Sunday, July 19, 2015

Love Embodied

I had the privilege of being asked to write a poem for this morning's church service.  The theme was the healing power of animals so, of course, I had to write about my buddy Mo-Man.  

Below, a picture of Marshall (clearly the most important thing here), the text, and an audio file of me reading it (at home, not at church).  Enjoy (particularly the picture.  That's the only really important thing!).  

Love Embodied

I went to 7 years of higher education
1 year of internship
and 2 years of postdoc
and I'll still
never be as good a therapist as Marshall.

Marshall is a 26 lb, white, curly haired,
black nosed, floppy eared,
4 legged bundle of love embodied.
He's not too sure who his mother was
has never had a father figure,
he had a rocky beginning that made him
scared of life itself, but now
this guy is perfectly well-adjusted.

Like Marshall, the best therapists teach us
how to find joy in the smallest things and
that unbridled excitement lies in the ordinary -
things like car rides, toilet paper tubes, dirty socks...
they teach us that we should fiercely protect
all we hold dear
even if it means barking at the mailman,
the neighbor, the squirrel on the porch,
they remind us
that our hearts are worthy of protection,
that we deserve
a deep and abiding knowledge that we are
worthy, and loved
if only because we walked in the door.
His tail
says more in 5 seconds
than I can in my entire 50 minute session
and as full as my body gets
with passion and love and more empathy than my skin can contain
my butt just does not wiggle,
my ears do not flop,
and thus I have no hope
of ever measuring up.

Marshall, I tell him,
some days this life is just
too much.
He nuzzles his head under my arm
crawls into my lap
rests his head against my chest
stares into my face
then sighs, satisfied with his work
as if to say
This right here
is what the whole world needs.

I'm not one who often
takes advice from those who
roll on dead things or
smell others bottoms upon first meeting,
but I try to learn his simplicity as he
enters my space gently
looks at my face with soul-filled eyes,
reads my body and settles in to say:
we'll just sit here then,
feeling what we feel,
until we're ready to move on.
Don't worry
I'll keep loving us in this moment,

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Day 31: The final poem

Here are the numbers:

Number of days: 30
Number of finished poems: 30
Number of unfinished drafts I could still work on: 3
Page views in the past month: 2,020 (holy crap!)
Most popular poem: "Charleston" with 116 page views
Least viewed poem: "It is no small matter" with 26 page views
Number of audio recordings I posted: 2
Hours of sleep lost: a lot

But...holy cow, y'all.  This meant so much more to me than I thought it would.  It feels kinda weird writing about it, actually, because as public as this experience was, the impact feels very private and close to my heart.   

I don't know why I decided to do this.  I don't know why I felt it necessary to start this challenge on some random day in June and why - unlike all the other times I thought about it - I actually did it.  All the way to the end.  It's not that I'm not used to seeing things through to completion...other than that huge, boring counted cross-stitch I started in middle school, and the book The Hobbit, I actually can't think of anything I have started and haven't finished.  But doing this -- finishing this -- it feels like something important.  My heart is here in these words.  Thirty days of my heart. 

My rules were at the beginning were thus:
1.       I am going to try not to expect brilliance or perfection.
2.       I will try not to stress about it.
3.       I will try to limit myself to 30 minutes on the poem.
4.       I will be okay with shitty poems.
5.       I will write one poem every day for 30 days.
So, here's the truth.  I stressed a little bit.  Or maybe a lot.  I spent much more than 30 minutes on many of the poems.  I was not okay with shitty poems, and I declared many poems that I now like to be shitty upon their initial writing.  Actually, I declared every single poem to be shitty.  I can't lie.  I expected every poem to be brilliant and perfect within the first 2 minutes of it being sprung from my brain.  Every single night I posted the poem while saying some version of: "fuck it I'm done with this shitty poem I don't even know why I decided to do this stupid thing anyway this is ridiculous I'm going to bed." 

But here's the thing: I did it anyway.  Every day.  Even when I hated it.  Even when I thought I couldn't.  Even when it scared the everloving shit out of me. 

Because I didn't hate it.  I knew I didn't hate it.  (Except for a couple moments...there were a few moments of hating it).  It wasn't anger or hatred or frustration that made me respond the way I did: it was fear.  This project was scary.  It made me feel vulnerable in many ways - I had to be okay with writing raw emotion when that was all I had.  I had to be okay with writing and sharing things that I found less than perfect, less than "okay," less than I would have previously been willing to share with anyone.  I had to write, and name, and process, and explain my emotions while they were still raw.  I had to be okay with hearing and sharing my own voice, without time to sit with it and make it technologically beautiful.  I couldn't always dress it up all fancy: if I hoped to get any sleep, I was going to have to post it real.  It's kinda like going out without make-up, except it feels more like going out without clothes: this is what the real me looks like.  It's hard.  It's scary.  It's vulnerable.  It's real. 

What I didn't expect, though, was this little exercise would make me feel powerful.  But it does.  It did.  Knowing that I have a collection of 30 poems from the past month, and that they are mine, that they are true, and real, and I alone am responsible for the creation of these small makes me feel strong, and powerful, and worthy, and alive.  I feel like I have 30 days of evidence of my power.  Most importantly, I feel like I have seen the ways this has carried over into my life, just in the past two weeks. 

I started this blog in September 2010 and, honestly, I started it out of desperation.  That year was my hell year: I was sexually assaulted in March, and was living through some version of a literal hell - and I know the definition of the word literal.  I was being actively silenced on a daily basis, and I felt powerless.  I began writing to attempt to reclaim my power.  I did not have a choice.  Writing has always been my outlet.  For the past 5 years, it has been a necessity.  I have said that from day one. It has been 5 years, and the struggle is ongoing -- but I am not where I started.  In fact, I am quite far from where I started.  

I know I often gush about my love of poetry, and I feel weird about I'm some sort of supernerd or something, you know?  I have never met anybody who feels as strongly about this as I do...not that I'm not used to being strange...but reading and writing poetry is the closest thing I know to holy.  It is a necessary holy.  Think of holy as a verb.  Like an action and not an adjective.  That kind of holy.  A necessary holy through which I find my voice and power.  It has saved me, as only the most beautiful, important things can, and it continues to save me.  I can't describe the feeling I get when I am engrossed in writing a poem.  It's just holy.  Scared, awful, painstaking, beautiful, self-critical, ugly, patient, grateful holy.

Having 30 days of necessary holiness feels like a gift I have opened inside myself, and I am in awe of it.  I don't mean this to sound conceited -- I am not saying that I am in awe of my words.  I am in awe of what poetry can do.  I am in awe of what it can do for me.  I am in awe of the way that putting words on paper for 30 days creates this sense of being powerful, of being strong, of being worthy.  I do not understand it.  I just know that, whatever it is, I am grateful and, whatever it is, it is a holy necessity. 

So here it is.  The final poem.  (Side note: the story eluded to in this poem is true.  Driving to work this morning, I saw a man fall off his motorcycle and get stuck underneath.  I jumped out of my car and lifted up and moved the bike so he could free his leg.  I think he's probably a bit banged up -- but okay).

The final poem

Day one:
I write about being 
observed at the park.

Day thirty-one:
I lift a motorcycle off 
of a man's leg.

I have nothing left to say
but thank you:
this has been a journey
of scared, beautiful,
self-critical, ugly,
patient, grateful

Monday, July 6, 2015

Day 30: I was going to write a different poem.

I feel like I should say something here...but I think the poem says it all.  I WAS going to write a different poem.  I'm frustrated that I wrote this one.

Also, it felt important to me that I post this with a recording of how it sounds in my head.  I don't know why.  But I did it, if you want to listen to it.  (I hope it works).

Also also, this is day 30 of my 30 days of poetry.  It's a sucky note to end on.  I'm going to write something tomorrow.  Maybe a poem + a little 30 days of poetry reflection.  I can't end 30 days of poetry on the fact that I was going to write a different poem.

I've done 30 days...what's 31, right?


I was going to write a different poem

I was going to write a different poem.

I was going to write a poem about 
feeling safe, about the way
I walked through the crowd and my body 
did not panic, my heart 
did not stumble over self-doubt and old memories,
I was going to write a poem
about the way I feel vibrantly alive
when I can know that I am loved,
I was going to write about the way
I feel that sometimes now.

I was going to write a poem, but first
I went to the store,
composing the poem in my head, as I
stood in front of the canned tomatoes, I was
writing a poem about
love and
safety and
comfort and
what it feels like to feel whole for the first time
in a near eternity,
but my body
was not whole.
My body
was just another display of pieces
that are put together like ingredients
for your favorite dish.

I don't want to write this poem.
I am so tired of writing the same
fucking poem of how
my body
is not for sale, and
my body
is not yours to lay claim to, and
my body
is not fruit, is not produce, is not
something to be grabbed off the shelf,
I am tired
of writing my hearts stumblings.

I was going to write a poem about feeling safe - 
I am writing a poem every day:
it hadn't even been 24 hours before
the feeling had come and gone.
Before I was reminded that I am nothing more than a commodity.
Before I was reminded that safe is a privilege not all of us are afforded
at the bar
at the park
in our homes
at the grocery store just buying
a 98 cent can of tomatoes.
Before I was reminded that unsafe is where they want me
because it's the only way they can keep control,
before I was turned into a damaged head of lettuce:
and then cast aside.

For what it's worth:
I was going to write 
a different poem.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Day 29: Word One

IT IS DAY 29!!!!  That means I have only one more day of (self-imposed mandatory consecutive) poeming left.  I'm really surprised that...I'm actually going to miss it.  I KNOW, I know, I complained a lot in the beginning...but...well...more about that after I get these last two poems written.  It's been cool, you know?  It's actually been a really cool thing to do.  Much more cool than I thought it would be.  I mean, who writes 29 (soon to be 30) poems in as many days?   This girl!  (And "cool" is pretty much the least articulate word I could use here...but...I still need to poem, so we're sticking with "cool" for now). 

I had a poem I wanted to write tonight - a really beautiful poem that made me all teary and full of ALL the feelings as I was trying to write it in my head.  But then my night went a little haywire when I dared to go grocery shopping, and I couldn't get back into that headspace to finish them poem.  

So here's a poem instead about the struggle.

Word One

This is the way you write the truth:
you write the lies.
you cry.
you stop writing.
you wait.

This is the way you write the truth:
you forget what you know.
you remember what you don't.
you realize you can't say it.
you decide not to try.

This is the way you write the truth:
you type and erase, type and erase,
throwing words at the wall 
trying to find the one that will stick,
and when that word sticks,
you run, as fast as you can
in the other direction so its history all unravels
like a trail of breadcrumbs waiting
for you to find your way back.

This is the way you write the truth:
you follow the thread
all the way back to start.
You examine the word in its truth
hold it up to the light
make sure it is yours
smell it, taste it, breathe it,
hold it inside.
You decide to use it - 
knowing you're no closer to the end,
but you're braver from the journey.

This is the way you write the truth: 
you start again
for the second word.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Day 28: It is no small matter

It is no small matter

It is no small matter
that our country celebrates its independence
with explosions.
It is no small matter that red
is the color on our flag:
that it matches the color of blood we choose to ignore
when the person that's spilling is brown or black;
it is no small matter
that white is the next color on our flag,
when we look at who's holding the gun,
when just today
I drove past two confederate flags
flying from the back of pick-up trucks;
it is no small matter
that blue is the color of our veins
and also the color of cold, of ice:
the spilling of red blood at the hands of white skin
freezes the veins of some and
comes from the frozen veins of others.
Red, white and blue -
today we celebrate
not realizing that
it is no small matter
that our country celebrates its independence
with explosions.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Day 27: There will be one

Warning: this poem is incredibly sad.  I'm having a hard time writing it, because I have so many emotions about this issue, and because I am bound by confidentiality and cannot write the story.

My job is hard sometimes.  As I say here, there is always one that stays with you.  No matter what type of "helper" you talk to (psychologist, doctor, social worker, nurse...), they will have their one case that stays with them.  There are many that stay with you, of course, but there's always that one, above the rest.

My one was an itty bitty - a two year old - that I saw three years ago.  I have never worked as hard as I did on this child's case.  It is as complicated and terrible as you can imagine and, in spite of all of my very best efforts, what I did was not enough.  Nothing could have been enough.  There was not really an enough.  

I got a phone call this week, re-opening and revisiting this case.  I don't know all of the details, but it's not good.  Three years later, this baby is still suffering - and there still is not an enough that can be done for her.  

There will be one

There are many you cannot save.
My heart is full of faces that disappeared:
faces whose stories will never have an ending,
hands that mine will never reach.

Most faces fade with time -
are replaced with new eyes,
new hearts, new hands,
the door is revolving:
new hearts in,
some hearts out,
with your heart pushing it around.

But there is always one.
The one whose face never fades
who haunts your dreams
whose eyes and hands come to you 
as you innumerate your failures
there is always one
that stands above the rest:
the one that will not leave,
no matter the miles you run,
the happy hours you drink through
the yoga classes that remind you to breathe,
there will be one 
who will always stay.

There will be one that will make you talk
to a god you don't believe in.
There will be one
whose name will make your heart skip a beat,
there will be one
whose name you scan for in newspaper headlines,
in obituaries,
you will hold your breath
at Amber alerts
at radio stories,
waiting for her name.
There will be one that,
three years later
when you get the call,
the subpoena,
the voicemails from authorities,
you will be unsurprised
and devastated anyway.

There will always be one:
she was two years old
with white blonde hair,
big blue eyes,
fancy dresses.
She said 'bless you' when I sneezed.
She loved Oreo cookies.
I watched her dry her mother's tears. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Day 26: Painfully Perfect

Painfully Perfect

The moment you decide at 9:30pm that
headache and day-from-hell be damned,
you're going for a run to make it a five day streak - 
and the world is so surprisingly beautiful as you
drown in its humidity and
swim through the fog
and the street lights reflect off the leaves on the trees
and shine on the slick backs of toads hopping across the street,
and the grass is wet so the world smells like childhood
as fireflies sparkle a magic
you thought you had left behind.

The moment when you round the corner and the moon
is full and red and low,
heavy, and cloaked in fog the way
the sadness of this life envelops you on the days
you can't help but wear the cruelty of this world like a shroud
yet the world is so painfully perfect in this moment,
tears sting your eyes.

This moment
is the moment you realize the world
is only ever made of poetry
and one can only ever be so lucky
as to notice:
though the moon wears our pain on her face
and can barely lift herself up,
her beauty still crowns the sky,
and - with or without her -
the fireflies still manage
to shine.   

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Day 25: Instructions to the Artist (after Billy Collins)

Billy Collins wrote a very fun poem titled "Instructions to the Artist" (follow the link to read it). are my instructions to the artist rendering my portrait.  I wish him/her good luck.

Also, if you're looking for a writing prompt, I recommend this one.  

Instructions to the artist

I wish my eyes to be bigger than my own.
Not wide like saucers
or circular like surprised cartoons
but shaped like mine, only larger,
to show the way I soak in the world. 
They should be green, like mine, for it is supposedly unique and rare
and I would hate to lose that quality in a portrait.
They should be kind, and deep,
literal windows to my soul -
which can doubly serve as a nod to Shakespeare,
to subtly indicate my love writing.

You should spend the most time here:
it's the only part of my body I like consistently -
but leave out the glasses
I would like to be remembered as having
falsely good vision.

That said, do not forget the rest of the face:
I am not a Cheshire cat.
The head should be roundish,
but not so much as to remind one of a balloon. 

I should like my face to be painted in bold colors:
my mother once had family pictures done in which
my body was cut out 
and my head transposed like that of a ghost.
Since then, I desire only to look grounded,
firmly on the Earth,
so paint me boldly
to let everyone know I 
truly lived. 

I should like to be dancing
in red high heels,
and almost certainly a dress -- but make it plain, 
and make the background rural.
Perhaps place me outside, with an exotic landscape,
as I would like to be remembered in some other country
for the future work I will do there.

You must also include:
a dog - a scruffy white one,
a pen
a tree
a child
and a book -- a thick one.

Finally, I should like to be riding a tiger
side-saddle - like Durga -
and I would like multiple sets of arms.
I would not mind if I were carrying a sword
to demonstrate my bravery, and 
my heart should be literally on my sleeve -
larger than anyone would think necessary
because anyone who knows me 
knows this is true.

I would like to be eating a handful of blueberries.

There is no reason for this
aside from the fact that they
are delicious.

Durga - in case you have no idea
what I'm talking about