Monday, October 29, 2012

i am stretched on your grave

I am stretched on your grave,
     And will lie there forever.
If your hands were in mine,
    I'd be sure we'd not sever.
My apple tree, my brightness,
    Tis time we were together,
For I smell of the earth
   And I am stained by the weather.

When my family thinks
    That I'm safe in my bed,
From night untill morning,
    I am stretched at your head,
Calling out to the air
    With tears hot and wild,
My grief for the girl
    That I loved as a child.

The priests and the friars
    Approach me in dread
Because I still love you,
    My love, and you're dead.
I still would be your shelter
    Through rain and through storm.
And with you in your cold grave,
    I cannot sleep warm.

Táim sínte ar do thuama, trans. Frank O'Connor

It is a poem I have never sung to my daughter. I took out the stanza about first love and maidenheads. I loved her in a different way. But I still loved her since before I knew I would ever be a mother.But when I hear it, I cannot help but think of Lucia. I imagine myself, fingernails filled with soil and earth, grasping into the brown grass, prostrate over her little body, weeping a brackish mixture of love and blubbering. Grief is nothing like I imagined. I was less cool than I thought I would be, less composed. I was a mess, bloated and drunk in the early weeks, and later, angry and salty.

She had no grave. We buried her in the wind. Fling her ashes to the sea in wild gestures of release, but palm her tiny urn. It is a slight of hand. Now you see her. Now you don't. We cannot let go.

I prop myself on my elbows, aiming at the gravestone. I drove to Boston for the weekend to meet up with Jess and Julia and Niobe. We ask Niobe to take us somewhere morbid and she picks a cemetery.  There is a stone with a carving of a skull with wings. The angel of death. A calavera. It is the first I see, and quite unself-consciously, that I lie on the grave of a young women, snapping a photo with my Android.

I read her name.

Jane a Negro Servant of Andrew Bord, something or other...She was 22 years old and 3 months. I put my forehead on the space above her skull.

You were someone's daughter, Jane. 
And so today, you are my daughter. 
I am stretched on your grave.
I will lie there forever.


There is a hurricane in town. We pack a bag and make candles. My daughter takes a bottle of rose oil, and spills it across the table. The studio smells like the Virgin Mary. The hurricane grabs a window and forces the mechanism open. I lock it shut again. My roses carry on an elaborate dance outside my kitchen window. And I realize suddenly that I cannot save the roses.

Atlantic City looks gone. I don't miss it. I'm worrying about my own ass right now. I see all these pictures of alcohol and parties pop up on Facebook and miss drinking in a storm. I don't miss drinking, as a sport or a lifestyle. I just miss a nice bourbon now and again. It is like that, isn't it? A cigarette never tastes good after years without smoking, though I have imagined it a thousand times. And similarly, a drink would not end well. It would take me somewhere much worse than the hurricane, but I still wish I were able to have just one (even though I never was able to have just one.) And that is the irony of missing drinking. I miss a kind of drink I never did. I grieve a person I never was.

The power went out for an hour or so, then back on again. Sam lit a fire, and we watched a movie about Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren. I drank coffee. It is a full moon tonight, and a hurricane is in town and I stretch on her grave, and create an altar for Dia de los Muertos. The lights flicker again, so I leave you with pictures of my altar.

If you have day of the dead pictures, link them in the comments. I'd love to look.

Monday, October 22, 2012

spoken word blog round-up TWO

Last year, I was just blown away by the pieces submitted in the Spoken Word Blog Round-up, and was very excited to do it again this year. So, without further ado...

Welcome to the Second Annual Spoken Word Blog Round-up! YEEHAW!

Please read one of your blog posts, poems, or written word pieces aloud for a camera, post it, and link up here on the Mister Linky. Leave a comment. It is really extraordinary to hear people's inflections, manner of speaking, and connection to the pieces they publish on the internet. I hope you join me. I have read two pieces this year. One from still life with circles called curios. The other is from Glow in the Woods. It is called questions and answers.


questions and answers.

Friday, October 19, 2012


A few years ago, Petra sent me a postcard from New Zealand of two fiddleheads formed into a heart. I always keep the postcard on my desk, tucked into the painting I did of an enso. It is a strange, otherworldly image, like two Shinto embryo bowing to each other.

I honor the sacred in you. In the honoring, we become love.

That feeling of unfolding, or unrolling oneself, branches curled inward, aching from the only position we think we must keep, I know that feeling. Those future leaves like hands praying to soon unfurl, to soak in the shadows of forest. To protect me from garden pests.

I curl up in a fetal leaf position. There is a distinctly different part of me, the part you cannot see, that is mired  in the bog underneath, the dark and cold, moist and uncomfortable. I believe I am depressed, but I don't know. I felt this way when I was pregnant with Thomas. Not the same way, but similarly. My head and body contort into the painful clawing of allergy and celiac attacks. I eat wheat to be definitively tested for celiac and rheumatoid arthritis, but it affects every part of me now. I feel soul sick and body sick. Not with a touch of extra mucus, but a dying kind of sick. My whole body aches. I don't want to walk. I want to sleep all day. It sounds dramatic, but it feels dramatic. So, I trudge on, making breakfast, watching movies, ignoring the pain, grumbling. Always grumbling.

I listened to Comedian Tig Notaro on This American Life the other day do a set three days after she found out she had cancer. I am telling you this because I bought the whole thing for $5 on Louis C.K.'s website and listened to it, and it is profound.*

Deeply, overwhelmingly profound.

It isn't simply that she had been diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, it came on the heels of a devastating intestinal bacterial disease that almost killed her, then her mother died, and her girlfriend broke up with her, then she was diagnosed with cancer. When she speaks of this bad news, you can feel it. And yet there is the feeling that you are listening to her unfurl herself, slowly rolling those branches out, even as she is rooted in swampy darkness. She is changing as she is performing her set. I can't quite explain it. You have to hear it, laugh with her, tear up with her. And there is this point, she keeps talking about a joke she had written before her diagnosis that seems stupid now. And I kept flashing back to this point when I sat in a prenatal yoga class and I said, "All you need to give your baby is love. Everything is going to be okay."

Remember that? Remember when you felt like the first thirty some odd years you thought babies lived? You were stupid, but you meant well, Angie.

I barely recognize that woman. I am in this huge unfurling process right now--figuring out who I am, what I want, who I need to be. I like who I am becoming. I can feel her, see her, embrace her. Sit with her. But the becoming is a bitch.

*Ironically, I have been writing this short post all week, and TracyOC wrote about this piece too on her blog.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Mama, was I wish you once made?

Yes, my baby.

Was I wish on a star or on a dandelion?

You were every wish I ever made on anything I could wish upon.

Was I born a fairy or a girl?

A fairy, my angel, with little invisible wings. Your fairy power is to make everything bright and lovely. You do that by being exactly who you are.

It is?

Yes, my baby.


Yes, my love.

Can we pray to the angels?

Yes, my love. What would you like to pray?

I want to pray that I am kind to my friends and my friends are kind to me.

That is a lovely prayer.

Well, can we pray it?

You just did pray it.

She hands me a drawing and runs off with her yoga mat. She giggles with her friends, and finds her shoes. I glance at the paper, and it is a tree. Not just a tree, but a tree with stars and the word "love" written across every branch. It has hearts and a squirrel climbing the tree. It says, "I love you." and then her name. The drawing looks like a heart exploding with love.

"It is a tree growing love." The yoga teacher explains to me.

"That is beautiful." I'm prone to emoting these days. I hide it behind fidgeting, but I get choked up.

"I told them to draw a seed, " the teacher points to a heart drawn at the bottom of the trunk. "Then they were supposed to draw the tree from it. She wanted her tree to grow love."


"Exactly, WOW. She is such a cool little person. She did that all by herself. I did not prompt her to draw love."

I don't know what to say. I am verklempt. I am proud, amazed at how much she has to teach me every day. I have no right to be proud; she does not belong to me, but I'm proud nonetheless. I wonder some days, when hits and kicks are exchanged and toys are begged for and extra candy stolen, if my compassion-nagging works, if my focus on our highest self, on banishing materialism, on other people, on love is sinking in. I wonder if I am doing anything positive here by staying home. I know the children are safe, but am I showing them every possibility a woman has? Or just one traditional role?

My daughter is a heart. A pumping, beating, lovely heart of a girl I am privileged to parent. And this little crayon picture humbles me. My best self wants to grow love. If my yoga teacher asked me to finish the sentence, "My tree grows..."  My seed might look like God, and my tree compassion. Those things are intangible, un-drawable. Unable to be articulated nor drawn, and if pushed further, perhaps I would have drawn a tree sprouting love too. My best self likes to think so.

There are days I feel so alone on the Island of Kid. I woke up this morning, for instance, and watched the Backyardigans before I realized that the kids had left the room. I was thinking about race and little creatures dancing together and what this show teaches kids. I sing songs, and tease them. Sometimes I lose my temper and say things like, "I am incredibly disappointed in this behavior." And then tsk, and wish that shame were not my go-to. I leave the laundry build up too long. I just really want to go to work some days. It's not that they are not lovely. Or that they are naughty children. They are lovely, and very well-behaved children. It is just that I don't always like who I am--my lack of patience, my selfishness, my extreme introversion. Some days, I just want a nap. I don't like what being home alone all day brings out of me--not every day, or every week, even. But when I get stuck in my head, or I feel busy and bored, and I grumble and growl at the kidlets, I wonder if my being home helps anyone. Some days, I just don't want to think in pink and light blue and clean-up songs or read the same book a thousand times or talk about unicorns and fire trucks. I don't want to decide breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks for myself, let alone three other people and a dog. Those days are much fewer than I imagined before babies, but they come. The guilt comes with it. Because I know this is a choice for us that few families get to make, and Lucia's death makes their living so precious and not taken for granted.

But when she brings me a picture of a tree blossoming love, I know she is bringing me this self-portrait we painted together. The picture of what my parenting is about--the principles we want to bestow upon our children. Choose love, I whisper for five years, little niggling pushes toward compassion. She translated those whispers into prayers. She asked for help with the love and friendship. That is a gift I wanted to give my children--knowing her limitations, asking for help, turning control over. It is a skill I am only now learning. I still find it immensely difficult to ask for help, even as I preach it to my children. But the truth is (and I am sharing it sheepishly with you) this picture answered my desperate prayer:

Show me my path, please. Help me understand how to parent these babies in a way that is best for their souls. Help me be the best mother I can be. Help me understand what I am doing right, not just wrong.

Thank you, Daughter.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


The muscles tug at my abdomen.

No, wait, it is my ovary, releasing a withered elderly egg, waiting for a derby hat and an old corsage of a sperm to present itself.

Keep waiting, sister.

The eggs are useless. I think. They have been useless since I decided to stop using them. No, wait, it is the new moon coming. Everything shed. We shed tears. We shed lining. We shed emotions. We shed anger.

I feel fat and bloated and look pregnant. I want to punch people. Stop smiling at me in that stupid, hopeful way. I am not carrying twins. I am just menstruating. 

It is a small death, the blood reminds me. The death of possibility this month. And every month hereafter. We are comfortable not having any more children. It is too risky, and besides, we have no more drawer space. I don't mean to be glib, but sometimes we have to be practical about space and money.

The moon woke me for three days in a row. I had a dream the first night that I was hiding in small dark places, and someone with a flashlight kept finding me, but it was just the moon, shining in mine eyes. Last night, I dreamed I found a crystal ball, then a large metal gazing ball, like in certain yards.

I stuff crystals in my pillow case to dream. But nothing comes. Nothing but dreams of the moon finding me in small places and of being a magpie. I like shiny things. Pecking and gazing. Pecking and gazing. I've been going through this magical sabbatical process. I am turned inside out, open and raw, and also open and raw. The first is a state of mind, but the other the welcoming of ideas, the absorption of technique and magic. I am melding with oils and potions and astrological phases. It is all welcoming, yes. And safe, but still the outer world has been raw and hard. I am sensitive and unsure of myself. I lay it all out there, though, even as I withdraw. I whisper and worship. That is my way of being right now. I try things I have never tried.

Last week, we mixed anointing oils. I tried to follow the spirit to guide me into a scent I needed--sandalwood, and ylang ylang, and other things that eventually made it smell like sweet death. I poured it down the drain, caught the little kyanite, pietersite, and smoky quartz I saved for just such an occasion. I felt stupid to not smell in a discriminating, intricate way. It felt like a philistine and a boar.

I become a student. That is an identity and way of being, but still, I am not sure what I am. And that is a painful, strange place to be. Alice--too large for a room one minute, and much too small to accomplish anything the next. I work on trusting myself to discern, to know, to feel, but it is a groundless country. A nation without footing.

The truth is I ask too many stupid questions, and also I am a know-it-all. And so I am both at the same time. Where I grew up, they used to say about people like that, "Now there is the heva hava who thinks he is the farmer." When I talk to my sponsor about someone who upset me, she always tells me that if I "spot it, I got it." In the last six months, I only spotted self-righteousness and know-it-all ism. The self-righteous know-it-all ticks off my self-righteousness, competitive right-ism, and know-it-all-ism. I began trying to change it. To mantra the phrase, "Would you like to be right or happy?" Keeping my mouth shut makes me cry. I feel powerless again. I feel emasculated. I feel impotent.

All these sex terms for feeling frustrated, but that is where I am. Fucking frustrated. It is good place to finally realize something like that before you are insufferable for ninety years, but it is also painful to change that behavior. To always be a student, and not say everything you know when saying what you know is all you know.

I spent my late teens and early twenties saying yes to any experience that came my way. I thought it would make me a better writer later on. I had many conversations with an array of colorful people--junkies, conspiracy theorists, communists, eco-terrorists, criminals, prostitutes, crack addicts, vagabonds, homeless kids, runaways, murderers, heiresses, poets, cops, jazz musicians, laundresses...and now, I feel funny saying, "Yeah, me too. I once cliff dove. I rode in a helicopter to a glacier. I shot an AK-47. I was a rock climber. I smoked Chesterfield Kings." No one really cares. It's not about me. They just want to tell their story, and really, I just want to listen.

Know-it-all storytelling is a habit that I'm finding difficult to break. And being a student that trusts myself.

What habit are you trying to break? 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


This last moon was particularly hard on the earth people. Us, grounded, soil-smelling creatures suddenly uprooted, moving like the tides until our feet dangled inches above the floorboards, swaying into a moody petulance. The moon challenges us to face crisis without our crutches.


I am constructed of crutches. Weakness for all things vice. But now, I just drink coffee, cuss to myself, take a handful of candy every few days, shop for antique fortune-telling teacups and old carnival signs. I write on a blog. The crutches of recovery, I suppose. I ask my sister to ground me, to check my chakras, align them with gemstones. But I keep floating up, looking at knots in the tops of trees, waving to a plague of grackles that swoop low like the finger of an ancient god. The last few months, I simply could not keep things straight. There are abandoned kid drawings all over my floor, laundry piling up. I cannot return phone calls. Emails starred and unanswered. My heart races. And the way I used to regard myself, competent and responsible, feels like a house of tarot cards. All my fortunes fall to the floor, and I have to stare at the empty remains of my foundation.

I take a talisman deck from inside an old vase. I pull the card that reads, "protection from your mind turning against your body." And I stare at the sketch of a belt pulled taut against a skeleton.

My mind turns against my body daily. My friend says that given ten minutes alone after an awkward conversation with a co-worker, he can go from fine to quitting his job, moving out of state, and drinking again. Alcoholism makes death by slow, distilled suicide an option some days. I admit that I am prone to that type of thinking, but instead of acting it out, I write about it, construct a story from it, write an unhappier ending, or, even more surreal, a happier one.

I didn't feel depressed until I stopped writing. Maybe it was there in the spaciness, the ungrounding. But it comes to me in a flash as I stare at the card. Even the art couldn't make up for the not-writing, and this is the crisis the moon throws at me. A crumb of doubt about my writing and how it affects my ego. I took a blog break. I thought with my blog break, I should take a break on writing wholesale. No journal notes, no short stories. Just me being a stay-at-home mother. Being present.

Yet, in a matter of days, without writing, I felt defeated and crazy. Within two weeks, I had sent a resume to an anonymous email for a job as a secretary, even though I knew I would have to pay more in childcare than it would pay me. And besides, I have never even been a secretary. It didn't matter. I just wanted an escape from the dialogue in my brain, the constant story without a book.

When I stop writing, I go crazy. I turn inward and feel out of sorts. I plan to become a dairy farmer in Iowa. Other days, when I think no one is looking, I fantasize about walking away with just the clothes on my back, a mystery unsolved. That could be a novel, I think. Actually, I think that already is a novel.

My crutch may be writing, but it is a crutch without liver damage and lung disease. Writing is a scalpel and my brain is the fetal pig dissected, pinned open, a heart lying next to a notebook. Writing puts it into perspective. Instead of hug it out, I write it out. With two weeks of not writing, I saw my life set out in front of me a long series of things never written. Characters taking on lives of their own. The stories in my head are constantly dancing, arguing, fighting, fucking, snapping photographs, remembering, until they turn inward and wage a deep, unrelenting war in there, oozing out of my dreams, and twisted bedtime yarns for the children.

Writing can be a kind of mythical Ancient Greek torture. Write, write, write, no one reads, then I write more. In fact, the less people read, the more I want to write, just to change their mind. Write. Write. Not write. Go crazy. Write again. With more zeal, more mystical shit, more bells, more whistles. But write, dammit. Until there is nothing left to say.


When she withholds love, 
I want to smother her with kisses, 
cover her with flowers and tea 
and read her my writing again and again.

She didn't really love me, I think.
But that was never really the point.