Wednesday, May 20, 2020

There Must Be More

The trouble with my soul
is that it won’t stay inside
where it belongs. It won’t
just rest, make a nest
in the crook of an elbow
or perch in the ribcage.
It flaps, floats, bashes
itself against the windows,
knocks itself out looking,
I guess, for its own pair
of eyes, sure that the two
we have now are missing
a sunrise of eternal humility.

Friday, May 15, 2020

I Dream of Rain

My body buzzes with the grumble
of a tractor beneath it, my feet
become tires, my back a cart
that carries pails of water
to dry fields, and stones
to fill the swale. There’s
a heavy hope in our air,
tension in each lump of clay
we release to crumbs.
I point out the boulders
across the road, and later,
returned to my own legs
for balance, crouch to lift
a duck feather from the grass
and watch it drift,
a weightless curve
of what we dream on,
find our rest.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A Total Zero

My body is the luminous suit that carries my spirit through this life. I get to enjoy its eccentricities and quirks, like the extra long second toes, the mole on the upper right corner by my mouth, my overall lush-as-a-jungle hairyness, lines across my forehead, a pair of clear, green eyes with aging vision. I've trained my body to be strong enough to perform various feats with hula hoops, an unusual act for someone my age. As a friend said recently, "You defy gravity." Not quite, but in order to dazzle and convince a pal I defy gravity, my body requires a daily maintenance through practice. This has helped (I think), my overall health. It keeps my brain and body challenged.

So yay! My body! I'm celebrating it all the time, right? No. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about my body in a negative way:

Is that a jowl?
Why are my legs so pale and cottage cheesy? They don't even look good when I shave them.
Whoa. Arm sag.
Stretch marks.
Can I still see my hip bones? Yes. I'm ok.
My ass feels huge.
I  have the body I did in 2015, I'm ok.
I have the body I did in 2015, I'm fat.

I don't compare myself to others. I compare myself to myself.

Two years ago,  I was a size zero. I was complimented on this thinness, often. When I went to a Redi-Care center with a badly strained back muscle, the doctor spent more time complimenting my physique than assessing my pain. A fellow hooper on Instagram, one I admire, commented on how great I looked, how thin. Friends I hadn't seen in awhile would see me and the first thing out of their mouths would be about my body. "Wow! You look great! Look how skinny! Must be all that hooping!"

I felt great with all this attention, and I felt awful with all this attention. 

It wasn't all that hooping. It was stress. I wasn't eating. It was probably one of the worst times in my life. I was unhappy, depressed, out of my mind with worry all the time, and scrambling to do the right thing for someone I loved. Most days, I was dizzy. I often woke up and had panic attacks. I tried to tell myself the dizziness and panic attacks were just hormonal, but I was dangerously thin and undernourished.

To be skeletal in our society is a goal. I'm five foot eight inches tall and I weighed 117 pounds. I began to praise myself, too. "I'm thinner than I was in high school!"

I think we need to consider what we say to people about their bodies. We don't know why a person has lost weight, or gained it, or how they feel about it. But our culture sure celebrates the thin, the lost pounds, and a youthful look. All the ads I see on social media are for age-defying makeup, tricks to keep my ponytail lively, or diet apps. They have my demographic pegged.

I'm not a size zero now, and most of the time, the little voice inside my head tells me I'm fat, saggy, and too old to be doing what I'm doing. I should just stop. This voice keeps me from being happy sometimes, all these thoughts about my body and it's "failings," which aren't failings at all. It's just my body, being alive right now, in this moment. My body is the luminous suit that carries my spirit through this life. I get one. Let me love it, please, before I have to leave it.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Po Chü-i

The older I get the more I need to read poems by very ancient, and quite dead poets of earlier centuries. Po Chü-i is a Chinese poet who lived from 772-846.

There's great comfort of reading the thoughts of another person, from a great distance in time, and how they connect now. Being human hasn't changed. In this poem about the dreaming and waking world, Po Chu-i reflects on how those two worlds  are both entwined and separate, and how the dream spaces allow him to move as he ages. Po Chü-i  had a long and successful career both as a government official and as a poet, and these two careers seem to have come in conflict with each other at certain points in his life, which is interesting to think about as well as I read this poem.

A Dream of Mountaineering

At night, in my dream, I stoutly climbed a mountain,
Going out alone with my staff of holly-wood.
A thousand crags, a hundred hundred valleys --
In my dream journey none were unexplored
And all the while my feet never grew tired
And my step was as stong as in my young days.
Can it be that when the mind travels backward
The body also returns to its old state?
And can it be, as between body and soul,
That the body may languish, which the soul is still strong?
Soul and body -- both are vanities;
Dreaming and waking -- both alike unreal.
In the day my feet are palsied and tottering;
In the night my steps go striding over the hills.
As day and night are divided in equal parts --
Between the two, I get as much as I lose.

Translated form the Chinese by Arthur Waley

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Happy Mother's Day

For a Five-Year-Old

A snail is climbing up the window-sill
into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see, and I explain
that it would be unkind to leave it there:
it might crawl to the floor; we must take care
that no one squashes it. You understand,
and carry it outside, with careful hand,
to eat a daffodil.

I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
your gentleness is moulded still by words
from me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
from me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
your closest relatives, and who purveyed
the harshest kind of truth to many another.
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
and we are kind to snails.

Fleur Adcock, Poems 1960-2000, Bloodaxe Books, 2000 .

This poem by Fleur Adcock reminds me of my mother, and it is one that is in the unkempt and mislabeled filing system of my mind. It's the connection of kindness and truth, and the phrasing of the last two lines that make me think of her. The harshness of the truths in the second stanza of the poem, so harsh they make the reader wonder if they are all true, well, they are necessary to making the poem work the way it does. It's so good.

There's a family story which is related to this poem resonating with me as well. When my sister and I were young, Mom saw an opportunity to teach us a bit about science. There were a couple of slugs near the house that she sprinkled with salt to show us how they dehydrate. "You were both mortified," she said, when retelling this family story. "You cried. I felt awful." It wasn't an entirely botched lesson. I still think about it, and the places where wonder and sadness meet.

Also, I try to stay hydrated when working outside.

Thanks, Mom. I miss the realness of you.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

The Day is Just a Lifetime in Miniature

Early morning: ballet of possibility
Noon: two buckets balanced on a yoke across the shoulders
Mid-afternoon: lone fencepost of entropy
Early evening: water eddies in the stream around a stone
Night: vulture of sleep

Friday, May 08, 2020


The stone at the edge of the pond
doesn’t know it is called a stone,
nor does it need to in order to exist.
The pond water laps in wind
and all three nouns in that phrase
pond - water - wind
manage well without language,
or our categories for it,
any parts of speech, like noun.
None of this world
had a name before us,
and it still turned on its axis
somehow, without a word
for axis. Without a word.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Excavation of an Uneven Path

I prefer to kneel in the ground
until my back and neck ache,
use my hand as a trowel,
a rake, my fingernails filling
with dirt
as I search for a path
someone else laid out decades ago.

Here it winds toward the shed,
and there it ends
in a profusion
of terra cotta shards and gravel.

A pale grub of frustration
from not knowing
which way to turn
in a spontaneous mudpie
experiment. I find reward
in the tiny
ceramic basket with gold trim
excavated six inches below
where I began this morning.

It makes sense to me to bow down
to where the path might be, search
many generations worth
of stories I hold,

let anger (that lowly, but helpful worm)
with my spatial lacking lead me
to feel the grit
of whispers
from everyone who lived here before.

I listen, aware of my spine
and every impulse my body
still has in its living cells,
I hear what it feels like
to not know what I
might unearth next.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Black Vulture

Guess who has been up on the barn roof three days in a row? A Black Vulture. He looks a bit like he's been taking classes in Commedia dell'arte. Nice mask, friend.

Uh, friend? Maybe not. My ducks are out and about. The first day, I shook my fist at him, and off he flew. The second day, the same, and this morning, he was back, waiting for the thermals to start, or keeping an eye on the dead racoon at the edge of our road.  I felt like a jerk when I realized I shook my fist at the clean-up crew. He's eating a natural predator of my ducks.

So I guess he's just going to do this work until there's nothing left to be done. This morning when we came inside after feeding goats and letting out the ducks I said to Dan, "Three days in a row. Kind of an ugly omen, don't you think?" And he did my favorite thing ever, he made the vulture speak:

"No one ever shakes their fist at the garbage man! I'm not the harbinger of death! Death came first ..."

The first laugh of the morning, hearing the complaint of the Black Vulture, misunderstood supervisor of roadkill, and hopeful player of Coviello.