take me back home
to a land of quiet streets
children playing, riding bikes
Dreams of Mayberry on parade
I dream of
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
we can soothe the fires
provide sanctuary with a look
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
a Warrior’s tool
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
He looked like a teacher or someone’s uncle, the man who tried to molest me in the movie theater. They didn’t talk us through scenarios back then of how to respond to creepy old men sitting next to you and slipping their hand into your chair. I felt afraid, and tried to crawl as far away as I could, climbing halfway into the lap of my best friend on the other side. I finally grabbed her hand and whispered, “Come with me, NOW!” I was horrified and frightened and at a loss for how to respond. Tell an adult. Find an employee. Run. Why didn’t I think of any of those responses? I was frozen. I wasn’t even sure what he wanted. A grown man. I was twelve.
They looked like men who would be friends with our dads, the men who tried to pick us up like we were virgin prostitutes. But we were too young to grasp what was happening. Our mothers hadn’t told us not to sit on the grassy corner of a street to talk and giggle. They never told us that men prowled our quiet suburban streets looking for girls like us. Exchange of money for an exchange of innocence. “How much?” they’d ask and we’d respond with, “How much for what?” We didn’t comprehend the adult game these men were playing. They could’ve been our dads. Two girls braiding daisy chains and enjoying the sunshine on a grassy corner on a quiet residential street. We were naive and so close to danger. Grown men. I was thirteen.
He looked like any other preteen boy, gangly and handsome in a little boy way, the boy who grabbed my breasts every day at school. But I was made to feel guilty for developing early. “Girls with big breasts are easy. They’re asking for it,” the boys whispered to each other. I wasn’t the only one being molested every day in the crowded Junior High hallways between classes. Other girls had breasts, too. We told the school officials, they told us he’s a good boy. A good student. They told us we should be ashamed for enticing nice boys. One woman called my friend a slut. We told our mothers. They told us boys will be boys and to stay away from them if we didn’t like it. Like it? We learned to hold our notebooks clutched protectively to our chests. We learned to wear baggy t-shirts that didn’t show our budding figures. We learned that no one would back us up if we sought help. A teenage boy. I was fourteen.
A number of years ago, I put together a book-length work of erasure poetry, BAD THINGS HAPPEN. I constructed it as a form of catharsis during a time of difficult and heart-breaking events in my personal life. But now with the world situation as it is, I suspect it might speak new and fresh words into current events. I haven’t reread the book in light of the pandemic, but I may take a few minutes later to see what new connotations emerge.
An erasure is a “found” poem in which the poet works with text from an original work to create something new. An erasure is often created in response to, or in conversation with, the original source text. Through purposeful decision-making, the erasure poet will subvert, challenge, question, or build upon the meaning and themes in the source text. Unlike a blackout poem (which presents the original redacted text with the new poem as a visual art form), an erasure constructs the new work into lines/stanzas, thus creating something separate from the original source text.
BAD THINGS HAPPEN is a book-length collection of erasure poems constructed in response to the book, Lord, Where Are You When Bad Things Happen? by Kay Arthur. Arthur’s book is a daily Bible study examining questions about the role of God in difficult life events.
While creating the works in BAD THINGS HAPPEN, the author sought to take the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t claim the infallibility of the Bible or even necessarily believe in any sort of god. The view is that the reality in life is bad things happen. Truly bad things happen. Even evil things.
The erasure poetry in BAD THINGS HAPPEN doesn’t necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of the poet, but are offered as food for thought. This work is mainly an exercise in self-expression and creative experimental writing.