Equinox Lovesong During Late Stage Pandemic



After the windstorms, we wake
to snowslides of petals on the grass,
First loss of the season, these lung-soft ghosts.

Fire-striped tulips affront our sorrow,
waving their wild colors as we pass.
After the storms, we awaken

to what we should have known,
that the first kiss could also be the last.
Memories linger like soft little ghosts.

A flotilla of pollen cloaks the lakeshore,
concealing the water glass surface–
opaque in the storm’s wake.

We used to fear a certain swimming-hole,
so dark, where the children might slip from our grasp.
Time has turned our fears into mean little ghosts

that drag us down like an undertow,
our breath heavy in the laden air.
After each rainstorm we’re awake
to a springtide of loss, these sallow ghosts

This poem is a variation on a villanelle I started a few years ago during April and that I recently revised a bit.

Dark pools of water show up frequently in my dreams, and they show up in my poems, as well.

Sometimes I see animals coming up out of the water such as alligators. In general, when I see dark, murky waters in my dreams, I think I’m dealing with the unconscious mind, memories I might be afraid to look at.

But if I do manage to sit with the fears during the dream, the water sometimes will become clear and the creatures inhabiting the dreamscape become colorful and whimsical, not at all scary and creepy.

My poem doesn’t get past the fears as the speaker contemplates loss of petals, the memories in the dark pools of water, and in the background, the loss of so many lives to covid.

Sketchbook/diary

The Yoga Teacher Guides the Women in Camatkarasana In the Season of Fetal Heartbeat Bills

******

I wrote this poem in 2019 after the Georgia State Assembly passed a law that would criminalize all abortions after a so-called fetal heartbeat was detected in an ultrasound.

Camatkarasana, roughly translated as Wild Thing, is a sort of one armed backbend that one of my yoga teacher enjoys guiding us toward.

She has a unique way of describing what is going on inside the body and how to harness that energy toward achieving greater strength in the pose. It’s a difficult pose to achieve and requires strength, flexibility, and confidence, but once you do achieve the pose, the body becomes flooded with energy.

My heart is very heavy with sadness for women now that the leaked draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade has been published. We ARE wild things, strong and capable of determining what happens to our own bodies. I’m filled with fury that forces in our society want to take this right away from us.

Drawing of a forced amaryllis bulb that I combined with other found objects and words from a deck of archetype oracle cards

In his book about the Buddhist concept of impermanence, the late Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story about how his mother was pregnant before him but lost that pregnancy. He asks, “Am I that same baby, or am I someone different?”

In keeping with the Buddhist concept of impermanence, he reasons that he is the same but also different, just like a bulb that blossoms, and then withers, and then blossoms again the following year.

Thich Nhaht Hanh’s teachings are not so different from the story of a Chicago abortion rights organizer and NGO administrator who told her twin seven-year-old boys that she had had an abortion before being pregnant with them. They interpreted the story in their own way by saying, ”Mommy was pregnant before us and then she made herself unpregnant so that we could be born.”

The activist’s words resonated with me, as she explained that the abortion she had when she was not ready to have a child made it possible for her to give birth to her twin sons. Is it really anyone else’s business what choices she needed to make? I’m beyond exhausted that we are still having to explain ourselves to men and to justify the decisions we make for our own physical and mental wellbeing.

My heart is heavy that I live in a society that does not value women in equal measure as it does men. I’m a poet, not an activist, and my nervous system is not prepared right now to take to the streets. But I will support everyone who does!

Mother’s Day and the Blues

Today is Mother’s Day, and I’m thinking about my mother-in-law who passed away this year on April 1, just a week after her 88th birthday.

She spent so many holidays and other visits at my house, and although I would not say she was like a second mother to me, she was a positive presence in my life, and she imparted her tidbits of elder wisdom to me and our family over the years.

At the end of yoga class yesterday my teacher wished us a happy Mother’s Day, and I responded that I wanted to wish her a special day, too, because even though she never gave birth to a child, she has nurtured me and many others over the years as her spiritual children.

I’ve tapered off the anti-depressants that I’ve been taking since my youngest son was three months old. For almost thirty years I’ve been on one kind of SSRI or another, all stemming from severe post partem depression and then ensuing trauma.

Maybe because I’m off the meds, a certain kind of pervasive sadness has returned. I’m trying to work my way through the fatigue and mild anxiety in the hopes that my body will re-learn to regulate itself and I can learn how to let these moods come and go without latching onto the idea that I need the SSRI to cope. Thirty years on these meds is a long time. I want to give my body a chance to heal on its own.

What helps me is going to yoga class with my beloved teachers, listening to guided meditations, and being outside under the wild waving trees who stand sentinel over my garden, these oaks and pines that quiver with nonjudgmental aliveness. And tea. Tea steeped in my MIL’s pot.

Poetry and Pandemic Diaries

Although I haven’t been posting them on his blog, I have written several new poems during the last two years, some of them directly about the pandemic.

I think most poems sort of slip their meanings into the reader’s mind without plainly stating their focus, but this one that I’m sharing is my recollections of the pandemic as they occurred.

Last year at this time I took a Zoom writing workshop with poet Tina Mozelle Braziel, which was all about recording our experiences of the pandemic. She stressed the importance of relating our experiences as a way to express our collective impressions of this upheaval in our lives.

Everyone who has lived through the pandemic has their own story to tell, and I hope to read others’ impressions as we emerge from our covid cocoons.

We Tried to Name Our Sorrows Until We Learned This Is What the Living Feel

We were all in it together, we went it alone.

We attended funerals, weddings, bar mitzvahs

concerts, conferences, basketball games,

still ignorant of the aspirated particles in our midst.

We washed our hands to the Happy Birthday song

until we didn’t know the two red crab claws

creeping from our rolled up sleeves.

We doom-scrolled Twitter for signs of relief.

@Honeycomb said, Smear cow udder ointment,

wear cotton gloves to bed to ease torn cuticles.

We scoured surfaces with lye, sprayed germ killer, isopropyl alcohol,

witch hazel, essential oils.

We tried to ignore the sick feeling when we flushed toxins into water streams.

We opened windows and turned on fans.

We wore bandanas, gaiters, balaclavas, repurposed bras

over our mouths and noses.

We dreamed of surgical masks and dining in public

rooms with barefaced others.

We dreamed of dark passages, of driving into oncoming traffic.

We became survivalists, conspiracy theorists, kooks.

We followed directions–one way for pasta aisle, another for bakery.

Flour and yeast disappeared off shelves. Frozen pizzas,

beans, toilet paper–only two per household allowed.

When meat and chicken thinned out, the tyrant ordered

factory workers back on the job, no hazard pay, crammed

together breathing the same tainted air among the carcasses.

We watched the numbers ticking up state by state.

We were told it would disappear by Easter.

We were told it’s just a little flu.

We were told to ingest bleach and hydroxychloroquin.

We were told it came from a pangolin sold in a wet market.

We were told it was someone else’s fault.

We were told to blame the liberals, the Chinese, the Antifascists,

the scientists, the doctors, the governors of states.

We were told to stay at home.

We were told to open things up.

We parked our cars in bread lines at stadiums until we ran out of gas.

We donated to food pantries, gave out twenty-dollar bills

to people holding cardboard signs.

We spotted folks cash for Uber rides, helped family pay rent.

We made mushroom soup and discovered adaptogens.

We boosted our immune systems.

We stopped hearing cars and trucks whining above the canopy of birds.

We saw satellite photos of smog clearing over Beijing, Tokyo, Mexico City.

We saw Dolphins swimming in the turquoise canals of Venice.

We crooned ballads of gratitude on balconies at sunset.

We danced to Despacito on rooftops in the fresh air, planted

tomatoes and basil in pots.

We remembered the before times, the Himalayan salt caves

with mediums and the angels they channeled,

with zero gravity chairs, meditations

moon circles with candles, the bay leaves and crystals we buried,

rituals we continued in solitude.

We protested in the streets and declared Black Lives Matter.

We lost friendships. We stayed in touch. We cut ties.

We lost our elders, our beloveds.

We drew ourselves into storyboards that chronicled our inner journeys.

We consorted with the lions, gators, and dodos of our imagination.

We read tarot, runes, oracle cards, the stars.

We cut out silhouettes of acrobats and jugglers in gold paper.

We ate popcorn for dinner in the dark on the back porch.

We drank cheap wine from Trader Joe’s.

We scrounged around for cannabis brownies in places

where it wasn’t legal to consume.

We forgot what days and months were.

We lived inside a shaft of light.

We lived inside a leaf floating to ground.

We lived inside a wilted amaryllis blossom turned the color of a bruise.

* * *

“Wild Thing” or “Reading the Newspaper” by L. Kleysteuber, used with permission of the artist.

Gardening and Poetry

When fall comes to Georgia, I’m usually not in a gardening frame of mind, but this year I followed a lead from Georgia Writer and made the trek to Nightsong Native Plant Nursery.

Behind the containers I planted calla lily bulbs from my mother’s garden in Dahlonega. In the photo you can also see the rosemary bush that’s throwing its weight around like a spiky beast.

I’ve also planted sage, and behind the azalea is a giant patch of lavender that the bees adore.

When it comes to gardening, I plant according to the sun my yard gets, which is mostly dappled light through the giant oaks splaying across the lawn.

Calling my front yard a “lawn” is a bit of a stretch, because it’s mostly weeds. My main strategy has been to plant different ground cover that will reduce the need to mow, but I’ll still have to find a way to remove the leaves from the beds in November/December. I loathe leaf blowers, but at least I have an electric one that isn’t too loud.

My mom also gave me some tiny purple and green leafy plants that I identified as common bugle. In the spring it grows tiny purple flowers. I have some cultivated bugle whose leaves are shiny and lush, and it has grown into enormous clusters.

But since I’ve transplanted my mom’s shoots, I’ve seen tiny bugles dotting the neighborhood, growing like little wildflowers weeds do, freely and with abandon.

I suppose you could say my writing life is like the common bugle or a humble wildflower weed. I plant my little fragments of poetry that live in tattered notebooks until I take notice of them and marvel at a flash of color that deserves some cultivation.

Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss

Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss, I recall my life in Athens, Georgia in the early 80s and the punk rock/new wave scene there.

Seuss’s poem, [I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious], brought me back to the times my friends and I drove to New York for a weekend to hear our boyfriends open for bigger bands at CBGB, the Mudd Club, and the Peppermint Lounge.

[I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious]

Unlike Seuss, I was more of a voyeur of the punk scene, a curious suburban college girl who wanted to graduate from university and study in Spain. For a while, I got sidetracked by punk’s promise of anarchy and rebellious art making, but I never had the need to “escape from punk’s thesis.” That was a forgone conclusion with my conservative, Catholic father hovering in the background of my psyche.

Seuss, raised by a single mother, was the real deal.

The 80’s in Athens at UGA was steeped in systemic misogyny that I bumped up against in my creative life, although at the time, I thought this bumping up was due to my own failures as a writer and human being.

I tried to get into Coleman Barks’s creative writing poetry class, but when I approached him at his office he practically shut the door in my face.

Instead, I tagged along with the boys in the band, read their chapbooks, gathered at their art openings, and attended theater presentations at the Rat and Duck, named for the rats running along the ceiling above and having to duck from falling plaster.

We slam danced and pogoed at the 40 Watt Club, went to parties on Barber Street, and picked through steamy piles of musty clothes dumped in the back of the thrift store.

We had a lot of fun in the early 80’s, but I was an outsider on the periphery of cool, while many of the *boys* were hipper than thou, making pronouncements about art and music as though they were the arbiters of all taste.

I appreciate Diane Seuss’s critique of the New York punk scene, especially her lines:

the rest was the same old white boy song

and dance, unaware of its misogyny and convinced its dangers

were innovational … .

Eight-week Writing Goals and Keeping Score

It’s the first day of September and back-to-school season. Even though I retired from teaching, I’m filled with that back-to-school determination to make a fresh start with my writing practice and to take my art making more seriously.

It’s also Virgo season, a time for ordering my little universe of precarious stacks of books heaped all over my writing/yoga/study/art room.

On her blog Write More, Be Less Careful, poet and writing professor Nancy Reddy is starting an eight-week program (free!) to help writers like me accomplish and produce more.

Our task for this week is to set quantifiable and qualifiable goals.

Here are mine:

  • Write for twenty minutes a day every day in the mornings, BEFORE I do the NYT Spelling Bee because I’m too obsessive to stop before I reach *genius* level, which can take over an hour unless I cheat, which I sometimes do.
  • Read poetry and poetry-related articles every day, rather than newspapers and magazines. As William Carlos Williams says in his poem “Asphodel, that greeny flower,”

It is difficult

to get the news from poems

yet men die miserably every day

for lack

of what is found there.

  • Commit to writing one blog post a week. This practice will keep me accountable, even if no one else reads what I write, and since I truly enjoy writing, it’s not a chore but rather a delight.
Doodle of Red with diary entry about gardening without gloves and tearing blisters.

Altered Books for Altered States

I found this book, along with some others from the 1860s and 70s, in a pile at the back of a closet, and now I’m altering it as a form of therapy.

This book is aimed at “the farmer’s boy” and “the humblest clerk”

It’s also a way to play, to discover, and to stay curious. What strange repetition of images and contexts will I find? What is this found poem trying to say say to me?

In my mind there’s an emotional context that a reader might not experience, but it doesn’t matter. We make our meaning of it as the moment happens. The reader finds their own meaning, and the drawings add another layer.

It’s very restorative, the process of finding poems. It’s a moment I can dip into over and over, pour m’amuse.

The nutsy granola, aging-hippie in me chafes at the book’s intended purpose and audience, which is to introduce young, working class men to “polite society,” to help them polish off the rough edges and give them a boost in status.

But it also is fun to leaf through it to read the party tricks they teach, which all rely on word games or versions magic tricks such as “the three matches.”

Press and Bindery of Historical Publishing Company, Philadelphia
I hope I’m not scandalizing the librarians and antiquarians out there by marking up this book
I did this one on the plane coming home from Chicago

#alteredbook #poetry #artheals #blackout poetry #erasurepoetry

Airport, Pandemic, and Gratitude

In Flight

Passing through wind currents above the clouds, I thought of the ancient Tibetan prophecy from the documentary When the Iron Bird Flies, that the teachings of the Buddha would travel far and wide when the iron bird flies west.

It was shocking, and not a little dreamlike, to experience going from a very small social circle that included my nuclear family, my sisters and niece, and a few very good, close friends and suddenly finding myself in Memorial Day travel at the Atlanta airport.

We were traveling to Oak Park, Ill to see my mother-in-law, more than likely for the last time, or maybe not. She is quite old, infirm, and suffering from dementia. She remains tied to her body by a silken thread, and so we plunged into the stream to be with her.

At the airport we moved in a steady stream of humanity, all of us wearing masks at all times, and I couldn’t stop staring at the sea of faces. The masked chins, the necks, the people wobbling like bobble heads with their neck pillows and luggage.

Driving on 285 toward Camp Creek Parkway was it’s own kind of anxiety spiral, with rows of trucks jamming up the lanes and stop and go traffic from an accident that appeared, when we passed it, to have incurred no injuries. People in the breakdown lane were smiling with their cars bashed from behind, relieved to be alive. I was relieved for them.

The Pandemic has made me much more conscious of my mortality. At 60, I’ve retired from public school teaching with a small pension, and I try to spend evenings on the back porch watching the sun set through the poplars and pines.

I’m so grateful to be alive, to have survived thus far, for breath, community, and connection. I want to dwell in these moments. My body and mind bask in the peace I feel under the trees in the evening air.

Even though the sea of masked humans was a jolt to my nervous system, I’m grateful to have survived the worst of Covid19, and I try not to live in the future. I practice acceptance of what is, to let my hopes and fears linger “out there” somewhere. I try to let my desires float like clouds, and I kiss their as wings they fly.

Erasure Poems and the Pandemic

Wuthering 111
a found tarot reading

you seek the garden
a place where
the wind will inform you
you are acquainted with
a tempest of passion
Wuthering 111

My trip to the library in April for an outdoor community poetry workshop has continued to inspire me.

As many evenings as possible, I get out my work bag full of scraps of text from the librarian’s packet, and I begin to search for poems.

While I skim the text, I also allow my feelings to make themselves known, and lately what comes to the surface is worry about what some people close to my heart are going through, especially as we are nearing the end of the pandemic.

I also feel the strain of resistance. Four years of resisting the tyrant, starting with the Women’s March in 2017 and the activism I engaged in through demonstrations and letter writing. My body has aches and pains all over from holding stress.

I make collage art and found poems with watercolors and Mod Podge. My little chapbooks are therapeutic for processing my journey through this tunnel of time.