Long ago, in the storm rocked Cantabrian Sea, My friends and I heeded some impulse to strip And plunge below the jagged breakers. Blood pounding in my ears the only sound As waves swirled above like illuminated thunderheads. Later, we sat on pockmarked boulders at dusk, An electric charge in the air. Hushed breath, chests rising And falling as though joined by an invisible current, The shared knowledge of what we had risked. Today, I enter the pebbled shallows of a man-made lake. My footsteps tear through the reflection of pine trees, Warp their curve upwards with hill’s rise, their sun-bright Branches greening the water’s mirrored darkness.
Today I’m thinking about youth and the vitality I once had. When I wrote this poem this past spring, I was feeling content with the peace and calm I had arrived at.
But as I’m going through another depression of the agitated variety, my nerves completely shot, I marvel at how I used to thrill at riding wooden roller coasters or swimming in rough water.
Yesterday I took the second Covid booster, which hasn’t seemed to cause me any great distress, but the new medication I’m taking for anxiety has tired me as my body adjusts. I’m still hoping the anxiety will ebb, but so far, after ten days, I’ve only experienced minor improvements.
Guided meditations and lap swimming have helped ease some of the pain. Distractions like walking my dog or gardening when the heat is not too unbearable also help. Remembering that all things change and are changing every moment is a consolation, too.
Diary entry, Madrid, International Pride Weekend, 2017
Tourist lunch at three o’clock on the terrace, but I’m not alone—a Russian to my right speaks to me in Spanish–Rusia es un infierno, allá a no se puede ser gay. He tells me of sinister ears that listen for echoes of forbidden love, their switchblades ready to shiv a body. But all of this is far away. Today, we pilgrims dine on scallops in their shells, watercress salad, and peach gazpacho as the sky parades across the Gran Vía, an awning of cobalt blue over buildings white as wedding cake, cornices creamy as flan. Love’s on all the billboards and gold armored Super Woman straddles the bus stop, so much iridescence, I forget my fractured foot. We mambo through rainbows laced along the Retiro and two-step into the Garden of Earthly Delights, where swallows burst through pink eggshells and Adam plops down as though stupefied on the grass. God, dressed in red velvet robes, stares at us as he holds Eve’s wrist and takes her pulse. We shed our clothes— drag queens expose their statuesque torsos, and I reveal my pale potbelly, my breasts like empty soup bowls. Here, shame has drifted out to sea in a soap bubble. Naked together, we are whippoorwills circling fountains frothing with limonada, sangría, tinto de verano. We are owls with pineapples on our heads, symbolizing nothing, fizzing with delight.
In honor of Pride Month, I’m posting this poem that I wrote a few years ago after returning from my second camino in Spain.
The poem is based on real life events in Madrid, and also the painting by Hieronymus Bosch, a tryptic that encompasses heaven, hell, and earthly paradise.
If I can ever get myself to focus and complete this project, the plan is to place this poem at the end of my manuscript about the camino. It’s shaping up to be a nice size for a chapbook, about 28 pages of poems written in the epistolary style and consisting of letters, messages, notes, and diary entries.
I love the poems in this manuscript, and I really need to finish the project and bring it to fruition. It’s more fun to keep making new poems, but it’s not fair to the work to keep it squirreled away in drawers and on my laptop.
I hope you like this poem. It’s central message is to live with delight and for shame to “drift out to sea in a soap bubble.”
Be proud of your way of loving. No one can tell you how or who to love. And know that if you’re reading this poem and identify as LGBTQIA, which is probably most of the entire world, I am sending you love through this poem!
Look here, the tree says. There is a path, a road Winding toward a cabin Deep in a shadowy forest. Finding the glowing pine Is not enough. I need to travel Down the winding road To the decrepit cabin Full of cobwebs, broken boards. Even deeper, I need to go, Below the foundation, Down to the level of packed dirt, Down to the damp, dark place Where memories sleep in fits, Pushing like roots in the soil.
I’ve kept a log of my dreams for years and years, ever since I was a teenager, but lately my nightly visions have slipped away from my conscious mind.
As is my custom, I keep a notebook next to my bed where each night I write, “I want to remember my dreams tonight,” or something to that effect.
If no dream is in my mind when I wake, I write, “No dream tonight.” I have a long list of many nights in a row with not even a fragment to hold.
I’m wondering if my inner dream maker is feeling neglected, because I have had several vivid images come to me in dream form during the last year, but I haven’t really paid them any mind.
So now I’m breathing life into the dreams (at least I hope), by drawing and writing about them. This particular dream came to me in the winter, before my mother-in-law died.
I have a recurring image that includes this cabin in the above drawing, and often this place is *Katherine’s cottage* in the dream.
In life, every summer we used to go to her house in the countryside of West Stockbridge, Mass. It was tucked into a sort of tree-lined grotto at the end of a circular gravel drive, a short distance away from a brook.
But this dream cabin always appears as a secret place my husband and I had forgotten about. It sometimes shows up as *Katherine’s first cottage* where she has been living far away in the deep forest, like a fairytale witch.
I don’t like to over analyze my dreams, but it does give me a sense of wholeness when I invite the dream images into my art. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide what the cabin would mean if it were your dream, or the tree, as well.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.