Poem

Sounding 

August first and the crickets sing

in the late night breeze that slaps

shades against sills. I’m naked

in the dark, hands slipping over

oiled skin, brushing away cracks

and lines white with dryness.

A mosquito bite on my buttock

burns and itches with persistence

of death. My mother lay so long

abed that her skin wore thin

as hospital sheets, ate and ate

so hungrily at itself. “It won’t heal,”

her papery voice said, helpless

and toothless as a child. Lying here

in my sixty year old hide

the hurt is like a hole of its own,

full of wailing grief, black

as the night sky, unfathomable.

 

Poem

Borne Aloft like the Seed of Grace

Wind. Delicious, supple as a kiss,
as a shirt lifting. Like the one loved
and lost, tossed from where it dried
on the fence. In spring, green
cotton ruptured by ribs of grass.

Time slides around the sun, moon. Sky
arches, a great pelvis birthing this life.
Open your door. God flows in,
fragrant and flagrant as the lover
you’ve awaited. How the child arrives,
on waves of breath.

Bare yourself. Become the seed,
the song, naked in the lap of love.

A Valley Like This: Musings on Art in the Methow

The barista is a soprano.  The Chamber Music festival is sold out a week in advance.  The neo-traditionalist funk band concert by the Duhks has a few seats left.  Shakespeare is coming to town, both Will himself, and a children’s production of As You Like It.  A 10 year old fourth grader playing Silvius showed me his first lines, and explained the plot with its gender disguises and love themes.

Mahattan?

No.  Twisp.  A town of 900 nestled in the North Cascade Mountains.

A relative newcomer here, I’m watching for openings in the culture stream, auditioning to read poems for the second annual Mother’s Day show called The Mother Experience Project.   I’m looking for an evening in April at the local playhouse to host a reading of William Stafford’s Methow River Poems, written nearly twenty years ago, half a dozen of which greet trekkers along the Methow River here.  There’s an art installation outside the Post Office, a defunct telephone booth that’s now a tiny “Art Library” where patrons can take or leave books.  I recently left a copy of my “first” book of poems, Elegy with A Glass of Whisky, that won the BOA Editions New Poetry America Prize in 2004.  There’s a copy for sale at the local bookshop, too, but I thought it would be fun to put it in the Art Library and see what happens.

I picked up my tickets for the Duhks at the Methow Arts Alliance, a tiny storefront along “The Courtyard” off Highway 20, between Poppie Jo Galleria, an ecclectic mix of women’s fashion, new and used furniture, and antiques, and Rey Emmanuel, the Cuban Mexican restaurant.  Their narrow office has windows on both sides and curtains dividing workspaces.  It’s chock full of boxes of supplies; the porch holds paintings of Methow Valley Super Heroes that will soon grace the fence line of the school where I work.  The Executive Director, Amanda Knox and I had a short but equally chock full conversation about poetry, art, and music.  One of their volunteers came in before I left; she’s involved in both the local salmon recovery project and the local arts.  Amanda and I had just been marveling at all there is to do here and the varied populace that fills the seats and halls–whether it’s the Merc Playhouse, a retrofitted hardware store, or the “Barn,” likewise repurposed as an art venue, the Community Center gymnasium, Confluence Gallery, or the Twisp River Pub, whether it’s a talk on grizzly bears, an art exhibit, “Trashin’ Fashion,” film, jazz, pop, an oratorio by a local composer based on journal entries of Boy Soldiers of the Civil War.  Not a seat in the house.

There is so much resonance in place.  Stafford said in his poem “A Valley Like This”

Sometimes you look at an empty valley like this,
and suddenly the air is filled with snow.
That is the way the whole world happened—
there was nothing, and then…

But maybe some time you will look out and even
the mountains are gone, the world become nothing
again. What can a person do to help
bring back the world?

We have to watch it and then look at each other.
Together we hold it close and carefully
save it, like a bubble that can disappear
if we don’t watch out.

Please think about this as you go on. Breathe on the world.
Hold out your hands to it. When mornings and evenings
roll along, watch how they open and close, how they
invite you to the long party that your life is.

Art is one of the ways that we can “help bring back the world.”  Whether this Valley is filled with snow or disappears in mist, it is always touching those who live here, its mornings and evenings a constant show that translates itself into pigment, sculpture, music, dance, poetry.  “We have to watch it and then look at each other.  Together we hold it close and carefully save it.”  Both the Valley and what it produces are gems that warrant our curation.

A Poem of Paradox

Waiting for Snow

Tonight, I strip day’s clothes
by the heater, my skin
rough and dry as a reptile.
I close curtains against
creeping cold, and the spider
plant rustles like a cough
in my hands. Its tender
tendrils whisper feel me!
And I do.  With my whole body
I feel the weight of its bound
roots and the smell of dirt
dusty and brown. My arms
hold it to my chest, place
it on the coir mat by the door
and pour water into its lanky
leaves.  I pour and pour
as if it is my own thirst I slake.
It exhales a spring night
redolent of earth and rain.
I bow my face and breathe
such sweet fragrance
sleeping now in fist-tight
bulbs and roots awaiting Spring.

 

 

 

When the King Be Witnessed in His Power*

I’m weary of the fear
that turns us to killing
while the mist hangs
over the mountains.
Weary of the stream
of mindless endings,
unlike the river, who
travels to the sea.

I’m weary of the thread
of dead and deader.
The dread-nought
and juggernaut.  God
in the machine.  I’m weary.
I’m weary.  I’m weary.

 

from Emily Dickinson’s “I heard a fly buzz when I died”

The Mother Experience Project

A story of infertility and in vitro fertilization.  The daughter who died in the womb.  The daughter born six weeks early.  “Trying to keep her safe in a world I couldn’t control.” The mother dying of cancer and blaming her daughter. The dancer, the hooper, the Circle Game.  The mother who lived in a Shanghai paradise and as an illegal immigrant cleaning houses and mucking stalls to raise three daughters.  These are some of the threads that ran through the ninety minute slate of performances, poetry, memoir, music and dance, at the Merc Playhouse in Twisp, Washington tonight to honor mothers and mothering.

The performance organizer, and one of its participants, Rose Weagant, opened the night with an overview of the dominant images of women with which so many of us were raised.  Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, Belle.  Virginal heroines, orphans of dead mothers, whose stories not only end in but end at marriage. And evil step mothers killed off by their victimized step children “in the name of justice.”

What struck me about the performance was how rare it is to be offered so much authenticity about women’s lives in one sitting.  It was a richly nourishing experience that provided a deep immersion into the meanings of mothering from both sides of the womb.  Each woman’s story, and the two songs offered by the one male performer, presented a different facet of what mothering costs and what it bequeaths.  The challenges, as nearly every piece said, are ultimately gifts.  Over and over, woman after woman, this was a dominant theme.  I’m paraphrasing, but it resonated so deeply with earlier posts here, one speaker said that when we lean into sorrow and difficulty they get easier, not harder.  Under the stories of loss, abuse, misunderstanding, and estrangement was the truth: this has made me who I am.  I’m her mirror image, one said, and a mirror image is its opposite.  So much perspective about perspective.

Mother’s Day started in the US when one woman decided to honor her own mother in 1908.  Over the years, it’s blossomed into many things, a boon for the greeting card industry and florists, a wide array of traditions from fancy brunches to picnics in the woods.  We spent the day gathered with family and younger friends, mothers and fathers and half a dozen children who took a two hour hike in the Cascade mountains above Mazama.  The two grannies opted for a walk along the Lost River and a short, exquisite lie down on a bank of pine needles watching the clouds shift and vaporize and listening to the river’s icy rush.

I called home this morning and spoke to three generations of mothers in my family.  Mine, my sister and my niece expecting her first daughter on her own birthday in August.  She still sounds like a kid to me on the phone even though she’s twenty three.  She’s loving this experience of her pregnancy even though it’s had its own set of challenges.  She described the baby’s movement in her womb “like a wave in my belly.  Like a little animal living inside me.”  I remember when she was born, my niece.  I remember each of their births, my two nephews, their cousins, and the children and grandchildren of many of my friends.

When I was a child, I remember asking my father once why there wasn’t a “children’s day.”  And he said “every day is children’s day.” How right he was. Without mothers, none of us would be here.  Of course, we wouldn’t be here without fathers either, and their day is coming soon.  Father’s day usually falls right around my birthday, so that will be another post a month or so from now.

In the interim, I am honoring all mothers everywhere: the divine feminine force that births all that is.

 

Subhaga and Mother

Mom and me on Easter 2014

 

Mother

You welcomed me into your body
disguised as I was
in the seed of my father’s love.
I must’ve seemed incomplete
as a dream
those nine months,
a comma in the sentence
of your new marriage
a coming.

But I was ongoing;
only waiting
for this precious gift
of your making
to bottle me
like a jinni.

I was already old,
already formed
the way breath
waits in the air,
has been waiting
since it rose from water.
When I left you,
I was your daughter.

 

A poem for Easter

Easter

Before he came to hang upon the naked wood
scorned, thorn-crowned,
before the empty womb received the flaming seed,
godhead complete,
the moon-cracked earth received the planting song.

Every day, cocks crowed, shoots grew,
leaves, moon, eggs
grew. Every purple night, the cycles drew
on moon, shoots,
eggs pale as lunar light, moon-shell sheer.

Before the tree was felled and stripped of bark and limb,
it bore fruit
amidst the leaves that broke the heat in pools of shade,
and we ate.

 

A Poem for Good Friday

Fish Fry at the Catholic School

The Dogwood trees seem resigned,
stationed like sentinels at the Middle School.
They blush faintly above the roof
line.  I admire their humility. (It’s not
their fault).  Twenty centuries later,
each pink bloom wears the marks
of passion.  Some ancestor’s wood
fashioned the cross on which He stood,
strung and hung like meat.  Dear
Man.   Son of God,
how they wept at Your bleeding feet.

Wind showers petal-tears
on clipped green grass
(no recess today).  Later,
believers will gather to eat
Your body, transformed, Transformer:
water, fire, This.

Poetry and Porousness

I want to write about two topics today that are related, at least to me, in this way that I am exploring both spirituality and poetry in this blog.  If you’re only interested in the spirituality part, it will be easy to jump down to it below in bold: Porousness.

Last night, I went to a poetry reading by three women at Fergie’s Pub in Philadelphia.  The trifecta are all related to Bryn Mawr College and know each other from there.  JC Todd who teaches creative writing at Bryn Mawr and two former students, Darla Himles and Elizabeth Catanese.  I know JC from our years long affiliation with the Dodge Foundation. Elizabeth is my particular friend from the English Department at the Community College of Philadelphia, and Darla is Elizabeth’s long time friend from her Bryn Mawr days.  I say these things to indicate that this is not an impartial review of the reading but a personal response.

Elizabeth Catanese read first, and to me she was the star of the show, not just because she’s my friend and some of the poems were polished in the informal workshop we used to do in my office lunch for a couple of semesters.  She has a luminosity both in her person and in her poems.  They feel to me like the perfect conversation among head, heart and gut.  She and Darla Himles meet weekly at the Philly Trolley Car Diner and give each other prompts that they they write and revise.  So both readings went, as Darla said, from citrus to crabs.  Both read a poem about Audrey Hepburn and a lemon, it was the first in both of their lineups.  Darla Himles is a bit like Hepburn, a gamine with a cap haircut with sly eyes and a sparkling smile. Her poems are linguistically interesting and smart.  I admired them very much, the way Hepburn’s Holly Golightly admired the wares in Tiffany’s window.  But somehow they did not strike the same chord of yoga, if you will, as Catanese’s, by reaching into my heart and belly, not all the time anyway.  Third on the roster, the main act, so to speak was JC Todd.  JC reminds me somewhat of Marianne Moore–not least because last night she wore a hat, one that belonged to her husband’s grandmother, a black felt affair with a red feather.  She passed it around to raise money for a charity, a sweet touch.  Her poems have the high polish of many years of craft, and they are intricate and intelligent on the ear.  Her most impressive selections were from a series of Petrarchan sonnets about the Iraq war.  They’re sort of prose sonnets in that they tell the story of a woman medical officer’s experiences in Iraq, and they were bold, bloody and embodied.  They called to mind the still amazing sonnet sequence novela by Ellen Bryant Voigt called Kyrie about the influenza epidemic in 1918 -19.

There was a good crowd for the reading.  The upstairs at Fergie’s is small, and by the time the reading was underway–following a set by the musical duo Attractive Nuisance, who were wonderful–there was standing room only, and had the Fire Marshall come up, he would have been a bit concerned as to whether we would have been able to extricate ourselves without trampling. But we were lucky in that; the only fire was in the words.

Now we come to the Porousness part.  For me to be in a room packed with strangers is an exhausting experience.   I find that I am soon saturated by the energy of so many people pressed so close together, which is why I don’t go out much.  I feel a bit like David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth.  As if I have fallen into another world where, although I’m dressed like everyone else and look like them, my body beneath my disguise is a skinless sensitive thing all nerves and receptors.  I both can and can’t  bear it.

In the beginning, I sat quietly until I was joined by a woman who is a painter and photographer, connected to the reading by a sequence of relationships that have to do with making poems from art, ekfrasis.  Like me, she said she does not go out much.  I introduced my self as Subhaga, which led to a conversation about how I got my name (from Amma), and a short Q and A about my spiritual background.  We talked about meditation, awakening and painting in nature.  It was sweet.  Then we sat in companionable silence while the room filled beyond capacity and the noise rose, and the mic for the reading had to be turned continually louder to compensate for the sounds from Fergies’ downstairs room where the business of drinking and shouting was well underway.

Energetically, I was able to stay in the paradox of the noise,the crowd and the silent spaces in the poems.  I had set the parking meter for 90 minutes, which I hoped would be enough time to hear what I had come to hear.  But there was also an inner parking meter ticking at the same time as the one outside.  The energetic meter for my capacity to be surrounded by so much human contact, each person with his or her transmission field, his or her anger, sorrow, grief, disappointment.  Because, friend, beneath the disguises we all don to move around the world, in search, like the Bowie character, of clear, fresh water, the thirst to be met rises out of a Sahara of the soul.  This being human is, after all, as Rumi says, like a guest house, constantly being visited by the difficult relative, some who come and never leave.  For me, to be in this bath of human suffering damped down beneath a snappy demeanor and sated with draft beer and pub fries is exhausting.  I’m the sponge that soaks in all that pain.

In the car, in the cold, at 13th and Sanson, I sat for a moment while someone idled off my drivers’ side door wondering if I was ever going to give up my spot.  I waved her on and breathed the frosty silence.  I felt into my body laced with exhaustion.  I dialed up my friend the GPS lady to take me home–even though on some level, of course, I know the way–a sort of autopilot to allow me to bring my focus to the act of navigation.  It was a bright starry night, and as I made my way through the inexplicable logjam of cars on the Schuykil Expressway back to Bryn Mawr, I began to unwind into the spaciousness that is always within me.   I came home, greeted the dog, drank two liters of water, and read a few pages of Molly Gloss’s Wild Life then fell into a deep and unbroken sleep for 9 hours.  Mine is a big battery and it takes a long time to recharge.