Category Archives: poems

heartache incarnate

I posted this poem before, about four years ago. It reminds me of my brother. And of others, too. My mind keeps coming back to it. Maybe because it’s that time of year. Or maybe just because.

So here we are, 2011, the Thursday night before Mother’s Day. For the record, she did not have a good one. None of us did.

I read the poem again. And again. Again, until it is carved into memory. The lines that flow endlessly, beautifully, painfully through my heart are these: “You do what you can if you can; whatever the secret, and the pain, there’s a decision: to die, or to live, to go on caring about something. In spring, in Ohio, in the forests that are left you can still find sign of him: patches of cold white fire.”

Whatever the secret, and the pain, there’s a decision. You can go on caring. Maybe that’s easy for me to say—and maybe it’s not. It’s my decision, to go on, caring. I can’t make it for anyone else, but I won’t pretend I don’t want to.

This goes out to my loved ones, my tribe of true affections, who have struggled with this decision or have suffered the struggles of loved ones.

Perhaps I am selfish, but please, please stay. If you can.


John Chapman

He wore a tin pot for a hat, in which
he cooked his supper
toward evening
in the Ohio forests. He wore
a sackcloth shirt and walked
barefoot on feet crooked as roots. And everywhere he went
the apple trees sprang up behind him lovely
as young girls.

No Indian or settler or wild beast
ever harmed him, and he for his part honored
everything, all God’s creatures! thought little,
on a rainy night,
of sharing the shelter of a hollow log touching
flesh with any creatures there: snakes,
racoon possibly, or some great slab of bear.

Mrs. Price, late of Richland County,
at whose parents’ house he sometimes lingered,
recalled: he spoke
only once of women and his gray eyes
brittled into ice. “Some
are deceivers,” he whispered, and she felt
the pain of it, remembered it
into her old age.

Well, the trees he planted or gave away
prospered, and he became
the good legend, you do
what you can if you can; whatever

the secret, and the pain,

there’s a decision: to die,
or to live, to go on
caring about something. In spring, in Ohio,
in the forests that are left you can still find
sign of him: patches
of cold white fire.

—Mary Oliver

 

I need to go camping.

2010 forgotten vignettes

NewYork_2010-09_802-lobbyWhen I first moved into 802, an art deco building in Washington Heights, I adored the mural of the prancing maiden and her leashed—antelopes?—in the lobby. I still love them and the quaint building. But one day last summer, I walked in and saw these hideous sofas placed in front of her. It was clearly a sign: my days in 802 were numbered. Before these, there had been an equally old and musty sofa, but it was less gaudy, and the color at least matched her blouse.

As I packed to move, I heard lots of great stuff on NPR (like astrophysicist Brian May’s Bohemian rhapsody interview) that I wanted to look up and listen to again, undistracted, but didn’t have the time. When I was writing the chrissie/lebron/akron bit, I remembered the Rita Dove piece I heard on Selected Shorts: Strong Men, Stronger Women and intended include her in post (yes, she’s from Akron), but forgot. When I unpacked American Smooth I remembered. It demands a listen. (I listen to stuff when I clean. Makes it bearable.)

Dance is woven through American Smooth and it makes me wish, again, I had more time to dance and time to learn more. But I’ve barely time to do the things I’m committed to do well. It does make me sad that American culture has such little place for gathering to dance. One of the reasons, surely, why we are so fragmented.

Yesterday, I saw Barbara Ehrenreich on PBS. She mentioned her book: Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. A nice change from her usual reportage about America becoming more and more like a third world country because of government favoritism of the wealthy and the insane wealth disparities that have resulted. (Did you know that “janitorial service” is the fastest growing job in the USA?) And because we don’t dance. My assertion, not hers. Maybe hers—I haven’t read the book yet.

american_smoothMy decision to finally get the internet at home so I could watch PBS (inspired, I admit, by the Circus! ads on the subway) was not misguided.

I just happened upon this line from Rita Dove, from an interview with Robert McDowell: “In African American culture, dance has always been a key element—a communal activity that soothed and united all levels.” From my travels, it seems to be that dance is something that brings people together in most cultures, save white, protestant countries. Though to be fair, some white, protestant ministers appreciated dance. Dance was a part of my Lithuanian family, though mostly in stories of days gone by. After my grandmother died, I went to a party at the Lithuanian-American club in NYC (not somewhere I generally frequent), and we danced and danced until the wee hours. At least, the older folks did. I went to a friend’s elaborate Indian wedding a few months ago, and everyone danced. What a joy!

_________________________________________

Bolero by Rita Dove

Not the ratcheting crescendo of Ravel’s bright winds
but an older,
crueler

passion: a woman with hips who knows when to move them,
who holds nothing back
but the hurt

she takes with her as she dips, grinds, then rises sweetly into his arms again.
Not

delicate. Not tame. Bessie Smith in a dream of younger,
(can’t you see?)
slimmer

days. Restrained in the way a debutante is not, the way a bride
pretends she
understands.

How everything hurts! Each upsurge onto a throbbing toe, the prolonged descent
to earth,

to him (what love & heartache done to me), her body ferocious,
a grim ululation
of flesh—

she adores him. And he savors that adoration, this man in love
_________________________________________with looking.

She feels his look,
his sigh

and she moves, moves with him to the music in the space
_________________________________________allotted them,

spot lit across
the hardwood floor.

moving along

One night in July I was walking down Broadway, somewhere in the mid-80s. As I crossed the street, my mind bounced here and there. It occurred to me, out of nowhere, that I am finally no longer angry at Mario (of the first bulks). I’m not sure when I’d even thought of him last, as it’s been so long now. But for years after I stopped speaking to him, even the thought of him made my jaw clench. Now there’s nothing. We all have our nonsense, Mario (not his real name. And as an aside (Bij!), I do not discuss work or current beaux onsite. Rarely past beaux, and when so, names are changed) no more or less than anyone else. At the core of it, we are treated the way we want people to treat us.

At this point I was walking behind a guy in his early forties with a boy of about four. Judgment brain clicked on as I took in the tattoo on his lovely deltoid and his Britney Spears Tour 2005 t-shirt. On the Upper West Side? He was either taking the piss or he was crew. Or both. Just as I was about to question his parenting skills, the kid took a fall and started balling. The guy leaned over, picked him up, and brushed him off. More crying.

“Hey buddy, let me see that. That looks like it hurts. Ouch. Are you okay? Here, let me see that. A quick kiss may help it feel better. Yeah, that’s the way. How does that feel? Better?”

Crying stops. “Yes. Better.” And they were on their way.

I’d passed them, still listening, then turned around to take it in. To gawk. Were they real? This guy put on the best demonstration of parenting skills I’ve ever seen in the city—maybe even my life. The guy wasn’t threatened or annoyed by the child’s crying. It wasn’t about him, it was about his kid. There was no discomfort with the tears, no “Hey, stop crying! That’s for sissies. Boys don’t cry!” No, “Why are you crying, that was barely a fall!” No, “If you stop crying I’ll get you some ice cream.” He just acknowledged the kid’s hurt, the kid felt cared for, and the hurt stopped. The kid wasn’t ignored, bribed, or shamed because it wasn’t about the parent, it was about the kid. Wow. To see more of that.

So much for my parenting stereotypes about hot tattooed men in Brittney t-shirts. I could use such fathering. ha Ha!

xoA

If
—Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

love after love

In the thick of the e.k. pain in May, Biju sent me Walcott’s ‘Love After Love.’ I promptly stuck it to my refrigerator, which doesn’t often get such paraphernalia. In fact, the fridge is naked but for a small framed photo of lyabi haus, the same photo that tops the blog menu at right. And now ‘Love After Love,’ pasted up just by the freezer door handle.

.
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine, Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

I said it over and over until I knew it well. I passed it on to a number of friends. I took solace in the fact that Biju knew this pain too, and had recovered. Then in June, at the Jon Kabat-Zinn retreat upstate, on, let’s see, day 4, he announced he was to read a poem by a Saint Lucian poet. “Oh man, he isn’t,” I thought, but of course, he was. He recited “Love After Love,” which I’d never heard but a few weeks previous. I might have, had I read much of JKZ’s stuff, as he’s put it in some of his books, and even titled one Arriving at Your Own Door. That was a lovely week, a lovely retreat.

Heesun and husband return tonight. It’s good timing, as I’ve had their space to myself for some time and am feeling less hermit-like. It’s been a lovely, slightly strange week.

xo/A

to be dazzled

But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided—
and that one wears an orange blight—
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away—
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

from Mary Oliver’s ‘the Ponds’

last sunday

FLYING by Mary Oliver

Sometimes,
on a plane,
you see a stranger.
He is so beautiful!
His nose
Going down in the
old Greek way,
or his smile
a wild Mexican fiesta.
You want to say:
do you know how beautiful you are?
You leap up
into the aisle,
you can’t let him go
until he has touched you
shyly, until you have rubbed him,
oh, lightly,
like a coin
you find on the earth somewhere
shining and unexpected and,
without thinking,
reach for. You stand there
shaken
by the strangeness,
the splash of his touch.
When he’s gone
you stare like an animal into
the blinding clouds
with the snapped chain of your life,
the life you know:
the deeply affectionate earth,
the familiar landscapes
slowly turning
thousands of feet below.

yes, she’s my obsession of late. it’s almost painful.
yes, mary. and last sunday.

april again

Ohio_1990-12_007Jim died a year ago Thursday. April 26th. It’s been a painful week, watching the sad, and my resistance to feeling it. I did soften enough to feel at times, and the soft ache in my heart and dull pain in my chest were less painful than all my resistance, “the why should you be so sad” dialogue, the, “what’s a date anyway?” and the “if I give in to the sadness, will I drown?”

One thing that pulls me through my moods is the knowledge, the experience that that the pain will pass, and that simply feeling is often less painful than the mental fortresses I create to numb and avoid it. My fear that the grief is bottomless is daunting, though. Last November, when a meditation friend held me through fits of tears, my brother’s face floated back into my mind, floated back into perfect focus. I held my breath, as not to disturb his image. My friend felt this and said, “Breathe, you have to breathe. Keep breathing.” I did breathe, as I’m trained to do, but Jimmy’s face faded out when I took in new breath. That seemed harsh punishment. As if to keep living, I’m not allowed to remember. What if I’m not ready to forget? It’s ridiculous. We will never forget.

As I cried, she asked, “There, doesn’t it feel good to let it out?” Of course it did, and I released my body into her warm, round embrace. It also felt limited and superficial, as I knew her embrace was finite. I couldn’t go on there all day, or all year. But I needed to. I wanted the tears to flow away. Who has that kind of time?

John Chapman

He wore a tin pot for a hat, in which
he cooked his supper
toward evening
in the Ohio forests. He wore
a sackcloth shirt and walked
barefoot on feet crooked as roots. And everywhere he went
the apple trees sprang up behind him lovely
as young girls.

No Indian or settler or wild beast
ever harmed him, and he for his part honored
everything, all God’s creatures! thought little,
on a rainy night,
of sharing the shelter of a hollow log touching
flesh with any creatures there: snakes,
racoon possibly, or some great slab of bear.

Mrs. Price, late of Richland County,
at whose parents’ house he sometimes lingered,
recalled: he spoke
only once of women and his gray eyes
brittled into ice. “Some
are deceivers,” he whispered, and she felt
the pain of it, remembered it
into her old age.

Well, the trees he planted or gave away
prospered, and he became
the good legend, you do
what you can if you can; whatever

the secret, and the pain,

there’s a decision: to die,
or to live, to go on
caring about something. In spring, in Ohio,
in the forests that are left you can still find
sign of him: patches
of cold white fire.

—Mary Oliver