Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On Teaching, Daily Life, Keeping On

After being away from normal routine this weekend—on a "writing retreat" that was silent, too—I am noticing that normal routine in some way feels easier than before the weekend. I don't know if that has to do with just getting distance from the way the everyday mundane things have a way of weighing me down, or if it's because my partner is gone and I still have all this space at home for another kind of 'retreat', or if there's something not quite as nameable that comes from even a little respite. On the other hand, it's just kind of horrifying how quickly the noise and business and distractions fill in space when I let it, and that's what happens—some of these so-called chores are just distraction, hubbub, and empty activity.

My students this fall have humbled me; most of the 20 people in the Kresge Core class that I'm teaching have arrived at UC against unbelievable odds—a handful are the first in their families to go to college, some are spending their weekends back home caring for family farms or disabled siblings, others only learned English when they were 8, 9, 10, and still feel sort of stuck between two universes. Today one young woman had been present and engaged during the whole class, asked me a good, clear question when we were finished at the end of class, gathered her things, and by the time I was out the door a few minutes later, she was on her phone on her balcony, crying almost uncontrollably to the person on the other end. I remember how it was to be that age. I remember and I don't always want to, although I still feel that I was lucky because of the friends -- some long lost, some still in my life -- I met at UCSC that helped me make sense of a world that had suddenly and radically gotten much, much bigger. Some days when I am not totally hoofing through a lesson or racing to catch up with my own assignments for my students, I know I strive to be that person to some of them.


I found this little list poem this weekend which I wrote in June.

Things I Have Put My Faith In

Barack Obama
The genuine good of my colleagues
My sister's ability to take it one day at a time
(My sister's faith)
Friends' shoulders and embraces even when I feel I have nothing to offer in return
My cat's nine lives.
My lover's longevity (and his faithfulness)
His faith in me.
The soil around my home and its health, in the face of acute disease.
The green thumb I got from grandfathers I didn't know.
Four distinct seasons
(which need):
People in the U.S. committing to sacrifice for others, or the seasons are history
My friends' commitments to bring creativity into this world.
My lover's hands, even when he's gone.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"My body knows things my brain has no idea about"

"My body knows things my brain has no idea about"
Title from a line by Heather McGowan in The Duchess of Nothing

(Note: I don't think of this as a "finished poem", but rather as riffing off the line mentioned above. But nor do I think only "finished" things should be shared--it's all about keeping the wheel turning).

My body knows things.
Like: how to pet the cats
What to do with the root-bound plant
And how hard to shake it
How the soup will taste and
Why it should taste that way—

I am like a Volkswagen-sized leatherback turtle,
Climbing out of the tide and up the beach where she was born,
Finding a spot in which to bury her eggs—
Hundreds of them, ping pong ball size—
Some of which will hatch babies that in turn
Will have to figure out where the ocean is
And how to make it there
Scuttling across sand in morning sun
Hoping to escape a predator's hand.

I am like the albatross, courting, clack clack clacking
In a dance of fidelity, catching the female's eyes
And convincing her to partake, to dance back,
Two coquettes, unending their mating ritual
For minutes upon minutes upon minutes,
Somehow knowing it needs to last
In order to mean something lifelong.

Monday, August 24, 2009

On Friendship

Maybe we'd been born
With a room in our hearts emblazoned
With the other's name.

Friday, July 24, 2009

She Is Who Wakes Me

She Is Who Wakes Me
A Poem inspired by Jane Hirshfield's "Imagine Myself In Time"

Twenty years on, facing old age
who will my young self be?
What will she look like when I look back
from future mornings? The quality
of those mornings, a hidden mystery—no telling now
whether I'll find birdsongs, or birds.
Looking at old age, when it's closer at hand,
will I remember the way words matter now:
guardians of my heart, gates to others'?
Maybe one loss will follow another,
and widowhood will be less sudden.
Or I will walk naked into a sunny morning, forgetting
how cold the world still is at dawn.
I wonder if my older self knows how
to enfold time, piling years
onto her current moment,
now to then, then to now.
Saying, "it is only ever now,"
so that neither of us can utter a reply.
She already knows about me. Time folds.
She is who wakes me, today.

I started writing this poem in June but has evolved quite a bit since, and it felt time to share it with more people. It feels like it tries to capture a sentiment (or series of sentiments) that are close at hand for me this summer. If you read it and have any associations with it, or want to provide other feedback, please do!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Laughter, After

Laughter, After
(On "Faith Healing")

One can hear the phrase "Faith Healing" as the healing of wounded faith (as in: faith, healing). Or as the way faith, like nothing else, heals. I guess that it does. This way: I sit on a porch and I stare at the ocean, believing that this is time well spent. I understand our whole lives together hover above a small area of the Pacific and I stare. I listen to the family of quail looking for food on our porches, and it is literally a family: mother, father, and a very spotted baby. I am giving myself time, on a Sunday, a day you left, and have none left of. I trust that this is what I need and I listen to the quail, and I hear you say, about the baby: That. Is. So. Cute. And I am grateful for your voice in my ears. So my faith gives me gratitude which leads me to tears of what can only be called joy. So it has happened again: faith led to time led to gratitude led to tears led to joy. I am not past-tense healed, but I am healing. You are healing. Me. Despite the paradox. I bless you for being the wound and the salve simultaneously. Render and mender. Woe-er and Sew-er/Sower. Tearful and cheerful. Latitude/gratitude. Attitude/platitude. Food chewed. Mood-lewd. Quail-wail. Laughter, After. You are cracking me up, and I am back to real joy, and if I weren't writing these words in a roomful of people there'd be real tears, too.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Corn ears unfurling.
What did the babies look like?
Memory fleeting.

June 29, 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009


I am starting this blog because on May 17 of this year, I lost my best friend Jamie to sudden, acute myelogenous leukeumia (AML). There are hundreds of facets of my life that feel affected by this loss--our shared love for our gardens and our homes, our shared appreciation of a good fig and a great olive, the way I turned to Jamie at every crossroads in my adult life and gained perspective, and on, and on.

One passion we shared was for the written word -- for the power of poetry and language to enhance, shape, give meaning to and sometimes make sense of a life, our lives. Over the past 2 decades, we had shared the particular journey, challenge, obstacle course, of staying connected to language and our own words while living in a world that doesn't always nurture that. Once, I came up with an exercise which involved sending other several lines of poems on a postcard that asked for the other to fill in lines as pairs to the first lines, without worrying about final narrative or sequence. The point was to respond to language with more language, and to let the process continue for a series of postcards. I recently found the collaborative "product" transcribed in my computer , and will post it at some point. Another time, Jamie created a website where we could each post short poems or writing in response to assignments we gave each other or ourselves. Again, the aim was to provide a context for writing, and then to provide some forms and an audience in each other to nurture these parts of ourselves. We didn't publicize that website, although it's still public and available.

The line about the wheel (in the title of this blog) comes from the collaborative postcard poem; I don't know anymore who wrote the line, but it seemed to speak to my need to let the ink move on the page (I still start poems with ink, and edit and revise later with a keyboard). I do not know what wants to be written, these days, but I do know there is language for the emotions I feel and the experiences that I'm inside (and that feel like recursive lessons in my own voice, since Jamie's death). So I am building a place to write more, and a place to write freely, about grief, friendship, love, and anything else in my heart and mind. I am certain that I wish Jamie was still in my audience; she was my first reader when I was working on a poem and wanted to start seeing how it sounded in the world. I had been working on a poem named January (her birth month) late last year; I wish I had shown it to her. Creating this spot here is one act of nudging myself a little further, taking a little more advantage of the time I have alive, demanding that I experiment with sharing writing sooner, rather than thinking there will be time for it to reach others later. It is also an attempt to relearn about audience.

I keep turning, not knowing.