Nests in the Wall

When I heard the rustling and scratching of animals in the wall cavity near my bed, I thought of this poem I wrote several years ago, originally published in MockingHeart Review:

For My Therapist, After the Diagnosis

I’m writing you these lines to say goodbye
before you forget you ever knew me.
Under the eaves, a house wren trills its cry.
In the morning, it wakes me from those dreams
where you’ve forgotten you ever knew me.
Birds whirl around your room, and then you die.
In the morning, they wake me from those dreams
of needing you to teach me how to fly.
Birds whirl around your room, and then you die,
even though you’ve swept them from the roof beams
out the window. Birds have taught you to fly
through this world, stitched with invisible seams.
Even though you’ve swept me from your roof beams,
I come to ask you where you’ve gone and why
this world is stitched with invisible seams.
You wake, then forget, leaving threads untied.
Once more I ask you where you’ve gone and why.
Under the eaves, a house wren trills a cry
that wakes me from these threads I can’t untie.
Dear friend, I’m here again to say goodbye.

***

One of the last times I met with my therapist, a beautiful elderly woman who became like a mother to me, she was seeing clients in a home office. She had suffered a car accident, and she thought the accident was contributing to her memory loss.

That day in her office a bird flew into an adjoining room, so Joanne (a made up name to protect her privacy), got a broom and swept it through the open springtime window.

Around the same time period, we had a bird’s nest near our bedroom window, probably a wren, hence this poem.

I thought of Joanne the other day after reading Robert McFarland’s “word of the day” post on Twitter:

Mentor, a tutelary spirit who guides someone who is usually less experienced.

He asked readers to share someone who has acted as a mentor in our lives, and aside from a few excellent poetry teachers, Joanne’s spirit came to my heart-mind.

When she sold her house and moved to an assisted living home, she stopped seeing clients, of course. And I was bereft, not in the way I was when my father died, but a long, slow, heartache that still hasn’t quite healed.

Now we have another nest in the wall, but this time, it’s a squirrel. We have a wildlife management company working on relocating the animals, and we’ve sealed up the hole, but there are tin patches that we’ll need to replace with new siding once the weather warms.

Joanne was the first person in my life who reflected my own spiritual beauty and worth back on me. She taught me to show compassion for myself, to value my inner hopes and dreams. I will always be grateful for her guidance.

I can’t replace the void that Joanne’s illness left in my life. Since her retirement, I haven’t found a therapist who relates to me the way Joanne did.

My mentor is my inner guide, my own true nature, often elusive. To connect with my inner voice requires patience, stillness, faith, and hope.

Gold light on trees, December 2018, @christineswint

Driving My Father Through the End Times, a Sestina

For six months we drove to the clinic every day–
infusions to cleanse his septic blood.
Sometimes we’d stop for coffee along the way,

and I’d try to go inside the shop alone,
but he’d insist, he could walk on his own,
so I’d help him out the passenger seat and we’d shuffle

into QuickTrip, get donuts, too, then trudge
toward the clinic for the cure, a dose a day,
antibiotics for his heart that wouldn’t heal on its own.

He refused surgeries, transfusions of blood.
He even drove to church to do his prayer shift, alone
at two AM, a 24/7 adoration of the Virgin, his way

to ease the shame, I guess, maybe for his wayward
youth, he didn’t say. I’d chide him as we stepped
from car to curb, tell him not to drive alone,

to let the others pray for him this time, a daily
vision of healthy cells washing his blood.
Always the father, he never did listen or own

his eldest daughter had some sense of her own.
On these drives we’d talk politics and the way
the country was heading, the bad blood,

the fear one candidate stoked, but walking
was painful, and he grew weaker by the day.
He watched the news from his recliner when he was alone,

but he didn’t live to hear the words I alone
can fix it. He believed what he saw with his own
two eyes on cable news, the lies they spun every day.

He wouldn’t have it when I said propaganda was their way.
I tried to show him how they twisted the truth, stomped
all over the facts. But his kidneys were failing, his blood

ever thinner. In the end, all that mattered was blood
relations, forgiveness, love. In hospice, I left him alone
the night before he died. Still thought he’d walk

out of that place. The nurse said he was afraid on his own
in the dark. Even with opiates, he couldn’t find a way to sleep.
He asked for me. I drove right over. He stopped breathing that day.

There was a blood moon, auger of end times, in the days
before his death, a lone orb pointing the way,
an opening of sorts, a door for him to slip through, quite easily, on his own.

***

I wrote this poem last year and was thinking of including it as part of a manuscript I’m working on, but it doesn’t quite fit the project.

My father died in the spring of 2016, right after the Republican primaries. He was still following politics up until maybe the last month of his life. When the primaries came around, he was too sick to think about voting.

He watched cable news quite a bit when his decline set in, although he read a lot, too. When I told him that Fox News was biased and prone to hyperbole if not outright lies, he downplayed it and said, “Oh, they can’t do that, they have to report the facts.”

My father was an old school, corporate conservative who saw the Republican Party as the party of wealth and prosperity. His parents, my grandparents, were blue collar union workers from PA who always voted Democrat.

I think he wanted to be different from his father, who did not receive any schooling after eighth grade.

I’m sharing this poem now because of the recent red moon we just experienced, and also just because I want to.

Sestina spiral.

Getty Images, Allure Magainehttps://www.allure.com/story/super-blood-wolf-moon-january-2019

Fourth Leg of the Journey-to-Somewhere Poem

Whenever I think of the word “NaPoWriMo” I confuse the write part with rhyme. I hear it as NaPoRhyme–O. I would like to get rid of the National part of this abbreviated term, because the word national has taken on sinister connotations in the era we are now living in. Poet Dave Bonta calls it  “(Inter-) National Poetry Month,” which I find much more inclusive and holistic.

In the spirit of my rhyme-O confusion, I’m continuing my just-for-the-fun-of-it rhyme scheme, trying not to censor myself. Here are today’s eight lines, still following the ABACCBCA scheme:

4.

Today I found the plaster Virgin with Child,
Her mountaintop avatar wound with plastic rosary beads
Left in offering. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
My father taught me to pray, but the incantations didn’t stick,
Maybe because of the good swift kick
He said I needed, and then gave, seeds
Of my future rebellions– Wiccan symbols, Celtic
Knots I traced in the dirt at Mary’s feet, the wind wild.

If you want to read the first three stanzas, go here and here.

The setting of this journey poem is the Camino de Santiago in the Pyrenees.

Awaken Me From This Mortal Dream

 

            In this dream,  the driver’s asleep at the wheel.

The dream won’t let the driver’s foot touch the brakes.

It’s night, and the headlights won’t turn on.

     In this dream, highways loop in labyrinths,

deer clog the exit ramps.  Wild fires

savage forests of magnolia, loblolly pines, mountain laurel.

Forecasters on the radio warn to stay inside,

shut the windows, don’t breathe the code orange air.

     In this dream, police hose a circle of water protectors

in the subzero dark, spray rubber bullets

and tear gas at Black protesters on freeways.

In this dream a  Syrian boy caked with bomb-blast

wipes blood from his eye with a tiny fist.

 In this dream, men in three-piece suits with fashy haircuts

ink swastikas on concrete benches,

grab the vaginas of women with dragonfly tattoos,

snatch the hijab off a mother’s head.

     In this dream a fevered white man in a church

shoots down nine Black worshippers.

      In this dream a president sings Amazing Grace

with his whole heart in his throat.

      In this dream a block-letter sign

outside a church with the tallest, whitest spire

shouts, “PRAY FOR DONALD TR**P.”

      In this dream a shard of grief  is lodged behind my breastbone.

Hawk.jpeg

“My God, Help Me To Survive This Deadly Love”

“My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love”

Dear Cosmos, Dear Gaia, Dear Aliens on Earth,
Something-there-is that doesn’t love a woman,
Something-there-is that doesn’t love a child
Something-there-is that doesn’t love a protest
Something-there-is that doesn’t love this wall of words.
Something-there-is that doesn’t love.
Grazing each other’s beards to kiss, my brothers’ love
makes quiver the mouths of phobic Earthlings.
Something-there-is piles on lies to wall themselves in.
Something-there-is loathes a woman’s
blood, her milk, her wide hips, her breasts bared in protest.
Something-there-is refuses the Syrian child
washed ashore, his cheek turned to one side, as if in child’s
pose, his death not stark enough to awaken love.
Something-there-is throws grenades on protesters,
Native Americans circled in prayer who touch the Earth,
who protect the water that sustains our life. Women
are the watery portals we all pass through, a porous wall
we penetrate from one life to the next. No brick wall
mortared with hatred us can contain our childlike
trust that “no lie will live forever.” Women’s
rights are human rights, but not unless we love
our blackness, the origin of humans on Earth.
Something-there-is cages black bodies, protests
Black bodies, stops, frisks, gasses Black protests,
beats and murders black bodies behind cell walls.
How much of our comfort will we risk to free the earth
from this machine of distortion? Will our children
forget the sky once reflected blue before we love
the planet enough to disobey the spray-tanned man?
His rattling Tic Tacs warn  men and women
to flee the fetid breath no mint can mask. We protest
his code orange stink by committing ourselves to loving
even those who sting our eyes with pepper. The only wall
that divides us is made of fear and lives in us. A child’s
mind, a pure mind, is the force that binds us on this earth.
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Chattahoochee River, Cochran Shoals, November 25, 2016

 

Open Water Swimmer’s Collage

IMG_6186

The Stockbridge Bowl, one of my favorite places to swim.

To get myself back into writing, I decided to compile different thoughts about the ocean by female swimmers, most of them open-water swimmers, and put them into a single poem, a kind of collage.

Open Water Swimmer’s Collage

To be in the azure blue as if
You’re breathing. The body, immersed,
Amplified, heavier and
Lighter at the same time.
Looking down miles and miles and miles,
The sea is like a person–like a child
I’ve known a long time.
I never feel alone when I’m out there.
You will forget who you are,
What you did in your life,
And which country you are from.
There’s a knowledge that you
Really are on edge here,
And that you can push yourself too far,
All the way across that vast,
Dangerous wilderness of an ocean.
When I swim in the sea I talk to it.
No matter how rough, cold, or deep,
The water is your friend.
We go in the pitch black of the night.
When we’re in the water,
We’re not in this world. You are a swimmer,
And whoever is next to you
Is a swimmer, too, all of us in the water.

 

During the Olympics, I paid close attention to the swimming events, especially to women swimmers. Yusra Mardini’s story and words inspired me. She’s an eighteen year-old Syrian woman who swam in the Rio Olympics for Team Refugee.

She and her sister , when Mardini was still seventeen, swam in the open sea from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos for three hours in 2015, pulling a dinghy, and saved themselves and twenty other people.

The other swimmers whose words I have included are:

Diana Nyad, first person to swim nonstop from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage;

Gertrude Ederle, first woman to swim across the English Channel;

Lynne Cox, open water swimmer, and author of  Swimming to Antarctica;

and Leanne Shapton, swimmer, writer, and author of the new memoir, Swimming Studies.

This kind of writing is called found poetry. As the Poetry Foundation explains, “Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems.”

 

 

#Don’tStopKissing

DontStopKissing

Poet and novelist Collin Kelley and the Georgia Center of the Book are hosting a memorial poetry reading Friday, June 24  for the victims of the massacre in Orlando. The event is called #Don’tStopKissing, and is meant to show solidarity, support, and love for the LGBTIQ community and the families of the victims.

The quotes in the poem  I wrote come from an article on NPR that shares some memories about each of the victims who lost their lives on June 12.  To read their stories is devastating. These young people could have been our sons, daughters, brothers, sister, nieces, nephews, friends.

The older brother of victim Amanda Alvear says about his sister, “She’d rather they spread more love, keep friends and family close, and have a good time doing it.”

As Anderson Cooper said in his CNN broadcast, his voice breaking with emotion, “They are more than a list of names. They were people who loved and were loved. ”

For the Victims Who Died on Latino Night At Pulse, 12 June 2016

I want to remember you

In some eternal before

Before a mother on the dance floor

Sees the gunman

Commands her son to get down on the floor, Isaiah

Covers him with her body

Before a mother in Sunday darkness cries

They’re killing our babies

I want to remember your fingertips

Brushing the pulse of night

I want to remember you swaying

Under laser lights

Face and arms glowing indigo, pink

I want to remember you salsa

Remember you cumbia

Remember you merengue

Remember you danzón

I want to remember you alegre

Remember you samba

Remember you bachata

Remember you reguetón.

I want to remember you selling perfume

Remember you drag queen

Remember you drag king

Remember you student

Remember you father

I want to remember you arm in arm with your sweetheart

Skin smooth as orchids

Remember you bougainvillea

Remember you gardenia

Remember you jacaranda

Remember you beautiful

They were so beautiful

Remember you

 

 

 

Images of the Camino

A list of what I miss, or a list of what will always be a part of me:

Walking at dawn while people sleep in their stone houses.
A second breakfast of cafe con leche.
Cobblestone streets.
Roosters screeching at midday.
Cows in the lane, their mistress behind them with a switch.
Red blossoms cloaking the mountainside.
Invisible birds singing from everywhere and nowhere.
Morning mist.
Floating along the plains under the noonday sun.
Lighting candles, alone in a cool stone church.
Rogue priests who preach Buddha-mind and Christ-consciousness.
Sister Patricia, who said God is not in another world. God is here.
Red wine and fresh bread.
Garlic soup and salad.
My swollen feet plunged in river water.
Friends singing songs about their sorrows.
Yellow arrows and scallop shells  pointing the way.

Mountain range crossing into Galicia.

Mountain range crossing into Galicia.

A Poem for the Way

I’m preparing for my pilgrimage to Santiago in a fairly intensive manner during these last few days, mostly in a reflective and meditative way.

When I walk in the woods with my loaded pack, my mind wanders over the some of the different events in my life that continue to cause pain, but beneath the pain I absorb the healing power of the sky, the trees, birds, the rocks, the lizards, the deer, and the other hikers.

Some of my friends and loved ones responded to my call for lines of poetry, prayers, wishes, or desires that I could put into one long poem. My intention is to read the poem at different points along the Camino.

I am so touched by their generosity. I want their words to fill others as they fill me. It’s titled “Prayers for a Traveler.” We are all travelers in this world.

Prayers for the Traveler

Hath she her faults? I would you had them too.
                      They are the fruity musts of soundest wine;
                      Or say, they are regenerating fire
                      Such as hath turned the dense black element
                      Into a crystal pathway for the sun.
–George Eliot

She is only a faint line disappearing back into sand.

O blessed road! Although the hard ground and slope veers ever upward,

I am not naked nor alone: my feet are shod with thoughts of God, my body robed

with love from family and friends back home.

May my mom know that I love her and miss her and think about her everyday.

May you be given all you need

May you be granted that for which your heart longs

May angels guide your journey, and may your steps be light

May you be blessed by a field of stars, and may those blessings follow you always

May your soul cry and sing and open, now free.

May you shed your skin and become anew.

May you be refilled to fully embrace the array

of possibilities that will open up for you

as you continue your journey – the trail and beyond.

May compassion become our universal religion.

I accompany you in spirit, and I hope your sojourn brings you what you seek.

I wish you lightness of step and heart

I wish for you that when the days feel long and doubt enters – you push it aside.

Aside –

Perhaps – like the dandelions losing their thin, yellow petals,

as they are swept in the wind – scattered…

Do not carry doubt, or worry, speculation, or question-of-self

Walk with grace and trust and love

The very thing I try to do in my life – and sometimes, struggle – and how ….

I ask you to look upward at the sky and pray

for health and peace of mind – love and light

Be safe, be real, be true.

You are brave and I am proud

I ask you to return safely with stories of adventure,

some turmoil perhaps, and lots of gratitude and growth.

Return safely, keep strong, be safe.

May God give my son more healing in his spiritual journey.

Didn’t I tell you not to be seduced by this colorful world,
for I am the ultimate painter.

Please let me grow into my elderly years
happily, healthfully and peacefully
with my husband as my son goes to college,
meets a wonderful partner and has a family of his own,
which we will help nurture and be an integral part of.

Enfold us in your arms, shield us from sadness and despair,
look over us in times of joy and times of fear,
do not let us feel emptiness or hopelessness,
and lead us to believe in our dreams and longings.

At the exhibition of the artists of elsewhere
I am standing in a shaft of light.

Thank you, jahgod, for allowing me to see the light
and freeing me from hang ups
I know that the future is mine to grasp.

May the long time sun
Shine upon you,
All love surround you,
And the pure light within you
Guide your way on.
–Kundalini farewell blessing

thistle

Sonnenizio after a Line from Neruda

True to my word, I have eked out a bit of time during the holidays to try some of the craft tips and writing prompts in The Crafty Poet by Diane Lockward.

If I feel reluctant to put my thoughts on paper, I sometimes take refuge in a received form. Traditional forms are puzzles to work out. Formal verse is a constraint that forces me to look for le mot juste.

To learn about how to write a sonnenizio, a term Kim Addonizio coined to name her variation on a sonnet, go to page 61 in The Crafty Poet.

Lockward includes Addonizio’s sonnenizio in the sound section of her book. In this form, Addonizio borrows a line from an existing sonnet. She then chooses a word from that line to repeat in the subsequent 13 lines.

The reason Lockward shares this prompt is to encourage the poet to see how repetition of a word or words in a poem can influence the poem’s music. In my poem, I chose a line from Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to García Lorca,” translated into English by Donald D. Walsh.

Even though Neruda’s poem is not a sonnet, the line I chose contains 10 syllables in English, and so I worked it into this sonnet variation.

Walsh has translated the line in English “when to sing you shake arteries and teeth”; Neruda’s original line is “cuando para cantar sacudes las arterias y los dientes.”

Sonnenizio after a Line from Neruda

When to sing you rattle doors from their frames,
your singing jolts the marrow in my bones.
When to sing you shake arteries and teeth,
your singing fells the glass from my windows.
A draft hisses through my rooms. An owl’s song
fibrillates the night with an odd birdsong,
songs of darkness, songs of a single note.

When you open your throat to sing, starlings
singsong their shadows across the gray sky.
A chorus of poplars sing their dried leaves
over a blues-singing sunset. Boulders,
their lichen mouths split wide, appear to sing
as they gasp for air, a thin winter song,
a song-fraught December, a solstice psalm.

Writing this poem was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I kept thinking of García Lorca, who was assassinated by the Spanish Civil Guard during the Spanish Civil War. And it was during the solstice when I was writing, the skies gloomy and quick to turn dark.  But the hardest part was repeating variations of “to sing.”

The other reservation I have with this poetic form as I applied it in my poem is that, apparently, a sonnenizio is a parody of the sonnet in the same way that Billy Collins’ paradelle is a parody of the villanelle. By keeping García Lorca in mind, there was no way I would be writing ironically.

December Sky, by Christine Swint

December Sky, by Christine Swint