Memoir as a Body of Water

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.

I copied the owl’s face from the cover of this month’s Atlantic, “How Animals Perceive the World“ by Ed Yong, photo by Shayan Asgharnia

After the Pilgrimage, We Enter the Garden of Earthly Delights


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.

––Christine Swint

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.

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, housed in the Prado, Madrid

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!

Madrid, Orgullo 2017

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!

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.

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

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.

April Erasure Poem

April

My enormously generous and gifted friend Georgia Writer [my name for her on this blog], invited me to an actual community poetry workshop and open mic, in person!

This declaration warrants an exclamation point considering I read two new poems as well as an erasure poem that Georgia Writer guided us to write. I got so emotionally charged during the outdoor reading that I grew flustered and tripped over the mic cord on my way back to the seating area.

Of course, I warned everyone that I had retired from teaching this year and have been pretty much in lock down since Thanksgiving. I’ve barely seen my own family members, including my 81-year old mother, who, I’m grateful to say, is very healthy because of an active lifestyle, good fortune, and lots of time outdoors in the garden and on trails.

Georgia Writer is a longtime university librarian, poet, and natural historian, a true polymath. Several years ago, when I visited her university office, it was like entering a cabinet of curiosities: sculptures, drawings, birds’ nests, wasp nests, animal skeletons, plants and plants and plants under lights and in terrariums. Of course, there were towers of books everywhere, and yes, she really does read them all.

In the past, she has bequeathed me older but still completely gorgeous poetry journals. She has also inspired my love of making books by giving me decorative paper scraps from former poetry chapbooks she has hand sewn and designed through her poetry press, La Vita Poetica. I still have the paper she gave me even after sharing the bounty with summer camp kids and my own art projects.

I admire her so much and consider her to be a poetry and art mentor. Her own poetry is some of the most beautiful poetry I’ve read. Although not a strict formalist, Georgia Writer’s craft of poetry is sublime.

The librarians provided packets with post-its sharpies, and pages of old magazines or discarded books–– the one that caught my eye was from a Victorian garden periodical. My packet came with a green sharpie, which struck me as an instance of synchronicity, so I went to town with the green.

G.Writer gave a brief lecture on surrealism and Dada, and then we created a spontaneous exquisite corpse, the only constraint being that half of us began our lines with “Either” and the other half with “Or.” Our collective poem became so beautiful as we uttered our phrases and images into the dome of blue sky above.

A full pink moon rose over the tree line as I drove home.

 

The Yoga Teacher Leads the Women in Camatkarasana In the Time of Fetal Heartbeat Bills

The Yoga Teacher Leads the Women in Camatkarasana In the Time of Fetal Heartbeat Bills

Nothing is born and nothing dies, she says.
Wheels of light keep spinning, circles
of energy that turn through the spine.
As you arch the back from root to crown,
cinch the energy with your rad corsets–
light your abdomen and lumbar from within.
Indigo waves pulse at my third eye, in sync
with Tibetan bowls and gongs sounding
in the background, a flashpoint of understanding,
a head rush. Ground your feet, she says,
shine your heart toward the sky, extend
one arm to the clouds. You’re wild things,
wheels of astonishment glittering in the sun

***

This is a poem of resistance in the face of State efforts to curtail women’s rights over their own bodies. I wrote it when this bill was passed in Georgia and elsewhere, and although a judge has placed an injunction on applying this law in Georgia until the case is settled, another case in LA is heading to the Supreme Court. It’s hard to stay focused on each limitation, each attempt to oppress the people, so in this poem, I focus on internal liberation, available to each one of us.

Camatkarasana photo

The Three Souls Tarot Prompt from POPcraft

Tarot Card Spread from a prompt at Pretty Owl Poetry

Pretty Owl Poetry is calling for submissions of poetry prompts based on the Tarot. I decided to write a poem based on their prompt, but going forward, I might try my hand at an original prompt.

[The Camino Spills Across the Highlands]

The Camino spills across the highland
after crossing Basque Country mountains.
Poppies constellate gilded barley fields,
blood-red blossoms fibrillating like hearts
against the sky. So close to the sun here.
The astonishment of flower-comets
wilts with the heat, the weight of all the miles,
if I can remember the way home, no map
but the riddles spelled in the stars.

Process:

I didn’t look up the traditional meaning behind the cards, but tried to intuit the actions in each one and told a little story that the cards reflected to me.

I’m in the middle of writing a collection of poems about a pilgrimage I took to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, so when I saw the Page of Pentacles, my mind went to the moors in Spain and the delight of seeing the poppies in the fields.

The following three-step, three-card prompt, “The Three Souls,” is by Kimberly Grabowski Strayer. Please go to https://prettyowlpoetry.com/2019/05/14/popcraft-the-three-souls/ for a complete description.

The words in boldface come from Kimberly’s prompt. The words in italics are my impressions of the cards.

1.Mind of the poem, Page of Pentacles: awe and childlike or youthful curiosity at the beginning of a journey. Finding a treasure in a field.

2.Structure (body)– The Ten of Wands: The burden of gathering all ten wands, leaning into the labor, struggling against the work. The poem is bunched together in ten lines of ten syllables each to reflect the number ten and also the bunched up wands the man is carrying.

3.Spirit— The Chariot: The future is an enigma (Sphinx) that draws the chariot. The stars above are his only guide. He is a messenger of the gods (caduceus, symbol of Hermes). He’s leaving the comforts of home behind, unafraid.