between the headstones

between the headstones
the grass growing green
where the grounds’ man keeps
the weeds from overtaking
graves of forgotten
ancestors and of
neglected mothers
ignored by children
with no time for grief
the soldiers lie still
flags gently swaying
a line of colors
in patriot winds
with rusty railings
heavy chain fences
creaking in the night
frightening neighbors
whose imaginings
conjure ghosts and ghouls
do not think too hard
of what lies beneath
the closely shorn grass
the parklike meadow
decomposition
don’t let yourself think
or the reality
of mortality
will find its way home

 

I Dream of Mayberry

My dreams
take me back home
to a land of quiet streets
children playing, riding bikes
Dreams of Mayberry on parade

I dream of
neighborhood crushes
talking late into the night over backyard fences
sneaking a quick hand hold, a stolen kiss
enough for pleasant dreams
to see us through the night

I dream of
dogs running free
no leash laws to fence them in
leaving the house to be greeted by
favorite canines with jingling collars
the garbageman’s dog lived across the street
my friends would say,
Oh, you live by the garbageman’s dog!
a local celebrity dressed in fur

I dream of
attending school
with the children of doctors,
lawyers, movie stars, millionaires
our family on our simple cul de sac
a far cry from the mansions of my classmates
entire wings of houses closed off for the season
rooms only used for parties
servants, yard workers, maids

I dream of
our family home
a three-bedroom rambler
on a quiet street
at the bottom of the hill
down the street from the Catholic church

I dream of
Sunday mornings
trapped on our street
by slow-moving church traffic
I thought everyone dealt with
church traffic on Sunday mornings
the church played a role
in our lives each week
even though we didn’t attend

I dream of
childhood confusions
Sunday with my grandmother
in the church on the hill
I committed a mistake
I was only five
evidently it was a sin
the priest felt it necessary
to scold me publicly
I refused to go back

I dream of
swimming and fishing
off Grandpa’s dock at the lake
of chasing tiny fish with a net
of releasing the trout intended for dinner
unwilling to watch the life leave their eyes

I dream of
feeding the ducks
every duck and goose on bay
winging to the child with the dry bread
back in those bygone days
when we could still feed the waterfowl

I dream of
running barefoot at my grandparents’
which wasn’t an option
unless you wanted goose droppings
between your toes

I dream of
trees and water weeds
the weeping willow leaning over the lake
no need for a swing
grab a handful of willow branches
and fly out over the water
laughing as we let go and landed
with water up the nose
while weeds in the water
grabbed at our toes

Days of Normal Parts

The days were full of normal parts. Eat, sleep, school, work. Activities we all shared. Each house sheltering a family going through it’s normal day. Mothers at home fixing dinner, fathers greeted at the door with a gin and tonic while they took off their overcoat, loosened their tie, and set their hat carefully on the shelf in the coat closet. Imagine Mad Men. This was our life. Our life of normal parts. So foreign and sexist to today’s ethos of family.

Some days were magical. The snow would fall in mounds and school would be cancelled. We’d run home, grab our mittens, and jump and dance and slide and build and throw and tumble for hours. Our mothers would call us in for cinnamon toast and hot chocolate. We’d warm our hands, fill our bellies, and head back out into the magic.

Some days were frightening. Watching television when special announcements came on the air. A president dead. My grandmother screaming as she put her hand to her mouth, dropping her cigarette onto the carpet. From my view on the floor with my toys, I could see the muddled video of a handsome couple waving from a convertible, and then everything blurry and confused. At the same time, I watched Grandma’s cigarette smolder, and hoped we weren’t going to burn up in a housefire. Innocence watching the news.

The days could continue to be frightening. This time a Civil Rights leader. My mother screaming as she stood to her feet from the couch and looked ready to run away. But there was nowhere to go. She screamed, “No! Oh, no! Not him! Not him, too!” I realized this somehow connected to the dead president, but I wasn’t sure how. I learned the word assassination that day.

We became young adults and wanted to escape this small town life. The conversations were always the same. The gossip. The keeping-up-with-the-neighbors. This town was so boring. There was nothing to do. We wanted excitement. We wanted lights and noise and movement.

We became older adults and wanted to return again. After we went out to see the excitement and the lights and the noise, we dreamed about those quieter times. The leisurely afternoons, Saturday morning cartoons. We longed for the world of our youth. The world of those days of normal parts.

Pilgrimage

Making a pilgrimage in our minds can be one of life’s great journeys. Why do we go on pilgrimage? To find ourselves. To find answers. To find a deeper understanding of the foundation of our life. What is the foundation beneath the foundation? Where better to find those things than within ourselves? Identify your life’s essential journeys, even if the circumstances have been bitter.

Being mindful of the now. Being here in the difficulties of our adult body. Finding the essence of beautify within our soul. Feel which streams have flowed beneath your feet. Be aware of the roads your feet have walked. Notice how you’ve been weathered by what comes into your life. Like stones in the river, you’re made smooth, or the stone cracks and shows its beautiful interior or rings and swirls.

Where have you walked? On our journeys we go away and come back. We walk through joy and celebration. Radical peace and revolutionary upset. Abandonment. Imprisonment. Misery. Enclosure. Shelter. Beauty. Wildness. It’s been said in Ireland there’s a pub at the end of every path. Have you looked for the pub? That warm place to spend some time and recuperate before taking the journey back home again?

When life begins to feel small, find a horizon and gaze into the distance. This brings us into healthy conversation with a reality that can feel as if it’s closing in but is actually wide and open as the sky. What horizons are there in your life? When we seek calm and beauty, we watch sunrises and sunsets. We dedicate ourselves at the beginning of the day, and then remember the day’s journey at the end. We choose these times for horizon gazing just as the landscape is drenched with perfect light. These times are calm and glorious. Celebratory and reflective. Both grieving and rejoicing. Like life, our hearts brimming and then overflowing

Look for the conversation beneath the conversation. Listen for the invisible. The unspoken. Find the hidden underbelly of the epochs of your life, the very core of your personal pilgrimage.

The life you’ve lived is astonishing. The life you’ve lived has shaped you. The life you will live as you journey down future paths and stop in future pubs is in conversation with all that’s gone before.

the fabric of my soul

inside the fabric of my feelings
in the warp and weave of my existence
you wove yourself into my life and
more than my heart broke that day

you took more than my hopes and dreams
you took more than life itself
as I doubled in agony the tears poured
drowning in the blood-tinged grief

my heart rendered into pieces
unfixable, surrounded in death and pain
did you rejoice in the torment you brought?
were you aware of the devastation?

I lost track of the hours days months years
one empty day weighing as much as another
the days were long the nights were longer

on those days when I gave up on life
were you pleased to have such an effect?
did you feel even the smallest regret?

as my heart kidneys organs failed
did you know you held the power of life?
did you know you held the power of death?

you don’t hold that power now
now I can count the days again
there may be joy missing
but there’s no longer torment

there may still be empty spaces
but there are new loves and joys
I gave you the power of life and death
but I have now taken that power back

I will never again give someone
the power to destroy me
even if you still rejoice in my pain
I refuse to let your joy torment me

I will always miss the you I used to know
the truest love and deepest friend
but I will never miss the you who you’ve become
the you who attempted to murder
the very fabric of my soul

Grandma’s pancakes

My grandmother cooked pancakes
on a large round griddle

with a spatula that had come through
many meals before

so many hours I spent at her side
begging to flip the pancakes

a large brown ceramic bowl
cold to the touch

stiff peaks of beaten egg whites
folded in carefully

Grandma’s secret weapon
against boring breakfasts

a glimpse into days gone by
only the womenfolk cooked breakfast

only the menfolk got away with
not cooking or cleaning up

these were the years before this budding feminist
shouted it’s not fair to whoever would hear

A Body and Grief

frayed
afraid
awakening in the wee hours
to commune with wisdom
do we value and teach
connection to grief?
grief is pathologized

make grief a verb
see it as process
with all emotions wrapped up
we are only
the surface of the ocean
weathering the Apocalypse

we are the embodiment of all
that’s come before us
the Body is all that went into making you
the Body of literature, of Church,
of ancestry, of culture, of ecology

we dissociate from the body
label our passions demonic
our ancestral heritage
in our bodies
is closed off
we need to adventure
into the somatic sphere
of self, of body, of ancestry

we live in dissociation
but have the capacity to embody
grief, healing, joy, history
the body is a guide
to wisdom and sanctuary
we have a pantheon of ancestors
will all the wisdom we need

we create sanctuary
rather than find it
we create sanctuary within our body
experiencing sanctuary can bring
inner wisdom
insight
we can soothe the fires
and conflagrations
provide sanctuary with a look
a listen
a touch
a sense of feeling
and we awaken refreshed
napping our way toward wisdom

laughter and grief can connect
in a good cry
we are afraid to sit with the grief
or feel the life force
surging though the body
Eros creates both life and death

developing a grief practice
a meditation practice
a lifelong practice
a grief ritual giving space for
the body’s reactions and wisdoms
poems and strategies
empowered
enlightened
liberated
a Warrior’s tool

A Still Life

I like a still life, a painting of a pitcher of flowers or pieces of fruit piled high in a ceramic bowl
Sometimes life is so still, the privacy of it bleeds out
I value the stillness, the privacy
but I let it out of myself and then feel disdain for that boisterous part of me, for letting the world into the stillness, into the privacy

I like a still life, a world alone with far-reaching thoughts and dreams, making the stillness seem eternal with hope and nightmares
Sometimes the stillness suffocates, it’s all too close
I hate the suffocation, the endlessness
but who cares? my friend asks, leaving me ashamed of sharing, of opening myself out of the stillness and into a world of remorse

I am showing you my stillness
admitting my shamefulness
revealing the secret of my weakness

I like a still life, of peace and quiet and solitude and dreaming and visions and privacy and bleeding and death and grief
I see the demons of life creeping out into the light in the middle of solitude
not the demons with wings and talons and razor-sharp teeth, whose essence is invisible and imaginary,
but the real demons of memories and regrets, of loss and deception, of betrayal and lies

I like a still life where the battles are silent and the victories are private, where all I smell is hay, all I see is lemon rinds
a still life is not still
the peonies blow away from the pitcher, the apple rolls out of the bowl
the still life is alive
privacy is revealed
the solitude blows away in the wind