No single thought is more important than any other, at least at the outset.
The trees remain bare all over the city. From my chair on the third floor of the main library I can see across the city to the hills on the opposite side of the fjord, and it is all still black and gray and white. An overcast sky, mottled whites and grays, snagged by the lazy gray turns of seagulls. Spring is on the verge. Spring is tightly wound. Spring is kinetic. There is a paper cut on my thumb. The man beside me at the desk has neon green plugs stuffed deep into his ear canals to block out even the slight rufflings of pages, the scratch of pens, the gentle tapping of keyboards, the sniffing back of running noses, the gurgle of upturned water bottles, the muffled footsteps, the swish of closing doors, the whir of a distant printer, the whispered questions at the reference desk, the unzipping of backpacks. All white and gray noises--delightful sounds--of library life. The man with earplugs finds even these distracting. I don't envy him. And perhaps I am him, too. These sounds now populate this paragraph because I couldn't or wouldn't shut them out and focus on something else. But this is as it should be, perhaps, if I stick with my original thesis. In the moment, unguarded, open, no single thought is more important than any other.
My semester is drawing to a close. There are a few weeks left, but most of it will be dedicated to research and paper writing. Finals come in mid-May, but there's much to do before then. I find it easier now to sit someplace and focus on my assigned readings and writings. I find it easier to tap into that sacred vein where I keep my words and release them onto the page.
In the beginning--January--it was not like this.
Honestly, I felt a bit dead. When I tried to read, the stuff--plot, philosophy--couldn't find purchase in my mind. It was like throwing undercooked spaghetti at the kitchen wall and watching it bounce stupidly and disappointingly to the floor. It was like trying to eat something delicious with a no taste buds. Ash in my mouth. Not for the first time since my daughter was born, I began to wonder whether I would ever be the same again. Whether it would always be this new, numb way. Dread came in a flood and sat there, a stagnant pool. When I moved, everything felt heavy. Heart, hands, head. But I kept trying. And there were, occasionally, shudders and sparks that reminded me of my old self.
It was Whitman that got the gears moving again. A bilge pump. "The young mother and the old mother comprehend me."
It was Hemingway that said, "Don't worry. You have always written before."
I felt my mind shudder. Like a disused door pulled unexpectedly over warped floorboards and open for the first time in many dusty years. Like a cold engine under the rusted hood of a car long parked in the drive. Like the thick, taut, chestnut skin over the hock of a horse bitten by the first nasty fly of summer. Like the empty shake of the faucet head after the pipes thaw and water surges forth again.
It happened in my 19th Century American Literature class at the University of Oslo.
Some might think 8:00 a.m. on a Wednesday is a bit early for Walt Whitman's famous ego-trip (or transcendental treatise) "Song of Myself". Not I. It's one of my favourite poems. Fourteen hundred-odd lines. Alliteration and assonance and anaphora abound. Catalogues of people and jobs and points of origin. Hot, sweating, teeming, odorous imagery. Free verse. God and god and you and I and democracy and sex and the procreant nature of our species and a lens on the world that zooms in and out and violently, reverently in again.
Being back in the program after a year of maternity leave has not all been easy. Leaving the Cheeks with her dad three days a week took some adjustment. And though I managed to step into the classroom setting in the same old way--taking a seat near the front, speaking soon and loudly and often--I felt rusty, to use a seriously predictable cliché. I still feel that way in Week 3.
But as we delved into Whitman's "Song", zeroing in on one of my favourite sections, the dust seemed to shake itself out of the crevices of my brain.
A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
My teacher chose me to read these lines aloud. Lines I love dearly and have thought about a thousand times since I first read them as an undergrad more than a decade ago. Lines I'd forgotten, along with all other literary references and artistic trivia, due to my pregnancy and the birth of my daughter.
Ammetåke, the Norwegians call it. Breastfeeding fog.
Reading again of grass and the many things it could be--for Whitman, for you, for me--I felt my mind shudder. Like the sulphurous snagging of the head of a match dragged fast across the rough panel of a matchbox. The rasp of it was delicious even in its unsparking first effort. I could smell the potential.
I offered my close reading of the text and enjoyed the viewpoints of my classmates. When the two-hour lecture ended, I sighed with pleasure and exertion and packed my bag in a hurry so as to return home for a couple of hours and see my husband and daughter. That's how fast my mind can regress into those lower gears. It's a relief. A retreat.
But suddenly a girl who sits near me in class was standing before me. Her eyes were wide and bright, her smile the same, as she asked, "Do you teach?"
I struggled to pull myself back into student mode. My mind shuddered. Like a stick shift pushing against a sluggish clutch.
"I have taught," I answered carefully. "But only writing."
She nodded. I recognised in her all the things I was in the years before I became a mother: enchanted by literature, smitten by learning, eager and interested and dying to be the one who has the answers if only to keep these conversations going with any kindred spirit wiling to join the fun. And then I heard myself say:
"Actually, that's why I'm here. I want to teach literature someday, and this degree will allow me to do that."
Would you believe, friend, that my time in the rabbit hole of early motherhood had made me forget that? I'm in school for a reason. There is a goal. A return to an original dream. To teach. To connect Whitman and his everyman, all-consuming love, pondering of the divine skin-to-skin with people who have never read him before.
That goal feels far away. Impossible, to be honest, particularly with my mind in this shuddering state.
"You would be a wonderful teacher," she said.
This time, beyond the shudder, there came a spark.
On the floor, she kicks and kicks
and looks at me
and kicks some more,
softly and firmly,
so that I might expect little grunts of effort
--like a piglet or a tennis player--
but she is silent.
I lift her to me,
glad at the breadth of her
abiding little body between my hands.
Blue eyes open wide, and bubbles
burst from pursed lips.
Her shoulders shrug upward
as if to say,
I wish I knew.
I sing; she smiles.
Lying at my breast.
the way her hands press my flesh,
the way my life transfers to her. So hot,
in the duck down of her hair.
Satisfied and serious, she speaks.
In the babble, the gurgle,
the burble, the coo,
I hear something else, too.
Though I didn't know I hadn't yet heard it
--and in a language alien to all but her and me--
she calls my name.
I am egg.
I am shell, white, yolk. I am fertilized.
I am haven. I am universe.
I am holding on. I am necessary. I am perpetual.
I am passing the time and counting down, but also keeping a record of these moments.
I am the only one who can feel her.
I am feeder. I am breeder.
I am cliché. I am tradition.
I am gene pool.
I am eternal.
I am quiver, oyster, envelope, compass.
I am a planter box. I am prairie.
I am heavy.
I am round.
I am passed over by the eyes of strangers.
I am envied. I am scorned.
I am offered chairs.
I am strong.
I am limited in my range of motion.
I am limited in the range of what I can eat and drink.
I am thirsty.
I am whole. I am hopeful.
I am two hearts, two brains, two tongues.
I am singing to her in the shower.
I am reading to her from my favorite books.
I am nesting.
I am sleeping, if miserably.
I am unsure of my footing and pausing on the stairs to breathe.
I am daunted.
I am undaunted.
I am full of dreams. I am peaceful.
I am aquarium. I am marsupial.
I am doing nothing new in the history of womankind.
I am doing everything new in the history of me.
I am lost in thought, forgetful.
I am attuned to the emotions of the children of others.
I am aware of my own mother's sacrifices.
I am brave. I am dependent.
I am lusting after my husband. I am dormant volcano.
I am potential energy.
I am half an equation.
I am pod. I am capsule.
I am en route to delivery.
I am tickled by kicks that land behind my ribs.
I am forced to stand up abruptly.
I am spilling over with words. I am learning a new vocabulary.
I am open to change. I am unwilling to slow down.
I am never alone.
I am hamster ball.
I am confident. I am bound to make mistakes.
I am incredulous that responsible adults will soon send me home with an infant to care for.
I am vibrating.
I am waves in the ocean. I am wind against the wheat field.
I am the keeper of a generation. I am gripped by fear at random.
I am primal.
I am evolutionary.
I am wrapped around a gift I don't get to keep.
I am prepared only to be surprised.
I am preemptively heartbroken.
I am protective. I am armed for bear.
I am destined for pain.
I am swollen with grace, pride, and water-weight.
I am always in the bathroom.
I am threshold. I am crossroads.
I am arms wide open.
I am time bomb. I am one beat in a universal rhythm.
I am a volunteer. I am selfish and foolhardy.
I am wishing on stars. I am speaking to God.
I am waiting.
I am patient and impatient.
I am, for a little while longer, at least, still...
It's Mother's Day in Norway. My first. Before becoming pregnant, I think I would have raised an eyebrow at a first-time pregnant woman celebrating the day. After all, I haven't had to do any of the classic tough mom things yet. Staying up all night hanging onto a screaming infant. Changing diapers. Cutting grapes in half. Tending to scraped knees. Telling hard truths at the right times. Forgiving endlessly. You know, the stuff that deserves a whole month of gratitude set beside on an institutional level. (But sure, we'll take a single day. No biggie.)
So can I call myself a mom yet? For the last 30 weeks, I've been making a person. Fingernails. Eyelashes. Earlobes. Heart. Brain. Uvula. Pinky toes. It'll be 10 more weeks before she's in the world and separate from me and begins requiring the classic mom stuff. But I am getting prepared.
Yesterday, we went to Bærums Verk for a childbirth class. It's been a rough week for Jonathan and me, but this thing was on the calendar, and I thought it would be good for us to get out of the house and into the bracing winter air.
We spent four hours learning from a pair of Norwegian jordmødre (midwives) about childbirth. The phases of labor, the pain, the breathing, the impossible strength and flexibility of the vagina, the way a baby spins in the birth canal, the role of the husband in support of his laboring wife. We watched a film of a water birth. We watched a doll manipulated through a plastic model of the bones of a woman's pelvis. We heard that babies emerge facing the floor, but that in a very small number of births, the baby will arrive facing the ceiling.
"These are called... um... star-lookers," said one of the jordmor.
Star-gazers, I thought. But it was an unnecessary correction. Here were two women, longtime midwives and advocates for mothers, leading an English-language class for foreign women in Norway and their partners. Their English may not have been perfect, but it more than sufficed for us, a collection of people from France, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, India, England, Pakistan, and the United States.
I took copious notes. Both because that's what a perpetual student does in anything that even resembles a "class," and because it helped to keep my mind centered on the task at hand.
"It is a myth that a woman may begin pushing immediately at ten centimeters dilation; the baby must also have arrived at the pelvic floor. This can take several hours."
I've experienced a few Braxton Hicks contractions recently. Never painful, just strange and rigid. They pass quickly. It's a reminder that, though I'm not yet nervous about the birth, it's still coming. Overwhelming and brutal and entirely outside my control.
In honor of Farsdag (Father's Day) in Norway--which happened last weekend, and I missed it--I thought I'd post something sweet and pensive about fatherhood, written by a poet friend of mine.
"Practice Makes Permanence: The other night I held my son in my arms and we exchanged a gaze that seemed to last for an infinite number of minutes. After kissing and asking him if he knew how much his daddy loves him, he stuck out his tongue. I took it as a yes. He's only 7 weeks old but I tell him every day. Sometimes, even though words are not capable of making their way over the tongue, a father and son can still express their love to each other. He will eventually need this when walking the world." -- Enzo Silon Surin
Happy zeroest Father's Day to my sweet Jonathan. Thanks for knocking me up!
I am afraid to name her.
What if I call it wrong?
If my moniker choice resists
story, history, or song?
Details of breeding and face,
habits, regrets, disgrace...
These I'll slap on her like travel stickers on a suitcase,
but a name?
So much weight.
So I wait.
One false christening could render her
uninteresting and ugly.
even Scarlet O'Hara was first Penelope.
Oslo waxed lilac overnight. Fat and elegantly bunched, they waited until we were asleep to arrive, to place themselves in the trees and bloom. Where one week ago there were only the wet, black branches and sharply-new green leaves of a tardy spring, suddenly blossoms appeared. Purple and white. Immaculate thousands of tiny petals. Each dense panicle of lilacs is a fractal; the blooms are four-lobed, radiating from a tubular base, arranged in pairs. Around them wave the simple, glaucous leaves of the lilac tree, outshined by the spring bounty.
It is evening, warmer than most expect it can be so far north. We walk below Uranienborg kirke, a proud, brick tower, built on a hill to catch the last of the light. Bells sound the ten o'clock hour. I raise my hand and lift a healthy panicle with my palm, then grasp it lightly and lower it to my nose and inhale. I recognize the sweet, yearning fragrance of syringa vulgaris, the common lilac, which floats along the avenues of Oslo each May.
Too late! There was no spring, really. Too fast! We blinked and the blooms had bogged the tree branches down so they swept the gutters. Don't love us too much! Norway's rainstorms will pound the pavements and rooftops, will pound the life out of these clusters of airy, papery flowers. Purple and white and mauve. In the aftermath, shriveled petals will litter the sidewalks, will dry, will die. There is no stopping this cycle. It will come to every leaf on every tree on this road. It will come for me, too. But with luck, I'll last longer than the lilacs.
I release the bundle of blooms, and the supple branch bounces back to its place above me. We walk on.
Photo: St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre. Photo via RussianTourism.com.
Sometimes I'm such a girl. When Jonathan asked me what I wanted to do for my 30th birthday, I told him the truth, even though it felt like a pipe dream. I wanted to attend a ballet at St. Petersburg's legendary Mariinsky Theatre. In my imagination, nothing could be more romantic. So, we made plane reservations (Norwegian Airlines flies directly from Oslo to St. Petersburg in two hours), obtained the necessary visas, and purchased tickets to the ballet. And I held my breath.
You know how it's totally possible to look forward to something so much, to put such a great deal of pressure on a single moment, that the reality can't help but fall short of your expectation?
Yeah, that didn't happen here.
SOME say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
The point of the poem, however, does not lie in either side of the argument. The speaker claims to "hold with those who favor fire," but his reasoning is not at issue, is not outlined for the reader to consider. Rather, the point of the poem lies in the irony of the truth behind the topic of discussion... that regardless of who is right about the way the world WILL end, either way WOULD work, and no matter how it is debated beforehand, no matter who believes what, when it happens, the world will be finished. And the weight of that fact rather than the validity of either theory is what people should consider.
Robert Frost is mocking me. I learned this poem in sixth grade, and never could forget the biting irony behind it. But I love debate. I love a good mental tug-o-war...
This is why I continue my dialogue about God and His current role in our lives with my dear friend (Meandering - Volume I, Meandering - Volume II). It is why I look forward to her reactions to my contentions. It's healthy. In the end, though, what we debate is not foundational, is not revolutionary, is not "salvational." In the end, we're really on the same team. This is my counterpoint. (Her points are in bold, and my responses follow.)
God is love in the Old Testament and the New Testament... The latter half of the Old Testament is all about God's relationship with Israel and how He is dealing with their disobedience. (sidenote: the words "disobedience" and "obedience" imply a choice on the behalf of people. Otherwise it would not be obedience we would be functioning as robots, mindless zombies, etc.)
Your point about the words 'disobedience' and 'obedience' is quite valid. Both imply choice. The existence of both in the Bible implies that people chose to follow God's instructions or chose to stray. Here's my issue with your reading of obedience in Biblical context.... You're applying a human take on the definition of 'obedience' and its antithesis to something Biblical.
Remember that none of us has the capacity to achieve righteousness through our behavior, our actions, or our obedience. Even when we "obey," we're still sinful and deserve death and nothing more. So, Biblical definitions of obedience, in my opinion, do not necessarily tie-in with free will. We live in a context which, for all intents and purposes, allows us to believe we have free will, but when we "obey" God, we're really only furthering His purpose, whether that means fulfilling the Great Commission, or barricading our hearts against the "present evil age" (Galatians), or merely providing Him with increased pleasure. And no matter what is accomplished by our obedience, it works for the good He set forth long ago.
No, I don't equate us to robots or zombies. Rather, I think we may be more like chess pieces, but chess pieces who live lives which can appear to be personally fulfilling and inside our control even as we're furthering the playing out of His overarching game.
I dedicate this entry to my husband, the best man I've ever known. Happy 5th Anniversary, Mr. Jonathan Peter Camp!
Five years ago, I stole down the curving staircase in my parents' home, an undulating cloud of white train and veil in my wake. My hands met Jonathan's first, anxious fingers pulling us to one another. Suddenly my hands and wrists and arms and elbows and shoulders seemed very grown up.
With these hands, I would soon be working as half of a husband and wife team to make a stable home. With these arms I would hold my husband, would care for him and comfort him, would convey love and desire and unity. With these fingers I would provide nourishment (both by dialing the phone to order pizza and cooking, at least annually). With these shoulders, I would bear the weight of responsibility that comes when there is no longer a parent to protect, but only you and your spouse to support each other.
As I reached the bottom step, we came together, embraced and kissed. A shimmer of tears tangled in my lashes and threatened to fall, but then we were laughing, surveying each other in all our wedding day finery.
Who were these sparkling, squeaky clean people? Not a trace of dirt or sweat or chalk anywhere! Not a scuffed sole, a torn jean, a wrinkled ballcap! He was absolutely clean shaven and I was manicured. For crying out loud, I was pedicured! Where was the mountain man? Where was the tomboy?
I have been inspired by my friend and fellow blogger, Anthony (Anthony and his wife are expecting their first baby, and Anthony has taken it upon himself to catalog the throes of impending fatherhood with grace and humor. Check out Baby C's Blog if you have a minute...), to tell the story of my first date with Jonathan. The only trouble is I can't pinpoint the first date very easily. There are several date-ish candidates which could apply. That being the case, I thought I'd take a stab at summing up all three (or four) and then putting it to a vote. When did Jonathan and I actually begin "dating?"
For the last three years, I have entered poetry in the competition. It's an outlet for my poetic senses, a chance to dabble in one of my favorite hobbies and find my way into a temporary network of people who share my love of rhyme, rhythm, cadence, structure, sound, and words.
This year, two of my poems were selected for display in the exhibit, and each won a prize.
- Edgar Allen Poe -
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love -
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me -
Yes! that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud one night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we -
Of many far wiser than we -
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling -my darling -my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea -
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
Last year, my uncle gifted me an old composition book that belonged to Grandma Jean long before she was a grandmother to anyone, a mother to anyone, a wife to anyone... she was little Jean Piersel, a teenager in saddle shoes, and she filled this little book with clippings about the movie stars of the 1930s and 1940s. Her own observations fleck the pages in girlish, oblivious script. It was a great insight into my grandmother and her youth.
If only she knew that I share her adoration of those golden years in Hollywood. If only she knew that I grew up gazing at a picture of her, nigh eighteen, golden hair sloping in perfect forties style and resting gently on her delicate, alabaster collar bones, and that I thought she was possibly the most beautiful human I'd ever seen.
At any rate, my Grandma Jean Campagna was a poet and an artist. Her playful watercolors captured seasonal scenes from her little town of Moline, Illinois. An ice skater with a blue scarf... autumn leaves in a collage on the ground...
If my blog is a testament to anything, it's to the fact of my own verbosity. (And "verbosity" is a testament to the fact that, when I run out of words, I'm not shy about inventing my own.) But a while back, I heard a fun, fascinating little story on NPR that challenged me to slow my verbal torrent for a moment and consider the following question:
Can you sum up your love life in exactly six words?
Well, gosh... Love is so grand, so big, so beautiful, so tempermental, so grave, so fickle, so overwhelming, so comforting, so eternal. This was going to be harder than I thought.
Smith Magazine put out this challenge to the masses and collected so-called "six word memoirs" for publication. The following is a list of a few of those "memoirs" which Smith Magazine accepted:
Red-eye. Him window. Me aisle. Love.
- Joanne Flynn Black
If I get Chlamydia, blame MySpace.
- Hanorah Slocum
Will government ever let us marry?
- Viki Marsh
Silently suffered his facial hair experiments.
- Elizabeth Minkel
What do you want for dinner?
- Drew Magary
If only he wasn't a Republican.
- Holly Fitzpatrick
Tried men. Tried women. Like cats.
- Dona Bumgarner
Funny, poignant, sad, true. It's poetry! And there's something peaceful about being given the parameter of six words. One of my favorite poetic structures is the Haiku, mostly because achieving something profound with only 17 syllables is thrilling for me. It's akin to bronc busting or raising a Bonsai Tree or caligraphy. It takes precision. It takes humility.
The following is my six-word memoir on my love life:
Running around the world, holding hands.
If you feel up for it, give it a go... just six little words, and a little bit of therapy along the way. (The complete article on the venture can be found here.)
My Jonathan turns 30 today. I have thought of a thousand gooey, sticky, lovey-dovey things I could write here, but he's 30 now. He's entered a new era of his life. While I can (and will) continue to be his silly, sugar-sweet "wifey" at home, in public and in print I'll refrain. This time. ;-)
Though he's now 30, Jonathan definitely isn't "old." He bounds around our house and the climbing gym and Yosemite and Disneyland like a tousel-headed kid on a sugar high! He continues to love his toys, though they become increasingly expensive (and colorful) with every passing year. His sense of adventure is enhanced with each trip we plan and complete.
My Jonathan continues to be my playmate, my Peter Pan, my complement, my favorite human being. (LEFT: An example of his perpetual boyhood take on life... the way he envisioned our loft as the perfect place to tie an anchor and use his new climbing rope last year. I shudder to think what he wants to do now that he has nuts, cams, and quickdraws!)
For Christmas, my friend Amy gave me two gifts. One was a charitable donation in my name, a contribution to further the cause of providing clean water to the world. The other gift was a CD. You see, Amy works as a teacher in Capitola, but she also holds a part time job at a groovy little coffee shop in Santa Cruz called The Abbey. The CD I unwrapped at Ya-Ya Christmas this year is a mix of songs by artists who have performed at The Abbey in the past.
As I thanked my best friend for her thoughtful gifts, I was already excited about the prospect of having a new soundtrack for my driving life. The old Jessica/Fergie/Rhianna/Killers mixes were stale and had long since been thrust beneath the seats of Bronwyn (my Jeep) in disgust. And while I remain loyal to KKIQ (FM 101.7 in the Tri-Valley), there's only so much of John Mayer that I can take without switching to talk radio for relief!
I blink and in that instant, God is gone. I've never known Him. My sins are cold and wet as seaweed around me. Gulls squeal in the half light of a morning which will never dawn. I am suspended from the prow of a sunken ship and the dead weight of its waterlogged timbers tugs at my toes. I know I am not moving anywhere, even when the tide is out and I am pushed up through the glassy ceiling of the ocean, in sight of the shore.
A gown of rotted wood swirls from my hips and merges with the hull. Though I may have been carved with hopeful eyes, with prideful shoulders, with an eager breath swelled in my bosom, with one arm cocked in salute to allow a shade for my optimistic face... I am stagnant. Barnacles sprout from the folds of my dress, cumbersome sequins washed white by the waves.
There is no escape from my place at the bow, and my yearning for something, for anything else takes hold, wearing away at my steady, oaken resolve. When I am under water, I long for the sights and sounds of that unreachable lagoon. When the tide recedes, I am given over to gravity, and my position as Tantalus stokes the flames of my frustration... making me long for the buoyancy of my under water prison.
My eyes open, and life goes on.
a cluster of dark leaves and white berries
floats like a host of tiny angels in my open doorway,
suspended above a face i've memorized,
presenting chilly lips now revitalized
by the hope of a rendezvous with my own.
heart to heart we embrace and tug, grasp, pull--
stretching myself up onto tip-toes--
with a flirtatious brush of my Eskimo nose
on his mountain man cheek...
feeling a rise of heat in response to my welcome.
tucked beneath a mink soft lock of dark hair
is the warm furrow of my collarbone,
one of the places he plants fervent kisses,
there and at the start of my lips...
...and just beyond.
shadows cast by the firelight are crimson,
white wrists and ruddy cheeks glow,
pressing together in a lovedance of souls,
of fingers and forearms.
our low laughter is like bells on a hillside.
i wrap my arms around him, snug and secure,
looped and moving, overlapping his back.
sharp shoulder blade under soft sweater...
face to face in the firelight,
we say, 'Merry Christmas.'
Over the years, I've been asked many times about my process as a poet. Where does this stuff come from?
Do the words rise from the dark earth like flowers, sprouting and entwining until I pick them at my leisure?
Or is it a trek through a jungle, machete first, naivete in tow, with the poem to display as proof of survival in the end?
Or is it calculated, premeditated, just type set end to end until it's time to slather the thing with ink and press it to the unemotional page?
I'd say All Of The Above.
At the edge of a wood.
In her hands lay the reins
Of a stallion.
And ne'er I'd seen a girl as fair,
Heard a gentler voice anywhere.
She belonged, belonged to another--
Yes, she belonged to
the twilight and mist.
-- Song from Legends of the Fall (1994)
-- Lyrics by Brock Walsh
clinging to my spinal column like vines to a trellis,
but less lovely and more concerning
in their gravitational goals.
There are no roses on these vines,
viciously climbing the ladder of my ribs.
I fear a mutiny.
You see, I'd grown used to putting my limbs to task,
logging time and distance in the name of
But this week of rest, as much as I'd hoped for it,
has left me rotted rather than ripened,
and my stiffness speaks a warning of potential famine
I advise myself to stretch out in the morning
before taking on the day,
to prune back the prying ivy
which is now wedged between my shoulder blades,
to reach an accord with my body
and bow to its demand for movement
at the soonest possible opportunity.
My finger traces a mystified trail
From his nose across his cheek,
Round the curve of cartilage at the base of his ear,
Down alongside the thick artery in his neck,
To the cavern of his clavicle,
The bridge of his sternum.
In our intimacy I realize
I don't know the names of all the joints
Or all the bones in the roadmap of his body.
From mind, so great, to hands, so strong
To the incomparable sanctity of his chest cavity,
I want to know his anatomy
As I already know his soul.
With my palm flat to the
Firm plate of his pectoral,
I lean in to hear the rhythmic, mystic whisper
Of something vibrating deep.
What I remember of the Tin Man
One after his own heart,
Is the hollow sound,
the metallic echo of Dorothy's knocking.
None of us knew whether the echo was an answer
Or the question, the question, the question
Returning to her fist.
Anatomists would instruct me that the heart
Houses no emotion.
Love does not permeate the ventricles and
Heartbreak does not denote a jagged crack
Running the pulsing length of the muscle,
Increasing in severity with each thump.
But lying here, ear to chest,
I feel myself flush to the rhythm of his heart.
It is speaking to me
By Braille through my fingertips.
My love, my love, my love.
If only the Tin Man had listened more closely.
So, while I suppose I'll take the lesson
For the sake of my own brain,
I cannot say I'll take any of it
This return to purity
--a slow, redundant walk
through mud I will always
is cherished by the
most masochistic part
of my spotted heart.
The hot water bubbles
and makes me think
--the starving man's
But rising again
from the steaming bath
my shoulders burn
with the scalding necessity
And I step out to make
the loop of life
pursed white buds protruding from polyps
at the clenched ends of near-bare branches
like sweet nothings making unlikely exits
from the mouths of prudish spinsters
women disenchanted by a world's reckless spinning
deigning to allow the hope and peace they knew when young
shedding winter skin, though bloodless and long-rote
and the shallow, sallow slanting of the insubstantial sunlight
leave a hollow haunting pressure decaying in my chest
recognizing this as springtime and the pain of birth it brings
one hint of spring heralds a chance reprieve
jump at the chance to be less reclusive
give chase to Sun's rays, bounding, so elusive
allow his warm-lipped kisses up my sleeve
we hum in the raw heat like black-backed flies
awaking from a stupor cold-induced
whispy-throated bird calls, i'm seduced
expose my neck, my calves, my knees, my thighs
coaxing cloth from pale limbs, leaves skin so bare
shoulders bud pink, entranced in fresh sunlight
ignore stubborn groundhog still so contrite
spring headlong into ill-bound but fair affair
fell victim to faux february heat
and clutching my hot tea, admit defeat
dipping tone beneath the oh
sultry vibration of lips on vee
faith in the silence of invisible ee
-Audrey Camp, 2008-
the broken strand which was once whole
trails from between her childish fingers
and the burn of shame crawls up her throat
fans out on her cheeks.
shall she drop on desperate knees
and flail her arms like one desperate and drowning
pulling the opalescent escapees into her lap
corralled to be restrung and hung
around her innocent neck?
or shall she instead
wait for the thrum of rolling beads to cease
kick the final bead or two beneath the couch
then pocket the thread and walk away
in search of something priceless to cherish?
this is circumstance
and choice and free will
dropped into the unwitting hands of a child
who only wants the pretty thing
as long as it is perfect and whole
she knows not her own power
to render that which was priceless
this is a plaintive whisper
tossed into the extended palms
of my ever-fickle playmate
she is statuesque, commanding
unnervingly lovely and bright
living like she means it
and sometimes yearning for me
i can see the deep creases
in the skin of her hands
taut and grasping
tendons fighting 'round her fingers
at times i want her to stand beside me
swinging a pickaxe as we are
singing the songs of the prisoners
in the yellow weeds at the roadside
but not today
my only desire is to be lifted
by those familiar hands
carried to the place
where my dreams are stowed
let her take on the burden
for she knows not shackles
nor has she ever tasted resignation
one hundred thousand steps left on this road
and i plan to take them all
tomorrow i will wake with ambition
laying kisses on my brow
and dawn will find two hollow shackles
broken on the ground
The breeze was what moved me here,
To a wooded hillside, a forest patch,
a place soft and mild.
But then, the same wind began to wind
all around and through
The creaking cedars,
Pushing and posturing above
My small comprehension of Nature
A big idea for a little girl
Alone in a forest.
Yet in my own long fingers,
The gentle manipulation of my own joints
I can hear that same creaking,
Evidence of strong solids,
Bone and wood, and
Finding the joint, the junction,
the soft spot between the two,
I am cherishing the creak
that lets me know
Power is close.
The intangible shall inherit the earth,
For what seemed meek only yesterday
Is a hurricane of hope, a riptide of revelation.
I am in that forest finding
My own mortal limits and potential
mirrored in the groan and grunt of the cedars
Living high overhead.
-Audrey Camp, 2007-
Every year I look foward to attending the Alameda County Fair. It's one of the highlights of the summer, in my opinion. Last year I was introduced to the thrill that is horse racing! It was one of the things that nudged me into taking my riding lessons. And then there is the bad food, pseudo hamburgers and thrice-dipped corndogs. Oh, and terrible karaoke.
But most of all, I can't wait to visit the animals and see the exhibitions. People from all over the valley enter the zillions of creative competitions. Art, poetry, photoraphy, cooking, quilting, drafting, writing, composing... And every year I spend time pouring over the entries, from the winning collection of bottle caps to the finger painting of a panda, and I kick myself for forgetting to enter something. Anything.
Brushing fingers on the rough sidewalk
I find peace in the pattern of concrete,
Absolutism and Manifest Destiny
Stretching out from my feet to every compass point.
But on my knees, sleeves rolled up,
And rooting at the cracks in the pavement
I find weedy greens and pill bugs,
Black ants and worms.
They abide by the rules of this swath,
Cut and poured and rolled smooth by man.
Yet, there is no pattern to their squiggle,
Their murmur in the wind whistling past.
At ground level, with my knees scratched and bloody,
The jungle reappears, and I am vulnerable,
perhaps crazy, to be pressed cheek to sidewalk.
A primitive urge surges inside of me.
I color outside the lines.
I saw a woman today, sitting with a man I assumed was her husband. He spoke to her animatedly, hands pushing his stories out into the air and across the table to his attentive audience. She nodded to the rhythm of his enthusiasm, understanding and supportive. Her hands rested, crossed and plain, on the table before her, but stretched toward her husband just enough that I noticed from afar. As his hands twirled, her eyes followed every finger twitch. When his story was done she smiled with her whole body, lips, teeth, eyes, cheeks, ears, shoulders. Her hands slid even an inch or two futher across the table. I saw the stretch of her gray cotton shirtsleeves. The husband smiled back and then, sniffing and blinking as if to calm himself after all the exertion of storytelling, reached for his drink. He wiped the condensation that transferred from his ice tea to his palm onto his jeans, and let his hands fall onto his knees. The smile fell from his wife's face simultaneously and she pulled back into her chair.
Later, he opened the car door for her. She stepped in, but even as her lips wrapped around the words, "Thank you," he closed the door, oblivious to her gratitude, or perhaps to her routine appreciation. It hurt to watch. No meanness, no spite, just oblivion. These people weren't particularly intelligent or successful, interesting or beautiful, generous or religious. Just people who would probably decribe themselves being in love with one another. But he didn't appreciate her, and she was silent.
You may think I'm overreacting to this, or you may decide I couldn't possibly have observed such details at a local Starbucks over lunch. Whatever the case, it spurred something in me, a little heartache all women dread and most of us have experienced at some level. And, thankfully, I was feeling poetic, too.
A feathery portrait of a woman
adorns a white wall
as shadows pass hour by hour
and questions hang on plump lips that never moved,
even when the model wanted to ask the painter,
a thin young man with eyes like the deepest black wells
in a West Virginia ghost town,
when he would lift his head and breathe,
stop his monotonous brush stroking and color blending,
break the layering of lighting and toying with angles,
and see her.
Instead, he painted her and her silence, a masterpiece.
He wanted to achieve the impossibility of
displaying what refuses even to be heard,
and she wanted him to spray his genius onto canvas,
be the realization of potential he'd only dreamed of.
She kept sitting, positioned in a gray dress
that once, in just the right light, had appeared silver,
neck craned this way and that way
until needle pricks of pain scurried up each vertebrae
and whined in her soft-curved ears,
ones he'd not spoken into in days, weeks, years.
Occasionally the sitting gave way to memories,
herself as a perfect subject, statuesque and patient, one
who realized her place as a vessel of true art,
one who embodied that place
so that watchers recognized her talents, too.
One man had watched every day,
from the windows of buildings, a place above the leaves
near the sky, heavenward.
His voice was soft like angels, questioning,
hopeful, honest, earnest.
May I please paint you?
Muse of art, passion, impression,
just the woman he'd discovered in the museum courtyard,
hair flaming in the spring breeze flecked with sun,
she touched him deeply to a heart he'd only imagined he had.
She quivered when he touched her back.
At the slightest tremor he picked up his brushes,
intent on capturing this magic luster of
His renditions were still, but close enough to the real thing
to draw applause.
He memorized the movement, the way her
bright eyes widened and fell, like ocean waves,
and he painted it over and over and over again,
until he no longer needed his model,
let alone his muse.
Sat in that gray dress every day.
Not once did she stir, cry out,
but rather chose to allow herself the silent agony
of being taken utterly for granted.
--Audrey Camp, 2006--
The painting: Girl in Gray Dress, by Robert Philipp
This morning I was tricked into donning a sweater. It was the cool air through our open window that did the trick. That and the deeper-blue-than-usual sky. Without thinking about it twice, whilst envisioning "bouquets of sharpened pencils", I tugged the sweater over my head. And I think the sweater was pretty surprised to be let out of the closet before October. But we headed out the door to work, still thinking I'd made a wise choice.
At noon it was 85 degrees out, and only getting hotter. My skin bristled under the aggravation of the intolerably out-of-season attire. Thank goodness I had an extra t-shirt in the car. I swear Bronwyn was laughing at me as I hastened to make a quick switch in the back seat at lunch time.
Anyway, I came home feeling overheated, sick and bitter. But as Jon and I enjoyed a round of darts in the open garage, I realized I was shivering once dark had settled on our neighborhood. The autumn feeling was back. Or was I just hallucinating? Rather than go off to bed with bad feelings about summer, I did as any true poet (or wannabe poet) would.
To experience my dance with the anticipation of my favorite season, hiding like a blushing brunette just around September's corner, please read on:
In Anticipation of Autumn
Blow air soft along
my skin. Cool, damp air of autumn,
like lamplight needed sooner,
push, rustle, swish
leaves in soft piles.
blending, bending in afternoon
shadow angles, criss-crossed in
apple pie patterns.
Yellow light pools and dreams where
my kitten sleeps, uncurled and untwitching,
wishing for birds to bring down
from the sky. Cornflower,
That one looks like a giraffe!
Slide fingers down
smooth surfaces of
yellow pencils; push
at the pink eraser.
Spell generosity, thankfulness, education, diversity.
Scratch on lined paper, swing wide
loops for ells, as you remember
my long-fingered hands
tossing big fluttering bundles of unabashed
of another fine season,
traipsing from branches on
a swirling journey
down. Gravity playing
and racing with itself.
A new sun, shy and retiring, groping
with hot fingers at the evening
breezes easing across my bare feet.
You bring me socks.
I wiggle my toes.
Laughter in our darkening house
Sounds a lot like the leaves we left
Carelessly in the street.
Colorful, love, whispers.
--Audrey Camp, 2006--
On Sunday we went to the races. It was my first time to the track; we went to the county fair and placed our bets. And we learned a little bit each time.
To begin, I picked a winner in Race 6, our first of the day. Funtrip, a three-year-old bay filly. Her jockey wore emerald green. She came out of the gate dead, dead last. I sighed and peered out after her, shading my eyes from the heat. Rounding the first turn she kicked in and pulled ahead of one horse, then another. But the favorite held a steady lead.
At the final turn I hitched my gauzy skirt above my knees. Oh it was so hot. With the blessing of breeze beneath me I grabbed Jon's shoulder and threw my maturity to the, er, lack of wind.
"Come on, girl!" I yelled. "Gimme a sudden burst of speed!"
She did. And she flew across the finish line a whole nose ahead of the bunch. I couldn't believe it. Jon wanted to pocket our dollar-fifty profit and make out our next ticket.
But first I wanted to watch Funtrip prance lightly back to the line. The crowd cheered for her, and her jockey nodded to us all. For that moment Funtrip was mine. Her veins pumped with energy and adrenaline; I could see them rising from her burnished coat like a road map to victory or fantasy, or both.
And then we went on into the fair, surrounded by heat and summer madness. Somewhere we could already smell the cows and pigs in their pens. We ambled between old tractors and feeders, running our hands along the rails. I wondered who had driven them and over how many acres.
In a photo booth we took our annual photos. Silly, laughing, kissing, smirking, crazy. A tradition we started during our first summer.
We steered clear of the cotton candy, listened to some awful karaoke, and spent most of our time in the youth sumission hall. Much of what I saw there impressed me. While I don't know jams or jellies, cake decorating, clothes-making, painting... I do know hometown fun. It made me proud.
In high school I took a drafting class with Mr. Rudolph, a sweet old man who liked me because I was the only girl in the class. We designed "buttons with a message". Mine won honorable mention. To be completely honest, though, there were a lot of honorable mentions. I missed the button exhibit this year. Hopefully I'll get to see it next year.
We played the ponies five times, almost breaking even most of the time. But on the final race we made some silly bets. I liked 2 and 4, even 6. Jon put $2 on number 9, a 20-1 shot, the least likely to win. As post time neared, the odds changed. Suddenly 9 was 35-1. I don't think it would be innaccurate to say we began to regret our bet. Not that two dollars matters, but neither of us like to lose.
Missle Tone, beautiful number 9, a gelding with almost no one pulling for him to show, let alone win... pulled it out. He raced right on through with his broad chest puffed up. And he won it. We cleared almost $100 on that final race.
I can see how horse racing could be addicting. Not just the thrill of money or beating the odds. Those beautiful horses, shooting stars. I could watch them every day. Listen to them every day.
One more reason to love the county fair.
Night pours down
dripping dark off the steeple
and running shadowy rivulets
in the rain gutters on the sloped roof.
But a deep river of brightness
floods the walk, and shadowy beings hurry in,
tripping to the sound of music, toward hope,
and always two by two.
Inside it is all light
hearty air and good folks, laughing about life,
patting one another on the back.
Each one is loving his neighbor.
Reverence and high notes
issue from pink lips, the mouths of working women.
They hold the heavy psalms, in blue-backed books,
tight between capable fingers.
Here the pews are cushioned, and
the air conditioning rushes up between the aisles,
up under the pretty floral skirts
of the parishioners, mothers and wives.
And the good old words from
that good old book, spoken by the good old people
of this good old town, lift me by my
deep red heartstrings.
a last hazy stretch of dark road,
The last mile.
All around me are dark things,
a circle of black-clad men
and the scent of gunpowder.
They see me through the fog,
and to them I am a gray outline,
a pencil sketch.
From afar, they are smudges of lead
or graphite on paper.
But closer, and I do draw closer
in spite of myself,
I can see the gray swirls of their breath,
I worry they can see mine too.
Because my breathing is faster, now,
like my pulse.
Then I am there,
amongst the dark men and the mud puddles,
the thunderous whispers
and trails of pipe smoke.
I am accepted with silence.
Together we are the hands of a clock.
We must turn.
Another mile clears in the mist,
and we hoist our guns in unison.
Together we file,
in purposeful lines,
a death-silent march.
Tonight, I think, is the last night.
I can already taste the blood.
I can already see the vultures
circling and reveling in death below.
One more mile to the battleground
Together, though, it does not feel as cold,
it is not as hard to walk.
Our last mile.
Whether or not one believes in Heaven, or in God, or in god, there is simply no arguing that life for a single being on this earth comes once, and then only briefly. At the end of a person's life, his heart stops beating and his eyes fade. His family sheds tears and pays for the pine box in which to bury him. Then, at the head of his grave, a tombstone is pounded into the earth to mark his place in time. Upon the stone are words that sum up his achievements, or the number of people he leaves behind. Sometimes there is no stone at all.
These thoughts are not romantic ones; they breed fear. We worry about the end. We worry about our own disenchantment with life, and with the disenchantment of those that we love. Anxiety is fundamental to our existence as humans, fueling our actions, both good and bad. If we're not careful, the constant pressure of the murky future can leave us with anxiety's bitter aftertaste: regret. Because anxiety has existed longer than poetry itself, it is not surprising that poets across ages and continents have tried to deal with it, justify it, and soothe it for centuries.
In the early 19th century, a very young John Keats was churning out many amazing, memorable poems. He had suffered a great deal early on, losing family members to tuberculosis, and his own life spanned only twenty-six years. But he had no real way of knowing his life was coming to so short a close when he wrote one beautiful and untitled poem, contemplating the finiteness of life and love.
He begins by noting that he 'fears that [he] may cease to be/ Before [his] pen has glean'd [his] teeming brain' (1-2). Keats' anxiety stems from his urge to create! Inside his mind are words, thousands of smooth slippery words, jostling about like fish in a crowded stream. The desperation of not being able to write all of those words down is killing him. Interestingly, Keats' does not fear death as much as he fears being unable to fulfill he own destiny before he ceases to be, however that might happen. He remarks on his true love, as well, fearing that he might 'Never have relish in the faery power/ Of unreflecting Love!' As an intelligent individual, Keats relies on his logic to help him rid himself of those feelings. He chooses 'then on the shore/ Of the wide world [to] stand alone and think/ Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink'.
While unfortunately gloomy, Keats' poem still provides a kind of resolution. Throughout the work he turns to the heavens, considering the night and the stars and the clouds. When 'Love and Fame to nothingness do sink,' he has found his answer. No man is infinite. His small space on the spectrum of time is what makes huge concepts like love and fame, and even poetry itself, become trivial. The tone of his poem deftly encourages the reader to slow down and realize this idea. Heavy pauses settle the end of each line, and within each line are perfectly-chosen words to encourage slow consideration. For instance, 'cease' in the first line and 'behold' in the fifth evoke contemplation. And there are lighter moments, too, when Keats pushes the reader back into the optimistic, naive mindset that exists before such realizations about mortality are made. Just mentioning 'high romance,' the 'magic hand of chance,' and 'faery power' allows for an endorsement of the theory that ignorance is bliss.
While Keats' anxiety concerned only himself, Evean Boland, a 20th century American poet, expressed the inevitable anxieties of life on a completely different level: that of a mother. In her fresh, story-telling voice, Boland sketches out the parallel between an old Greek myth and her own biography in 'The Pomegranate'. Unique word choice and bold honesty put Boland and her reader on the same empathetic level.
The myth of Ceres and Persephone is found in the intricate mythology of both the Greeks and the Romans; and, as Boland illustrates so well, the story is timeless. A mother must make a difficult choice to spare her daughter from the cruel realities of life, love and time; she makes a literal deal with the devil in order to postpone the education of the gleefully oblivious Persephone. Here the similarities to Keats' ideas about the importance of keeping childlike faith in life abound.
As 'The Pomegranate' unfolds, it moves from Boland's childhood, when she was in Persephone's role, into her adulthood, when she is suddenly the mother. The poem is about disenchantment with life, and it begins as a flashback and ends in the present. But the anxiety in the poem is still about the future. Its focus is on the future of Boland's daughter. Boland knows that winter is 'in store for every leaf/ On every tree' in her daughter's life (20-21). Winter is a classic metaphor for the end, the death of something, in this case a belief in the infinity of youth. As painful as it is for Boland to recall her own disenchantment with the world, she can't quite bring herself to rip Persephone's band-aid off quickly. She 'could warn her' (42). But Boland's decision is to 'give her daughter... such beautiful rifts in time,' refusing to 'defer the grief' lest she 'diminish the gift' (47-49). In other words, Boland resolves that the anxiety is worth it as long as the memories of childhood magic can carry her through.
Boland utilizes creative imagery to set an ethereal tone in the beginning, setting up her own 'story of a daughter lost in hell/ And found and rescued there' (2-3). She was 'a child in exile in/ a city of fogs and strange consonants' (8-9). Beautifully Boland tells the tale, effortlessly skipping through time, even though it is the existence of time that eventually leads to her disenchantment. As a mother she understands Ceres' anxiety over the well-being of her daughter. The 'whitebeams' and 'honey-scented buddleias' are pictures of perfection that are associated with childhood, when everything seems perfect (17-18).
When winter comes, though, Boland turns to the sky. She finds that 'the stars are hidden' (25). Persephone is growing up and, in an Eve-like move, she has 'plucked a pomegranate', the forbidden fruit (33). Does the pomegranate represent love or innocence? Whatever the pomegranate symbolizes, to Boland it is the 'French sound for apple and/ the noise of stone', two opposites wedged together in one word, one tempting fruit. When expressed that way, the pomegranate becomes the truth of life: beautiful and delicious, but heavy and final. Boland does go back to the stars after reaching her epiphany about allowing her daughter to experience life as Persephone as long as possible, but this time 'the veiled stars are above ground. It is another world' (45-46).
Neither of these poems is terribly optimistic. Anxiety is unavoidable because the choices in life are unavoidable. However, one poet eloquently points out the hope that can at least calm an anxious heart. Yosa Buson, a renowned Japanese poet of the 18th century, is remembered for his contributions to art and literature. Most of all, his many haikus have withstood the test of time because they are cloaked in wisdom like that which we see here:
Not quite dark yet
and the stars shining
above the withered fields.
Buson concisely represents a metaphor of anxiety about the future, very similar that seen in previous poems. The darkness of night is coming, inevitably coming. And the fields are withered, dying because of impending winter. Yet, there in the center, Buson considers the heavens. In the stars he finds his answer. Gauging the stars gives Buson a sense of time and place. By comparison, he and his troubles are small. Night, while unavoidable, can also be appreciated in the beauty of the stars with which it comes. The fields are withered, but in the starlight he can still see them, rather than being lost in complete blackness. Indeed, Buson takes only three lines to find the bright side of the story.
Humanity will struggle with anxiety forever. The many pressures of life and age will only multiply from now until the end of time. Poets will most likely continue to try and decipher the mystery of the root of anxiety, while simultaneously attempting to cure it. Keats was anxious about his own mortality, and the idea that he might never fulfill his destiny as a writer. A century later, Boland began to understand that anxiety that comes with motherhood, the worries about her daughter's future. And before either of these great poets could take on this battle, a clear-minded man with a penchant for simplicity sat down to consider a winter evening settling on his fields.
All three poets chose to look to the stars for answers. Really, though, the answer lay in their respective pasts. Long before a man's tombstone is written, and before his life is really led, he is a boy who believes in infinite summer, in the immortality of his parents and in Santa Claus. No man can escape anxiety about the future, but he can escape into the memories of all the times he was allowed to believe in magic.
Rarely does one have the chance to plunder
In this modern world of rulers and laws.
Nor can one oft sail endlessly under
the black pirate flag with her favorite outlaws!
Sometimes a girl simply must get away.
Sometimes she hides from her work and her school.
Donning hat, grabbing sword, in case of a fray,
She sharpens her mind with a puzzle or two.
Born of escapists' imaginations,
Such is the joy of the Puzzle Pirate nation!
I started to think about love poetry. And then I started to think about how long it had been since I'd really written a poem. And then I was depressed because it's sad that I don't take the time to be poetic. So, to jump start myself I wrote a poem. Not traditional, not structured, not rhyming, not flowing, not amazing. Just a step in the right direction. Besides, I have all the inspiration I need for such things... I married the guy.
i am sitting, legs pulled up in front of me so that my chin can rest on my knees, and i am carelessly admiring the shine of my skin in the late afternoon light, and the pinkness of my toenails, and the dimples on the insides of my ankles. you trace the outline of my feet with your toes, hoping for my giggle, my twitch and my retaliation. there is a bed in the corner that is not yet ours, but yours, and it is unmade. that is your childishness showing, the unmade bed and the Leggos and the fifteen empty glasses that once were full and never quite made their way back downstairs to be washed. today i have used the excuse of summer to bare much of my skin. it is all for you, every pale, elastic, freckled inch. that birth mark in the middle of my back is yours, too, but you haven't seen it yet. soon. i know without looking at you that you are looking at me, at the pink tint of my shoulders and the scooped neckline of my tank top, at my sloping clavicle, my neck, the soft secrets of my earlobes. you are noticing all sorts of little things about me that you've never noticed about anyone else before. my eyes, you note, are many-colored, and my eyelashes are dark and long, and then you are thinking of that game we play when i blink and grace your neck with my eyelashes, a blissful game in which everyone wins. my tongue. this is a game, too, this temptation. i find ways to touch you, rubbing your shoulders and playing with your fingers, everything that is innocent. you are sitting with me, and i am sitting with my legs on either side of you in a playful pose that is more womanly than i am used to, but still all in fun. our deep dip into love hasn't happened, though we are skirting the edges in a sort of blatant way. in just a few days, you will know that you want to marry me, and i will know sooner than that, in the way that girls just know. for now, though, we are sitting on the floor, on the warm white carpet in your bedroom, making a date for dinner, perhaps a movie, or ice cream, or kissing. on second thought, just kissing. and while my kiss is warm and affectionate, and your kiss is tender and a strong hint at our destiny, it is not our kisses that make us love. i tap dance my fingertips up your arm and gently touch your chin, nose, forehead, cheek, chin, cheek, forehead, nose. you allow yourself to be delighted. i am your delight. you are my soul mate. and in that fading pink light of early evening etched with long shadows, we invite the night. you carelessly admire the softness of the skin on my calves, tickling me behind my knee. this is new love.
- Audrey Camp, 2006
Last year, a man published a book that most of us never heard about: The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden. Stanley Kunitz was 100 years old at publication.
Throughout, the book is interspersed with his wisdom and insight about poetry, both writing it and reading it. I won't go into his biography here, but suffice it to say, Kunitz has held his own as an American poet... serving twice as the United States Poet Laureate. And in his book, one finds poetry about everything.
But what is most glorious are his poems about love. Whether or not you are a fan of the Romantics (Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats), the best poetry is absolutely timeless, because love and grief and awe have not changed much over the centuries; these remain to be the emotions that are most difficult to convey in words. Especially love. And Kunitz knows how to write honestly and naturally about love.
I love a good love poem. And it doesn't have to be a, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..." deal. (Shakespeare had his day, and he simply repeated himself a lot.) The face of love poetry is different every time, because it must be different! Levels of desire, love, ache, lust and fervor change. Societal acceptance of love changes. As generations grow, crush, lust, love, marry, divorce, die, long... so do the love poems that are conceived through it all.
Recently a professor of mine pulled me aside to share the following poem, one that touched his heart.
Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that's late,
it is my song that's flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it's done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.
It stays with me. In Stanley Kunitz's "Touch Me" there is something for everyone to appreciate. His sentiment is not for me to analyze. I believe that his sincerity, the time he has taken in his later years to marvel at the sounds of insects and the beauty of flowers, speaks for itself. Most of all, I am warmed by the fact that his final lines are spoken to his wife. She is his warm, tangible reminder of youth and vigor, energy and romance. If he ever feels lost, he knows that he will find himself, his true, best self, tucked away in his wife's heart.
That is the best kind of love poetry.
swivel through the air
I hear them, I hear them.
Ghosts and spirits
whisk in the shadows, studying me.
in the gutters with the
dry, dead leaves.
It's time to lock my windows,
my doors, to crouch on the floor,
and look up at the coal-black sky.
The pitch black night sky.
The moon, a blank orb,
hangs in wait.
Witches swish to the sky
leaving their wake full of
cackles and cries!
Come play, they say. Come play!
Tonight their mischief is
As they dip and dive, black
hair twisting behind them, eyes
ablaze, hellish and excited,
we hide. This, this
is the witching hour.
Breast cancer doesn't just affect
in the U.S.
two-hundred thousand women will be
with breast cancer this year
and nearly forty-thousand will
they won't be the only casualties
October is Breat Cancer Awareness Month. Whether you choose to celebrate the survivors or donate to research that will stop this deadly disease, please acknowledge the loss any kind of cancer brings upon people world-wide.
A bay area poet of the generation before ours and before our parents', Gertrude Stein stood out even in her controversial environment. She was a friend of Picasso (his portrait of her is on the left), and to other artists of the day. And her poetry maintains its value as it endures in its uniqueness. In fact, her poetry dares us to analyze it.
Stein is perhaps most famous for saying things like, "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose..." By abandoning all boundaries perpetuated by human logic, she shot into the atmosphere of poetry, boldly going where others had only dreamed of going before.
Today in my comparative literature class (which I'm taking because I believe my senior year of college really ought to be fun) we read a couple of her most memorable poems. Bear with me...
A little monkey goes like a donkey that means to say that means to say that more sighs last goes. Leave with it. A little monkey goes like a donkey.
Let me preface this last by saying that I'm not a great fan of Stein. As when it comes to art, I prefer that which is easy to understand. A glimpse of a painting should give me the synopsis of a story... when I look closer, longer I should see the details that make the story precious and special and necessary to tell. That's why I love Rockwell. In poetry I feel much the same. I'm not lazy. I'll work for the meaning. But I tend to appreciate the poet who is sure enough of his/her intent to give it to me blank and beautiful. Stein isn't like that. Rather she is so sure of herself that she believes the only truth is completely pure, the initial thoughts.
In the poem above she confuses us all. The lack of grammatical structure, the odd repetition and the unusual comparisons make every reader a skeptic. Go back to the title. That's what I told my class. Picture Gertrude Stein, the eccentric and pioneering lesbian poet of the early and mid twentieth century, sitting on her couch watching her ugly little dog go nuts, chasing himself around the living room. How does one describe anything that an animal does, really? Stein wrote the way her mind translated.
A little monkey goes like a donkey...
that means to say...
that means to say...
Leave with it.
A little monkey goes like a donkey.
If we allow Stein's voice to talk us through the image the way she talked herself through the image, we get at least a glimpse at the truth... and that's way better than just drowning in her apparent insanity. I'm not sure she deserves this much effort, but Stein was ahead of her time. Today I will cut her some slack. Hopefully someday someone will do the same for me.
The crunch of the apple and the tang of its skin
makes me smile, makes me laugh, makes me drink the ripe in.
This is me in a sunbeam on a not-so-hot day
looking for something to inspire my play.
There's a bonnie bright sky bellowing blue overhead,
herding the clouds to the end of my sight,
and sheltering my mind, my heart and my head
from all that reality will bring to this fight.
Laugh harder and drive, I think to me in my car
as I wonder whether a tankfull will get me too far.
My lunch time is halting and sputtering to an end,
soon responsibility will pull me away, my good friend.
I can't escape now, but I don't really want to.
That's a truth I now choke on, surprised and alarmed.
Since when do I sit all day long at a desk
and feel rewarded, controlled and disarmed?
This is it now, grab on, your only last shot,
for the school bell's to ring, and the iron's so hot.
Don't worry about jumping from this runaway train.
Que sera, sera. It's about credit, not blame.
In German the name of the flower translates directly to "noble and white". Historically the blossom has been touted as a love charm, proof of bravery and even as medicine to heal wounds and ward off evil. Edelweiss has long been the national flower Switzerland, and during WWI it was used as the symbol of the alpine troops in both Austria and Germany.
I marvel at the tiny white flowers, bravely springing from the steep, sharp crags. And, of course, I always associate them with the hopeful, sincere song the Captain sings in The Sound of Music. One of my favorites...
Every morning you greet me
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Bless my homeland forever
Summer is so beautiful! Today I gazed out my window with Disney sitting on the sill. Birds took flight, catching the sunlight with their backs and wings. Everything was green with freedom and health. I love summer.
But, as a young woman I know that summer is finite, like life itself. I know that there is an end, just past August, to all this loveliness. My August hasn't quite begun yet. I think, on the grand scale, I must be at the beginning of my July. And that's a great place to be. Seeing days like this sends me back to a time when summer did seem eternal. I was legitimately surprised when school time came around again each September. Childlike oblivion. Bliss.
I've decided to include one of the most interesting and touching poems I've experienced in a long time. The Pomegranate is an insightful look at the mother-daughter relationship from the perspective of a mother who remembers what it was like to be a daughter. The legend she references in the beginning is found in both Greek and Roman mythology. Ceres, the mother, has made a literal deal with the devil to save her daughter, Persephone. By telling her tale from spherical and overlapping viewpoints, Boland rounds out a story brutal and gorgeous in its familiarity.
I love it. And it happens to be almost exactly what I've been feeling lately. Slightly burdened with new knowledge, new light that comes with age and marriage and experience. That burden is one that I know I can't give up, but it is also one from which I was spared for many years. My parents, loving me more deeply than I could begin to understand when I was a child, refused me some of the inevitable disenchantment that life offers later on. They'd felt it, coming to grips with death and anxiety, the stress of work and need for money, what true love really takes in order to succeed. In their success they could have prepared my brothers and me to face it all. Instead they chose, as good parents do, to give us "rifts in time"... the best gift of all. I don't feel betrayed. I feel loved.
I was lucky to be sheltered and cared for, lucky to br shielded from the weight of the world. Mom and Dad never explained to me just how the summer of my life would fade out into an autumn of age and ability. Instead they helped me to revel in the springtime of youth and eased me sweetly into the beginning of my summer. What a beautiful way to grow up! Anyway, this is a poem worthy of deep consideration. In the end it is hopeful... and that's like life, too.
The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!
How easy! Let's get right on it! No, seriously. This is probably my favorite poem. Kipling outlines everyhing so succinctly. Did I spell that even remotely right? I'm off to Ya-Ya a bit before I sleep. Oh sweet sleep!
After work on Sunday night, Amy and I drove down to San Jose to be with Cindy. "We can't be afraid to do what we know we have to do. Ya-ya!" Her boyfriend, Jason, had just left for Japan. Now, he won't be gone long, but she was hurting. Loneliness is something none of us do well with. Anyway, together we watched Pretty Woman and ate the chocolate I supplied from See's. Girl time, though, wasn't over.
Cindy came home with me that night. On Monday I wrote my paper while Cin read her book. We went downtown for coffee (er... diet Coke) and we completed a crossword puzzle! (Amy very kindly informed us that Monday's puzzle is always the easiest for the week... thank you so very much, Amy Lynn!) Fun, though, was still to come!
Jon took us all to the A's game! Terrific match. A's won after 11 innings and some hair-raising plays. Fireworks show was fabulous at the end, too. On Tuesday we went shopping! Oh, how we shopped. Nobody does it better. Because of the papers I've been working on recently I've developed an urge to wear hats. Not making sense? Sometime I'll explain more.
We're crazy, we Ya-Yas, at least sometimes. I've included a few pictures. The one at the top is, of course, of us wearing our own creations. Yay for hats! Below are pictures from the "Lingerie Shower" Cindy threw for me at her apartment in San Jose last summer. It's fun being girls, which, I suppose is my point.
The real purpose of this entry, though, is to offer my latest poem up to the universe. Inspired by the essence of the Ya-Yas... read on.
Funny Girls Wearing Hats
funny girls wearing hats
giggling 'till the break of dawn
this is what you see in us
not our fathom-deep hearts
not our grappling with life
not the times we dip tentative toes
we are moonbeams dancing
where no dancing is allowed
self-assuring as three
and scared of nothing but ourselves
and of loneliness
you gaze on our girlish times
but if you blink you might miss it
our deep red laughter like tomatoes
or a summer dawn
on a day so long
we can fill it double-full
with all our antics and adventures
a silver triangle, entwined with daring
spins 'till it looks like a circle of light
for even as you shake your head
a-wonderin' at our childish play
you're dazzled, inspired
waste not, want not, we say as we run
flying fleetly 'round our little town
singing only slightly off key
a song that rings a little bell
somewhere deep inside
and you begin to sing along
but we're gone again
a trail of pink and happy in our wake
that's what you see
we're women on our own, though
living hard and long
just like everybody else and you
but sometimes we're enchanted
by the presence of the other two
angelic demons prancing on the ridgepole of life
blowin' kisses and dandelions
beckoning to ourselves, our big selves
come and play!
that's when we don our hats
and suddenly we're youth
we're rootbeer popcicles and cotton candy
grass between your toes
if you can't beat 'em, join 'em
there's simply nothing else to do!
-Audrey Camp, 2005
And, because I just re-discovered this picture, and because Cindy doesn't read my blog nearly as often as she should and therefore must be punished... When Amy's wonderful sister, Heather, was getting married last July, she allowed Ames to bring "a date" to her wedding. Seeing as how choosing between the two of us would have been just awful, Amy persuaded Heather to let us both come. Never in the history of weddings has anyone made such a blunder. Cindy and I didn't want to be overwhelming. Maybe no one would notice Amy's two dates if they looked exactly alike. Uh-huh. You see where I'm going here. As twins we entered the church, the reception hall, the dance floor. What happened that night became legend. Think... ummmm... whirling dervish... times two... in short pink dresses and high heels! That was us. Oh, but that was exciting. Yes, Ames, we know you were proud.
My English Literature class this quarter has moved into the life and works of William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). I'm a Yeats fan. What an incredible man. While looking again at some of his poems, I began to feel a new sense of identification. Yes, I've always enjoyed his style, finesse, and love of finding the perfect words. Yes, his imagery has always evoked beautiful pictures in my mind. But this time I really felt his deeper meaning. As a result I began to write my own poetry. It's been a while since I've felt so compelled.
At a time when the world was slowly disolving the authority and structure of Imperialist powers world-wide, Nationalism was growing in nations everywhere. Ireland was then being run by the United Kingdom and yet had very little say in the British Parliament; the people of Ireland longed for a sense of themselves and their country.
Yeats believed in the role of art as education, exposition and inspiration. While many of his predecessors had struggled with the social repercussions of publicly expressing one's own private thoughts and feelings, Yeats embraced that prospect and utilized it to unite his countrymen under the common hope for independence.
His ideal sense of Ireland seemed to be the untouched outer-reaches of the West, places very much removed from the commercialism and technology found in Dublin and London. In Yeats' quest for authenticity he studied folklore and Irish history.
Over the course of his life he performed many roles. Not only was he one of the most well-known poets and playwrites of his generation, Yeats founded the Irish Literary Society (1892) in the hopes of insighting a revolution of words and art. He traveled the world, spoke out against British imperialism, rioted in the streets with his fellow Irishmen, and was eventually a Senator of an Irish free state in 1922.
Today we went over several of his most famous works in class. One of his best known poems, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree", is one I've read and thought about many times before. But I learned something very interesting about it today. At the time he wrote the poem, Yeats had been reading Thoreau's Walden. And Walden remains the quintessential book about the rewards of solitude. Thoreau moved to a cabin in the Northeastern United States on Walden Pond, and there he postulated about everything, having all the time in the world to think. "Innisfree" (pronounced inn-ish-free) was Yeats' response to that work:
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
How beautiful. I think we all long for solitude sometimes. I know my dad does. And I can't think of anyone better suited for life in a cabin in the woods, far from the raging, swirling world. (But I also can't imagine how the rest of us would handle that same raging, swirling world without him. The needs of many... and so on and so forth.)
Anyway, I agree with Wordsworth, "the world is too much with us." Crass commercialism and the pressure to go through the right motions and steps towards a goal predetermined by everyone but ourselves has made us insensitive to the natural world. At least, that's how it is the majority of the time. Sometimes a few of us run frantically to the nearest government sanctioned National Park, praying it will still be as beautiful and fresh as it was the last time we were there. But the rest of the time we seem much too busy to appreciate those termed to be "the little things".
On days like today, a beautiful day in California, the smell of freshly cut grass or the sound of birds and sprinklers gets me thinking. Wouldn't it be nice to take the time to really let go? Anxiety plagues me when it comes to school. Driving driving driving fatigues me. And then there's work and chores and all the other daily demands, things I should just accept because everyone else does... that's part of being an "adult", right? Maybe. Today, though, with Yeats' steady, humming cadence flowing through my brain, I fancied my own hideaway.
Gazing around this summer place
and feeling feelings churning deep,
I consider the bees, leaves, and flowers,
and running away before it sours.
I'll take with me memories, all of the grace
and rest then in Eden to finally sleep.
For my faith is fading so fast
in life and after, God and truth.
Heroes are men who bleed and die,
and were once boys, sons who cried.
Escape calls clearly; the die is cast!
And I, too, yearn for the fountain of youth.
Grab my hand, Love, and come with me
away to somewhere of once I dreamed.
I miss the enchantment of infinite life.
Here I am standing, always your wife,
trusting and hoping, in spite of things
that are not as lovely as they once seemed.
We'll not lose our way, trust your guide.
The meadow there is real, green and low,
and in it hides a dappled fawn.
He waits there as his mother is gone.
Deep in this magical place we'll hide
with childlike faith and a love-happy glow.
-Audrey Camp, 2005
(I realize the how presumptuous it is to place my poetry anywhere near Yeats' own. Just remember that I'm not competing... I'm responding.)
Some things are just too big to really think about. Feeling a tad overwhelmed this afternoon, I called my pal Cindy to find out whether I was alone in my staggering under the weight of life. If she weren't such a nice person, such a good friend, I think she would have laughed at me.
Everyone, she said, feels like that sometimes. Good. I'm glad to hear it. Not that I would wish this strange feeling of disenchantment and/or utter fatigue on anyone else. It's simply a comfort to find that the feeling is common to all.
Yes, I'm being vague on purpose. If I chose to write down all of the issues I've been pondering in lightening-fast succession... you might just buckle under the strain, too. We can't have that.
Cindy's advice was to talk it all out. I agreed. And I was able to speak to my friend Dan today, too. One thing I love about Dan is his ability to brighten my outlook at any given moment. He's willing to do it, too. The mark of a true friend. His advice? Take a break. Think closer to home. Remember that "the guy upstairs probably has this whole life thing figured out already". Sometimes I forget that.
At home I took a long nap. My sleep was deep but fitful. Apparently even unconsciousness isn't a true sanctuary at times. When I woke up I found that Jon had been thinking of me. He gave me the sweetest little card. On the front it says: Wonderful you... Inside it says: ...lucky me. I got some perspective.
This evening I was able to relax a bit. We watched "Hoosiers", an all time favorite of mine. Troubled individual gets his life back on track, people find the best in themselves, America offers amazing opportunities to everyone, and the underdog rises to the top. A true story.
To set my own mind at ease I decided to think about a simpler time... and instead I wound up thinking about (and rejoicing in) the fact that life is never simple. Crazy, as Dan reminded me today, is not only an option, it's inevitable. As long as we work hard, do our best, life works itself out. Thus, the outcome is fitting, even worthwhile.
I resolved to take the time to remember the lives of those who came before me, those who played integral roles in my existence. Heritage is soothing to consider because it's over and done. We can study it without worrying about a plot twist, a curve ball. Our heritage is the opposite of our future. Obvious? Sure. Important to remember? Absolutely.
Introspection may not always be the best remedy for the "mean reds" (a "Breakfast at Tiffany's" term that Cindy and I have adopted to explain some of the emotions we feel and don't understand). But occasionally it helps us find our center once again So, tonight I thought of my ancestors, my parents, the state of the world... big things that are done and have resulted in something that I consider to be very worthwhile... me.
Where was your beginning?
A handsome young Italian
Saw you gleaming in a window
He purchased you with his factory wages
Soon he and his pretty young Italian bride
Were wrapped in your silver embrace
Next you sheltered their
English-speaking Italian children
In two rows
Could you smell the lasagna from your place on the piano?
Then you held a soldier
Italian features in an American uniform
Did you hear that the war took all his brothers?
Black and white
A beautiful blond and the civilianized soldier
You cradle them and their half-Italian daughter
Were you a witness to their divorce?
A Christmas party
You encircle a teenager with her slim half-Italian fingers
Poised for her first kiss with my father
How did you survive those treks across the country?
Now I smile back at myself from you
My quarter-Italian temper cannot be captured on film
But you know me, don't you?
The poem is one I wrote almost two years ago as an assignment for a class. I'd expected something much different than that which I ended up with. Such is the craft of the poet. As a matter of fact, this ended up being one of my favorites that year. Tonight it seemed an appropriate addition.
We all have those mornings when we look in the mirror and cringe ever-so-slightly. Eh. It's part of growing up. The pre-teen years are the worst.
"Oh my Gawd! Would you look at that ZIT!" we used to scream as we clamored up onto the bathroom counter, pressing our faces up against the mirror, zeroing in on the protruding red culprit. When, in reality, the pimple was barely noticeable... and besides, no one was actually looking at us.
(The above picture was taken by Jon when we were in London... and, while it does show my freckles, I'm actually putting it here for him to see when he reads my blog tonight. Awwwwww.)
For me, blessed with an acne-free complexion (hate me later), the daily struggle was with my nose. Why? How sweet of you to pretend not to notice. Alas, my nose is crooked. It always has been. For years I agonized over it. All in spite of the support I received from my family. Well, part of my family. Mom, as usual, told me I was gorgeous. On the other hand I have a very distinct memory of my dad, who loves loves loves to tease me, coming up behind me as I stared woefully at my face.
"What's wrong?" he asked me. By the way, I was twelve at the time.
"Oh, Dad, m-m-my nose is crooked!" I stammered, almost in tears.
He thought for a second, studying me, and then said incredulously, "It really is, isn't it? Wow!" And then I was crying. Oh, Daddy, I still love you.
Anyway, before the nose crisis was the one-eye-is-bigger-than-the-other fiasco. Now I don't even bother noticing those things. It's not worth my time. But there remains to be one feature I can't ignore: my freckles. Sometimes they make me spritely, nymphish. Other times they stand out Dalmation-style. Today was a "bad freckle day".
How did I pull myself out of the bad freckle doldrums? Unlike a bad hair day, bad freckles cannot be solved with a straightening iron and lots of hairspray. Well, the answer came to me in my English Literature class in the form of Gerard Hopkins' poem "Pied Beauty":
Glory be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.
For the poetically-challenged I will sum up: God made everything, including the freckled things. That means me. And because He made the freckles, they're beautiful. Thank God. That was a happy way to start the day. I wish that kind of start to everyone I know and love. For now, as I am currently watching "Cool Runnings" in the background... peace be the journey!
Being married is beautiful (99% of the time anyway). A while ago I wrote this poem after one of the first times I woke up next to Jon. And it's still true. I hope it always will be (99% of the time anyway).
Morning in Love
Opening my eyes to early morning
A breathing, blue-eyed miracle
With sloping shadowy shoulders
Rising from beneath the blankets
And a strong square jaw
I hold my own breath so as not to wake him
My angel wrapped in sheets
I move towards him
Drawn by the warmth and the rhythm
Of my sleeping love
Oh, I wish I could hold him every morning
Nestled in the crook of his arm
Ear to his heart
Basking in the sigh of early dawn
And kissing his fingertips
Because he is precious to me
In his sleeping entirety
He opens his eyes to me
And we share a smooth, silky moment
Of morning in love