Thursday, November 24, 2016

thanks by w.s.merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

W.S. Merwin, "Thanks" from Migration: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by W.S. Merwin.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Our world in stupor lies: Auden

by W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

wild woman in Irish myth: my people, me!

Grief and anger as a stimulus for transformationThis is a post from Dr. Sharon Blackie's blog. She is a mythologist, psychologist and writer.

It seems that everyone knows about the wild men in Celtic mythology. The enigmatic Brittonic figure of Lailoken, who almost certainly, somewhere along the line, became conflated with Merlin, leading to the legend of Myrddin Wyllt, the wild man of the woods. Suibhne Geilt, Mad Sweeney from the old Irish tale Buile Shuibhne (‘The Frenzy of Sweeney’): the subject of a fine body of poetry which extends from Yeats to Heaney. It’s a story we seem to have seen before: everybody knows about the men, but somehow, nobody focuses on the women.
So let’s take a look at Mis, the most colourful and original wild woman of Irish mythology. (There are no great poems about Mis, but I’d like to think there will be, some day.) Mis was the daughter of Dáire Dóidgheal, a powerful ruler from Europe who set out to invade Ireland. He landed with a huge army in Ventry, County Kerry, and a fierce battle followed which lasted a year and a day. Dáire was eventually slain by the hero-warrior Fionn mac Cumaill, which ended the battle. Mis came down in the aftermath to look for her father, and found only his dead body, bleeding, on the beach. Mis was overwhelmed by grief, and flung herself across her father’s body, licking and sucking at his bloody wounds to try to heal them, just as an animal might. When this failed to restore him to life, madness overcame her and she rose up into the air like a bird and flew away into the heart of the Sliabh Mis mountains.
Mis lived in the mountains for many years, and grew long trailing fur and feathers to cover her naked skin. She grew great sharp claws with which she attacked and tore to pieces any creature or person she met. She could run like the wind, and no living thing was safe from her. They thought her so dangerous that the people of Kerry created a desert stripped of people and cattle between themselves and the mountains, just for fear of her.
The king in those parts, Feidlimid Mac Crimthainn, offered a reward to anyone who would capture Mis alive. No-one accepted, for fear of Mis, except for a gentle harper by the name of Dubh Ruis. Dubh Ruis enticed Mis out of hiding, and made love to her. He coaxed her into a pool and, over a period of days, washed away the dirt and scrubbed away her feathers and fur. He combed her hair, and fed her, and made a bed for her. And eventually, he brought her back to civilisation, and married her.
This is some of what I wrote about Mis in If Women Rose Rooted:
Sometimes, madness seems like the only possible response to the insanity of the civilised world; sometimes, holding ourselves together is not an option, and the only way forwards is to allow ourselves to fall apart. As the story of Mis shows, that madness can represent an extreme form of initiation, a trigger for profound transformation.
… Mis is the original wild woman, that archetypal madwoman who lives deep within each of us. She speaks for us all: for the rage which we cannot express, for the grief which eats our heart out, for the voices we have suppressed out of fear. This old story shows us a brutal descent into darkness during which all illusions are stripped away and old belief systems evaporate, and in doing so it suggests that the extremities of madness or mental breakdown, with their prolonged, out-of-control descent into the unknown, might offer us a path through which we can come to terms with the truth. Like other legendary geilta (the Irish word for madwomen) Mis is driven to extremity in her grief, shape-shifting into bird form, flying away into the hills and woods, growing fur and feathers, eating wild and raw food, leaving the intolerable world behind her. But a geilt cannot emerge from her madness and come back to the world until she has achieved some kind of personal transformation. Through her ordeal – her removal from society and her time spent in the wilderness – she must find a way to reclaim a more authentic sense of identity and belonging. She finds it with the help of a man; she finds it in the union of the masculine and feminine.
So, there we have her: Mis. The furious feminine, all fierce hag energy, wailing her grief into the mountains. A necessary fury, a transformative fury.
I love the story of Mis; I believe it contains a necessary lesson for women in these times. Sometimes, anger and grief is a necessary precursor to transformation. Sometimes, we need to let the wild woman rage. To grow feathers and fur, and run wild through the woods. Sometimes, we need to bite. To stop being nice and talking about love and light and thinking that we can make the world a better place just by pretending that it’s so, or that we can make Donald Trump a better man by sending him love and light through the ether. (Yes, I’ve seen that proposed as a solution to yesterday’s catastrophe by women I’d expect to know better. It beggars belief.) These are dark days in our history, and dark days for women. If women want to change that, we need to take hold of that pure, honest energy which fuels our necessary rage and grief, and use it next for transformation. Find the hag energy. Use it. Transmute it; transform it. It’s what all good alchemists do, and women are born alchemists.
What I particularly like about the story of Mis is that her transformation comes from bringing together both male and female energies. Dubh Ruis is a gentle man; he literally loves her back to life. Like Mis, women can’t do this work alone. Fortunately, there are still good men out there, and I believe that between us, we can do the great work of turning the base metal of a decadent and decaying culture into gold.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Auden's Funeral Blues

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is Dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

An old, much beloved, friend of mine is facing his mother's death this week. I have shared e.e.cummings "I carry your heart in my heart" to remind him that his love for his mother and her love for him will always buoy him. I will directly share this poem with him once she has passed.

I knew this friend in Minneapolis. He came to some of the five-day intensives my biz partner and I offered in the eighties. And he occasionally helped me out with some childcare. Katie liked him and was glad when he would pick her up from her great AfterCare program at the YWCA. then he'd either take her to his house, which was a cornucopia of delights for any child of any age or else take her to our house. And he would buy her sme frozen yogurt at the corner of Lake and Hennepin.

I remember so well how good it felt knowiong my little girl was in such sweet, loving hands.

And Craig, the friend I am writng about, hit it off with my mom. Not many hit it off with my challenging mom although my mom regularly said that as an artist, she felt she had much in common with 'the gays'. My baby bro is gay and mom lived with him and his partner for many years and she often voiced that lunkheaded line about how, as an artist, she had a special connection to gays. My bro and his long-gone, longtime life partner (he's dead but they broke up before he died. . . ). Craig was in the Minneapolis Gay Men's Chorus. He invited my mom to come see his Christmas show and she made a special trip to Minneapolis to see that show. She visited us regularly and Katie and I were not her only kin in the area. My mom's parents grew up in Minnesota and mom (and me, I guess) till have lots of blood kin in MN. In the early days of mom's clan, there was no birth control and always big families. Thirteen kids. Nine kids. And then they all had kids so the list of relatives neverending.

But that one time mom came to see Craig. When I ased her why she made a special trip just for one gay men's chorus show, she repeted her grating line about as an artist, she had much in common with 'the gays' but she also said, and no one who knew him, or knows him, would ever deny this, Craig is a sweet peach.

So his mom must be a super sweet lady if she raised such a sweetie.

I wonder if my Ktie remembers Craig. I also wonder if she has any appreciationo for the intereting parade of humans we shared our lives with. No suburban vanilla for me. I think she longed for upscale, suburban vanilla but, geez, how many people does she know ever had a deformed dwarf named Cheryl as her babysitter? And does it ever cross her mind that by exposing her to the wide range of humans that I did that I was opening her world in ways few children get.

I love this Auden poem.  Maybe Katie will read it when she learns I have died. Although how would she learn of my death? No one in my life now even knows her name.  Everyone knows I have a daughter who shuns me named Katie but no one I know knows her last name. Why would they?

Sunday, October 30, 2016


I ducked out of my evening date early, the event I attended just didn't grab me. He was angry and wouldn't go out to eat. If I have any talent that amounts to being at agenius level, it is finding easily angered men. Or maybe men get more easily angry at fat women, like they are thinking "hey, you are fat so I can treat your shabbily".

Anyway, feeling bad and wanting to cheer myself up, I remembered that the movie "Moonlight", based on the play called "Black Boys Look Blue in the Moonlight", a picture that has been called full of poetic grace, is showing at the Embarcadero Center. It will turn up in Berkeley eventually. I hope. I hope. I hope.

I don't like to go to movies in SF and pay for BART when I live within a block of three multiplexes that tend to get all the movies eventually. But there I was, going home alone, which was not what I had anticipated, and feeling, um, incomplete. I so totally wanted to walk to the Embarcadero Center and see Moonlight. Well, I wrote that wrong. If I were a person in a Marc Chagall painting and I could have floated down market and then cut over to the Embarcadero Center, I really wanted to see the movie. I didn't know the show times. My knees creak all the time these days and I sincerely believe I'm going to end up getting a new left knee. I limp. I am in serious pain.

So if I had the magic ability to fly or the magic ability to stop my left knee from painfully creaking and if Moonlight was showing soon to the time I was on Market Street, I wanted to go. I had my iPad so I could have found free wifi, like at the Westfield Mall to see the film show times.

Then I got to a BART statirway. I couldn't see an elevator to BART. There are almost never any down escalators down to BART tations. My knees hate the tall stairwells required to get into the bowls of our underground transit system. I have to take the steps two feet on each step, like the old lady I am.  teps don't hurt. My pride is hurt, as people always rush by me. So far, no one has said anything unkind about my slow teps. And I usually use a BART elevator or escalator.

I was at some BART steps. Moonlight was still about four blocks away. I still didn't now when it started. And I knew I could be home and live it up with some lemon sparkling water and a green smoothie. So, because I really am a stiff old lady, I hobbled down those stairs, then hobbled to my building once I got to Berkeley. And I'm thinking about the smoothie.

The way smoothies happen for me if I have to think of all the ingredients for a little bit of time:  let me see, I have to think, is there kale? I like kale better than spinach in a raw smoothie. Do I have lemon? Check. Kelly gave me four of her abundant meyer lemons a day or two ago. Apple?  Check. I actually bought a frozen bag or organic apple slices -- in hindsight, a foolish choice, since it is apple season and pink ladies are tasty and these apples have no name. But they have convenience. Who needs convenience with an apple and a smoothi in a Vitamix?  I just cut the apple in half and toss it in. I just cut a lemon in half and toss it in. I toss in some fresh finger, rind and all. Cinnamon if I think of it.

I have done my thinking. Time to make, then drink, my greens.

I had kinda stopped doing raw green smoothies, because I was very sick for several months. Very very sick. But now I am back on coumadin and transitioning back on is hard. I had to eat a stable amount of greens daily and I don't eat stable mounts of greens. I just toss in whatever I feel like. Or, when braising spinach in garlic infused olive oil (yum!), I don't measure. I use a whole lot cause it cooks down.

But my coumadin test are all over the place and it isn't fair to my dear primary doc to take up her time.

A secret:  I love my primary care doc, in a perfectly platonic way. I left her for another primary doc last year and when I told her he actually said "We should get together for lunch." Aww. . . . shucks.

I left her because no one was monitoring my coumadin. and, bless my doctor, she doensn't know how to monitor couadin like Gwen did, the nurse practitioner who monitored my coumadin for years.

Isn't this a dull, run-on post? someone who loves me recently said even my most rambly, run-on messes always have something good in them. Cutting out everything but the good is the work of writing that I skip and why I don't submit.  I won't edit. It's boring. The fire of first draft is awesome sauce. Editing is boring.

Anyway. If Moonlight doe not turn up in Berkeley by this coming Friday, I'll make a date with a friend in SF and see it at the Embarcadero Center and pop for the BART costs.

SF is every bit as charming and beautiful as everyone thinks but I don't hang out, don't get to savor the city, explore its endlessly fascinating neighborhoods. I need a boyfriend. For SF adventure. And please, goddess, let him have a car so we can take impulsive drives in the country and go camping with ease.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

you carry me with you

"You carry away with you a reflection of me, a part of me. I dreamed you; I wished for your existence. You will always be a part of my life. If I love you, it must be because we shared, at some moment, the same imaginings, the same madness, the same stage."
-Anais Nin

This reminds me of the great e.e.cummings poem "I carry your heart with me, I carry it in my heart". Or something like that.

Friday, October 21, 2016

medicine for melancholy

Medicine for Melancholy is the name of the first picture directed by Barry Jenkins, director of a new, very interesting-sounding movie, Moonlight. Jenkins is a black man and he tells stories of blacks. Medicine for Melancholy is on Netflix streaming, set in SF. I recommend it.

Moonlight is based on a play called something like "Black Boys Look Blue in the Moonlight". It got a majorly enthusiastic review in the NYTimes. I can't wait until it opens in Berkeley, which it surely will soon.

In the NYTimes, the director talks about his frustration that it took eight years to put out a second film.  I guess his genius needed some incubation.

His first film, Melancholy, was interesting, especially since it is set in SF eight years ago, when the rising housing crisis had already purged so many blacks out of SF and the male character in the movie really cares about this purging. The female is a harder read. For me.

I don't see the medicine in Mr. Jenkins first picture but I am eager, eager eager to see Moonlight, said to be poetic, lyrical, visceral and tough. Like life?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Might I but moor

Wild nights - Wild nights!
Were I with three
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile - the winds -
To a Heart in port
Done with the Compass
Done with the Chart
Rowing in Eden

Ah-the Sea!
Might I but moor - tonight -
In thee!

~ Emily Dickinson, "Wild nights - Wild nights"

I lived in Amherst, MA for two years. I visited ED's home several times so I could go into her room, see some of her small handmade books of poems she bound together with ribbon, imagine her gazing out the windows in her bedroom, imagine her sitting at the top of the stairs when her family had company. She seldom  joined the company but would listen to all the conversation just behind the door at the top of the stairs.

What I wondered about the most, and there is no answer for this, is whether or not she ever had sex.  She did have at least a couple friendships with males for which she felt passion but it would have been so far out of her cultural values to have been anyone's lover. And there are no letters to indicate she had lovers. Then again, she asked her sister, Lavinia, to burn all the correspondence she had received over her lifetime when she died. And Lavinia did. Were there declarations of love in some of those burnt letters? or indications of more details of the very few males she, at least, had crushes on.

She loved some men.  Did she make love to them physically?

I decided, standing in her bedroom one time, that she never did have sex but being the finely wired being that she was, she understood passion, sex, love and joy.

No one knows.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

sooth with this Wendell Berry poem

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

a kiss we want with our whole lives

There is some kiss we want
with our whole lives,
the touch of Spirit on the body.

Seawater begs the pearl
to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild Darling!

At night, I open the window
and ask the moon to come
and press its face into mine.
Breathe into me.

Close the language-door,
and open the love-window.

The moon won't use the door,
only the window.

--Jelaluddin Rumi, 13th century

Sunday, May 22, 2016

w/the wings of a wren

This stanza from Sexton's poem, Words, floated through me all last evening:

Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren

This morning, as every morning, I am flying with the wings of a wren. But, still, flying, so that counts for something.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

waiting for when we are needed

 To whoever keeps trying to use feedburner to follow my blog:  you will keep getting the same posts from this date because I have cancelled the feedburner option. You have to look at my blog in real time. You can no longer use a feed to read my blog.
…It must be
we are waiting
for the perfect moment.
It must be
under all the struggle
we want to go on.
It must be,
that deep down,
we are creatures
getting ready
for when we are needed.
It must be that waiting
for the listening ear
or the appreciative word,
for the right
woman or the right man
or the right moment
just to ourselves,
we are getting ready
just to be ready
and nothing else.
Like this moment
just before the guests arrive
alone in the kitchen
sensing a deep
down symmetry
in every blessed thing.
The way
that everything
to us
is preparing
to meet us too.
Just on the other
side of the door
is about to knock
and our life
is just
about to change
and finally
after all these
years rehearsing,
the curtain,
we might
just be
to go on.
From ‘Waiting to Go On’: in ‘River Flow:
New and Selected Poems’
©David Whyte and Many Rivers Press

Sunday, May 01, 2016

I saw the bud-crowned spring go forth

this is a very long poem.  I think of Emerson as a political philosopher. I tend to forget he was a poet.


by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Daughter of Heaven and Earth, coy Spring,
With sudden passion languishing,
Teaching Barren moors to smile,
Painting pictures mile on mile,
Holds a cup with cowslip-wreaths,
Whence a smokeless incense breathes.
The air is full of whistlings bland;
What was that I heard
Out of the hazy land?
Harp of the wind, or song of bird,
Or vagrant booming of the air,
Voice of a meteor lost in day?
Such tidings of the starry sphere
Can this elastic air convey.
Or haply 'twas the cannonade
Of the pent and darkened lake,
Cooled by the pendent mountain's shade,
Whose deeps, till beams of noonday break,
Afflicted moan, and latest hold
Even into May the iceberg cold.
Was it a squirrel's pettish bark,
Or clarionet of jay? or hark
Where yon wedged line the Nestor leads,
Steering north with raucous cry
Through tracts and provinces of sky,
Every night alighting down
In new landscapes of romance,
Where darkling feed the clamorous clans
By lonely lakes to men unknown.
Come the tumult whence it will,
Voice of sport, or rush of wings,
It is a sound, it is a token
That the marble sleep is broken,
And a change has passed on things.

  When late I walked, in earlier days,
All was stiff and stark;
Knee-deep snows choked all the ways,
In the sky no spark;
Firm-braced I sought my ancient woods,
Struggling through the drifted roads;
The whited desert knew me not,
Snow-ridges masked each darling spot;
The summer dells, by genius haunted,
One arctic moon had disenchanted.
All the sweet secrets therein hid
By Fancy, ghastly spells undid.
Eldest mason, Frost, had piled
Swift cathedrals in the wild;
The piny hosts were sheeted ghosts
In the star-lit minster aisled.
I found no joy: the icy wind
Might rule the forest to his mind.
Who would freeze on frozen lakes?
Back to books and sheltered home,
And wood-fire flickering on the walls,
To hear, when, 'mid our talk and games,
Without the baffled North-wind calls.
But soft! a sultry morning breaks;
The ground-pines wash their rusty green,
The maple-tops their crimson tint,
On the soft path each track is seen,
The girl's foot leaves its neater print.
The pebble loosened from the frost
Asks of the urchin to be tost.
In flint and marble beats a heart,
The kind Earth takes her children's part,
The green lane is the school-boy's friend,
Low leaves his quarrel apprehend,
The fresh ground loves his top and ball,
The air rings jocund to his call,
The brimming brook invites a leap,
He dives the hollow, climbs the steep.
The youth sees omens where he goes,
And speaks all languages the rose,
The wood-fly mocks with tiny voice
The far halloo of human voice;
The perfumed berry on the spray
Smacks of faint memories far away.
A subtle chain of countless rings
The next into the farthest brings,
And, striving to be man, the worm
Mounts through all the spires of form.

  The caged linnet in the Spring
Hearkens for the choral glee,
When his fellows on the wing
Migrate from the Southern Sea;
When trellised grapes their flowers unmask,
And the new-born tendrils twine,
The old wine darkling in the cask
Feels the bloom on the living vine,
And bursts the hoops at hint of Spring:
And so, perchance, in Adam's race,
Of Eden's bower some dream-like trace
Survived the Flight and swam the Flood,
And wakes the wish in youngest blood
To tread the forfeit Paradise,
And feed once more the exile's eyes;
And ever when the happy child
In May beholds the blooming wild,
And hears in heaven the bluebird sing,
'Onward,' he cries, 'your baskets bring,—
In the next field is air more mild,
And o'er yon hazy crest is Eden's balmier spring.'

  Not for a regiment's parade,
Nor evil laws or rulers made,
Blue Walden rolls its cannonade,
But for a lofty sign
Which the Zodiac threw,
That the bondage-days are told.
And waters free as winds shall flow.
Lo! how all the tribes combine
To rout the flying foe.
See, every patriot oak-leaf throws
His elfin length upon the snows,
Not idle, since the leaf all day
Draws to the spot the solar ray,
Ere sunset quarrying inches down,
And halfway to the mosses brown;
While the grass beneath the rime
Has hints of the propitious time,
And upward pries and perforates
Through the cold slab a thousand gates,
Till green lances peering through
Bend happy in the welkin blue.

  As we thaw frozen flesh with snow,
So Spring will not her time forerun,
Mix polar night with tropic glow,
Nor cloy us with unshaded sun,
Nor wanton skip with bacchic dance,
But she has the temperance
Of the gods, whereof she is one,—
Masks her treasury of heat
Under east winds crossed with sleet.
Plants and birds and humble creatures
Well accept her rule austere;
Titan-born, to hardy natures
Cold is genial and dear.
As Southern wrath to Northern right
Is but straw to anthracite;
As in the day of sacrifice,
When heroes piled the pyre,
The dismal Massachusetts ice
Burned more than others' fire,
So Spring guards with surface cold
The garnered heat of ages old.
Hers to sow the seed of bread,
That man and all the kinds be fed;
And, when the sunlight fills the hours,
Dissolves the crust, displays the flowers.

  Beneath the calm, within the light,
A hid unruly appetite
Of swifter life, a surer hope,
Strains every sense to larger scope,
Impatient to anticipate
The halting steps of aged Fate.
Slow grows the palm, too slow the pearl:
When Nature falters, fain would zeal
Grasp the felloes of her wheel,
And grasping give the orbs another whirl.
Turn swiftlier round, O tardy ball!
And sun this frozen side.
Bring hither back the robin's call,
Bring back the tulip's pride.

  Why chidest thou the tardy Spring?
The hardy bunting does not chide;
The blackbirds make the maples ring
With social cheer and jubilee;
The redwing flutes his o-ka-lee,
The robins know the melting snow;
The sparrow meek, prophetic-eyed,
Her nest beside the snow-drift weaves,
Secure the osier yet will hide
Her callow brood in mantling leaves,—
And thou, by science all undone,
Why only must thy reason fail
To see the southing of the sun?

  The world rolls round,—mistrust it not,—
Befalls again what once befell;
All things return, both sphere and mote,
And I shall hear my bluebird's note,
And dream the dream of Auburn dell.

  April cold with dropping rain
Willows and lilacs brings again,
The whistle of returning birds,
And trumpet-lowing of the herds.
The scarlet maple-keys betray
What potent blood hath modest May,
What fiery force the earth renews,
The wealth of forms, the flush of hues;
What joy in rosy waves outpoured
Flows from the heart of Love, the Lord.

  Hither rolls the storm of heat;
I feel its finer billows beat
Like a sea which me infolds;
Heat with viewless fingers moulds,
Swells, and mellows, and matures,
Paints, and flavors, and allures,
Bird and brier inly warms,
Still enriches and transforms,
Gives the reed and lily length,
Adds to oak and oxen strength,
Transforming what it doth infold,
Life out of death, new out of old,
Painting fawns' and leopards' fells,
Seethes the gulf-encrimsoning shells,
Fires gardens with a joyful blaze
Of tulips, in the morning's rays.
The dead log touched bursts into leaf,
The wheat-blade whispers of the sheaf.
What god is this imperial Heat,
Earth's prime secret, sculpture's seat?
Doth it bear hidden in its heart
Water-line patterns of all art?
Is it Daedalus? is it Love?
Or walks in mask almighty Jove,
And drops from Power's redundant horn
All seeds of beauty to be born?

  Where shall we keep the holiday,
And duly greet the entering May?
Too strait and low our cottage doors,
And all unmeet our carpet floors;
Nor spacious court, nor monarch's hall,
Suffice to hold the festival.
Up and away! where haughty woods
Front the liberated floods:
We will climb the broad-backed hills,
Hear the uproar of their joy;
We will mark the leaps and gleams
Of the new-delivered streams,
And the murmuring rivers of sap
Mount in the pipes of the trees,
Giddy with day, to the topmost spire,
Which for a spike of tender green
Bartered its powdery cap;
And the colors of joy in the bird,
And the love in its carol heard,
Frog and lizard in holiday coats,
And turtle brave in his golden spots;
While cheerful cries of crag and plain
Reply to the thunder of river and main.

  As poured the flood of the ancient sea
Spilling over mountain chains,
Bending forests as bends the sedge,
Faster flowing o'er the plains,—
A world-wide wave with a foaming edge
That rims the running silver sheet,—
So pours the deluge of the heat
Broad northward o'er the land,
Painting artless paradises,
Drugging herbs with Syrian spices,
Fanning secret fires which glow
In columbine and clover-blow,
Climbing the northern zones,
Where a thousand pallid towns
Lie like cockles by the main,
Or tented armies on a plain.
The million-handed sculptor moulds
Quaintest bud and blossom folds,
The million-handed painter pours
Opal hues and purple dye;
Azaleas flush the island floors,
And the tints of heaven reply.

  Wreaths for the May! for happy Spring
To-day shall all her dowry bring,
The love of kind, the joy, the grace,
Hymen of element and race,
Knowing well to celebrate
With song and hue and star and state,
With tender light and youthful cheer,
The spousals of the new-born year.

  Spring is strong and virtuous,
Broad-sowing, cheerful, plenteous,
Quickening underneath the mould
Grains beyond the price of gold.
So deep and large her bounties are,
That one broad, long midsummer day
Shall to the planet overpay
The ravage of a year of war.

  Drug the cup, thou butler sweet,
And send the nectar round;
The feet that slid so long on sleet
Are glad to feel the ground.
Fill and saturate each kind
With good according to its mind,
Fill each kind and saturate
With good agreeing with its fate,
And soft perfection of its plan—
Willow and violet, maiden and man.

  The bitter-sweet, the haunting air
Creepeth, bloweth everywhere;
It preys on all, all prey on it.
Blooms in beauty, thinks in wit,
Stings the strong with enterprise,
Makes travellers long for Indian skies,
And where it comes this courier fleet
Fans in all hearts expectance sweet,
As if to-morrow should redeem
The vanished rose of evening's dream.
By houses lies a fresher green,
On men and maids a ruddier mien,
As if Time brought a new relay
Of shining virgins every May,
And Summer came to ripen maids
To a beauty that not fades.

  I saw the bud-crowned Spring go forth,
Stepping daily onward north
To greet staid ancient cavaliers
Filing single in stately train.
And who, and who are the travellers?
They were Night and Day, and Day and Night,
Pilgrims wight with step forthright.
I saw the Days deformed and low,
Short and bent by cold and snow;
The merry Spring threw wreaths on them,
Flower-wreaths gay with bud and bell;
Many a flower and many a gem,
They were refreshed by the smell,
They shook the snow from hats and shoon,
They put their April raiment on;
And those eternal forms,
Unhurt by a thousand storms,
Shot up to the height of the sky again,
And danced as merrily as young men.
I saw them mask their awful glance
Sidewise meek in gossamer lids;
And to speak my thought if none forbids
It was as if the eternal gods,
Tired of their starry periods,
Hid their majesty in cloth
Woven of tulips and painted moth.
On carpets green the maskers march
Below May's well-appointed arch,
Each star, each god; each grace amain,
Every joy and virtue speed,
Marching duly in her train,
And fainting Nature at her need
Is made whole again.

  'Twas the vintage-day of field and wood,
When magic wine for bards is brewed;
Every tree and stem and chink
Gushed with syrup to the brink.
The air stole into the streets of towns,
Refreshed the wise, reformed the clowns,
And betrayed the fund of joy
To the high-school and medalled boy:
On from hall to chamber ran,
From youth to maid, from boy to man,
To babes, and to old eyes as well.
'Once more,' the old man cried, 'ye clouds,
Airy turrets purple-piled,
Which once my infancy beguiled,
Beguile me with the wonted spell.
I know ye skilful to convoy
The total freight of hope and joy
Into rude and homely nooks,
Shed mocking lustres on shelf of books,
On farmer's byre, on pasture rude,
And stony pathway to the wood.
I care not if the pomps you show
Be what they soothfast appear,
Or if yon realms in sunset glow
Be bubbles of the atmosphere.
And if it be to you allowed
To fool me with a shining cloud,
So only new griefs are consoled
By new delights, as old by old,
Frankly I will be your guest,
Count your change and cheer the best.
The world hath overmuch of pain,—
If Nature give me joy again,
Of such deceit I'll not complain.'

  Ah! well I mind the calendar,
Faithful through a thousand years,
Of the painted race of flowers,
Exact to days, exact to hours,
Counted on the spacious dial
Yon broidered zodiac girds.
I know the trusty almanac
Of the punctual coming-back,
On their due days, of the birds.
I marked them yestermorn,
A flock of finches darting
Beneath the crystal arch,
Piping, as they flew, a march,—
Belike the one they used in parting
Last year from yon oak or larch;
Dusky sparrows in a crowd,
Diving, darting northward free,
Suddenly betook them all,
Every one to his hole in the wall,
Or to his niche in the apple-tree.
I greet with joy the choral trains
Fresh from palms and Cuba's canes.
Best gems of Nature's cabinet,
With dews of tropic morning wet,
Beloved of children, bards and Spring,
O birds, your perfect virtues bring,
Your song, your forms, your rhythmic flight,
Your manners for the heart's delight,
Nestle in hedge, or barn, or roof,
Here weave your chamber weather-proof,
Forgive our harms, and condescend
To man, as to a lubber friend,
And, generous, teach his awkward race
Courage and probity and grace!

  Poets praise that hidden wine
Hid in milk we drew
At the barrier of Time,
When our life was new.
We had eaten fairy fruit,
We were quick from head to foot,
All the forms we looked on shone
As with diamond dews thereon.
What cared we for costly joys,
The Museum's far-fetched toys?
Gleam of sunshine on the wall
Poured a deeper cheer than all
The revels of the Carnival.
We a pine-grove did prefer
To a marble theatre,
Could with gods on mallows dine,
Nor cared for spices or for wine.
Wreaths of mist and rainbow spanned.
Arch on arch, the grimmest land;
Whittle of a woodland bird
Made the pulses dance,
Note of horn in valleys heard
Filled the region with romance.

  None can tell how sweet,
How virtuous, the morning air;
Every accent vibrates well;
Not alone the wood-bird's call,
Or shouting boys that chase their ball,
Pass the height of minstrel skill,
But the ploughman's thoughtless cry,
Lowing oxen, sheep that bleat,
And the joiner's hammer-beat,
Softened are above their will,
Take tones from groves they wandered through
Or flutes which passing angels blew.
All grating discords melt,
No dissonant note is dealt,
And though thy voice be shrill
Like rasping file on steel,
Such is the temper of the air,
Echo waits with art and care,
And will the faults of song repair.

  So by remote Superior Lake,
And by resounding Mackinac,
When northern storms the forest shake,
And billows on the long beach break,
The artful Air will separate
Note by note all sounds that grate,
Smothering in her ample breast
All but godlike words,
Reporting to the happy ear
Only purified accords.
Strangely wrought from barking waves,
Soft music daunts the Indian braves,—
Convent-chanting which the child
Hears pealing from the panther's cave
And the impenetrable wild.

  Soft on the South-wind sleeps the haze:
So on thy broad mystic van
Lie the opal-colored days,
And waft the miracle to man.
Soothsayer of the eldest gods,
Repairer of what harms betide,
Revealer of the inmost powers
Prometheus proffered, Jove denied;
Disclosing treasures more than true,
Or in what far to-morrow due;
Speaking by the tongues of flowers,
By the ten-tongued laurel speaking,
Singing by the oriole songs,
Heart of bird the man's heart seeking;
Whispering hints of treasure hid
Under Morn's unlifted lid,
Islands looming just beyond
The dim horizon's utmost bound;—
Who can, like thee, our rags upbraid,
Or taunt us with our hope decayed?
Or who like thee persuade,
Making the splendor of the air,
The morn and sparkling dew, a snare?
Or who resent
Thy genius, wiles and blandishment?

  There is no orator prevails
To beckon or persuade
Like thee the youth or maid:
Thy birds, thy songs, thy brooks, thy gales,
Thy blooms, thy kinds,
Thy echoes in the wilderness,
Soothe pain, and age, and love's distress,
Fire fainting will, and build heroic minds.

  For thou, O Spring! canst renovate
All that high God did first create.
Be still his arm and architect,
Rebuild the ruin, mend defect;
Chemist to vamp old worlds with new,
Coat sea and sky with heavenlier blue,
New tint the plumage of the birds,
And slough decay from grazing herds,
Sweep ruins from the scarped mountain,
Cleanse the torrent at the fountain,
Purge alpine air by towns defiled,
Bring to fair mother fairer child,
Not less renew the heart and brain,
Scatter the sloth, wash out the stain,
Make the aged eye sun-clear,
To parting soul bring grandeur near.
Under gentle types, my Spring
Masks the might of Nature's king,
An energy that searches thorough
From Chaos to the dawning morrow;
Into all our human plight,
The soul's pilgrimage and flight;
In city or in solitude,
Step by step, lifts bad to good,
Without halting, without rest,
Lifting Better up to Best;
Planting seeds of knowledge pure,
Through earth to ripen, through heaven endure.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

we must risk delight

another poem on last day of poetry month 2016. . . . I've posted two fierce poems today.
A Brief for the Defense. by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

poetry is what he thought but could not say

I've posted this fiercely beautiful, and moving, poem before.  I love to reread this one.Today is last day of poetry month 2016.


What He Thought by Heather McHugh, American  poet

We were supposed to do a job in Italy and full of our feeling for ourselves
(our sense of being Poets from America) we went from Rome to Fano, met the Mayor,
mulled a couple matters over. (what’s cheap date, they asked us: what’s flat drink)
Among Italian literati we could recognize our counterparts: the academic,the apologist, the arrogant,
the amorous, the brazen and the glib.
And there was one administrator (The Conservative),in suit of regulation gray,
who like a good tour guide with measured pace and uninflected tone
narrated sights and histories the hired van hauled us past.
Of all he was most politic — and least poetic — so it seemed.
Our last few days in Rome I found a book of poems this unprepossessing one had written:
it was there in the pensione room (a room he’d recommended)
where it must have been abandoned by the German visitor
(was there a bus of them?) to whom he had inscribed and dated it a month before.
I couldn’t read Italian either, so I put the book back in the wardrobe’s dark.
We last Americans were due to leave tomorrow. For our parting evening then
our host chose something in a family restaurant, and there we sat and chatted, sat and chewed, till sensible it was our last big chance to be Poetic, make our mark, one of us asked “What’s poetry?
Is it the fruits and vegetables and marketplace at Campo dei Fiori or the statue there?”
Because I was the glib one, I identified the answer instantly, I didn’t have to think —
“The truth is both, it’s both!” I blurted out. But that was easy. That was easiest to say.
What followed taught me something about difficulty, for our underestimated host spoke out all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:
The statue represents Giordano Bruno, Brought to be burned in the public square
because of his offence against authority, which was to say the Church.
His crime was his belief the universe does not revolve around the human being:
God is no fixed point or central government but rather is poured in waves, through all things: All things move. “If God is not the soul itself he is the soul of the soul of the world.”
Such was his heresy. The day they brought him forth to die they feared he might incite the crowd
(the manwas famous for his eloquence).
And so his captors placed upon his face an iron mask in which he could not speak.
That is how they burned him.
That is how he died, without a word,in front of everyone.
And poetry —

(we’d all put down our forks by now, to listen to the man in gray; he went on softly)

poetry is what he thought, but did not say.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Woman Speaks by Audre Lorde

I've been neglecting poetry month, which is April. I have a couple days left!
A Woman Speaks
By Audre Lorde
Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
my sisters
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon's new fury
with all your wide futures
I am
and not white.
Audre Lorde, “A Woman Speaks” from The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. Copyright © 1997 by Audre Lorde.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

modeling self acceptance to toddlers with nudity

--> ©
Cheryl left her home when she was fifteen.   Her father had long since disappeared and her one older, half-brother was also long gone. She knew he lived in Maine but had no way to contact him. She kept track of her mother  after leaving home but, for the most part, they did not have a relationship again until her mother was at the end stages of dying of cancer. Then Cheryl took her in for the last months of her life. And she did so grudgingly.   ©
Cheryl is unusually tall, about six feet two inches,  very thin, with a crooked nose that turned left then, somehow, right, she still managed to appear appealing, if not quite beautiful. She had never cut her hair so it was quite long, below her hips. It was also very thin and it billowed behind her as she moved through the world, a cloud of a goddess gliding along. Then, and now that she is in her fifties, she appeared to float along the ground rather than walk, her hair down to her hip billowing around her as she walked. One had a sense that she floated a few inches off the crowd. That she glided, and did not walk as mere mortals do. She had and still has an ephemeral air. She is a finely wrought energy.

It was no surprise to anyone who knew her, or anyone holding stereotypes about hippies in the early seventies, that Cheryl landed in a hippie commune just outside of Baltimore, the city she had grown up in. It was a commune that consisted mostly of therapists and wannabe Waldorf teachers but they were all hippies.©

There were several homes rented by the group, all chosen for their proximity to one another.©

Just as Cheryl joined this group, the young adults with children decided to open a Waldorf School.

Now that I have sent my daughter to a Waldorf School, sat on the board of a Waldorf school for many years and even completed a Masters in Anthroposophical Community Development, I know that everyone who teaches in a Waldorf School is supposed to be grounded both in Waldorf pedagogy and Anthroposophy. Back in the seventies, there were two fledging Waldorf teacher training programs in this country, one on each coast. There was no training in Baltimore. And the "Waldorf" school Cheryl's hippie commune decided to start had no Waldorf trained teachers, although everyone working in the school did their best to apply Waldorf principles.©

Waldorf is more than art combined with hippie values. Waldorf education, beginning in preschool, is built upon solid pedagogical theory. A Waldorf teacher approaches every child with reverence and every lesson offered to children with even more reverence.

I am skeptical about the foundations of the Baltimore Waldorf school, in the Cheryl years,  based on Cheryl's early hippie escape from normal life. When that school opened, it hired by-then-seventeen year old Cheryl, along with a teenage boy, to run the preschool. Cheryl had been living with and hanging out with many young adults who, apparently, tended to forget she was a minor, and, for all her seeming maturity, was still a child. Heck, she was probably having statutory rape sex with some of the guys in the © commune. 

The preschool was really a day care program for the children of all the hippies, regardless of their roles in the school. The preschool would accept children whose parents did not work at the school but few parents from outside the school community chose a preschool run by high school drop-out teens. Imagine having two high school drop outs, both 17, running a "preschool". Babysitting, sure, they were qualified to babysit. They were qualified to keep the children alive, feed them lunch and snacks and take them on outings to the park, two by two. To bill that preschool as a Waldorf preschool with  Waldorf preschool teachers was a big stretch.Having said that, I acknowledge that Cheryl told me all the 'teachers' in the school had ongoing training.  Every summer, most Waldorf teachers, with or without Waldorf teacher training, take continuing education programs to prepare them for the coming school year. If a teacher's class was heading into the third grade, the teacher usually spends part of his summer at a class about Waldorf pedagogy for the third grade. Etc. ©

Years later, after Cheryl and I had parted ways as business partners or friends, I got to know the administrator of the Baltimore Waldorf School, which was the same embryonic Waldorf School that gave seventeen year old Cheryl her first job. I met that administrator in my Waldorf School Administrator program at Sunbridge College, in suburban New York City. He was professional, well grounded both in Waldorf pedagogy and Anthroposophy. He assured me that all of the teachers at his school finally had Waldorf teacher training or were regular certified and licensed teachers who, during the summers, received Waldorf pedagogy training one grade at a time. And he assured me that he remembered Cheryl, for he had held off enrolling his children in her preschool group, waiting to enroll his kids in kindergarden with a real, adult teacher. ©

Cheryl and I became business partners in the mid-eighties. We offer five-day intensives that we invented as we went along. Encounter groups, I guess. Metaphysics. We relied a lot on A Course in Miracles. We offered all our training for self-determined fees which turned out to be great marketing. Folks would sign up thinking they'd get a free five-day training in metaphysics but they did not count on the workshops being so great that they would end up paying us, often and of course not always, a lot of money.  Cheryl and I found that the more equanimous we were about how much money we were paid, the more money we got. We learned to be totally accepting when someone paid nothing. Invariably, if someone paid nothing, someone else wrote us a check for two grand. And this was in the eighties.
When she and I were still partners, for I don't know what she does these days, we used the fellowship hall of a Unity church. The pastor charged us a percentage of whatever money we received so it was affordable. And the pastor was a great guy who became our friend.©

Cheryl traveled from Baltimore to Minneapolis every other month, doing her intensive in Baltimore in the in-between months with me traveling to Baltimore every other month.  We fell into the habit of always having lunch with Reverend Phil the day before our next intensive in Minneapolis. 

Phil loved our lunches. He said his parishioners didn't tend to see him as a friend, but as a religious counselor and teacher, so they did not hang out with him over lunch. Since his entire life revolved around the church, he did not have, he told us, a lot of social friends. He had a wife and they were happy. And of course they had friends.  I guess he just liked being treated to lunch by us, for he was always very happy about those lunches.

We always went to ethnic restaurants for those lunches. Ethiopian, Burmese, Afghani. The Afghan one was my personal favorite, it was close to Phil's church and we had fallen into the habit of going there. Phil got bored with Afghani food one day and asked if we could go to a deli for sandwiches. of course we agreed.
That deli lunch stands out for me because of the stories shared over those sandwiches.

Phil began our lunch conversation by recounting his and his wife's recent dinner party. They had invited six couples over for dinner. The invitation had said "Please bring the story of your most embarrassing moment to share."  Phil and his wife had thought their invitation was a clear signal to have fun but most of the invited guests had declined to accept the invite. Only two couples accepted and attended that dinner. Phil laughed hard, and so did Cheryl and I, as he speculated on people's possible reactions to their dinner invitation. What the heck did those people think Phil and his wife expected people to share? He told us he and his wife had thought people would bring funny stories and that their invitation would get the party off on a fun note.

After cuing up the somewhat failed dinner party invitation, Phil shared with us his most embarrassing moment that he had shared with his smaller-than-anticipated dinner party. I don't remember Phil's story.

Then Cheryl asked if she could tell us about her most embarrassing moment. Of course Phil and I wanted to hear it.

When she was seventeen, working at her first paid job as a Waldorf preschool teacher, Cheryl and her teenage boy preschool co-teacher had decided the children, toddlers ages two, three and maybe four, needed lessons in accepting their bodies.

As a sidebar, I have to say that I have never met a toddler who needed this lesson. I also have to point out that I am sure Cheryl and her co-preschool co-teacher did not consult any of the actual teachers, or actual adults, at that school with their plan.  Although some teachers might have agreed with the idea that teaching very little children to accept their bodies was a good lesson, I am very sure no actual adult and teacher would have approved Cheryl's lesson plan for the day in question.

Cheryl and her male preschool co-teacher decided to spend the day in the nude and to inite the children to go nude that day. They did not insist that the children go nude. No child chose to be nude that day and this reinforced for Cheryl her conviction that the children needed work on accepting their bodies.

Again, I have to share a bit of my experience with toddlers. Many, but probably not all, toddlers will happily remove their clothing to run nude under a water sprinkler on a hot day. Many toddlers might remove their clothes impulsively and forget they are naked. Few toddlers, I believe, when  invited by persons they perceive as adult authority figures, ever accept such an invitation and then strip to nakedness in a group.

I totally get why the kids declined to go nude when Cheryl suggested it as an option. If she and her co-teacher had instructed the children to take off their clothes, they probably would have obeyed. The child would have been confused but obedient. Thank goddess it was an open-ended suggestion that the children all felt free to decline.

So there was nude Cheryl and her nude male co-teacher, spending the day in the school's garden, outdoors, with about ten fully clothed toddlers, with Cheryl and her co-worker hoping that at some point the children would grok something about nudity and strip of their own accord.

All Waldorf schools schedule regular marketing tours,especially back in the early seventies. Enrolling students so the school could pay its bills was a constant challenge. These tours tend to happen at the same time each month, like the second Tuesday of each month from 10 a.m. until noon. Adult teachers would factor the tour into their day's lessons plans, striving to be doing something appealing when the prospective parents of paying students came to observe the school to good advantage.

On the day Cheryl decided to teacher her toddlers her idea of how to be comfortable in one's own body, the day she and her male co-worker spent nude with a group of children not their own, the marketing tour group came out into the garden.

Cheryl, bless her seventeen year old naivete, forgot she was nude and warmly greeted the tour guide, a friend of hers, and then began introducing herself to the prospective parents who were checking out the school with an eye to enrolling their children. Tours meant tuition. Cheryl noticed that the tour guide and those on the tour were acting strangely. They did not look at Cheryl directly. They acted uncomfortable. It took naive seventeen year old Cheryl a minute or two to even register that she was getting strange reactions. I think she had to actually have her nudity pointed out by the tour guide, also a school employee and, very likely, Cheryl's friend.

At that point, the tour group hustled back indoors and Cheryl felt the most embarrassed she ever had.

This is the story Cheryl told us in that deli with Reverend Phil. I wanted to ask her how the rest of the school's faculty had reacted to Cheryl's choice to have two nude adults spend the day with other people/s children without their parents knowledge or consent but the moment to ask never seemed to arrive.  I wanted to hear that those two dopey teenagers were supervised more closely after that day spent in the nude with the children. Lunch, after all, is only an hour.  As soon as Cheryl had told us her story, we paid the check and moved on with our day.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Rosie's first purse

No longer after Rosie began walking around in her baby-soft-leather pink, Capezio high top shoes, she let me know she wanted a purse. I guess I used purses in those days but I don't remember paying attention to purses.  Rosie saw her father's female relatives, especially her paternal grandmother and paternal aunt the medicdal doctor, a lot in her second and third years because I was separated from her father and he had, naturally, frequent visits. He often would pick her up for his court ordered visits but hand over the childcare to his mother and sister, who were mostly delighted to enjoy the darling pumpkin our Rosie was.

I had no idea what happened in the time she spent with her father and his kin. I was careful not to pry about what she did with them. Our divorce was acrimonious but I really did my best not to smack talk to her about her daddy. I did used to say he was cuckoo in the nuckoo, a nonsense line I made up. I thought she would just think I was being silly. He must have pumped her about me, however, because he brought up that cuckoo in the nuckooo, or had his lawyer bring it up. Geez. I had even discussed that way of referring to him with my psychologist. It seemed harmless. I am digressing.

I brought up the fact that for the years of our bitter divorce, Rosie saw her paternal female relatives at least a couple times a week.  Maybe she got the idea that she needed a purse from them. Or maybe she got it from seeing me with one, although I have no memory of using a purse.

I have already written that she and I often took walks in the winter in the suburban mall near our suburban mall. I also shopped. I did not limit our walks to the mall walking strips in front of shops. I thought she liked experiencing the changing lights, colors and displays inside the big department stores. I sometimes would make a game of pushing her through closely arranged clothing racks, letting her experience the sensation of cloth swooshing over her face and body.  I don't know what she thought of that. She was not yet doing much talking then.

So a day game when she let me know she wanted a purse. No problem! We went to the mall and to the 'big' department store. I remember parking just outside the childrens department, for I had assumed she would want to pick a children's purse.

It quite surprised me when, as I chattered about the little girl purses in the children's department, Easter-like purses, she squinched up her face, shook her head no and said "No!" and then she gestured me to follow her to the women's department, then the women's purses.

I had said, extravagantly, that she could have any purse she chose. When I said it, I had envisioned an inexpensive kiddie purse.

She knew exactly where the adult women's purse department was, leading me stalwartly towards it, bobbing and weaving between varioius racks and displays that were much taller than her. I marveled at her navigation. And i realized "She comes here shopping with others besides me, people who are much more serious about shopping than me."

Say, I wonder if my daughter's predilection for fashion, endless new clothing and accessories, began in thos eearly shopping outings with her paternal womenfolk. She didn't get that proclivity from me but I have thought, sometimes, that people are born with that trait. My baby brother has the same trait. He'll drop money on a new designer shirt when it will mean he has to pay part of his rent a little late. I don't get that. I don't get interest in designer stuff. I never did. But Rosie always did. She was fussing about clothing and acesssories before she could talk.

So we get to the women's department and she goes straight to the purse she wanted. It was an adult-sized, hot pink, fabric clutch that had a long pink wrist clasp and closed with a zipper. I thought it garish. Tacky. She thought it was beautiful. I had said "whichever purse you want" and that puffy pink clutch, which was at least ten inches long and about five inches wide, was inexpensive.

Hell yeah, I bought it for her. And it was worth it to see her proudly dangling it off her wrist as we walked out of the store.

She took that purse with her everywhere for a long time. She kept stuff in it, too. I never understood her choices. She didn't carry money or identification, which is what I have used purses for.  She kept a few crayons in there, a small mirror (also, I suspect, from the influence of her paternal female kin -- I have never, not once, carried a small mirror. goodness, what would I do with a mirror) and a hot pink comb that I never saw her use. She used that hot pink purse constantly. It grew dirty, then filthy and eventually it left our lives, although I don't recall its end.

What I recall, with pure joy, is the joy I felt when my tiny toddler marched from children's department to women's department, knowing exactly where she was going amidst the taller-than-her displays and knowing exactly what she wanted.

I didn't consider this back then, over 30 years ago, but as I write this, I wonder if she had spotted that hot pink purse while shopping with an aunt or a grandma. She didn't seem to ever want just any purse. She seemed to want that garish, hot pink purse that was about half her size. She was a very petite toddler. She is a very petite adult.

She has bird bones, like in that A.R. Ammons poem, City Lights. Sometimes, in my mind's eye, I still see her fine-boned features, her exquisite clavicle, her petite features.

I love her.  I find myself straining to see her now, as an adult, a thirty something, a professional, competent grown up. I never knew her as a grown up. I haven't seen her since she was a teenager.

WTF did I do to lose my only child?

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Special Glasses -- I need a pair!

if I had such special glasses, maybe I could stop seeing, and wanting, my daughter and any kind of love
"Special Glasses" by Billy Collins

I had to send away for them
because they are not available in any store.

They look the same as any sunglasses
with a light tint and silvery frames,
but instead of filtering out the harmful
rays of the sun,
they filter out the harmful sight of you --

you on the approach,
you waiting at my bus stop,
you, face in the evening window.
Every morning I put them on
and step out the side door
whistling a melody of thanks to my nose

and my ears for holding them in place, just so,
singing a song of gratitude
to the lens grinder at his heavy bench
and to the very lenses themselves
because they allow it all to come in, all but you.

How they know the difference
between the green hedges, the stone walls,
and you is beyond me,
yet the school busses flashing in the rain
do come in, as well as the postman waving
and the mother and daughter dogs next door,
and then there is the tea kettle
about to play its chord—
everything sailing right in but you, girl.

Yes, just as the night air passes through the screen,
but not the mosquito,
and as water swirls down the drain,
but not the eggshell,
so the flowering trellis and the moon
pass through my special glasses, but not you.

Let us keep it this way, I say to myself,
as I lay my special glasses on the night table,
pull the chain on the lamp,
and say a prayer—unlike the song—
that I will not see you in my dreams.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

breaking wills for God

Religious vocations require a broken will, a surrender to God’s will or the will of those instructing the hapless kids snookered into the religious life.

My mom said her mother gave one of her children to god so mom was going to give me to god. This meant I was supposed to become a nun. My mom had two sisters and one entered the convent at age 17, the day after my baptism. My aunt the nun had stood as my godmother. I had daydreams and nightmares about my parents dying  and then I’d have to go live in the convent with my aunt the nun. My other godfather was a grandfather so I always assumed he’d be gone before my folks.  I dread growing up in a convent with nuns, sure it would trap me into a life in the convent.

My mom had four sons when she decided to give me away. When she would tell me about giving me away, I always thought “why do you want to give me away, why not one of the boys?”  I never shared this thought with my mother, for she would have considered it back talk and my mother did not tolerate back talk. She punished me for speaking pretty much about anything. Children, she said thousands of times, should be seen but not heard. And my mom meant that literally. I used to want to respond to that too. How the heck can an adult reasonably expect a child to be seen and never heard? And I longed to ask her if she had any interest in what I thought but I never dared to ask. Mom seemed to take that children should not be heard as a central tenet of her parenting.

I hated my aunt the nun, blaming her choice to become a nun for my cursed vocation.

Then my aunt the nun saved me.

Even in the summer vacations, I had to go to daily mass, our whole parish watching, or so it felt.  Our parish put out a weekly Sunday Bulletin. In that bulletin, they would ask the parish to pray for special things. One a month, the whole parish was asked to pray for my vocation.  I felt trapped. And mortified.  Catholic parishes did that when I was growing up, praying for vocations. The Church was already struggling to have enough priests and nuns and they seemed to think they could bully hapless younfsters like me into lifelong programming.

In the school year, there was a short mass at 8 a.m. I went to that mass every day for years.  I could get to my class by about 8:35, with school starting at eight. Any kid that went to mass was allowed to come in a little late. And we also were allowed to eat breakfast at our desk. In those days, Catholics had to fast at least three hours before receiving communion. Coming in late, eating my breakfast at school every day was a siren of shame, reminding all the other kids that I was holy and the object if what many of them thought was unfair special attention. A shy, mortified child, I never told anyone but my friend friend Tammy that I didn’t want to be a nun. There was no point telling my mom. My mom had an iron, unbending will. And my dad stayed out of anything having to do with disciplining his only daughter. I was the only girl with four brothers until my sister was born when I was 14.

Another aspect of my vocation’s curse was that I was given the honor of helping Sister Mary David, a nun I adored, clean the altar every day and lay out vestments for the next day’s mass.  I actually enjoyed this work. I enjoyed being alone in the cavernous but silent church sweeping the huge marble-floored alter. I got to know many nuns because of this work and my vocation. I knew all the priests better than most kids because I was in the church an hour or more every day after school.

In the summer vacation from school, there was only one daily mass at 7:00 a.m. so every damned day of most of my childhood summer vacations, from age 7 until my aunt the nun saved me when I was about 12,  I went to summer mass at 7:00 a.m..  That mass was held for the nuns, who sat altogether in two rows of black burqas. They invited me to sit with the but I pretended I was too shy to sit with them. The truth was I held myself apart from them, desparately hoping I might yet escape my vocation. Thank goodness there were later masses during the school year. Most summer days, it was just me and two rows of black gowned nuns, with the veils and everything. No one else ever went to that weekday summer mass.  I now wonder why Catholic nuns more or less adopted the equivalent of burqas.  Nuns wore those black and veiled robes until I was in high school, when nuns began to wear regular clothes. I could still spot a nun, even a mile away. I usually can still spot any Catholic religious person to this day.

In 1998 to 2000, I was in a Masters program for organization development. We had some classes that only met for one weekend and many of these weekend classes attracted students from other departments. In one of those weekends, I got paired up with what was obviously, to me,  a Catholic priest. Actually, he was a brother and lived in a cloistered place but he was let out for school.  During our first break, I asked him if he was a priest. He was flabbergasted. “How could you possibly know?  I am not wearing a collar, no crucifix. How do you know?”  “I don’t know what to tell you, Father,” before he corrected me to tell me he was a Brother, “but I knew the first second I saw you.  I went to Catholic school K-12 and I can always spot a priest or nun, current or former. It’s just obvious.”

And that reminds me of the time I took a class in college summer school and Sister Francesca, who taught second grade at my old Catholic grammar school but had  not been my teacher, came up to me in the student lounge. She came up to me and asked me if I was one of the Fitzpatricks from St. Gall’s. She said “I am Sister Francesca” and she was going to go on but I interjected “I know. I spotted you from across the hall, as soon as I noticed you, I knew you were Sister Francesca.” She looked around, as if trying to see what in her outfit gave her away.  “How can you tell? I am wearing regular clothes,” she asked.

“I don’t know what to tell you Sister, but I can always spot nuns.” Then she sat next to me and asked me to pick off any other nuns in that student lounge over our lunch break. I nailed them all. Sister Francesca announced that she was going clothes shopping and buy more interesting, less plain outfits. She had sincerely believed that she passed for a non-religious vocation person.

One time my aunt the nun visited us in Chicago, while I was still living with the curse of my vocation clouding my childhood. She lived in Colorado at the time and almost never visited us in Chicago. We usually saw her in South Dakota when we all visited our grandmother.  When Jody arrived for that rare visit, Mom said “you two have a lot in common, why don’t you go to mass together?” So we did. We went to 7:00 a.m. hot summertime mass. We sat in the row immediately behind the two rows of nuns in black robes. Jody, by then, was wearing street clothes but not the nuns at my grammar school. Not yet.

After that brief mass, and they were thankfully very brief in the summertime, held mostly to fulfill the nuns requirement to attend daily mass, Jody suggested we stay in church and talk.

Jody, my aunt, said, when that brief, perfunctory daily mass was over,  “Let’s sit here and talk” I was scandalized at the idea of talking in church. I noted, glancing all around anxiously,  that all the parish nuns had left and no one was in the church but me and my aunt the nun. Feeling very anxious, I agreed to talk to my aunt the nun in church.  When I hesitated, glancing around for permission, Jody had said it was okay to talk in church, that we would whisper. And besides, she pointed out, no one else was there.

“Tell me about your vocation.”

I turned very red and could not speak. I was ashamed, unable to choose which lies to tell her because I knew I had no vocation. I was afraid to lie to a nun and I as afraid to tell her my truth.  The nuns said one heard their vocation, a call from god. 

I had never heard God calling me to become a nun. I was quite sure of that missing detail. 

So I sat there, blushing, awkward, ashamed.

Jody cajoled me, speaking as tenderly as she could, saying “Come on, you must have some questions and I am your aunt. And your godmother. You can share your questions with me.” And she imbued her voice with love, or so I heard it that way. She was a stranger to me and in my misert over my doom, I hated her, seeing her as responsible for my trap, my destiny in a nunnery.

“Well,” I began, stammering and wringing my hands with my dress’ skirt, “I have one question.” I spoke haltingly.

Go ahead, ask, my aunt the nun gently urged me.

“I am worried about how they cut all your hair off like in the book Bernie Becomes a Nun. Before she takes her final vows, nuns cut off all of Bernie’s hair. Do you have to keep your hair all cut off forever?  I hate short hair.”

My mom had given me a book that was written for very young girls. It had one photo on each page with one sentence explaining the photo. I saw Bernie. I saw Bernie in church praying. I saw Bernie talking to nuns, then talking to nuns about becoming a nun. Then she became a novice and I saw her take her novice vows. On the penultimate page, I saw Bernie preparing to take her final vows around age 14. Her hair was almost completely shorn off by the nuns who had trained her. Those nuns then dressed Bernie up in a white bridal gown. By that page, there was a small class of novices preparing to take their final vows. Then I saw Bernie marching down the aisle to her doom, to become a bride of Christ. The book didn’t have to state what I knew:  for Catholics, marriage is forever, even marriage to God. The page that haunted me was the page of Bernie being scaled arbitrarily with her hair not a bit style, merely all shorn off, like a boy’s haircut.

That was over fifty years ago. I feel much love for Jody whenever I remember how she responded.  I saw her suppressed her laughter at my words, although I didn’t really ‘see’ her laughter until years later. Then she said “If that is your only question, I don’t think you have a vocation, Just forget this nun business.”

“But my mom says”, I began. I was thrilled but aware of my mom’s rigidity, her unbending will.

“Ill deal with your mother.”

And she did, behind closed doors. I heard her for I stalked them outside mom’s closed door.

“Mary Ann, honest to goodness, leave that child alone. Leave her be. She doesn’t want to be a nun. Leave her be.”

And mom did drop the nun thing.   

My mom dropped her pressure on me.  My luck had turned, to my happy surprise, when my aunt the nun saved me. My mom moved on to my Irish Twin, my brother Joe, ten months younger than me.

Mom did more than pressure Joe. She enrolled him in a seminary boarding school for seventh grade, age 12, without consulting him. Training to become a priest at age 12, just imagine.  Although ballsier than me, Joe also felt her pressure and agreed to spend half of his seventh grade – age 12 – at a residential seminary for future priests. He agreed to give it a try. Looking back, I wonder if Joe thought boarding school would be an adventure because I knew my brother Joe was never going to be a priest. I did not say this to anyone, except maybe Tammy, my best friend.

So Joe left in the fall he was in seventh grade, I in the 8th,  for some boarding school seminary in Michigan.

A priest brought Joe home, unannounced one Sunday afternoon, after several weeks and solemnly asked to speak to our parents. The priest had not phoned ahead, just arrived at our doorstep with Joe, and Joe’s luggage.

Joe and I eavesdropped. Of course.

“You son does not have a vocation. He cannot return to our seminar”

At that seminary, all the boys, twelve years olds and up, had to get up, kneel on a marble altar floor and pray on their knees from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. Kneel and pray for an hour before breakfast. Joe would not do it. And when the priests yelled at him, my ballsy awesome brother Joe would say “There is no fucking way I am going to get up at 5 a.m., hungry, and pray on my knees for an hour before breakfast. NO fucking way.”
I believe, but don’t quite know, that his profanity shocked them more than his refusal to pray, Until Joe got kicked out of that seminary after a few weeks, I had never heard anyone say the word fuck out loud.  My brothers probably used some profanity with other boys but they had it drilled into them that they could never, ever use such language in front of a girl. In my dad’s whole life, I never once heard him use profanity. I am not like my dad. I love to use profanity now.

The priests had tried many things to break Joe. They made him knee before the whole school all day, with a piece of wood running across his arms and shoulders, made him hold up that wood, like a piece of the cross. Sometimes he had to kneel while holding up that board. And he always endured his punishment in front of the school as everyone else ate breakfast. They actually would withhold breakfast from Joe. They made him do it every day for weeks and occasionally they would ask Joe is he was ready to knee and pray at 5 a.m. Sometimes he had to kneel and hold that wooden beam in front of each of his classes.

Every once in awhile, a priest would give Joe the opportunity to repent and just do what they wanted, which was to rise at 5 a.m., kneel on a marble floor and pray for an hour. Joe argued that he would pray for an hour but not without having breakfast.

When he was offered opportunities to repent, Joe’s answer was always the same: no fucking way. Once, that priest, told our parents, Joe had said “I’ll fucking starve to death before I get up at five fucking o’clock in the morning and pray while hungry. No fucking way.”  Joe had also, shrewdly in my opinion,  wondered aloud if starving a child was legal, the priest told my folks.

Mom gave up on giving any of her children to god.  I still wish I had had Joe’s balls when I was 12.  My sister was born not longer after Joe’s failure at that seminary. If Joe had been 12, I was 13 when Joel bailed on his vocation. My sister was born when I was 14. I remember waiting, with some anxiety for my baby sister, to see if mom would try to give her away to God. Mom never did make that play. And I often wondered, but never dared to say to my mom, “Why aren’t you trying to give Margaret away? Why me but not her?”

Joe proudly bragged about how he had stood up to those seminary priests, who were expert at breaking boys. He was proud to be unbroken, unbowed. He wore his eviction from seminar as a badge of honor. I was proud too.  He loved it when people asked him what happened because he loved describing how he kept saying ‘no fucking way’ to priests. In our very Catholic world, just saying fuck was a sin. Saying it so baldly to priests with authority over him was almost incomprehensible. If I had not heard the priest tell the story, I might not have believed Joe when he told it over and over. With pride.

When he had been a baby, then a toddler, my mom often sang “Dear little Joe, kind little Joe, he’s the nicest little boy you will ever know.”  I had always felt that way about my dear little Joe. He turned out to be a very big kid. By the time he was three, he had told our brother Chuck, then age five, that if Chuck ever laid a hand on me or Joe again, for Chuck was a bully and beat us smaller kids regularly, he would beat Chuck black and blue. I was impressed. Joe really was only 3 at the time he said that but already bigger than Chuck. Bullies area cowards.  My brother Joe does not have a cowardly molecule in his being.  I guess Chuck was impressed by Joe's assertiveness because he never hit me or Joe again.  Chuck went on to beat up newer siblings, doing so even in his college years, with our parents still never saying a word of criticism, giving tacit approval in their denial.

I was glad my dear little Joe had escaped that seminary. And proud of how he had gotten out.  I was proud he had had the guts to keep saying ‘no fucking way’, provoking the priests perfectly.

Except for one brutal, vicious beating when I was 7, my mom never physically struck any of her children.  She had lost her mind the day she beat me 100 times with my dad’s leather belt and she had not lost her mind because of me. She took it out on me because as the only female in the family besides mom, I was low man on the totem pole.  There were many times I wished my mom would have struck me instead of talked to me as she did. They didn’t have boarding schools for 12 year old girls with a vocation. If they had, I might have done as Joe did and tried on boarding school to see if it was an improvement over our unhappy home.

Joe once told me, in his perpetually genial way, that he might have toughed it out right up until college because it was a Jesuit seminary and he thought it would help him get into a great college,  although no fucking way was he ever planning on becoming a priest. He said “anything to get away from her, you know?”  I did know.  And Joe got accepted into Yale, even without the Jebbies help. No one could believe it when Joel turned down Yale because he could go to a state university without any student loans. Yale asked him to take out some loans.