Saturday, December 10, 2016

Choice - Lynn Ungar


There isn’t a right answer.
There just isn’t. The game show
where the bells ring and the points
go up and the confetti falls
because you got the answer
is a lie. The preacher who would assure you
of how to attain salvation
is making it all up. The doctor
who knows just how to fix
what ails you will be sure
of something else tomorrow.
Every choice will
wound someone, heal someone,
build a wall and open a conversation.
Things will always happen
that you can’t foresee.
But you have to choose.
It’s all we have—that little rudder
that we employ in the midst
of all the eddies and rapids,
the current that pulls us
inexorably toward the sea.
The fact that you are swept along
by the river is no excuse.
Watch where you are going.
Lean in toward what you love.
When in doubt, tell the truth.
–Lynn Ungar

Monday, December 05, 2016

Love After Love - Derek Walcott

The time will come 
when, with elation 
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror 
and each will smile at the other's welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 

all your life, whom you ignored 
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life.

Saint Francis and the Sow -- Galway Kinnel

Saint Francis and the Sow

Related Poem Content Details

The bud 
stands for all things, 
even for those things that don’t flower, 
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;   
though sometimes it is necessary 
to reteach a thing its loveliness, 
to put a hand on its brow 
of the flower 
and retell it in words and in touch 
it is lovely 
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;   
as Saint Francis 
put his hand on the creased forehead 
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch   
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow   
began remembering all down her thick length,   
from the earthen snout all the way 
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,   
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine   
down through the great broken heart 
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering   
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them: 
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

The Soul's Desert - Robinson Jeffers

They are warming up the old horrors, and all that they 
     say is echoes of echoes.
Beware of taking sides; only watch.
These are not criminals, nor hucksters and little jour-
     nalists, but the governments
Of the great nations; men favorably
Representative of massed humanity. Observe them.
    Wrath and laughter
Are quite irrelevant. Clearly it is time
To become disillusioned each person to enter his own
     soul's desert
And look for God—having seen man

Cottonwoods - Lynn Ungar

The cottonwoods are
flinging themselves outward,
filling the air with spiraling flurries,
covering lawns in deepening drifts.
You could not call this generosity.
Like any being, they
let loose what they have
in order to survive,
in order that their lives might continue
in a new year's growth.
The more seeds they send out
on their lofted journeys
the greater the chance
for their kind to flourish.
There is no hesitation.
No one asks how much
they will give. Without words
they know so clearly
that everything depends
on what we call giving,
that which the world knows only as creation.

Blessing the Bread - Lynn Ungar

Surely the earth
is heavy with this rhythm,
the stretch and pull of bread,
the folding in and folding in
across the palms, as if
the lines of my hands could chart
a map across the dough,
mold flour and water into
the crosshatchings of my life.

I do not believe in palmistry,
but I study my hands for promises
when on one is around.
I do not believe in magic.
But I probe the dough
for signs of life, williing
it to rise, to take shape,
to feed me. I do not believe
in palmistry, in magic, but
something happens in kneading
dough or massaging flesh;
an imprint of the hand remains
on the bodies we have touched.

This is the lifeline--
the etched path from hand
to grain to earth, the transmutation
of the elements through touch
making the miracles
on which we unwillingly depend.

Boundaries - Lynn Ungar

The universe does not
revolve around you.
The stars and planets spinning
through the ballroom of space
dance with one another
quite outside of your small life.
You cannot hold gravity
or seasons; even air and water
inevitably evade your grasp.
Why not, then, let go?

You could move through time
like a shark through water,
neither restless nor ceasing,
absorbed in and absorbing
the native element.
Why pretend you can do otherwise?
The world comes in at every pore,
mixes in your blood before
breath releases you into
the world again. Did you think
the fragile boundary of your skin
could build a wall?

Listen. Every molecule is humming
its particular pitch.
Of course you are a symphony.
Whose tune do you think
the planets are singing as they dance?

One Art - Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master; 
so many things seem filled with the intent 
to be lost that their loss is no disaster. 

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster 
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. 
The art of losing isn’t hard to master. 

Then practice losing farther, losing faster: 
places, and names, and where it was you meant 
to travel. None of these will bring disaster. 

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or 
next-to-last, of three loved houses went. 
The art of losing isn’t hard to master. 

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, 
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. 
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. 

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture 
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident 
the art of losing’s not too hard to master 
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Paula Becker to Clara Westhoff - Adrienne Rich

The autumn feels slowed down,
summer still holds on here, even the light
seems to last longer than it should
or maybe I'm using it to the thin edge.
The moon rolls in the air. I didn't want this child.
You're the only one I've told.
I want a child maybe, someday, but not now.
Otto has a calm, complacent way
of following me with his eyes, as if to say
Soon you'll have your hands full!
And yes, I will; this child will be mine
not his, the failures, if I fail
will all be mine. We're not good, Clara,
at learning to prevent these things,
and once we have a child it is ours.
But lately I feel beyond Otto or anyone.
I know now the kind of work I have to do.
It takes such energy! I have the feeling I'm
moving somewhere, patiently, impatiently,
in my loneliness. I'm looking everywhere in nature
for new forms, old forms in new places,
the planes of an antique mouth, let's say, among the leaves.
I know and do not know
what I am searching for.
Remember those months in the studio together,
you up to your strong forearms in wet clay,
I trying to make something of the strange impressions
assailing me--the Japanese
flowers and birds on silk, the drunks
sheltering in the Louvre, that river-light,
those faces...Did we know exactly
why we were there? Paris unnerved you,
you found it too much, yet you went on
with your work...and later we met there again,
both married then, and I thought you and Rilke
both seemed unnerved. I felt a kind of joylessness
between you. Of course he and I
have had our difficulties. Maybe I was jealous
of him, to begin with, taking you from me,
maybe I married Otto to fill up
my loneliness for you.
Rainer, of course, knows more than Otto knows,
he believes in women. But he feeds on us,
like all of them. His whole life, his art
is protected by women. Which of us could say that?
Which of us, Clara, hasn't had to take that leap
out beyond our being women
to save our work? or is it to save ourselves?
Marriage is lonelier than solitude.
Do you know: I was dreaming I had died
giving birth to the child.
I couldn't paint or speak or even move.
My child--I think--survived me. But what was funny
in the dream was, Rainer had written my requiem--
a long, beautiful poem, and calling me his friend.
I was your friend
but in the dream you didn't say a word.
In the dream his poem was like a letter
to someone who has no right
to be there but must be treated gently, like a guest
who comes on the wrong day. Clara, why don't I dream of you?
That photo of the two of us--I have it still,
you and I looking hard into each other
and my painting behind us. How we used to work
side by side! And how I've worked since then
trying to create according to our plan
that we'd bring, against all odds, our full power
to every subject. Hold back nothing
because we were women. Clara, our strength still lies
in the things we used to talk about:
how life and death take one another's hands,
the struggle for truth, our old pledge against guilt.
And now I feel dawn and the coming day.
I love waking in my studio, seeing my pictures
come alive in the light. Sometimes I feel
it is myself that kicks inside me,
myself I must give suck to, love...
I wish we could have done this for each other
all our lives, but we can't...
They say a pregnant woman
dreams her own death. But life and death
take one another's hands. Clara, I feel so full
of work, the life I see ahead, and love
for you, who of all people
however badly I say this
will hear all I say and cannot say.

From an Atlas of the Difficult World - Adrienne Rich

I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains' enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.


Related Poem Content Details

for Richard
Before the days of self service,
when you never had to pump your own gas,
I was the one who did it for you, the girl
who stepped out at the sound of a bell
with a blue rag in my hand, my hair pulled back
in a straight, unlovely ponytail.
This was before automatic shut-offs
and vapor seals, and once, while filling a tank,
I hit a bubble of trapped air and the gas
backed up, came arcing out of the hole
in a bright gold wave and soaked me — face, breasts,
belly and legs. And I had to hurry
back to the booth, the small employee bathroom
with the broken lock, to change my uniform,
peel the gas-soaked cloth from my skin
and wash myself in the sink.
Light-headed, scrubbed raw, I felt
pure and amazed — the way the amber gas
glazed my flesh, the searing,
subterranean pain of it, how my skin
shimmered and ached, glowed
like rainbowed oil on the pavement.
I was twenty. In a few weeks I would fall,
for the first time, in love, that man waiting
patiently in my future like a red leaf
on the sidewalk, the kind of beauty
that asks to be noticed. How was I to know
it would begin this way: every cell of my body
burning with a dangerous beauty, the air around me
a nimbus of light that would carry me
through the days, how when he found me,
weeks later, he would find me like that, 
an ordinary woman who could rise 
in flame, all he would have to do 
is come close and touch me.

Dorianne Laux, "Fast Gas" from What We Carry. Copyright © 1994 by Dorianne Laux.  Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.
Source: What We Carry (BOA Editions Ltd., 1994)

Friday, December 02, 2016

Post-Rodham Depression

Donald Trump was elected America's president. Donald the dumb, the racist, the sexist, the king bloviator, the tantrum totalitarian.

I knew America was racists and sexist and skeptical of education and nuance. I've seen it work against me as a professional in a profession that's all about nuance.

But I wasn't ready for this. I thought more of us stood on the side of acceptance and of striving to be better and know more and do more for each other and for ourselves.

I am sad and angry and confused.  I think it was a Washington Post article by a University of Wisconsin professor that explained Trump's win as a lash-out from rural America that sees all the power and money and voice shifting to cities. As a planner, I should have thought about that.  I didn't.

Because my education also makes me aware of a vast constellation of factors converging to make that the new reality, and none of them impacted in a positive way -- in fact only in the most undesirable ways -- by a Trump presidency.  I only see his leadership working out well for other brainless billionaires and for white supremacists.

And my fear and anger at empowering Trump's hatred and ignorance has completely overshadowed my sorrow for Hillary.  I wasn't her biggest fan.  I, too, lost sight of her accomplishments and her incredible competence because of media reporting.  I let her husband's slimy behavior overshadow my opinon of her as a woman in her own right because she seemed to have made a calculated political move to stand by him to consolidate their power and influence -- stronger together, as it were.  I judged her as a wife and still wish she would have divorced him when the worst was known.  But I recognize and admit that I know nothing about their relationship or their marriage or their partnership.  And I recognize and dislike that my instinct to judge another woman for her behavior with her man led me to overlook the solidarity we have -- should always have -- as women.

I'm enormously sad for Hillary.  And all the little girls who were ready to see in her presidency a symbol of their own worth and potential for leadership.  I love hearing about how much Hillary was respected by her staffers and colleagues.  I'm interested in what she will do now.

I wish I could write her a thank you note for standing up for us.  For her years of leadership.  For her strength and smarts and steel.  She will forever remind me to be a better woman, a better person, and a better American. Stronger together.  All the way.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Within the past two weeks, I seem to have hit my limit as a professional and then today as a mother.  Having taken on a task that posed so many challenges that I have grown into with power, if not always grace, running at full tilt for over a year has taken its toll, and this week, I fell down sick and stayed there for days.  Got up very very very behind in the race to finish before the political landscape changes and the aligned stars are replaced with less supportive or more petty lights.

And today, I missed my girl's first time on a bike, off at work to try to catch up on filling the financial hole that we are digging ourselves out of, having bought a new house to give each kid a room.  By the time I got home in the evening and went out for a family bike ride, it was her second time - old hat.  She breezed onto the bike, and I felt the breath of mother-need knocked out of me.  Only to feel the weight of it crash back onto my chest when she dissolved into somewhat hysterical tears almost immediately when she got too close to the middle of the street.

We rode three blocks to a park. She fell once.  She must have cried 4 times.  When we got to the park, there were more hysterical sobs, and I found myself watching her almost as though I was out-of-body, as though she were a stranger and no one who I had any idea how to help.  There's the start of a new learning curve!  Like the swirl of yellow bricks that start a nightmare journey in a world suddenly in vivi-color, if not rational on any level, there it is.  Where she's not just my kid anymore but this bundle of self-referential anxieties that have very little to do with me. That I have very little power to dispel or untangle.  And I only just barely rose to the occasion, making it about learning a new skill, being patient with herself, looking for the fun.  And when she finally laughed, smiled, found a bit of fun, I kissed her cheek, told her I was proud of her.  That I was the most proud that she had calmed herself down and relaxed into fun.  I'm proud of both of us.