Your lucky day!

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I’ve been blogging so long now I have to say that coming up with great titles to posts has become somewhat difficult. You’d think it’d get easier right? Not so. The competition is steeper round these parts, people. Everyone has new content going up every single day, sometimes twice a day. I’m lucky if I get words on the internet to update my status update these days.

I do have some words up though at Ruminatemagazine.com and I’ll say they are nice words. Mostly, they are Luci Shaw’s words which means that they are far sweeter and much more luscious than anything I’ve put down lately.

If you have a moment and perhaps, even if you don’t, you should read them…and then you should read Luci’s work. Ruminate aims to make that a whole lot easier for you in fact. If you simply leave a comment on the blog post over there at Ruminatemagazine.com you can win a copy of her book.

And you should want to do that because the book is wonderful…and Luci is wonderful…I want to be Luci Shaw when I grow up.

So go, my feisty friends! Go and read and make merry that this is indeed your lucky day! But go FAST! The drawing is tomorrow.
🙂

Click the image below, what are you waiting for?
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In dreams: “It’s for Jesus!”

I keep thinking I should start a new weekly feature here on Mrs Metaphor called, “things my weird subconscious tells me at night.”

About once a week I wake up remembering what I’ve dreamt. Nine times out of ten that dream fades within a few hours but sometimes it stays with me. Sometimes the dream is so real, so tangible I have to talk about it because it bothers me all day, like getting a splinter and feeling it there under the skin. Writing about it or telling about it acts as a pair of tweezers pulling out the sliver.

Last night I dreamt I was headed to Liturgy (the Orthodox Sunday church service) and found that it was not occurring. Like everything in dreams things suddenly shifted, like scenes from Inception with doorways becoming walls and walls becoming streets. I found myself in another place, walking into what my memory told me was a church I attended 20 years ago except that it didn’t look at all like the right building.  But, I accepted it, like you do in dreams, and I entered into the aged brownstone building, walked up a flight of unfamiliar stairs and through a set of wide doors into the sanctuary, which was more like a theater.

I chose a seat near the back, under the balcony seats and someone handed me a “program.” It was printed on lime green paper, laminated and fastened together with a single small binder ring. I paged through it quickly as the music started but did not get far before the first “act” came out. This church service apparently was pretty cutting edge because the opening of the service entailed a group of performers, midgets, who would shoot themselves out of a cannon placed in the balcony. All I could see from my seat after the boom of the cannon was a short person in a bright red or blue costume, sailing through the air and rolling to a stop on the stage. The people around me went crazy for it and I wondered if I was in church after all. When I turned to ask my neighbor, a heavy-set, well dressed young woman she smiled and said, “It’s for Jesus!”

After a few minutes of this I looked a little more deeply at the lime green laminated “program” and saw the line up for the rest of the church service. There would be three rock bands, an acoustic set and a poetry reading by a number of community members. Each poet had a number after his or her name indicated the number of poems they would be reading. The third name down listed (25) as the number of poems she meant to read. At that, I stood up to leave but the woman next to me put her hand on my arm, “No, don’t go!” she said, “there’s so much more!” I shook my head and said this wasn’t really my thing and that I had to go but she still tried to talk me out of leaving. “It’s for Jesus!” she said again. I finally broke away as quietly as I could and began to make my way out of the auditorium.

When I reached the staircase outside I felt relief and I stepped out the door into what had become a cloudy, overcast day. Raindrops hit my face as I remembered that I’d left my raincoat inside on my seat. And then I woke up.

Good Letters: Jars of Clay

I’ve got a post up today on Good Letters, the fine blog offered by that Image Journal magazine I like so much. If you’ve got a moment take time to check it out. In light of the heat the band (and front man, Dan Haseltine in particular) took a few weeks ago over a Twitter discussion on marriage equality I just wanted to check in with my friend, Stephen Mason. He delivers some lovely words and sage thinking. Hope you’ll give it a read! 20130614-jarsofclay-600x-1371228007-300x240

The problem with poetry…

Last week I was fortunate to have an essay I’d written picked up and published at Art House America’s blog. This week I had the opportunity to do a Q & A with poet, Scott Cairns for Image Journal’s Good Letters blog. This morning as I drove through the alley that takes me to and from the safety of my garage I saw the broken glass that littered the sidewalk just where that alley meets the road. There was another shooting last week here. It was at around 3am and it involved known gang members, as is usual for shootings in Logan Square.

It was after another such shooting a few months ago that I wrote the essay that was picked up by Art House America. This one was a few blocks away. The scattered safety glass glimmered on the blacktop and spilled onto the sidewalk. After the driver was shot the car must have hit a bordering tree. Police tape flapped in the wind and I thought, does poetry matter here?

I went home a little shaken, not because of the shooting but because of the idea that perhaps my love of poetry was frivolous, extraneous and maybe even elitist. I have the luxury of reading poetry. I have had the privilege of studying it, of writing it, of discussing it with smart people in many beautiful places. But here, in the broken glass and police line tape, does poetry matter here?

The essay for Art House served to assure me that poetry was more than frivolous for me, it has been life blood in all of the difficult times in my life. My family, though smart folks, were not intellectuals. We did not sit around reading for fun. We did not discuss or debate literature or poetry. We were as ordinary and maybe a little more troubled than most of our neighbors but my parents valued higher education and pushed for it. They instilled the idea in my siblings and myself that going to college was an honor and a necessity in a time when going to college was not a certainty for most kids of my generation. I had to work hard to make it to college. I had to work hard to pay for it. I had to work hard to keep my grades up and keep my meager scholarship and aid money.

But unlike the kids in my neighborhood, I did not have to worry whether I’d live long enough to do any of those things.

Sometimes I think about being able to have a short talk with the gangbanger boys I see in my neighborhood. I don’t see them as dangerous or degenerate. They are all someone’s son. Many of them are the ages of my own children. I consider asking if poetry matters to them. I want to ask about their hopes and dreams, about their family lives. I want to ask them to write a poem, to imagine this poem would be read someday far in the future by anthropologists and literature professors and young people who want to know about life in this time, in this place. What would they say, I wonder.

And I just want to understand, not so that I can fix it, because when my white savior instincts kick in (and they do) I try hard to remember that these kids are not a problem to be fixed. They are someone’s son. I don’t have the solve them so that I feel safer in my neighborhood or so that I feel better about my own worth. I want to understand so that I can avoid being part of the problem.

While I will profess my undying love of poetry to all who will listen (obviously) in moments like this, the day after another shooting, another loss of life, it is sometimes difficult to know that poetry matters here, where the alley meets the road.

Advice to young poets

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The advice I got when I was a young poet came from Keats and Dickinson, Thoreau and Hugo. I languished in my angst more often than not. I did not consider the words I put down as a craft or art but rather a way to give voice to the deep sad I felt but didn’t understand. And in fact, I had no idea why I would need to give voice to the deep sad. I just wrote and pondered and swam in the waters of dark thinking because it came naturally.

The advice I gleaned from poetry was hidden in verses, like code between line breaks-

I ’ve seen a dying eye
Run round and round a room
In search of something, as it seemed,
Then cloudier become;

And then I saw the dying eye Dickinson described too, in my room, in my cloudy vision and often I did not know what to do with it.

And I’d dive head first into a verse, like this of Thoreau then in the next moment-

My life has been the poem I would have writ,
But I could not both live and utter it.

Or paddle around in Poe until I could not breathe without sobbing-

“I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand–“

Looking back on it now, I realize I was too short-sighted as a young poet to know how deep the rabbit hole of poetry really goes. I did not have the Internet to tell me there were other words, a great “And also there is this…” batch of words, encouraging words, to lift me out of the dark thoughts my adolescent poet brain offered up.

Growing up is hard and painful and poetry is good balm. It’s too bad so many young people don’t realize that for the most part they’re all young poets waiting to be fed strong words that can build them up and get them through it. Regardless of creative leanings, economical level or ethnic background all young people have a young poet inside, whispering and waiting. I really believe this.

And so, today, I thought about what advice I’d give to the young poet and this is what came to me for what it’s worth-

Don’t be afraid of your dark thoughts but don’t give them absolute power either.
Put those dark thoughts in a well-lit room close by
and listen to them from a place of authority and calm.
When they are hungry, give your dark thoughts food grown in clean soil
and water from the clearest streams
because dark thoughts are really just ideas that are afraid.
Treat your dark thoughts like children who need care to become healthy.
Guide them into your art and let the art speak those fears
And when your thoughts are ill, let your art be the medicine and the hospital bed.
You are the doctor and the nurse and the midwife and the priest to them.
Let your art heal those dark thoughts so that they can become
what they are meant to be in the wholeness of you
as an artist
and a friend
and a human
living and breathing and growing all the time.
Don’t be afraid of dark thoughts.

If Anne Lamott was my friend

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If Anne Lamott was my friend I would make her tea when she came by unannounced. I would not offer cookies because I would have already eaten them myself after the kids were in bed the night before. She’d be understanding about that because “who needs more cookies anyway, right?” she’d quip, smiling. Still, I’d feel bad about it.

I’d spread honey and butter on toast to make up for it. It’s no cookie but it’ll do.

The tea turns out pretty good. The conversation, even better, except for that five minutes in the middle when we both go to dark places. I’d feed some insecurities, she’d feed some insecurities. They’d race around the room a while as we watch- helpless, astonished, afraid. We’d wonder in those moments if the world is worthwhile, if the fight is merited, if the struggle productive, if we are worthy participants at all in this whole “life” thing.

I’d offer more tea, more honey and butter on toast to make up for it. It’s no cookie but it’ll do.

The insecurities fade a little, stopping and swaying like sleepy toddlers resisting bedtime- wobbly, woozy, whining. They stop short around the kitchen island one last time, buckling at the knees not because we have convinced them that they are tired but because the sun has shifted, their circadian rhythm winding down, heartbeat slowing,

rising,

slowing,

and then an exhale,

and then closed eyes and then we carry them softly to the couch. They will awake. They always do. And we will walk alongside and we will nurture and we will hope they feel better, do better, mature into whatever healthy insecurities grow into later. Successful lawyers or professional football players, maybe.

 

Poetry: If not for the storm…

I’ve got a new poem up on Burnside Writer’s Collective today. Hope you’ll take a moment to check that out. It outlines a bit the process of writing a poem or at least trying to write a poem 🙂

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the last supper…

The spread in the calendars divides me this year from my “western leaning” Christian friends and family. On this day, the Gregorian calendar informs us that it is Good Friday. In about 5 weeks the Julian calendar will issue its own proclamation of Good Friday and I’ll be in the throes of Holy Week finally. In between I’ll be scrounging and stockpiling marshmallow peeps and waiting.

I ran across this poem today though by Ranier Maria Rilke and thought I’d post it for those of you who are embracing the dark and the hope-filled this weekend. Our calendars may not agree but the sense of what we’re doing here, why we follow this narrative and not another, on that point at least we agree.

The Last Supper

They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.

To this last supper he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.

[On seeing Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, Milan 1904.]
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming
Rainer Maria Rilke

on sleeping and waking…

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

From Essential Rumi
translated by Coleman Barks

A friend who was getting off an antidepressant after many years told me not long ago that he felt as though he was finally “waking up.” He had not realized how asleep he’d been all those years. He was sleepwalking, he was numbed to the world, to his wife, to himself. This was protective at first, it saved his life perhaps. The struggle now though was to walk through life finally awake, feeling the pain and the hurt and not dying in the process.

The reminder to me when I read this poem and when I think of my friend’s experience is that dulling the pain has its moments but those moments have to be temporary.  It cannot be the full story of me. As much as I joke to my husband and my friends that I’d rather medicate my pain- order another margarita, sneak another piece of candy, sit in my car outside the gathering of people I’m avoiding, watch reality TV- I know it only prolongs the pressure. It doesn’t dissipate anything, it just pushes it down the road. I have to want to stay awake and in the absence of that, sometimes I have to do it anyway.