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The Difference between Men and Women

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Of course, it’s an old subject. But sometimes it still surprises me.

 Take tonight for example. My husband is going to a men’s book group. This is a first time—it’s one of those things you try when you are new to town and you don’t know many people. And so, (thinking of my women’s book group, also a new-to-town thing), I ask him whose house it’s in. And does he need to bring anything? I’m picturing some man in the role of hostess, having cleaned the house in preparation for guests, and now he’s just finished cooking, maybe wearing an apron, soon he will serve them soufflé and salad. And wine and dessert. 

 Oh no, my husband says. We’re meeting at a clubhouse. And I think, Of course you are. Lucky bastards.

 I think of my own group then where the  hostess spends the day in preparation—cleaning her house and fixing the food and probably her hair, too. You don’t want your roots to be showing at book group! Because it’s always in some woman’s house, and it always requires cooking and cleaning and everything else that women are supposed to love to do, no matter what era we live in. And the women actually dress up for book nights.  They look so lovely—like they are going to a church though admittedly, I haven’t seen what they wear to church. But they’re dressed in nice slacks and silky print shirts, and they even wear nice shoes. I despise nice shoes—I think they should be banned.  But then I remember, this is the South—maybe these ladies always look like that here. Except for me.  I’m thinking about going in drag to the men’s clubhouse next time.  

 All of this reminds me of how my mother never figured out how to dress herself up either. And I used to think—how hard can it be? But now I’m old, and I think, not just hard. Impossible. 

 Which reminds me of this poem by Ana Maria Shua

 A Thousand Possibilities

 When I was an adolescent, there unfolded before me, like a fan, all my options: I could be an airline pilot or a teacher, a housewife, writer, boxer, or oil derrick. As time passed, with every choice, every turn in the road, the fan closed up, pointing in a single direction, until converting into a single fate, upright and lonely: definitely an oil derrick. 

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WeCroak and the Three Pigs

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It’s an ap! Recommended by our Wednesday night meditation instructor, Bob. Five times a day WeCroak will remind you that you will die. For Buddhists, it’s supposed to be important to remember your mortality—otherwise you will not practice as urgently. I just downloaded it. I can’t wait to get my first reminder.

Last week at meditation, we had a guest-teacher from Tibet, Tenzin, who talked about this need for urgency. He also told us his version of the story of the three pigs.

The three pigs, he said, represent three steps one goes through when becoming enlightened.

The first pig is the little piggy who becomes happy with himself after meditating. And he’s happy being happy. He feels great. He can just sit there on his zafu, all blissed out. Oh, to be the first piggy!

But then, alas, one day he becomes the second piggy. This happens when he thinks of other pigs, other less happy pigs. He worries about them . . . Maybe his heart even aches for them. I’m not entirely sure what he does with his newfound awareness of the unhappy pigs in the world. I think he just sits there, dwelling on their condition. Maybe he writes poems about them.

But then, one day he turns into the third piggy, and he seeks to save all the other pigs. How he does this, I don’t know. Maybe he teaches everyone to sit on their cushions and become piggy number 1?

I don’t think I have the story right. And there are many other aspects of Tenzin’s teaching I can’t sort out in my head—as well as other aspects of Bob’s teachings.

So I wrote Bob who promised to contact Tenzin and find out what the real story of the pigs was. I also asked about the rest of Tenzin’s teachings from last Wednesday. And he is going to update me soon.

I clearly need help. I am a terrible student of Buddhism.

Tenzin’s pigs reminded me of this Edson poem:

HOG THEATER

                        There was once a hog theater where hogs performed as men, had men

            been hogs.  

                        One hog said, I will be a hog in a field which has found a mouse 

            which is being eaten by the same hog which is in the field and which has 

            found a mouse, which I am performing as my contribution to the 

            performer’s art. 

                        Oh, let’s just be hogs, cried an old hog.

                        And so the hogs streamed out of the theater, crying only hogs, 

            only hogs . . . 

—-

Since I first wrote this post, my friend Anne and fellow Buddhist-in-the-making, told me third pig was the happiest of all little piggies because he was a transcendent pig so he was free of bodily limitations. So he is like a bodiless pig. Bodiless pigs, I am told, aren’t afraid of death.

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Number Nothing, Early Black History in Charlottesville, Virginia

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I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, and moved back here a little over a year ago. My most recent book, Miss August, is based on my childhood here. It’s a coming of age story that deals with racism, specifically the resistance to integration that was happening back then. I had a little trouble researching the book—it seemed as if some of the schools, churches, organizations, and country clubs have tried to erase their racist history. It also seemed that certain aspects of our history are not very visible, despite efforts to correct that problem. 

Not long ago, when walking around the streets of downtown Charlottesville, past the Confederate statues that are so much in the news now, I noticed this plaque on Court Square, which is almost impossible to read. Here’s what it says: 

Number Nothing, Early Black History in Charlottesville

This building was erected as a mercantile store in the 1820s for John R. Jones and Sam Leicht Jr., but it never received a proper address. A stone block that once sat outside the building’s southwest corner was used for auctioning both goods and slaves until slavery was abolished in 1865. Prior to 1865, slaves too shopped along Court Square on Sunday mornings. Of the approximately 20,000 people living in Albemarle County in 1830, slightly more than half were black and all but 400 of those were enslaved. Most free blacks became so before 1807 when it became illegal in Virginia to emancipate slaves without moving them out of the state. Some blacks had gained their freedom by serving in Virginia’s integrated regiments during the American Revolution. Black soldiers from Albemarle County included Shadrack Battles, Sherad Goings, David Barnett, Stephen Bowles, Peter Hartless, and Johnson Smith. Battles, half black and half Native American, worked after the war as a carpenter and landscaper around Court Square. Goings’ wife, Susannah, was highly respected in the community.

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Failing at Love 2.0

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I love this Sappho poem of pure jealousy. I love the “kindled the flesh along my arms/ and smothered me in its smoke-blind rush.” I think I like poems and literature that celebrate the worst parts of our beings.

Maybe I say that because I have been reading this book, Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, a book recommended by a meditation instructor--and the basic premise of the book is that love is a verb. It’s not something you simply emanate, like a yogi from a cave. Rather you have to practice it in both small and big ways. The book suggests that you engage people wherever you go—the drug store, the post office, the hair dresser, the sidewalk. Just imagine all the opportunities for micro-moments of love. 

Yeah, right, I thought. But then . . .  

I decided, what the hell. I might as well try it out. So I did just that, at the Y. I mean—I started gabbing with everyone in sight. I literally hate people who do that. I don’t like to chat when I work out. But I figured this was an experiment. Or a test. 

I talked to one man who was recently divorced and was trying to sweat out his rage at his ex. I decided I didn’t really want to pursue that topic. So then I talked to a woman who hates her ass—okay, that was a little more interesting. And another lady who thinks the Y is some kind of preview of hell. She had a few good points to make. And then, in the swimming pool, this man started telling me how I might improve my swimming form. He said he could coach me a bit. 

 What is it with men? I mean, would a woman ever tell a man she would like to coach him? Seriously!

 Needless to say, I was failing at achieving those micro-moment of love. Or at least I wasn’t feeling it.

 And to make matters worse, the next day there were all these people trying to talk to me. They wanted some more micro-moments.

I put my headphones on and looked into the distance. I didn’t even have anything to listen to, but headphones are useful. I think of them now as a protection against any more micro-moments of love. 

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Coming Back after a Long Break

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged, so long since I’ve Tweeted or Facebook-ed or posted on Instagram or anything, anywhere, anyhow, I feel afraid to start again . . .

 But I keep meaning to . . . 

My excuse: I’ve been working on my next book, which was due March 1st,  and I mean, due, as in no more changes after that date without incurring a fee, as in, changes are no longer welcome, as in, don’t be one of those annoying, demanding poets who totally pisses of her publisher.

 As soon as an editor says no changes, I panic. Because I am the typo queen. I am the revision queen. And I never ever finish writing a poem, an essay, a story—even after the thing is published. I just keep fixing it

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There are times when I rewrite a poem over fifty times. And it’s still not right. The same with doodles— I mean, they are never quite right. Today I am not sure why the outline, the frame, on this doodle above didn’t come through (except on the right) when I exported it from FLASH, but oh well. It’s a doodle after all, not a poem . . .

But back to poetry . . . When I am trying to meet a deadline, I wipe out. I literally write and edit in my sleep.  After a while, the poems begin to blur in front of me. Sometimes I have to close my eyes to see a poem clearly. 

 But this week, I have been listening to such great readings at the Virginia Festival of the Book, and I’ve been reading a lot of the social media posts about the writers and the events. I keep thinking I should find my way back into the social media buzz.  I should at least be saying something about my favorite reading, which was the one I introduced, a reading by January Gill O’Neil , Rebecca Morgan Frank , and Leona Sevick .

All three are poets of lyrical beauty and spiritual honesty. And humor. After listening to them read, I kept hearing their poems in my head.  In fact, I am thinking of going out and getting one of those pots Leona spoke about in her poem, “Self-help.” (You can find it on the link above.)

 She begins the poem:

First, get yourself a good cast iron pot. Don’t skimp.

You know what kind; you see them everywhere

And think, Who would pay that much for a fucking pot?

You will . . . 

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The Question of Hunger

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So maybe this isn't the perfect image to go with this post, but lately I've been thinking a lot about appetite, hunger, wishes, maybe partly because of my recent birthday, and maybe because, well . . .   

In the past few weeks, I haven’t been very hungry. By hunger, I don’t just mean I haven’t felt like eating. I haven’t wanted to write either. In my office I find myself staring out the window and daydreaming. Ideas float by like clouds. A few get written down in a half-assed way. Most are gone—pfft! Just like that. 

I’m of two minds about this. One part of me, the part I call my inner-monk, is disgusted by my lack of discipline. You will be no one if you don’t get your act together, it says. You should write every day, three hours at least, like it or not! Sometimes it takes out a whip and gives me a few lashes and screams insults. You lazy, disgusting idiot! Who do you think you are? Look at you! Laying around, sleeping like an old dog in the sun

The other part of me puts her third finger in the air. She’s always wanted to do her own thing. What’s wrong with being nothing? she asks. Besides, when I’m hungry, I’ll eat. She thinks inspiration follows its own rhythms. She thinks you can't force poems. She reminds me that writing doesn't have to be a painful process. 

I am split between these two voices. 

They remind me of the argument my mother and I had when my daughter, Suzanne, was first born. I believed in feeding on demand. She believed in feeding a baby (and later, a child) on a schedule. Eating then --in my mother's mind--was a discipline. Something you learned -- you ate when and what you were supposed to eat. Hunger was a limited part of the equation.

As a result, sometimes eating was a kind of torture.

I remember my first day of school in first grade: I was sitting in the front row, and I was holding my belly, which was a big as a basketball. It really hurt (as it often did back then). I had been so nervous about school, I hadn't wanted to eat. But I wasn’t allowed to leave the breakfast table until I ate “a proper breakfast,” which included orange juice, milk, grits, eggs, bacon, and toast. So, at the last minute, I ate it all and fast, sucking it down like a vacuum cleaner in an effort to make it vanish as quickly as possible. I was so embarrassed when my first grade teacher, Mrs. Wallace, came over and asked, Are you okay? Why is your stomach sticking out like that? 

Oh, I said, trying to act as if it was normal to be bloated up like a dog tick. That’s just breakfastWait until you see lunch.

Needless to say, my parents were strange about food. I don’t think I realized just how strange until I took my six year old daughter, Suzanne, to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving one year. Suzanne was not a particularly enthusiastic eater at that age, and my mother, determined to make her eat everything, chased her around the table with a spear of broccoli as Suzanne fled in wide-eyed terror.

If my parents were strange about food, they were even stranger about weight. We were all supposed to eat volumes, but we were never supposed to get fat. Fat was a four-letter word. My father was the only one with a tendency to “grossir” as my Mom put it with a giggle, as if saying it in French made it funny. My father weighed himself every morning, and he always set the scale ten pounds below zero. Zero, he insisted, was a floating number, and you had to know where it really was. If I wanted to torture him, which I often did, I would adjust the scale, a little at a time, closer to actual zero. I would hear him stepping on and off the scale morning after morning, and then one day, he'd let out a scream, Ninny, have you been messing with my scale again! My mother, in response, would brag that she was almost the weight she was the day she got married--which is saying something after having six children.

But vanity, in my mother’s opinion, was something to be denied and avoided at all costs. On the one hand, we (meaning the women or daughters in the family) were supposed to look nice. But on the other hand, we were not supposed to care how we looked. And we were supposed to be natural beauties, which begs the question of just how natural beauty is.  

In a similar way, we were also supposed to be successful but not ambitious, especially as women. And never competitive. I remember once when I was first trying to be a writer, my then-professor, David, told me I should be submitting poems and publishing every few months. Back then, as now, I found the submission process scary, embarrassing, and horribly competitive. So I didn’t do it.  So, David asked me one day, How’s the not-submitting working out for you? 

Of course, that’s the question my monk is asking me now about not writing. 

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The Mother Effect

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The other night I was out to dinner with two women I knew from years ago, and looking at them, I could almost see their mothers, elegant and well-dressed, just as they were when I was in eighth or ninth grade. One woman wore a lovely purple blouse with a scarf and jacket, and the other, a truly stunning woman, wore a white suit and scarf and a gold necklace. My first thought was to go home and change-- except that I don’t have anything particularly nice to change into. My second thought was that I felt about as awkward as I remember my mother looking—so many times, so many years ago. 

It made me wonder how much of my feminine identity (or lack thereof) comes directly from the womb. 

I keep thinking back, remembering . . .

Like the time in elementary school when my mother came into my classroom, wearing men’s pants and LL Bean boots-- when all the other mothers were already there, dressed in Pappagallo shoes and pastel-colored dresses or pencil skirts. I also remember looking around, as if seeing for the first time how most of the other girls in my class were cutely coiffed in ribbons and Goody barrettes and matching dresses, while I was wearing a giant navy blue jumper with a hem coming out, the loopy, crooked white stitches I had made the night before, barely holding on to thick corduroy material. Back then I always wore either hand-me-downs or clothes that were a size or two or three too big—to allow for growing room. Once, in music class, my friend, Mary W., asked me if I was Appalachian. What do you mean? I asked her. Like white trash, she said. You know, really poor. 

I think of my mother’s lack on interest in appearance as an asset and a curse. As she put it, I’d rather be hiking than looking in the mirror.  And, for the most part, I couldn’t agree with her more, especially now when I spend as much time as possible hiking, and  I am hiking many of the same trails she hiked when she was my age. 

But there were certain moments when I might have liked my mother to care just a bit about appearances. Like the time I was picking out glasses in second grade, and I found a pair of silvery-blue cat-eye glasses that looked just like my father’s secretary’s glasses. They were so hideous, I had to try them on. Mom,I said, I look just like Mrs. Haney! She burst into a fit of giggles. And then, somehow, before I knew it, she had bought the glasses. On the way home in the car, I asked her if I could change my mind. Nope! she said. For years I wore those glasses.  I think I was in fifth grade when I finally buried them in the sandbox behind our house. I made a little cardboard tombstone and wrote in magic marker, Here lie Ninny’s cat-eye glasses.   Then I buried the tombstone as well. 

 

 

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Harold and Amelia and the Purple Crayon

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It was only after Amelia Jean was born that I realized that Harold from Harold and the Purple Crayon has the head of a baby, not of a four year old boy, as the story suggests. He's even wearing the pajamas of an infant although I drew him in one of those sleep sacks that are popular now that infants aren't allowed to sleep on their stomachs. When watching Amelia stare at the world, I can't help thinking of Harold, imagining  what world she is recreating in her mind. 

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My First Conversion

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No two ways about it. There is something mystical about birth that puts me in a different frame of mind.

And then--well, it's Easter week, and we just watched Jesus Christ Superstar, so I've been thinking about my first church experience as a mother--

way back when, when I was relatively new to Cleveland, new to motherhood, and feeling pretty isolated. At one point I decided church might be a good place to make new friends. So I made an appointment with a minister at a church close to our house (that was the primary qualification, that it be in walking distance), and, on a warm day, strapped my daughter into her stroller and set off. She was old enough to talk by then, maybe two or three. The minister, an affable man with white hair and an evident love of children, asked if he could hold Suzanne, and she sat on in his lap while we talked, playing with the book on his desk and gnawing on a giant pretzel (it was a beautiful book full of artwork and history--and, by the time we left,  full disgusting half-chewed pretzel pieces) while I confessed that I didn't really believe in anything. God makes no sense to me. He nodded patiently, letting Suzanne turn the pages in his book, bending a few. She stopped at a picture of Christ. What's that man doing? she asked, pointing with her pretzel. We all stared at the picture of Jesus, his head lolling to one side, blood running from beneath his crown of thorns. 

That's Jesus, the minister said. But don't worry. He ascended. Suzanne looked at the picture blankly.

He sended? she asked.

Yes, the minister nodded, smoothing her hair. He went to heaven. She looked up at me, puzzled, so I tried to explain, He went into the sky.  

He flied? she asked.

Not exactly, the minister said, before turning to me (and maybe reading my mind--I was thinking clearly church doesn't seem like such a good idea after all) and saying quietly, You don't have to believe any of that to be welcome here. It's who we are as people that matters. 

Before we left, Suzanne offered him the gooey stub that had once been her pretzel.  And (ugh) he ate it.  

 

 

Genesis

         by Ruth Stone

Cylinder sacks of water filling the oceans,

endless bullets of water,

skins full of water rolling and tumbling

as we came together.

As though light broke us apart.

As though light came with the rubble of words,

though we die among the husks of remembering.

It is as we knew it would be

in the echoes of endless terminals,

in the slow scaled guises of ourselves

when we came together in the envelopes of ourselves,

the bare shadow, the breath of words invisible;

as slight errors repeating themselves;

as degradation passes like madness through a crowd.

It was not ordained.

It was one drop of salt water against another.

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Prepared for . . . what?

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The other day a friend of mine told me that I am pretty good at getting books into print, but not so great at promoting them, once they arrive in the world. She pointed out that I talk about interviewing others but not my own interviews like this one. Nor do I tell people to come to my readings or buy my books. It's true. I don't like the whole self-promotion business. I'd rather be writing or daydreaming about the next book. Forget the present--I'm all about the future.

But somehow, as she was talking, I was reminding of how once-- this same woman told me that after her husband proposed, she was so excited because she expected to have a wedding, not a marriage. She got really into the wedding planning--the dress, the band, the maids of honor, the food, the flowers, the lodging, the guest lists . . . It was a dream come true. And so much fun, she said, until she woke up the morning after. And the morning after that and the morning after that. And she realized suddenly she was expected not only to have sex at night but also to do dinner. Yes, every night, dinner. She wanted to ask but never did--Can we just do sex without dinner please?

What is it about men and dinner? she asked.  I told her about my friend, Beth, who said the best part of getting a divorce was not having to make dinners anymore. She said she would never cook dinner again. Once I asked my Uncle John how my grandmother changed after granddaddy died, and he said that she stopped eating dinner. I have noticed that even my most feminist friends become dinner chefs after marriage.

I thought about how, when I visit my daughter, now a new mom, the one thing I can help with is dinner, even if I never really mastered the art of cooking dinner. Yes, it's a fact. I am not exactly the ideal dinner-making-woman as friends will attest. 

But then I started thinking about being a new mom, and I remember how, when I was planning for childbirth, I think I thought I was going to have a labor, not a child. I was so ready for labor! My husband and I trained for weeks in Lamaze classes, mastering the art of breathing just so and then panting, as if I were already having contractions. I was good at panting. I learned how to  position myself this way and that, and even how to bear down and push a baby out . . . It was as if I were training for a marathon, which I was.  Twenty-plus hours of labor is a marathon. What I didn't realize was that the real marathon began once my daughter came out. No way was I prepared for that.

 

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The Virginia Festival of the Book and Snow!

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It's here! The Virginia Festival of the Book! And along with it -- our first big snow of the year, so everything I planned for today, especially the reading starring the one and only Remica Bingham,  is canceled because the university is closed. And here I was had been so hoping to find my way out, thinking--it's not that much snow. But, well, I don't live in Ohio anymore. I don't think this snowfall would ever rate there as more than a briefly noted annoyance.

I will be reading on Friday night at Christ Episcopal Church on Friday night with David Wojahn and Tyehimba Jess, and I am more than a little nervous. Jess, a Pulitzer prize winner, and Wojahn is one of my former professors and a Pulitzer finalist . . .  I am glad I am going first so I can enjoy the show. (You can see my interview with David Wojahn is here . I also interviewed Tom Sleigh, who will be reading at the New Dominion Bookshop tomorrow.) 

It will be little strange to be reading in that church--the same church where I was married years ago, where the minister counseled Jim and me about the ways marriages fall apart, describing at great length how irritating he found it when his wife squeezed the toothpaste tube from the top instead of the bottom, how she liked a lot of blankets on a bed, even in summer. You'd be surprised how many marriages fall apart from these small details, he advised, fluttering his perfectly manicured fingers. And then, he added, There's the question of dogs. Do you want them? And if so, in the house? And in the bedroom? Clearly, he wasn't a fan of the house dog, much less the bedroom dog.

I think the third question was the most important, but then, we didn't have dogs yet. Now, especially on a day when I  am beginning to feel VERY nervous, I think, How could I ever have lived without a dog? My old Boston terrier, she's the perfect blood pressure medication-- as she sleeps and farts in my lap.

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The Mother-Grandmother World

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Recently I heard a report on NPR about how the USA has the worst rates of maternal deaths during childbirth in the developed world. It was one of several NPR reports on the subject, and it stopped me in my tracks, esp. now when my daughter, Suzanne, so recently gave birth at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. I was amazed-- to the point of being annoyed-- at all the precautions that were taken-- before, during, and even days after the birth. Every step of the way she and the baby were monitored and cared for extensively.  I thought, Wow, this is too much.  Now I am feeling enormously grateful for this great medical facility and all the expertise she and the baby have right here. And I am also amazed--both by the risks of complications and the risk of being a critical or know-it-all grandmother. 

I can't help thinking back-- one of the worst times I spent with my own mother was when she arrived shortly after Suzanne was born. Instead of helping, she spent her days telling me what I wasn't doing right and complaining  to the neighbors and the milkman and the postman and my father-in-law and, well, anyone who came to our door. My daughter is sleeping in the living room! she would announce. And so is the baby! (I was sent home eight hours after delivery and was not allowed to go to my upstairs bedroom for a few days).  She's nursing on demand instead of on a schedule! That baby latches on and never lets go, my mother would tell them. And then, if my mother had a captive audience, she would launch into an explanation of how Suzanne was three weeks late. Three whole weeks!  They would never let a cow carry a calf that long! she would practically shriek.

A dairy farmer, my mother always compared her daughters to heifers. 

Really, I could not wait for her to leave me in peace. But, to be fair-- my mother probably was somewhere on the autism spectrum, and I should have known better than to allow her to come so soon. Nurturing infants and new moms was not her strong suit.  Years later, when my children were older and in school, she was a great advisor. She had such faith in my children, far greater than she ever had in me. Whenever Suzanne had trouble at school, she would scoff, There are just so many stupid teachers. Don't listen to them. Suzanne is fine. She thought a lot of aspects of schools were silly. And that parents and teachers worried far too much about when their children read or did their multiplication tables or whatever else they were supposed to do. She would say simply, When the fire's lit, it burns. Then she would assure me that Suzanne's mind was both lit and burning. 

But I still wonder how and why she had six children, esp. when she didn't really care for infants. She even said to me once that she would have had more children if she'd married younger. I would have liked eight, she confessed, her eyes dreamy. That was the day she told me me how she timed all her children's births--just like she timed the births of calves.  

 

BIRTH by Louise Erdrich

When they were wild
When they were not yet human
When they could have been anything,
I was on the other side ready with milk to lure them,
And their father, too, each name a net in his hands.

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The Phone Call You Never Want to Get

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A few weeks ago, I went for my annual mammogram, and I didn't hear anything. Usually no news is good news, so I didn't think about it. But then, on Tuesday afternoon, I got a call that I needed to go back to the Breast Care Center asap for another screening--this time an ultrasound. I was told I'd know the results of the test before I left. 

Evidently, a large per cent of call-backs are not bad news. I didn't know that. I did know that there is a part of one of my breasts that feels odd, that I've asked my doctor in Youngstown about it many times, and she has reassured me (every year) that it is fine.. Or, as she put it--it feels like oatmeal there. Nothing to worry about. But--if you ever find a raisin in the oatmeal, call me The call-back this year, not surprisingly, was about the oatmeal. 

Whenever I hear bad news, or potentially bad news, about my health, I hear in my head that accusing prayer: You have left undone those things you ought to have done. And you have done those things you ought not to have done; and there is no health in you.  (I always change the "we" to "you" with this prayer.)

The next morning at 8 AM, I got a closer look at the oatmeal. It looks like waves, vaguely like the picture above, some waves are closer and some further apart. Some waves are circling and some flattening. But on and on, waves and more waves

Lying there, watching and feeling the ultrasound wand going over and over the same part of my breast, I felt at first sick with panic. But then, as the test continued, I relaxed. It felt odd, as if I were very alone and far away. The watery image made me think of Maine. I imagined myself rowing slowly out across the bay. 

Then it was over. And just like that, the nurse came back and said everything was normal. I could go home. I had been so sure the news was going to be bad. I felt dizzy and slightly stunned. All day I kept thinking of my friends who have had cancer, some no longer with us. And I felt grateful that my doctor in Youngstown didn't put me through this. She insisted that my hands can tell me what's going on--just was well as another test. 

And I thought of this poem by Mark Strand, one of my favorite poets, who died not too long ago of cancer. 

A Morning 

I have carried it with me each day: that morning I took
my uncle’s boat from the brown water cove
and headed for Mosher Island.
Small waves splashed against the hull
and the hollow creak of oarlock and oar
rose into the woods of black pine crusted with lichen.
I moved like a dark star, drifting over the drowned
other half of the world until, by a distant prompting,
I looked over the  gunwale and saw beneath the surface
a luminous room, a light-filled grave, saw for the first time
the one clear place given to us when we are alone.

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The Birth of Amelia Jean

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"The Swan"
by Rainier Maria Rilke (1875–1926)
translated by Stephen Mitchell 

This laboring through what is still undone,
as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way,
is like the awkward walking of the swan.

And dying—to let go, no longer feel
the solid ground we stand on every day—
is like his anxious letting himself fall

into the water, which receives him gently
and which, as though with reverence and joy,
draws back past him in streams on either side;
while, infinitely silent and aware,
in his full majesty and ever more
indifferent, he condescends to glide.

I love this poem, and  think of it so often, and yet not in regards to death, though that is, of course, what the poem is about. I am too agnostic to know whether I believe or not that there is a graceful letting go at the end of life. Rather, I think of this poem as a description of all those moments when suddenly you find yourself letting go into life itself, when suddenly you are at ease. When all that worries and troubles you lets go. When you simply are here, more or less. It is a state I sometimes discover in writing, the words flowing after days and days of nothing happening. 

I thought of the poem a week ago when watching my daughter in labor, and then giving birth to the most beautiful baby I have ever seen. (Admittedly, I am a teensy bit prejudiced.) The long labor, the anxious waiting and worrying, and then the child, coming into the world with the water of life-- to be received and welcomed, the child so full of majesty and mystery in her own right. Really, it was a holy experience. 

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In the fog

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This morning everything was covered with fog, and then it slowly dissolved. Fingers crossed, my brain fog will dissolve soon, too. 

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The Ends of Things

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I always feel lost when I finish a project, and I sit there, picking over what I've done, talking to my friends or myself about what I wrote or said or didn't write or didn't mean, thinking, doubting, wondering. But at a certain point, it's time to fly on. At least that's what I tell myself while sitting on the fence. 

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Sunrise

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I still can't believe we live here now!! This is the sunrise from my office windows. Makes me think of Emily:

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, -
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
"That must have been the sun!"

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile.
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.

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What Do you choose NOT to write or talk about?

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The other day I was talking to a counselor who asked me, What do you choose not to talk about to your readers, your friends?  The answer, many things, I suppose.. But I do try to open most of my locked doors, at least when I'm writing. Some doors get open and then locked again, opened and locked again. Like this one

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