A reading, what I’ve been up to, and what’s next

Let’s start with what’s next: The election. High anxiety for everyone, or almost everyone, on all sides. How do we get through Tuesday? The days after Tuesday? How do we heal?

This morning, my husband turned on the TV news, which ran a story about a woman who is making yard signs and tote bags that say, “Make America Kind Again.”


And in between election anxiety, I’ve also been doing the Whole 30. Yeah, you could call it a fad diet, but it’s supposed to be a physical and mental reset. Some things are resetting, and others not so much. And I’ve been cheating in that about two weeks in, I did get on the scale, and have done since then, and do not feel bad about it. In many ways, it isn’t that much different from the way I’d been trying to eat–except for no dairy and no alcohol (no wine, no gin martini). I’m on day 25, having made it through several parties and events and two election debates. In other ways, it’s helpful to check in when I feel like I want a treat and ask whether I really want that or want something else. Usually, the answer is both. On the other hand, I don’t think the authors of the program are my people. For example, they say that at one point I might start dreaming of junk food. Did not happen. They say that on day 21 I will be probably be sick of my food choices. No, I’m not sick of my food choices. I’m sick of cooking and shopping and cooking and shopping. I want the pizza not because I crave junk food, but because they will deliver it to my door. So much for my pioneer fantasies. My husband has been really helpful about making things that don’t include the vast number of forbidden things (obvious things, like sugar, and not so obvious, like soy, which means any commercial mayonnaise). Five more days. We’ll see.

I’ve also been writing (really excited about a poem that includes both Star Trek and the Wizard of Oz, and another poem about topological phase change) and writing and reading as part of the Ekphrastic Assimilations project. US poets wrote after Chinese artists’ works, and the Chinese artist–who are also poets–wrote after the works by US artists. The  Ekphrastic Assimilations website is still up, and you can view the art and post your own ekphrastic poem there. I’ve been working on a second one.

Finally, what’s next: I’ll be reading this Friday, November 11, at the Good Shepherd Center. I’m excited to hear poems by Amy Schrader, Douglas Schuder, Griffeth Williams, Raul Sanchez, and Victoria Ford. I’m also excited to return to room 202, where I took a fantastic Hugo House class with John Marshall, and where, walking to the car after a reading, an owl flew over my head. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by at 7:00. If you aren’t in the neighborhood, they have parking!

One way to end an era

For years I’ve let the rambling roses ramble. They grew wild and snarled, like the brambles covering Sleeping Beauty’s castle. As of late July, they looked like this:

roses covering the car port

For years, they’ve grown into my poems, as all that bloom and cane was becoming the yard, green growing over the a thicket of dead cane and thorn. For years, I tried trimming all that old growth out.

Then I realized that even if, decades later, I were successful, in the meantime, the roses were overflowing, and they would still take up more and more room.

My daughter was looking for a project and wanting to grow vegetables. I explained that the roses were blocking necessary sunlight—and thus, a landscape revision was born.

Here’s what it looks like now.

garden without roses

I’d say Before and After, but the photo above is more like During.

My daughter said she had thought of this as a secret garden, and now she was uncovering some of its secrets—like the wall plaques that have been hidden for years. But gone is the Paul’s Himalayan Musk that I brought from the old house, and the California Plena, which started as a sucker from a friend’s bush, just a stick in the dirt, and the climbing Cecile Brunner. I’ll miss it’s pale pink blooms in early spring. We will plant some smaller, tamer roses—maybe in time for next spring. Then we’ll take the After photo.

For now, I am in this negative capability, this uncertainty of what the yard will become, what together we decide to make of it. It’s hard to see the end of something, even if I know it had overgrown desperately. It’s hard to imagine the next thing before it has started. And this, I’ve heard, is where poems happen.

Poetry as a response, Madaya

Wednesday mid-afternoon I got into my car to run an unexpected errand, turned on the radio, and heard a woman from Madaya, Syria, talking about the siege (the story is further on in the broadcast). The rest of the drive I kept thinking, “Sixteen.” Looking for the link, I learned more–all of it harrowing, heartbreaking.

Behind the Lines

Sixteen by hunger, that slow
shutting down, vanishing breath
by breath as the body must
consume itself. Sixteen dead
since aid rolled into Madaya,
the food and medicine mostly
stolen, mostly sold, help
in the hands that hold it and profit.
We hear of the bombs, the babies
drowning, the migration to wait
by fences but we learn less
of those left. Behind the lines
and land mines—what can you eat?
Leaves from the trees, grass,
any meat that still runs on four legs.
Thirty falling before those trucks came,
then the sixteen lost.
Thirty-three more on the verge.
Put faces on the numbers
and mouths on the faces
old and the young. A mother sees
her son down to his bones
and gone. Not even the doctors
can bring sustenance from air.
War is in the hands that hold it,
the same fists that grab the food.



More on resolutions and goals

A few weeks ago, I posted about goals , habits, and resolutions, and I shared my calendar approach. What isn’t on my calendar: 10,000 steps a day. I have a FitBit to track that.

Promptly, I knocked my goal down to 8,000 steps a day, so that I could spend more time writing (or thinking about writing, which is not writing). Yesterday, I had to face the fact that I have developed tendonitis–and the online site I found said to stop walking. It is really hard to meet an 8K-step goal if you aren’t walking. Insert sad face here.

I was thinking about my other goals–those lofty achievements I’ve kept on my list for years: get poems on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily, win a Pushcart Prize or have a poem in Best American Poetry, read at the 92nd Street Y (it’s kind of embarrassing, but I said they were lofty). The problem is that none of those goals are in my control. I can keep trying to write the best poems I can write, I can keep trying to protect my writing time and use it more wisely, I can keep reading and learning as much as I can, but I can’t make any of those goals happen. Really, they aren’t goals; they’re wishes.

Stepping back a little further, I thought about what those wishes represent–acknowledgement of my work, recognition for the poems I write. Stepping back further, they are deep-down about wanting to be liked. And if my goal is at its heart about wanting to be liked, is writing a poem the best way forward? What about being kind, focusing on kindness instead of achievement?

Sure, I would be thrilled if any of those things happened (the list included getting my current manuscript published)–but I have erased those goals as things that I need to accomplish. I am still working on and playing with poems. I’m still in class and going back to school this summer. But I’m taking this time to refocus on who I want to be in this world.

Winter walk

Taking a break to walk in the park, I try to turn off the talking in my head and attend to the trees I pass, their needles fanned or their branches grasping at the flat white sky, to notice their mossy saddles, the scales and whorls and ridges of their bark, to see the beings in the tree, to listen even to the traffic, the plane crossing overhead, and underneath the engines, the small shrill chirpings and the caw cacophony, to look and listen in this moment, even with its signs of the future, the next season coming.