Sharing

hey nineteen: march pieces

Poem: Summing Up by Claribel Alegria

In the sixty-three years
I have lived
some instants are electric:
the happiness of my feet
jumping puddles
six hours in Machu Picchu
the buzzing of the telephone
while awaiting my mother’s death
the ten minutes it took
to lose my virginity
the hoarse voice
announcing the assassination
of Archbishop Romero
fifteen minutes in Delft
the first wail of my daughter
I don’t know how many years yearning
for the liberation of my people
certain immortal deaths
the eyes of that starving child
your eyes bathing me in love
one forget-me-not afternoon
the desire to mold myself
into a verse
a cry
a fleck of foam.

                  — translated from the Spanish
        by the author and Darwin T. Flakoll

Thought: Morgan Harper Nichols on when strength doesn’t look like strength

“A year ago, you didn’t know you could be this strong. You didn’t know that all along, courage was rising up within you. Back then, it just seemed like you were trying to make it through. It just felt like you were trying to survive when all of the odds were stacked against you. You didn’t realize that every late night you fought through and every early morning you woke up to was a beautiful light-woven reminder that you were far from finished yet. It did not feel like it then, but the seeds you were sowing were being watered. What seemed like it was only rain was actually the nourishment you needed to grow into the next stage.”

Song: The Snow It Melts The Soonest by Anne Briggs


hey nineteen: february pieces

Poem: February by Margaret Atwood

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

Thought: Grace Paley on learning to grow old from her father

“My father had decided to teach me how to grow old. I said O.K. My children didn’t think it was such a great idea. If I knew how, they thought, I might do so too easily. No, no, I said, it’s for later, years from now. And besides, if I get it right it might be helpful to you kids in time to come.

They said, Really?

My father wanted to begin as soon as possible.

[…]

Please sit down, he said. Be patient. The main thing is this — when you get up in the morning you must take your heart in your two hands. You must do this every morning.

That’s a metaphor, right?

Metaphor? No, no, you can do this. In the morning, do a few little exercises for the joints, not too much. Then put your hands like a cup over and under the heart. Under the breast. He said tactfully. It’s probably easier for a man. Then talk softly, don’t yell. Under your ribs, push a little. When you wake up, you must do this massage. I mean pat, stroke a little, don’t be ashamed. Very likely no one will be watching. Then you must talk to your heart.

Talk? What?

Say anything, but be respectful. Say — maybe say, Heart, little heart, beat softly but never forget your job, the blood. You can whisper also, Remember, remember.”

Song: Heartbeat Chili by Allo Darlin’


hey nineteen: january pieces

Poem: Sunday by January Gill O’Neil

You are the start of the week
or the end of it, and according
to The Beatles you creep in
like a nun. You're the second
full day the kids have been
away with their father, the second
full day of an empty house.
Sunday, I've missed you. I've been
sitting in the backyard with a glass
of Pinot waiting for your arrival.
Did you know the first Sweet 100s
are turning red in the garden,
but the lettuce has grown
too bitter to eat. I am looking
up at the bluest sky I have ever seen,
cerulean blue, a heaven sky
no one would believe I was under.
You are my witness. No day
is promised. You are absolution.
You are my unwritten to-do list,
my dishes in the sink, my brownie
breakfast, my braless day.

Thought: David Whyte on naming love

“Naming love too early is a beautiful but harrowing human difficulty. Most of our heartbreak comes from attempting to name who or what we love and the way we love, too early in the vulnerable journey of discovery.

We can never know in the beginning, in giving ourselves to a person, to a work, to a marriage or to a cause, exactly what kind of love we are involved with. When we demand a certain specific kind of reciprocation before the revelation has flowered completely we find ourselves disappointed and bereaved and in that grief may miss the particular form of love that is actually possible but that did not meet our initial and too specific expectations. Feeling bereft we take our identity as one who is disappointed in love, our almost proud disappointment preventing us from seeing the lack of reciprocation from the person or the situation as simply a difficult invitation into a deeper and as yet unrecognizable form of affection.”

Song: This Will Be Our Year by The Zombies

how to be perfect

Everything is perfect, dear friend.
                                                  —KEROUAC

Get some sleep.
Don't give advice.
Take care of your teeth and gums.
Don't be afraid of anything beyond your control. Don't be afraid, for instance, that the building will collapse as you sleep, or that someone you love will suddenly drop dead.
Eat an orange every morning.
Be friendly. It will help make you happy.
Raise your pulse rate to 120 beats per minute for 20 straight minutes our or five times a week doing anything you enjoy.
Hope for everything. Expect nothing.
Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room before you save the world. Then save the world.
Know that the desire to be perfect is probably the veiled expression of another desire—to be loved, perhaps, or not to die.
Make eye contact with a tree.
Be skeptical about all opinions, but try to see some value in each of them.
Dress in a way that pleases both you and those around you.
Do not speak quickly.
Learn something every day. (Dzien dobre!)
Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.
Don't stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don't forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm's length and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass ball collection.
Be loyal.
Wear comfortable shoes.
Design your activities so that they show a pleasing balance and variety.
Be kind to old people, even when they are obnoxious. When you become old, be kind to young people. Do not throw your cane at them when they call you Grandpa. They are your grandchildren!
Live with an animal.
Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.
If you need help, ask for it.
Cultivate good posture until it becomes natural.
If someone murders your child, get a shotgun and blow his head off.
Plan your day so you never have to rush.
Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if you have paid them, even if they do favors you don't want.
Do not waste money you could be giving to those who need it.
Expect society to be defective. Then weep when you find that it is far more defective than you imagined.
When you borrow something, return it in an even better condition.
As much as possible, use wooden objects instead of plastic or metal ones.
Look at that bird over there.
After dinner, wash the dishes.
Calm down.
Visit foreign countries, except those whose inhabitants have expressed a desire to kill you.
Don't expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.
Meditate on the spiritual. Then go a little further, if you feel like it.
What is out (in) there?
Sing, every once in a while.
Be on time, but if you are late do not give a detailed and lengthy excuse.
Don't be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.
Don't think that progress exists. It doesn't.
Walk upstairs.
Do not practice cannibalism.
Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don't do anything to make it impossible.
Take your phone off the hook at least twice a week.
Keep your windows clean.
Extirpate all traces of personal ambitiousness.
Don't use the word extirpate too often.
Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not possible, go to another one.
If you feel tired, rest.
Grow something.
Do not wander through train stations muttering, "We're all going to die!"
Count among your true friends people of various stations of life.
Appreciate simple pleasures, such as the pleasure of chewing, the pleasure of warm water running down your back, the pleasure of a cool breeze, the pleasure of falling asleep.
Do not exclaim, "Isn't technology wonderful!"
Learn how to stretch your muscles. Stretch them every day.
Don't be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel even older. Which is depressing.
Do one thing at a time.
If you burn your finger, put it in cold water immediately. If you bang your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for twenty minutes. You will be surprised by the curative powers of coldness and gravity.
Learn how to whistle at earsplitting volume.
Be calm in a crisis. The more critical the situation, the calmer you should be.
Enjoy sex, but don't become obsessed with it. Except for brief periods in your adolescence, youth, middle age, and old age.
Contemplate everything's opposite.
If you're struck with the fear that you've swum out too far in the ocean, turn around and go back to the lifeboat.
Keep your childish self alive.
Answer letters promptly. Use attractive stamps, like the one with a tornado on it.
Cry every once in a while, but only when alone. Then appreciate how much better you feel. Don't be embarrassed about feeling better.
Do not inhale smoke.
Take a deep breath.
Do not smart off to a policeman.
Do not step off the curb until you can walk all the way across the street. From the curb you can study the pedestrians who are trapped in the middle of the crazed and roaring traffic.
Be good.
Walk down different streets.
Backwards.
Remember beauty, which exists, and truth, which does not. Notice that the idea of truth is just as powerful as the idea of beauty.
Stay out of jail.
In later life, become a mystic.
Use Colgate toothpaste in the new Tartar Control formula.
Visit friends and acquaintances in the hospital. When you feel it is time to leave, do so.
Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.
Do not go crazy a lot. It's a waste of time.
Read and reread great books.
Dig a hole with a shovel.
In winter, before you go to bed, humidify your bedroom.
Know that the only perfect things are a 300 game in bowling and a 27-batter, 27-out game in baseball.
Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to drink, say, "Water, please."
Ask "Where is the loo?" but not "Where can I urinate?"
Be kind to physical objects.
Beginning at age forty, get a complete "physical" every few years from a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with.
Don't read the newspaper more than once a year.
Learn how to say "hello," "thank you," and "chopsticks" in Mandarin.
Belch and fart, but quietly.
Be especially cordial to foreigners.
See shadow puppet plays and imagine that you are one of the characters. Or all of them.
Take out the trash.
Love life.
Use exact change.
When there's shooting in the street, don't go near the window.

playing the field | words from the week (x)

Jim Jarmusch’s Rule #5 in MovieMaker Magazine:

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”

Marianne Power on a moment of kindness for Conversations On Love:

“A few Christmases ago I was in the middle of a period of depression and on my way back from a trip to Ireland where my best friend had been looking after me. I landed back in London Kings Cross to a city in the middle of its office party. Everyone was excited and delighted and I felt like I was falling off the edge of the world. I got in a taxi home and when the driver asked me how I was, instead of pretending I was fine, I found myself saying: 'I feel like I'm losing my mind.' For the next hour he listened to me as I poured out a matted jumble of thoughts and feelings. He listened like he understood every word I said. He told me about his own breakdown. He told me that I would come back together again but I had to go easy on myself. 'Watch Paddington,' he said. 'And have a cry whenever you need to. I used to cry all the time, even in the cab, I'd cry behind dark glasses.' That advice has always stayed in my head: 'Watch Paddington and cry when you need to.' I don't even know his name but he was my Christmas angel.”

On the end of the year, from Laura Olin’s newsletter:

“A thought that came to me while watching a bunch of impressive speakers at a conference this fall, feeling sad I hadn't accomplished as much this year as they had: "Maybe surviving this year was enough." It was a rough year for a lot of people, and if that was true for you too, I invite you to give yourself a break about not doing all you may have hoped at the beginning of the year. If you're still here, you've come out ahead in the biggest way that matters. Here's to survival+ next year.”

playing the field | words from the week (IX)

When I Tell My Husband I Miss the Sun, He Knows by Paige Lewis:

what I really mean. He paints my name

across the floral bed sheet and ties the bottom corners
to my ankles. Then he paints another

for himself. We walk into town and play the shadow game,
saying Oh! I’m sorry for stepping on your

shadow! and Please be careful! My shadow is caught in the
wheels
of your shopping cart.
It’s all very polite.

Our shadows get dirty just like anyone’s, so we take
them to the Laundromat—the one with

the 1996 Olympics themed pinball machine—
and watch our shadows warm

against each other. We bring the shadow game home
and (this is my favorite part) when we

stretch our shadows across the bed, we get so tangled
my husband grips his own wrist,

certain it’s my wrist, and kisses it.

Eileen Myles on the importance of poetry in the New York Times:

“Poetry always, always, always is a key piece of democracy. It’s like the un-Trump: The poet is the charismatic loser. You’re the fool in Shakespeare; you’re the loose cannon. As things get worse, poetry gets better, because it becomes more necessary.”

Toni Morrison on work in the New Yorker:

  1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.

  2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.

  3. Your real life is with us, your family.

  4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.

playing the field | words from the week (VIII)

Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s poem, Hammond B3 Organ Cistern, featured in the New Yorker:

The days I don’t want to kill myself
are extraordinary. Deep bass. All the people
in the streets waiting for their high fives
and leaping, I mean leaping,
when they see me. I am the sun-filled
god of love. Or at least an optimistic
under-secretary. There should be a word for it.
The days you wake up and do not want
to slit your throat. Money in the bank.
Enough for an iced green tea every weekday
and Saturday and Sunday! It’s like being
in the armpit of a Hammond B3 organ.
Just reeks of gratitude and funk.
The funk of ages. I am not going to ruin
my love’s life today. It’s like the time I said yes
to gray sneakers but then the salesman said
Wait. And there, out of the back room,
like the bakery’s first biscuits: bright-blue kicks.
Iridescent. Like a scarab! Oh, who am I kidding,
it was nothing like a scarab! It was like
bright. blue. forking. sneakers! I did not
want to die that day. Oh, my God.
Why don’t we talk about it? How good it feels.
And if you don’t know then you’re lucky
but also you poor thing. Bring the band out on the stoop.
Let the whole neighborhood hear. Come on, Everybody.
Say it with me nice and slow
   no pills  no cliff  no brains onthe floor
Bring the bass back.    no rope  no hose  not today, Satan.
Every day I wake up with my good fortune
and news of my demise. Don’t keep it from me.
Why don’t we have a name for it?
Bring the bass back. Bring the band out on the stoop.

Rebecca Solnit on the value of getting lost, in her incredible book “A Field Guid to Getting Lost”:

“Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.”

William Cheng (pianist and teacher) on the implications of being a musician that can no longer play:

“My inability to translate suffering into artistry has made me doubt, among other things, how much I care about music — a strange rabbit hole for a music professor and lifelong musician. For if I loved music enough, shouldn’t music sometimes be enough to comfort me? Or, to frame this as the three-word inquiry at the heart of any difficult relationship: Is love enough?

As much as I would’ve hoped otherwise, music wasn’t. It was just one more thing excised from my daily activities, one more broken luxury in a life falling silent. The more I’ve felt pressured to rekindle my love for music, the more dejected I’ve become in failing to do so.

It’s marvelous, to be sure, when music therapy works, and I have nothing but admiration for artists who play and dance through disability or agony. It’s important to believe in heroes and hear their hopeful songs. It’s no less important, however, to relate and listen to the abundant stories that diverge from the happy overcoming tales that pervade our media. Because inspiration porn — like any porn — isn’t always grounded in reality, instead propping up stratospheric standards of beauty, stamina and narrative intrigue.

Not everyone gets to be a hero. Some people barely manage to hold on. So from time to time, let’s tell certain illness and disability stories as they are — even if they don’t come with the superhuman protagonists or stirring soundtracks we so crave.”

relationship to work

“My Therapist Wants to Know about My Relationship to Work”

I hustle
upstream.
I grasp.
I grind.
I control & panic. Poke
balloons in my chest,
always popping there,
always my thoughts thump,
thump. I snooze — wake & go
boom. All day, like this I short
my breath. I scroll & scroll.
I see what you wrote — I like.
I heart. My thumb, so tired.
My head bent down, but not
in prayer, heavy from the looking.
I see your face, your phone-lit
faces. I tap your food, two times
for more hearts. I retweet.
I email: yes & yes & yes.
Then I cry & need to say: no-no-no.
Why does it take so long to reply?
I FOMO & shout. I read. I never
enough. New book. New post.
New ping. A new tab, then another.
Papers on the floor, scattered & stacked.
So many journals, unbroken white spines,
waiting. Did you hear that new new?
I start to text back. Ellipsis, then I forget.
I balk. I lazy the bed. I wallow when I write.
I truth when I lie. I throw a book
when a poem undoes me. I underline
Clifton: today we are possible. I start
from image. I begin with Phillis Wheatley.
I begin with Phillis Wheatley. I begin
with Phillis Wheatley reaching for coal.
I start with a napkin, receipt, or my hand.
I muscle memory. I stutter the page. I fail.
Hit delete — scratch out one more line. I sonnet,
then break form. I make tea, use two bags.
Rooibos again. I bathe now. Epsom salt.
No books or phone. Just water & the sound
of water filling, glory — be my buoyant body,
bowl of me. Yes, lavender, more bubbles
& bath bomb, of course some candles too.
All alone with Coltrane. My favorite, “Naima,”
for his wife, now for me, inside my own womb.
Again, I child back. I float. I sing. I simple
& humble. Eyes close. I low my voice,
was it a psalm? Don’t know. But I stopped.

- Tiana Clark