I felt its presence envelop me slowly, entering through pores seeping into thoughts and dreams churning in my belly thumping in my sternum. In the before, I would move away, side-step, run, dance around the edges, feign indifference, anything not to risk feeling devoured by absence. Neither time nor escape nor transformation have quieted the call for a holy surrender. There are too many echoes in the chambers of my mind, too many losses in my life, too much love in my heart, to contemplate, or grieve, or love, alone. Speak to me, please, in your mother tongue so I may know the pleasure of the sound of another, of the sound of you. Engage me, seduce me, with words and tones. Describe other worlds and ways existing alongside this one. Then, show me with your body a new dance of reciprocity.
in the long trauma
we are future beings foretold
some blindly pine for the past
some grasp for control
others labor to reclaim and remake
every moment anew
empty, then heavy and ripe
with loss and love and longing and loss
my eyes scan for safety
I seek recognition
reaching for kindred, beloved
inherited language has hit a schism
my words dissolve into the void
caressed by an internal wind
the tones of my body are amplified
my body is nature herself
calling my presence
calling me home from dissociation
to all that is
a vivid visceral spectrum
of wretchedness and beauty
of awe and fascination
On morning walks,
I am rediscovering my own rhythm.
I am silent and absorbent,
taking in dew drop and birdsong,
zinnia bloom and amber light,
distant traffic roar and leaf rustle,
spiderweb and tree shadow.
The chestnut trees are giants towering above,
rooting beneath, resisting concrete.
I stand in their sheltering embrace,
their enclave, their microcosm.
Three buckeyes lay at my feet.
I see memories of small hands foraging sidewalk and street,
filling pockets with good luck.
I roll them now in between my fingers and palms.
They feel smooth, cool, soothing.
I examine the surface of each.
The warm color, the wood-like grain, are soft on my eyes.
There are lines, none straight, only voluptuous curves.
Seasons of mothering are folded into my mind,
woven into my heart, and encoded in my cells.
The children who came through me,
they have awoken from the fantastical wilds of childhood
into a dystopian adolescence.
it is time to attend all I neglected in the name of survival.
It is time to thread truth and beauty into the new stories.
After sheltering indoors for a week, protecting our lungs from suffocating wildfire smoke and highly toxic air, a fierce and cleansing weather system brought lightening, thunder, rain and wind. I sat in my garden this morning feeling astonished gratitude for simple pleasures–for home; for a lush garden; for fresh air to breathe; for damp earth beneath my feet; for the pleasure of sunlight warming my skin; for the caress of wind; the sight of trees bending and swaying; the rustling sound of leaves and branches; the ability to see the blue of sky; the luminosity of white clouds; for the wide range of aromas filling the air—rosemary and basil leaves, rain-soaked soil, the neighbor’s freshly-cut grass, the sweet-dankness of decaying compost. A week long sensory-deprivation from these basic elements pushed me to a new edge, physically, psychologically and spiritually.
All morning neighbors have come out of their homes to clean up storm debris, to tend their gardens, to return their space to some sense or image of normal. I see their actions as acts of love, of renewal, of habit. I wondered about my reluctance to engage in this behavior today. I surveyed the damage and neglect, minimal compared to the vast destruction across the pacific northwest. I wondered at the contrast between the desolation I felt inside and the resilient vibrance of the plants and birds in my vicinity. I attributed my reluctance to fatigue, to loneliness, to laziness, to grief. I was in need of restoration after all. I could still feel the waves of toxic-exposure coursing through my body, mind and spirit. My heart was heavy with grief for the destruction of forests and ecosystems I have known for a lifetime, for the loss of habitats, homes and lives. Instead of tidying up, I wept. I wept until I didn’t know what I was weeping for. And then I wept until I knew I was weeping for lifetimes of violence, disconnection, for countless losses, personal and collective. My cat lay beside me, offering a comforting, silent presence. Thinking back, I realize the felines in my life have often been my companions in grief, bearing witness to tears my fellow humans rarely see.
Upon reflection, I acknowledged my innate need to process, to reflect, to be with my sensory experience, to be with my emotions and my thoughts. After a week of living in survival-mode, and after the loss of so many beloved places, I needed time to pause. I needed time to reflect on my awareness of the unsustainability of this way of life, of the futility I often feel in my small acts of subversion, of the impatience and longing I feel for another world, and the longing I feel to live in a community of mutual care and reciprocity. I needed to reflect on my feelings of anger at the centuries spent stealing from generations of youth. I needed time to hold my children in my heart even if I couldn’t be with them in the moment. My daughter is, among other things, a dreamer. From a young age her nightmares have centered around her home or her loved ones burning in fires. My son, among other things, is a seer of truth. His early artistic expressions through drawings and paintings were all of smoke and fire, labeled so by him. Perhaps part of them has always known what was ahead. And now, as teenagers coming of age on the brink of a paradigm shift, in the midst of mass-extinctions, in a world bound for transformation, I observe their fear and doubt of the future, their rage and disbelief at the willful ignorance and cruelty of uninitiated adults, and their resilient determination to love and laugh anyway. I commit daily to doing my part in service of their future.
Sometimes I make meaning through movement, other times I make meaning by sitting with my experience, however painful and messy, by attempting to learn and grow from it. I am my mother’s daughter. She taught me that whenever I am curious, confused, or lost, to ask questions. In the asking, I have learned answers do not abide our constructs of time. I have learned responses come from unexpected sources. In the asking, I have become a lifelong student of attentiveness, of listening, of patience, of non-thinking, of not-knowing. I am questioning everything. I am questioning myself. I am questioning the systems that I am part of, assigned and chosen. When layers of familiar constructions of reality and identity are stripped away, when who I have been before may no longer be relevant, who am I? What parts of me are dying, already dead? What parts are still living, breathing, germinating, or even blossoming despite toxic conditions? What can be resurrected? What must be buried, mourned, transformed? What emergent realities are waiting to be named, to be summoned forth?
In the garden,
I sow seeds,
seeds of hope and beauty.
In the garden,
I grow food and medicine.
In the garden,
my presence is love.
In the garden,
I am embodied, strong and lithe.
In the garden,
the noise of society fades to music of winged creatures.
In the garden,
confusion clears and suffering subsides.
In the garden,
I am being.
In the garden,
I am breathing.
In the garden,
Here, I am flow.
I am capable.
I am whole and purposeful.
In the garden,
I am a sun-kissed,
goddess of life and death.
you feel time expand and contract,
disintegrate and reconfigure
around and within you.
you have been losing,
you wonder if the experience of having
was an illusion.
you have lost loved ones.
some left you crawling on your knees
clawing at the earth
weeping and wailing into the sky.
some, you cut loose
for growth and healing.
others simply floated away, quietly,
seeds scattered on the wind.
you have become so comfortable with loss,
you have forgotten how fullness feels,
how it feels to be held by,
how it feels to be with,
bodies of others.
sitting for hours on end,
in the shade of your overgrown apple tree
you observe the garden that claimed you.
you become silence
surrounded by sound.
you become wordless
in a mind shaped by language.
you are a vessel of breath
dispersing thoughts that want to devour you.
you await inspiration, or instruction,
a moment of wonder…
perhaps the canyon carved into your heart
is an opening into infinity,
for the greatest love of all.
For my mother, for your mother, for the mother in me, for the mother in you, and for the Great Mother.
The tender leaves of the brandy-wine have grown cut and distinct
from those of the beefsteak.
They are ready to begin the process of becoming hardened-off
for the world outside.
Moving tomato starts from house to garden,
from perpetual day under ultraviolet light
to cycles of day and night;
exposing them to sun and moon shine,
to rain and wind–
acts of faith.
I blow them kisses,
I pray for their survival.
I remember the careful sowing of seeds–
the tending, the watering, the watching.
In three days, I will gently tease their dense roots.
I will place them in prepared soil.
I will intuit the pleasure of moving
from the boundaries of a small pot into earth expansive.
*I wrote this poem as a young mother in a rare and quiet moment with a writer-friend at a local cafe. It first appeared, in an earlier version, in the first edition of Voice Catcher, an Anthology of New Writing by Portland-Area Women, 2006.
They are twenty-two,
white American women overseas,
drawn to Morocco,
a land of cities adorned
in tile and brick, clay and stone, metal and wood.
A land of cities painted,
doors of forest green
walls of sun-faded red
window shutters of royal azure blue.
The air thick with aroma…
fallen, rotting figs,
dried cinnamon, saffron, coriander, cumin and ginger,
baking nan and frying fish.
Language forms a discordant song.
Children sell chick peas by the gram,
calling out in French, then Spanish, sometimes English.
Men fill cafes, their dialogue in Arabic spilling out into the streets.
Waves of drums and voices lift, resonate,
hands clap and castanets clack.
They feel the thrill of anonymity
coupled with the terror of estrangement.
They are willful others, foreign tourists,
naive to their privilege,
hearts and minds tender and budding.
Two among hundreds of thousands navigating crowded streets.
They are wanderers seeking the unknown.
A man brushes against her shoulder,
He leans in close, utters words meant for her, for them,
“…catastrophe à La Maison-Blanche!”
Suddenly she feels caught by eyes searching.
She bows her head, clenches stiff white cotton.
They move swift and bewildered,
through a labyrinth of doorways, side streets and tunnels,
passing women who silently carry baskets of goods,
men who gut tilapia in fish markets,
Emerging into the medina,
relieved to return to this new familiar center.
They enter a small cafe, tiled in red and pink.
The owner, Raashid, sits beside them,
pointing to the television in the corner
where an image replays–
airplanes crashing into tall towers,
smoke and ash billowing…
time escapes them.
They have been crying.
Raashid offers his compassionate gaze, his smile warm.
They talk of fear, of shock, of shame, of death and loss.
They contemplate the future–how it could be shaped by tyrants.
They hold hands, praying in silence.
They part at nightfall.
He hails them a taxi to the train station,
to their next destination–south and westward,
as westerners never stop moving.
Essaouira via Marrakesh.
Young beckoning men of the Sahara sell jewelry,
silver, lapis, amber, jade, moonstone.
Aziz, the rider of waves,
Mohammed, the philosopher,
Mustafa, the flamboyant.
Shots of rum are offered behind closed doors.
They talk of life and love,
of politics and marriage,
of the beauty of the desert and the mountains.
They share stories, jokes, and the tonic of laughter.
They extend an invitation for dinner.
At home, they are greeted by mothers, sisters, cousin, aunt and uncle.
They say she has the eyes of a Berber.
They ask, what are they doing, two women, far from home, traveling alone?
They express heartfelt condolences for American lives lost.
They ask, do they support the president?
They ask, what will the U.S. do now?
They sit in a circle, eating quietly,
tajine and couscous, Coca-Cola and nan.
They watch a broadcast of Gnaoua musicians on a glowing screen.
Aziz and Mohammed walk them to the hotel,
the cobbled streets quiet,
the earth beneath compact and cool.
They linger in shadow, whispering of simplicity,
exchanging kisses and caresses,
outlining the shapes of their bodies.
They invite them to forget what they know–
to miss the next bus, the next train and ferry,
to spend winter in the desert.
To inhabit another life…
rising at dawn with birdsong,
walking two miles to fetch water,
being shaped and sifted by wind,
cooking meals with family extended,
gazing outward into the galaxy and beyond,
unleashing from western notions of time,
experiencing the opening of eternity…
maybe then, they would know peace,
maybe then, they would feel whole.
Lovers of other times
are dropping into my mind,
for cups of coffee, day-dreaming,
our dances of magnetism,
lessons in foreign tongues,
games of chess in the park,
melting flavors of pleasure,
heart aches and heart hooks,
photographs and missing negatives,
love letters and tearful goodbyes–
many seas traversed and worlds gone by.
I wonder, is this the flooding review
that comes before a dying?
If I surrender to the dissolution,
can I carry parts of you, and me, forward?
If I have a choice, I will carry memories of feeling,
of our rare, naked moments when we let each other in.
And to you, you who are on your way,
I have heard you through the distance.
I have felt you in the space between,
flirting on the periphery of time.
you orbit, coming in close, then departing.
Are you a mirage? a soul projection? a mate? a kindred?
When we meet, sunlight breaks through,
casting rainbow arcs and amber warmth.
When we part, clouds gather,
bearing water and blue-grey cooling.
I savor the sensation of the brush of your cheek against mine,
I breathe in, capturing the earthy scent of you.
I long for our embrace,
the heat of our tender friction imprinting us,
the alchemy of our souls forming a new language for the world to come.
When nobody whispers the words you long to hear
as you tuck in at night,
you recite them to yourself instead.
You call your fragments home.
You weave them back together,
feeling the emotion held in each one,
settling them with caresses.
The light of the sun follows you
as you descend into the expansive dark within.
The language of your origins rises from the margins.
It tugs at the folds of your mind,
reaches into sealed off heart-channels.
Unshed tears, long-caught in your throat, release.
You awaken to the task of now,
the task of learning to trust your wisdom.