Shehechiyanu Again, Which Is the Point

 

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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.

Shehechiyanu

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
could reach?

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The Question

 

 

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The Question

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.

The Power of Ten

 

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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.

Gratitude

From this. . . . .
From this. . . . .

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.

I am so lucky.

to this.  Stay tuned.
to this. Stay tuned.

Another Week

 

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.

1.11.16
wind breaks against the front of the house
where we sleep
I wake
to the growl and whistle slapped back
a path

1.13.16
Yesterday:
Big white in flight
stops in a tall pine
at the edge of a graveyard
bald vision
bald view
still white.

Today:
White overnight enough
to hold dawn’s peach.

1.15.16
Ball
Orange & black
soccer
arcs from high
above the road
bounces at the front
of the car.
Quick check
for the child. No, only
a wall that contains
the game
unseen, unheard, unhidden.

Day Five — Counting

Image via Wikimedia Commons
Image via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Day Four — A Student

 

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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.

 

Day Three — Warm December

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The cows are clustered around the hay rack in the pasture across the street, a low moan rising out of the one lying off by itself. A few are eating. A calf lies in the curve of a large cow’s body, both heads erect, wet noses glistening, breath steaming.

I can see all this so clearly because I’m outside, on the porch, low sun on my lap, almost hot. I’ve written about this before, there’s a poem in my book titled “Warm December,” another poem was written right here, warm when it should have been cold.

The Porch

This is where I come together, my feet
in white wool socks, the grass still patched
with green, open, a winter with no winter,
the warmest ever. Other people are scared
but I don’t care. Birds fly across the porch
under the grooved wooden ceiling, above
the railings. Small white pines are coming up
in the bit of pasture beyond the barbed wire
fence of the old calving pen where it doesn’t
get bush-hogged in August, the nature of nature.

That was eight years ago. The pattern continues. World leaders are in Paris trying to at least keep worse from happening, but this is going to be the warmest year ever, again. I think the world has always been this dire, the future, the violence, the inexplicable horrors that humans do to each other, or one does to another. We just know more about it, we know the full scope, information coming from everywhere all the time so our heads fill and fill with one tragedy and then the next, a massacre, a disaster, push notifications that ping my phone so I pick it up and read about the latest horrible thing.

I could shut off those notifications.

Last night poet friends gathered here and we ate and chatted and then all read what we’d written in response to a prompt David had come up with – Plagues We Have Known.We always have a prompt to write a poem for the Yogurt Poets holiday party, though past prompts have been gratitude, tradition, grace. Plagues was a whole new direction.

“What wonderful nerds are we?” said Hope as Kay talked about exploring the etymology of “plague.” Nancy had written 14 lines to each of the ten plagues visited on the Egyptians by God, Hope had written one line for each. David had used the metaphor of cell phones as progenitors of infection, a coming epidemic. Mary was happy to have been able to write anything.  I was happy to listen to what everyone had written. A group of creative souls who write for an audience as small as the dozen of us, as small as themselves, because we love the beauty of poetry.

Now the calf has moved to lie against the back of the cow who was moaning earlier. The world is hazy with moisture and inappropriate heat.

Resurrecting Poems

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It seems like a long time ago that I was a young woman shepharding another young woman into the world, a mother to a daughter.  Watching the changes that puberty brought — the rising and falling tide of hormones, the blossoming of fertility, the chance that another generation was going to unfold (which it so delightfully has), was profound.  I wrote about it.  No surprise, I write about much of what I experience.

Sunday David and I visited friends who live far north in New England, and it was winter there.  It’s creeping closer to winter here, the thermometer reading a chilly 20 degrees yesterday morning.  But driving through Franconia Notch two days ago it was snowing and snow squalls followed us all the way to our friends’ farm where the grass had a white crust and a trailing vine on the porch was laced with icicles.  Ice, snow, a hard wind and a fire in the stove.

Put these together, and I think of another poem I wrote long ago, as I did last week.  The resurrection of poems continues.

Valentine’s Eve

I hear ice in the trees.
Our footprints from before dinner
up the walk to the house,
have crusted.

The sky, thin as newspaper,
shredded white,
hides black ice underfoot.
Oblivious to ice’s season,

another seed falls through me,
and through my daughter now too.
My hand on her arm,
she stops to stand with me —

we listen to ice clack above us,
raise our eyes from the ground,
hearts beating hard
as startled birds abandoning cover.

Parents Always

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One of the first things David and I agreed on when we met was “the kids come first.” Falling in love in your 50s and 60s is complicated for many reasons, and how a new relationship will play out for your children can be one of the trickiest.  Luckily for us, it has worked out well — our kids get along with each other and with each of us.

Good thing, because no matter how old your children, you’re still their parent.  Maybe even more so when one parent has died.  That fact and the glorious foliage this morning got me thinking about this poem I wrote at least 20 years ago.

PLAYING CATCH

The boy at the bus stop
tries to break his record of ten
leaves caught falling
from the maple,

leaves yellow as butter
cupping foggy morning light.

Not only leaves stir in the fog;
crows rattle branches, muzzle loaders
pock the morning with shots,
bus doors yawn open and shut,

children leave, come home,
leave again.