My conversation with Adrienne about daylight savings time started on Instagram. Under her photo of scrambled eggs and coffee she wrote daylight savings is weird. #theend. When I commented I want my hour back she replied every year! Time for the poem from 10 years ago!
Yes, Adrienne has listened to me complain about this lost hour all her life. It’s such a let down after that extra hour (bonus galore!) we get in October.
I’m not alone. Twitter is full of complaints today. Mamas, how are your #daylightsavingstime naps going? (Accompanied by a photo through a door of a child standing in a crib playing with a mobile.) I remember those days.
And, as always on Twitter, there’s politics and humor. You didn’t lose an hour of sleep #BernieSanders just redistributed it to someone who needed it. Losing an hour of sleep means you have to sleep in, right? I woke up and it was like noon wtf low key wishing we lost the next four years vs one hour of sleep last night. so do i have one more or one less hour to be high today? Well, at least the clock in my car is right again…
There was a suggestion we all chill out by Relaxing Back Into Soothing Stillness w/this #GuidedMeditation
Here’s what I had to say about it ten years ago, the poem Adrienne recalled. I wrote it the weekend Sam and I helped her move to live with Matt in NYC. March 2007, in the midst of the writing fever that produced The Truth About Death, less than a year after Eric died. I could feel the raw pain coming up off the pages as I looked through the manuscript for this poem. What a time.
Our daughter is going to the epicenter, someone is always
going somewhere, I can’t make small talk, I talk too much,
I am following the little red car, I can do anything I want,
I am a sparrow feeding in the bushes, the promised manna,
such pain to get here. Highways, cars, family, the irrevocable
center, flip your hand, wave off the evil eye, not evil, scary.
There is a blue balloon floating, this song is the tits, this song
is the bee’s knees, it’s if I had wings. I’m still mad
about the hour they took away two weeks ago. There are bells
ringing, it’s 6:00 p.m., the boys are watching college hoops,
the buildings out the window fall down in cubes, gardens
tucked into ledges, trees and statues below, a lion and a nymph
holding bounty, a set table in a room of glass, birds, planes
lifting west. I dance with a maenad, I dance by myself, drive fast
with my family. A lovely and ancient tradition. At dinner we discuss
predictive text, our son never finds his phone, our daughter’s lover’s
mother knows the pre-revolutionary Russian for lovely,
beautiful – veeleekalyepnah. When she found her grandfather’s book
of Torah commentary it opened to her son’s portion. Go forward
and be a blessing unto the world. Never enough, never enough.
The cows are back in the pasture, the pond is warm enough to swim, laundry goes out on the clothesline rather than in the dryer, I wake to birdsong and light already in the sky, the back deck is a private enclave enclosed by leafy trees, the woods are full of blossoms, there are pots of flowers on the porch and the screen door is up in the kitchen. All the pleasures of the new season to be enjoyed again.
I’ve written about Shehechiyanu before, the Jewish blessing giving thanks for being alive to complete another year’s cycle, coming around again to a festival or holiday or favored event — the first outdoor swim of the season, the peonies first open blossom, the cows crowding the corner of the field across the street on their first day out.
I thought I’d posted the poem I wrote many years ago imagining the blessing for the cows. If I did post this before, the WordPress search function doesn’t think so. Here it is.
The cows are back
in the pasture, random
black and white a foreign
light in the field of green
tipped with a sheen
of moisture from rain
that fell last night
steadying the grass
in its surge of growth
sufficient to allow
the cows’ return
to fresh fodder.
Does a cow bless,
once again, far fences
after winter’s pen,
silage and hay,
open air a tickle
in a fold of her teats
just past where her tail
Hands raised palms out.
Hands clutched around a cupboard key.
Hands raised in anger, trembling.
Hands holding hands.
Hands raised in triumph at the end of a race.
Hands stirring a pot of stew.
Hands raised in surrender after a long argument.
Hands washed in a kitchen sink.
Hands raised in greeting to a stranger on the porch.
Hands resting on a crocheted afghan.
Hands raised to throw a whiffle ball to a child.
Hands balled to fists behind a back.
Hands raised to shoot the last bullet from the last gun.
Hands folding a tea towel.
Hands raised to catch a tossed packet of biscuits.
Hands open, up, fingers wide.
Hands raised in answer.
What is it about the years divisible by ten? All the milestone birthdays are in increments of ten — people especially note turning 30 or 40, 50 or 60. Money rolls out in increments of ten. We celebrate anniversaries of major events in tens — marriages, assassinations, great scientific achievements, disasters. Pretty much everything would be counted in tens if we used the metric system like the rest of the world. Ten means starting again, because that second digit comes in, the need to go back to the first finger to continue keeping track.
I’m thinking about this because in May it will be ten years since Eric died, and right now it’s ten years since Eric began to be really sick, though we didn’t realize yet that he was dying.
Dawn has crept further and further into the night and now I’m waking up many mornings with light already in the sky, after months of being up for hours in the dark. Birdsong comes along with the light, the beginning chatter of birds awakening to the next season, starting to build nests and call to each other to mate and start the whole cycle of birth and death again. The rise in morning birdsong is burned into my psyche as signifying the rise in Eric’s cancer. Birdsong = Impending Death.
Not very spring-like. But there it is, the twittering of purple finches and melodic call of a robin and the chink of red-winged blackbirds. I wrote a poem about it this morning, one of many in a long line of poems about what spring birdsong means to me now (like the first poem in The Truth About Death, which I posted here around this time last year).
But there’s a twist this year. I also made a collage. Does that have anything to do with the tenth anniversary of Eric’s illness and death? Or is it simply the process of aging and getting better at giving myself permission to do things because I want to, because I have an urge to create in a different way, because I care less and less what it means and just want to do it.
I’m signing up for a drawing class. Maybe next I’ll draw the birds.
If you include healing meditation in your daily meditation, which means calling to mind people who need healing of some kind and repeating phrases like, “May they be safe, may they be healthy, may they be peaceful, may they be free from suffering,” you’re supposed to start by first calling for those things for yourself. So I do that, and one of the things I ask for is gratitude. “May I be grateful. . . . ” So, today I’m grateful for:
the time, resources and opportunity for the next adventure David and I are embarking on today — London, India, the Canary Islands. Over three weeks of new sights and experiences.
having a body strong enough to train for a half marathon, beating my race pace goal in a training run this week by more than 30 seconds (8:40 average over 4 miles), and running 9 miles today. I’m currently icing my knees, but I did it. I’m pumped!
the creative space I’ve created for myself, both physically in my study/studio, and in my head and heart, giving myself time to write and engage with other writers and make collages and cook and knit and plan another week this summer at a writing conference because I am going to finish my memoir.
There is so much more I could list, but this is what came to me this morning over the course of those 9 miles.
Another week, another seven small poem collages. I’ve managed to fit in enough textual/visual — visual/text art work in the last week to have created something every day.
The interplay of what happens between the poem I write and the collage I make, editing the poem, moving images around the page, adding and subtracting shapes and colors, faces and symbols, getting the poem on the page, is shaped in part by a right brain that doesn’t always get to talk when I’m straight ahead writing.
David and I are in Brooklyn for a long weekend, spending time with the grandkids and some time in the city. Yesterday we had breakfast in a cafe around the corner from the BedStuy Brownstone where we’re staying, and I was finishing the drawing and writing on the collage I’d started the day before.
“Is she an artist,” the waitress asked David. Ah. Yes. Just like a writer is someone who writes, an artist is someone who makes art.
wind breaks against the front of the house
where we sleep
to the growl and whistle slapped back
Big white in flight
stops in a tall pine
at the edge of a graveyard
White overnight enough
to hold dawn’s peach.
Orange & black
arcs from high
above the road
bounces at the front
of the car.
for the child. No, only
a wall that contains
unseen, unheard, unhidden.
I count in my head and have for as long as I can remember. When I swim in Long Pond in the summer, I count 20 strokes breathing to the right, then switch, 20 to the left. When I cut carrots for salad I count the chops of the knife — one, two, three, four, five. I memorize the numbers on license plates of cars in front of me. I count the holes I poke in the dirt with my finger, getting ready to plant beans. I count stitches as I knit. I track my runs and walks and bike rides with an app on my phone then write down the distance on my calendar. I count my inhales and exhales when I meditate, when I hold a pose during yoga.
What does this say about me? That I’m a poet who pays attention to the rhythms in my life? One summer several years ago I wrote 14 sonnets, because a sonnet has 14 lines and I wanted to create the symmetry of 14 x 14. Working in the traditional form, I counted beats in the lines. I spent much of the summer tapping with my fingers as I moved through my day repeating lines from the poems in my head, working to get each line to ten syllables of iambic pentameter. I can’t write a poem without some order to the number of lines in each stanza. Really, I can’t. If a poem just won’t take that shape, I take out the stanza breaks and let the poem run on.
What does that say about me? I like order but I also like disorder. Writing a poem orders the world and also enters the disordered perceptions that make up a moment, roaming among the associations that make meaning of a collection of words. Adherence to a form, even if it’s a form I’m imposing rather than a traditional sonnet or sestina or villanelle or triolet, makes me work harder to make the sense make sense.
I think. And now I’ve counted these words and I’m at the number I’ve decided I’m going to write each day for these two weeks. So I’m done.
The window is black, a mirror of my morning, messy hair, dark glasses, the white light of the Apple logo on my computer the brightest spot in the reflection.
This is how I start, describing what I see — the sky, trees, the old silo on the horizon, a bluebird, a crow, the last johnny jump-up in the garden. Then I try to stretch the image to mean more than it says. That’s what poetry is, for me, pulling words past themselves, layering meaning so an image creates associations that reverberate in unexpected directions. I usually give some direction in my poems, a thread of narrative to help pull the reader along the arc of language, sometimes more directly than others. But there have to be leaps, moments when the reader crosses over from a literal reading to a sense of something more and know that whether that something is exactly what I, the poet, meant doesn’t matter. I explode/inside my own brain, I want other brains/to explode. Another line from The Truth About Death.
Crafting images that speak for more than themselves in prose isn’t any more difficult in individual images, but learning to do it effectively across a much longer and more linear narrative, in a novel or memoir or even essay, is more difficult for me, mostly, I hope, because I’ve done so much less of it. But I’m learning.
And that’s something I’ve loved about the new life I’ve created since leaving full-time work. I left my job to write, imagining myself as a full-time writer, forgetting how much else I do – mother, partner, friend, daughter, sister, board member, hiker, triathlete, runner and especially absorbing, grandmother. My imagined future of hour upon hour at my desk and books pouring out of me hasn’t happened but I do write more than I did and what I’ve loved is learning to write better, especially in genres I’d only dabbled in before.
Last summer I studied novel writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference (with Andre Dubus III who was a terrific teacher) and was the person in the room with the least experience writing fiction. I loved it. When I was working, I was never the person in the room with the least experience, and often was the person with the most. I was the teacher, leader, boss, presenter.
Now I’m the student and it’s exhilarating. It’s a relief, to learn and not teach.