the education of the heart

 

  1. Half a life-time ago, in the hubris of her youth,

she assumed, when she said yes to that zygote

burrowing its way into her womb

that she would be the sun. He, the flower

 

but now, an old woman,

she sees how it is

the child comes to stir dormant seeds

his burrowing persuading her roots

his development encouraging her growth,

his brokenness breaking her

tightly held buds

season by season, teaching her heart

to unfold.

 

  1. Lately, she has noticed the difference

when her heart breaks,

no longer that shattering fear

of smithereens impossible to piece

she knows now that each tragic fracture

reveals a new facet of that

 

exquisite crystal

 

why, just yesterday she saw

in that pristine plane

the subtle contrast in the light between

confidence and shame

devotion and betrayal

 

Once she was transparent,

surface smooth and one-

dimensional. Now her heart

is more complex than that,

growing daily like a crystal in a jar

Color bursting from the prism

of her breaking open

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fly away home

                My six year old granddaughter whispers

to the bird outside her window

that she’s leaving. Her tender-hearted goodbyes

flutter in her tiny breast, uncertain

if the bird might just be lost

without her             

 

           And I recall the day that I walked in on her

eyes scrunched tight and straining, 

like a woman giving birth,

her sideways whisper, ‘Is it woiking?!’

‘Is what working?’ my furtive breath replied.

‘My wings! — Are they growing?’

‘Oh yes, oh yes, I think I see the buds!”

 

          Today, she flew

with her family, across town

though to her perhaps it seemed like

the migration of those monarchs, which she’d shown me

in her library book that morning,

so amazed at those fragile wings

that carried them the whole way!

from Canada to Mexico

(the black ones were dying, she’d said,

but their children would survive)

 

          Landing in her new home,

we patter side by side

on the windy path to her new school.

Her heart takes in the sidewalk chalk

and dandelion puffs to dare her dreams,

and then, around the bend,

we spot the birds

fluttering in those budding trees, and her heart

leaps because they found their way to her.

 

          And she didn’t even have to speak

bird talk at all!  She’d just had to use

her own girl voice.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

a thing of beauty is a joy for ever?

 

prompt # 13 , John Keats wrote “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Write a poem in which you agree or disagree. 

 

Yesterday

the pond teemed

so ecstatically that even ancient snappers reveled,

their awkward armor softened

in their playful mating dance.

The throng of painted turtles peeked

sheepishly at the display, as the frogs were jumping

one another,

their trilling thrill transmitting

concentric circles of ooo-la-la

across the water, and up the asphalt lane

reaching even me in my brick house.

Tripping like a child I flew, to bask

in the riot of life. It quickened

in my womb, and I thought I was Sophia

in the garden, savoring that delight.

 

Today,

heavy machinery marched

with their mechanical probosces

to slurp up every drop

and scrape that stagnancy sterile

dredging what they claimed to be the dregs

that were choking access to their pipes

A necessary sacrifice, they said.

 

I guess that they forgot to tell the frogs.

 

 

DSCF0048

suddenly a rooster

 

suddenly, a rooster here

in this woodland village

they say somebody dropped him

to make up for the grief of last year’s loss

like puppies after miscarriages

 

he was hanging by the post office

yesterday afternoon

strutting in his finery as if he belonged,

which of course he does in this array

of misfits

 

but now it’s 5;45 am

I know because the rooster told me

when he was practicing to be a songbird

imagining his crows belonged

with the peter-peter-trills-and-cheeps

of warblers, thrush and tits

 

and for some reason

as my foggy eyes embrace

these darkened silhouettes against that salmon colored sky

he convinces me to rise

pick up the pen

 

that blue-dress dream

flows across the page, me vibrant

and assured, singing as is he

imagining myself one

of the family

 

here in this room

with its window to the trees

bathed in this blue-green glow

of water and of sky, I dream

though I’m awake

 

until the choir subsides.

 

today’ prompt #15. Animal populations appearing or disappearing have often been seen as a sign. Write a poem in which an animal population appears or disappears.

For the full list of april poetry month prompts, check out Kristin’s Berkey-Abbott’s blog  @ http://kristinberkey-abbott.blogspot.com/2016/04/a-prompt-for-every-day-of-national.html

drawing down

 the invitation today- to write a poem about an emotional state without mentioning that emotional state or feelings at all

 Drawing down

 Overnight,

the water is suddenly gone

where there were wood ducks and mallards

yesterday, reflections of spring on the glass,

now this stark cavity of  mud

 

Searching the breach, he staggers

helpless to staunch the flow, his gallons

pour into those lowlands, and into that scandalized

vortex, I’m drawn

 

 where yesterday he was rowing his boat

suddenly he’s scraping bottom

that swift current carving its way,

through those layers of silt laden years,

the contours of bottom, revealed

 

Gingerly, I walk next to him,

as his boots get sucked into muck, til

upon our bellies we lie, pulling his feet

free, though surprising, his strength exceeds mine

(Is this what they mean by bootstraps?)

 

On a day when summer first hinted, he

made his way up

toward the mouth

where the water lay stagnant and laden

stranded so long from its source

 

and there, poking their tentative dark heads,

shy, but protected, they came, dragging

new, hardened shells in the balance.

 

It was then that my gaze was lifted,

and i noticed

 the water was rising again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How is it exactly that ancestry and nesting go hand in hand

In the rushing toward the deep of something thawing

Comes this breaking, which is vital to becoming green

Eventually must come this ripening

 

Last night, I played in the meadow, got muddy and covered in seeds

But when I awakened this morning, the window was shut tight

So many blossoms, and I’d been allotted a glimpse of just one

 

Grey hillsides blanketed and kissed

Like the whisper hidden in the poet’s verse

There is the sense of being untouchable here

 

Exercise #21 Go to your pile of poems that you’re just not sure what to do with. Choose one poem from each year of the last five or ten years (haven’t been writing or saving drafts that long? use your own time frame). Choose a line from each. See what happens.

I elected to open old documents from each year and to choose a line that drew me, seeking to let my heart, not my head, do the choosing. One line I couldn’t fit into the poem, so I gave it to the title.

 

Voice lessons

Today’s assignment is to write a series of connected Haiku. I couldn’t find the suggested model poem, Nancy Pagh’s “Fat Girl Haiku” in No Sweeter Fat.  I suspect each individual Haiku within the longer series was also to be able to stand alone, but I chose to simply let the meter 5/7/5 guide me.

I tried my hand twice.

Voice lessons 

1.       She smells the fragrance

That so many walk right past

And yearns to sing it

 

Her voice unmeasured

Seeks an instrument to play

This magnum opus

 

Her timid descant

Stricken silent for too long

Supposes absence

 

What made her conceive

She could learn those scales and chords

At such a late hour

 

Lovemaking of course

Bringing that moan of delight

Quite unexpected

 

Almost demanding

To be sung with a passion

Unfettered by form

 

 What made her believe

She could so tame or contain

Or package that gift?

 

Perhaps there’s no way

To share such intimations

As subtle as scent

 

Though her body screams

It cannot find words nor song

For such ecstasy

 

 

 

2. There is a sweet song

That yearns to be sung through her

She hears it out there

 

Her body receives

With delight the lush beauty

Oft hidden from view

 

She longs to bear it

To unearth that rich treasure

Though it eludes her

 

Perhaps a woman’s

Incompetent to bring forth

From this vessel, clay

 

So shattered like this

Great boulder split as if dropped

From some lofty height

 

Though she understands

Seasons of rain and of cold

Eroded her poise

 

Can those stones cry out

Though voiceless they seem to be

Stuck overlooking

 

Musical vistas

With her still, bearing witness

is but a small gift

 

She hopes it’s enough

Though she yearns to make some noise

Her voice remains mute

 

Again

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

words of wonder?

“Is anyone worried that creativity will be stifled by (such an) exercise? Not at all. There is a certainty that the dialogue between instructor and student will shed light on any number of questions about technique, and give knowledge (power) that will open doors of process. It is craft, after all, that carries an individual’s ideas to the far edge of familiar territory” – Mary Oliver

There are three places in my life (oh, there are probably dozens, 100’s, in truth, but sometimes a soul has to narrow its focus in order to realize beauty) where I feel an abiding sense of aliveness …. Woods, Water, and Words.  Okay, okay, I could add ‘sky’ to those three but I can’t find a word that begins with a ‘w’ for that, although while paddling or lying back on granite ledges beneath that great dome I am filled with ‘Wonder’, so perhaps that w-word can suffice?  Wonder is the essential element in each of these, whether exploring the outer or inner terrain. Words are the vehicle I slip into in order to explore that inner one, always available to me even when the water and the woods are not.

But I am working hard at writing these days and, as with any time a passion or a gift becomes a job, honing techniques and skills can seem to inhibit and diminish the feeling of wonder in it. I am working to develop a consistent practice by showing up there every day, as if I have an appointment, trusting that doing so will allow this elusive, cautious, and creative part of myself to have faith in my commitment to her, and so have confidence to emerge.  (Mary Oliver).  I am reading good books, in order ‘to have good sentences in my ears’ (Jane Kenyon) , and exploring a wide range of poetry.  And I am trying my hand at writing exercises and prompts that can often feel unnatural and awkward to me. My writing feels stunted and less inspired right now because of it, less heart and more head.

But I am endeavoring to nurture a connection between these two.

Just as the overhead presses and lunges, which I practice at the gym in order for my legs and back to become strong enough to carry me to the places where I truly come alive, can feel mechanical and don’t necessarily bring me alive in the same way that hefting that canoe over my head and setting out across the portage trail can do, so it is with these word exercises.  Missing is the bright aliveness that comes with following an unknown trail, the sense of mystery and wonder at not knowing what might be revealed in that next body of water, where there might be waiting an intimate, log-and-lily-strewn, mist blanketed, cove, for instance. Or a more sweeping invitation to get back into the boat and paddle beyond that intimate bay into that unchartered vastness with its long horizon. Or the heart-stopping surprise of a female moose wading up to her shoulders next to her calf, stripping water shields and lily pads from a marshy bog.

Free flow writing is like that following of a trail for me, raw and fresh. I am often as filled with delight at the end of it as I am at the end of a portage trail, in awe at where I have been led, at what has been revealed – wonder upon wonder- that I hadn’t known before I embarked on the journey.  Writing to an exercise can feel more like gym-work as my mind labors to lift from the murkiness of a prompt something inspired, or to unclutter and bridge the connection between my heart and my head.

Those overhead shoulder presses and leg lifts develop my strength in a way that can feel awkward and unnatural, too. This rebellious part of me wants to believe that I ought to be able to hone my body in a more primal way, becoming wild, not practicing/pretending to be so, living purely off of the land and my body’s deep wisdom. I dream of a season of paddling remote lakes like some dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail, imagining that such a pilgrimage would transform not only my body but my life and the way that I move in it.  But I also practice my paddling technique in our quiet pond, I develop my wilderness skills… knot tying and fire building and compass reading….for I know that these winter practices will help carry me to that other place when the ice melts.

Moreover, , if I pay attention in the right kind of way, I notice that there can be, even in the lifting of dumbells and holding of planks,a certain quality of aliveness in the utterly exhausted yet powerful sense of embodiment and determination I experience right there. At times I can realize a reverent honoring and celebrational gratitude of my body’s strengths and gifts. Intentional daily physical practice can get me to pay attention to and honor my body as marvelous vessel in a way that my day-to-day mindless movements elude, rather like going to temple once a week, or an intentional daily practice of sitting in silence, can do for the life of the spirit.  As in the infamous phrase, ‘If you build it, they will come’, it’s not the practices that cause the sacred show up; it is that such practice opens you up and prepares you to attend to the sacred, which is ever-present but often unacknowledged. And, as with those spiritual practices, if I allow myself to acknowledge it, there is a distinctly sacred quality to those physical disciplines in and of themselves…practice itself as sacred. Here, as in all things, I can avoid the either/or of dualistic thinking (the sacred is in this place but not in that). With any ritual or practice or work, there is something innately sacred about simply and  intentionally attending to them.

With my daily body practices,  as with my writing ones, I am nurturing, paying homage and offering gratitude for the ways they bear my spirit into life. I have discovered that physical exercise in the water aides immensely these understandings and connections, as the sensuality of the water awakens other aspects of my awareness…the silky liquid sensation on my skin, the echo of the womb in my ears….making of the movement itself a more whole-being experience rather than simply a physical one.  I wonder if there is a way that I might tap into this particular wisdom in my writing exercises too. Discover a way to make of them a whole-being experience rather than just a mental one, for there can be the sense of having left the rest of my being behind when I engage with them too. Might I think of them, perhaps, as sitting down to prayer, honoring them as such, and remember to invite my heart along with my head  into the practice. Perhaps light a candle, put on some music as visceral reminders, continue to take those long meandering walks in the woods that feed me.

Oh, I must admit that there has been this idealistic – both naïve and arrogant – part of me that has wanted to believe that there is something more genius and pure about raw, untrained writing without the restrictions of structure and style. Like many inexperienced writers, who come upon the practice of writing, there has been the fear of losing my both my passion and my voice when adding technical elements, prompts and exercises, or reading another writer’s work  in order to grow. I am ready to move past that, ready to marry the knowledge of my brain to the wisdom of my heart, ready to honor diligence and practice as sacred as giftedness, to regard nurture as important as nature in the development of a potential. Perhaps then I can find the words to share the music that I hear.

The key for me may be to keep the practice embodied by building into it those intentional elements of practice … physically showing up everyday, honoring the set-apart time as sacred, bringing my whole being into the work—senses, body, mind, heart– so as not to get lost in a disconnected head that can feel for me so empty.  And as has been proven with my physical body, I can trust that with regular practice, my writing will also be transformed, and soon more adept at carrying me deeper into places of wonder..

Ode to my left arm

Oh you limb of slowly honed strength

Whom I’d not imagined could be natural for me,

With your resilient contours and enduring capacity,

Reveal the oft-hidden truth that life forges.

As day in and out, you chiseled away my craving for self

-sufficiency (and those other self-words like ‘-directed’, ‘-agentic’, and ‘-made’)

illusions of maturity

No, it was the ones dependent on you for nurture and comfort,

Who year after year you gathered and carried,

That sculpted these graces unrealized, but buried inside the clay.

 

Oh you non-dominant one,

Content to let the other appendage believe she was more agile

With her blatant abilities to write and to cut and to throw

while you performed these lesser-than, drawing-in duties-

Support and balance and holding

Unnoticed and underappreciated.

You gorgeous limb, like these great trees whose branches you share 

(which in this moment are silently giving, unseen, this air that I breathe)

You offer your vital, life-giving  service

In this cradling to breast or to hip.

 

 

Oh you who lie close, connected to my heart

Radiating this pain when it breaks

I have not honored your place in my being,

All these years believing you were inconsequentially weak,

With your station and status hindering my reach

And your attachment encumbering my fulfillment.

But lo, resting this evening, with this late light filtering

Through the prism of autumn limbs, my gaze is at last is drawn

to your form, its remarkable structure

enhanced by this sculpting of the heart

 

Oh, you phenomenal arm, incarnating, expressing love,

As you touch and you gather, embrace and release,

What greater endowment than this

One you have crafted unknowingly

From such mundane ministrations, uncontrived and unfettered,

Instinctual movements of grace.

Reverently now I enfold you with this long overdue regard

Your dominance not in the realm of control, your legacy not one of power

Far more primal and potent than these

You foster my soul’s becoming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a mother’s heart

.

 

‘Since the beginning of time, never has there been a mother or a father who has not had their heart broken by their children. All they have to do is grow up”  David Whyte

 

This ‘mother’s heart’ is not a saccharine cliché, so pack up that pedestal please.  Why just today, for instance, mine was rent in an ugly ragged tear. Oh, I could pretty that up with some poetic prose, claim it was merely a cell-like division, as a precedent to any new birth, splitting this heart of mine in two. But the truth is this feels more like the ripping, as when between my legs he tore me , cleaving that very first time.

For that break up, as this, no breathing prepares you . One day he’s a heartbeat within you, the next he’s detached, afloat, free of your anchor, drifting each day, away,

yet,

when he is in pain you anguish, each break of his heart ruptures yours,  as though some remnant of his heart remains within yours, though helpless your body is now –to ease his hunger or heal his wounds, to ward off invasions or clear out the toxins that taint.

these same sons bring to you daughters, for your own heart to fall into and wrap round, again. until with that breakup it shatters, love wrenching your heart first here then there. no place for your heartbreak to turn but to rupture, large chunks of it carted away to some future unseen, in which you’re someone unknown. as she realizes her dreams, you’ll be absent

it’s all just rehearsal for death, i suppose, this planned obsolescence, intimacy with built in end dates. with each son that departs, one intimacy after another is stripped. each cherished heart, handed over, into the confidence and care of another, you are privy no more to that treasure. No not this, pain of possession stolen, but that, of attachment broken, as your center becomes their periphery.

Oh mother mary, this is the cross that we bear, with these womanhearts made strong for connection, our own oxytocin forging the bond. placenta, cord, breast, arms, hip, lap, hand, home, heart… each a communion from our own bodies crafted, each then a grave cleavage to bear. grief upon grief, built into this heart, as death is built into this life.

Rightly so, rightly so, the poets exclaim, from vulnerability to invisibility, this life is a great give away, a piece of you here, a breath there, to disappear at last when you’re gone.

still

you must hope your being has meant something, that these torn off pieces of heart, carried by sons and by daughters, by lovers and friends, has borne in them something of beauty, which they have also borne within you.

Yes, I suppose I prettied it up too here, in the end, else this ragged, cracked open and torn apart heart I couldn’t begin to bear..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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