the plains’ enormous spaces around you. 
I know you are reading this poem 
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear 
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed 
and the open valise speaks of flight 
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem 
as the underground train loses momentum and before running 
up the stairs 
toward a new kind of love 
your life has never allowed. 
I know you are reading this poem by the light 
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide 
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada. 
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room 
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers. 
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light 
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out, 
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know 
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick 
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on 
because even the alphabet is precious. 
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove 
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your 
hand 
because life is short and you too are thirsty. 
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language 
guessing at some words while others keep you reading 
and I want to know which words they are. 
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn 
between bitterness and hope 
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse. 
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else 
left to read 
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.—Adrienne Rich, from An Atlas of the Difficult World

 

Spirit & Animals

 

20140521-184020-67220013.jpg

Above is my desk, as I came back to it after a few days out of the office sometime last year.  I can’t blame my wonderful colleagues and participants for the mess, but for grumpy cat and the mean portrait, and the mouse giving me a middle finger? I absolutely can.  Have I mentioned that I love my job?

I’m about to be out for a little bit again–starting Monday we’ll be doing a special weeklong workshop that will take me away from my regular sessions.  So this prompt is for anyone who’s going to miss writing as much as I’ll miss running the group.  It’s one that we’ve done before, but you’re not the same person you were last time you did it, so get writing even if you have done this one.  Metaphors and images make poems crackle, and if you’re writing a poem, you want to write one that makes people want to open their eyes and shield their hearts.  You want to surprise people so they pay attention in a way that’s unlike the way they pay attention to the ordinary world.  There are some words and images that we are sometimes drawn to but they are used so often nobody even hears them anymore.  The work is to wake your reader or listener with your words.

This is a prompt from Mindy Nettifee’s Glitter in the Blood, a really excellent book on poetry that will make your thoughts run in a million directions (in a good way).  The exercise is great for generating metaphors and impactful images, and so we use it in conjunction with “Elephants” from “When My Brother Was an Aztec” by the brilliant Natalie Diaz, who punches you hard with images in her work.  You can read the poem here.

So now that you’ve read the poem, I want you to make a list of things you’re struggling with. Next to that I want you to list an animal that each of those things reminds you of.  Next to that, jot down some characteristics of each animal–here in this process, you’ll discover that one metaphor comes the easiest, and that’s where you decide which one you’re going to write about.  Now cross out the middle column.  Write about the emotion as though it has the characteristics of the animal, but DO NOT NAME THE ANIMAL.

Here’s a quick, fairly obvious example:

My fear slithers through the grass, nearly soundless.

I know it is there, the grass moves slightly, I turn my head uncertain

lays slimy eggs in shallow holes it burrows in the landscape of my life

Time may wear its layers away, but a new skin emerges,

even without legs it keeps up with me.

Now guess what the animal is.  If you’re in a group, go ahead and read what you’ve written aloud, and take turns guessing.  You’ve got an image bank now, to work into a fuller poem, where you can use the name of the animal if that feels right.  Send me poems!

Seriously

I had a really serious day and then I decided to do a video blog post because…I’m not sure why, but it probably had something to do with this velour onesie I’m wearing and in this video I’m quoting Einstein (how’s that for serious) but also babbling and contradicting myself (I don’t want you to click the link and watch this and then be pissed that I wasted your time), the onesie is awesome though.

Seriously

And then I noticed this video I don’t remember making (almost exactly a year ago–2/26/2014) and clicked on it and thought, huh, I must have been having pretty much this exact kind of day a year ago, but handled it differently.  So there you are.  Exactly nowhere.

Sometimes I just want

 

This piece (an essay not a video), “Warnings for My Sons,” on The Manifest Station went live today.  It means a lot to me.  It’s all the problems I’m thinking about and trying to make peace with not solving in one essay.  Thanks for reading.

Gratitude

If you judge by the pictures I’ve chosen here, it looks like I went to Grad School with two other students, one teacher, and a bunch of taxidermied animals.  I assure you that’s not the case.  I didn’t have one particular picture that made me feel like I’d be giving you the whole picture of what “brain-on-fire” (in my dear friend Rania’s words) fun it is to study what I want to study in the presence of people who help me tease what seems so abstract and nebulous into sentences, and empower me to feel like it’s important–and push me to make it better.  It’s a privilege, and I know it.  And to rise to it, I will have to work harder than I want to sometimes, will have to balance the vastness of what’s going on inside my head with the tangible importance of what I have to do each day.  It is a luxury to be able to put my thoughts on paper–to have access to language, access to technology and a platform to have my words read and heard.

As I was writing my mother a note about the experience (I was woefully out of touch with her and everyone else during the week), I kept writing grateful–for the friends that got me through it, for the conversations, for the cleared sidewalks and warm, dry indoor surfaces, for the meals I didn’t have to prepare.  But I complain a lot, worry a lot, get in my head about whether I’m good enough, whether anyone gets what I’m trying to do.  If there were one thing we could all work on, in the place where our internal lives meet the external world, it’s gratitude.  A confluence of ancestor’s hard work, parental sacrifice and plain old good luck got me here.  Lots of stuff that has nothing to do with my personal ‘goodness’ or ‘worthiness’ or even intelligence has led me to these opportunities.  My responsibility, now that I have gotten here, is to learn how to get better and a huge part of that is listening carefully to the people around me and creating space to share the stage and page however I can.

BY JILL MCDONOUGH

English Composition at South Middlesex Correctional Center.
Julie reads out loud, and I praise her super thesis, then show
how her paragraphs veer away from it, just summarize.
And is she pissed! Too pissed to listen when her classmates try
to help. Amanda offers Act 2 Scene 1—”Now I do love her
too”—as evidence of Iago’s state of mind. But Julie’s
shutting down, frowning at her handwritten draft, writing
that took her weeks. Hey Julie, I say. Julie doesn’t look up.
Says What. Says I hate this stupid paper now. So I say
Hey JulieAmanda’s helping youwrite down
what she’s saying. She says I’m aggravated. I think
they take classes on naming their feelings. I say I know it
but you need to pull it togetheror you’ll end up screwing
yourselfThis is your chance. We’re all quiet, breathing
together, willing her to break out of this. Then:
a little miracle. I look around the room and see
that everyone is beautiful. Each did something special
with her hair. Hey, I say, again. I say hey a lot in prison.
Hey wait a minuteWhat’s up with everybody’s hair?
Mabel got a haircut. Ellie’s hair is long and black and gleaming
down her back, Amanda’s in French braids. Julie’s freshly
blonde, down to the roots. You guys all look great!
They laugh. They’re happy I noticed.
Thank god I noticed; now, for a minute, we
are women in a room, talking about their hair. Julie says
Amanda did her highlights, and Sandy blew it out. Good job, guys;
she looks great. And then I say, JulieLook at you
all pissed off over your paper when you’re so lucky!
Look at all these good friends you haveHelping
with your paper, doing your hair . . . She nods.
She looks me in the eye, back with us, back on track.
I know, she says. I need to work on my gratitude.

(null)

(null)

(null)

(null)

(null)

(null)

(null)

(null)

Nightmares and Heaven

(null)
Above is a picture of my older son in the setting of many of his childhood nightmares. We happened to visit a church that housed the school he went to preschool in and we snuck around into that hallway so that he could confront it. He was kind of astonished by how big he felt, how he had outgrown the nightmare. Some nightmares can be outgrown, others stay with us until they become reality, the nightmare serving as a reminder that the inevitable will come. One such nightmare for me is the death of my mother.
I think tonight’s nightmare was brought to me by (broadcaster voice) a poem shared with me this afternoon and my close friend’s mother being diagnosed with cancer. The poem, Heaven, or Whatever by Shane Koyczan made me cry during a writing group. In public. In front of other people. Understand this before you click it. But be brave and click it anyway.

When I woke, I sent my friend an email:

Thinking about you and how terrified you must be. I haven’t got any be strong, don’t worry, or this is how you navigate this things to say to you. I don’t know what words navigate something as slippery and scary as holding a lightning rod. I know you, and I know you will do it with grace.

And I suggest this: write her letters. Know what you need to say and say it, if even to yourself, and then act on it in your interactions with her. Regret is unfortunately the only thing that remains. I hate to say things like this to you, to ask you to breathe into the very places that hurt. But I wish someone had told me that.

Then I called my mother, halfway around the world, 3 am here being 3 pm there, and could barely get words out.

So I sent my mother this email:
In my dream I had one last day with you. And only kind of knew it. And we went on a drive in a sort of car, stopping everywhere that was strange but in the dream somewhat familiar and a part of your life. And I kept getting nervous-angry–when I got lost, when I didn’t have the correct change for toll, when the roads were narrow and suspended in the air like hammocks. And you were calm, and patient and joking (which sometimes made me more angry, as it does). But toward the end I realized that I would have to do all of it by myself from now on. And just before waking I turned to you and said, “Amma I’m so scared all the time. How will I do this by myself?”

And it’s true. I’m so scared all the time. I guess we all are, aren’t we?

So your prompt is to listen to that poem, bawl your eyes out, and then pull your shit together and love the people you love with the kind of fierceness you won’t regret. I’m always taking poems via email. Always loving you.

Faith

IMG_0958-0.JPG
I’ve been thinking about faith a lot lately. Faith that allows us to trust, to leap in the face of uncertainty. To allow others to catch us. To have faith that they will not let us fall. We do this all the time–whether we want to or not. As we navigate traffic, send our children to school, fall in love, tell our stories at open mics. Faith is belief that acknowledges the necessity of hope. Without my faith I could not cross the street in this soft body. Without the faith of the men and women in my writing groups–in me and in one another–we could not feel what we do, could not keep getting better.

All the good in the world runs on faith that is met with love. And our capacity to keep extending faith in spite of all the heartbreak and loss and unmet expectation, to keep feeling gratitude when it’s met by love–is perhaps the greatest case that could be made for faith.

On Sunday, I went to a reading by the divine powerhouse Elmaz Abinader and brought home a (signed!) copy of her newest collection of poems, This House, My Bones. It’s really something this book. To be read and read and read again. I like to be surprised by poems–nothing gimmicky, a gasp will do. These poems quietly surprise. And in it was the poem below.

Read this poem and then copy the title onto your page and record your own. What is faith? What evidence of faith have you witnessed, do you witness? What evidence of faith do you display? What terrifies you in the way it calls you to stand on the precipice, desperate to jump, desperate to believe, to fall?

That isn’t Faith, This is

for John Herman

You listen
more attentive than most
take mental notes
of where the knife
will enter your chest
where the underground
routes to your heart
have jammed
and need a bull
dozer to clear the way
replace the cables
resurge the flow

and you retell
it all like a good story
you heard maybe
from the person
sitting next to you
on the plane with
pictures, arrows
and instructions

and I find it funny
that of all the ideologies
that move through
our lives, the gods
false and divine,
the mantras and rosaries
the litanies and songs
the literatures and dogmas
we pray for that knife
to hit right

to not stray, for
the steadiness
of the hand that slips
a vessel from your
leg into your chest
that connects the tubes
like a master pipefitter
it’s a lot to expect

from someone and not
god who you may or may
not believe in, someone
who learns your name
ever so briefly, doesn’t
know what your heart
means and to whom.

I call it faith, letting
yourself sleep surrounded
by people you don’t know
giving your body to
their hands, exposing
the contents of your
heart the way you have
to so few or so many

and I hope that
your heart in their hands
knows a kindness
that strangers give
to one another in brave
circumstances: floods
births, confusion
and fear. This is all
we can believe. That
you may return
refueled and cloudless
love replaced with love
a heart come stronger.