Tuesday Morning Poem

I first saw cancer 

I first saw cancer in winter, rocking gently
as if to mollify a small child by keening
a lullaby. She murmured a promise—
a truss of blossoms.

After a chill, in the thaw of spring,
wisps of hair returned, a limp corkscrew crown
while pain cracked open bones and shred
them into lacy stalks.

Cancer rocked gently again in autumn, smothering
the lumpish soil with a thin coat of saltpeter.
And when it dried out like a codfish on the shore,
she offered her caress.

Floating Bridge Review, 2013
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Tuesday Morning Poem

I got your email

You threw your past away to have kids.
I squandered some of mine too, but for other reasons.

The kids did not need you to erase your past, erase your first wife, erase me.
The wife who would give you kids made you promise.

You mailed pictures of us back to me, your face inked out.
You asked others to lie for you.

You gave up something precious.
And now you think you can salvage it from its ruin?

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Sunday Morning Mourning

It’s too much.

What could I say that even touches what I feel about these school shooting. About closing in on the impending cliff that humanity’s future wobbles upon. Again. Emotional and intellectual resistance seems not enough. How is it even different than going along with the lemmings over that cliff?

I’ve thought many times about the line I’ve heard that goes: To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. I didn’t know the attribution, so I looked it up and found  a much deeper sense of its contextual meaning.  By luck, I came across a delightfully intellectual blog titled Mindful Pleasures, a literary blog by Brian Oard, and read this particular entry which contextualized and interpreted the quote from its original source, Prisms by  Theodore Adorno (1903-1969). I was not very familiar with Adorno, but reading a small sampling of his writings today was fascinating; he wrote philosophy that is both relevant to the litanies of domination and suffering in the 20th century, but also prescient to the 21st. [Adorno was a leading member of the Frankfort school and an important contributor to the development of critical theory.]

I can’t pretend to have much more than a tortured history of attempting to read philosophy, attempting to follow arguments to their conclusions, attempting to live in a way that abides by and remains consistent to a core philosophical stance, but I’ve always aspired to.

With gratitude to Brian Oard’s dense but readable blog post, I am excerpting a larger portion from a latter Adorno text:

Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream; hence it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems. But it is not wrong to raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living–especially whether one who escaped by accident, one who by rights should have been killed, may go on living. His mere survival calls for the coldness, the basic principle of bourgeois subjectivity, without which there could have been no Auschwitz; this is the drastic guilt of him who was spared. By way of atonement he will be plagued by dreams such as that he is no longer living at all, that he was sent to the ovens in 1944 and his whole existence since has been imaginary, an emanation of the insane wish of a man killed twenty years earlier. (Negative Dialectics, 362-363)

Devastating. I can’t deny the ringing truth in this passage and I have had those dreams. I was surprised how–on reading it–I feel that striving to have a strong social consciousness and a true moral compass are worth the struggle, are still crucially important, might even save us.

 

 

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Tuesday Morning Poem

The Chronically Well

queue at my exam room, hoping
for a visitation. They don’t feel well,
but that’s another matter. They don’t yet
know what it is to be ill. If they ask me,
which seldom happens, I recommend
reading Magic Mountain or Cancer Ward.

Then again, they do solicit remedies.
What should they do for their megrims,
lethargy, catarrh, lumbago, vertigo?
I can only tell them there is no cure
for ordinary good health, the discomforts
life offers gamely. I encourage them
to wait patiently.

Originally published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 2012
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Sunday Morning Muse with Mothers on My Mind

zappa

Everyone wants to remind me that it’s mothers’ day –a day that clearly holds Hallmark irrelevance while calling forth complex emotional responses. The grammatical confusion alone is enough to make me cringe; let’s see, is it “Mother’s Day”, “Mothers’ Day” or “Mothers Day”? Funny, or not so much, but when I hear the word “mothers” my first thought is of Frank Zappa, followed closely by the slur M-F’er.

Like many women who call themselves, or are called by others, mother, I have a lot of baggage to unload (or suppress) when I consider my personal history. So I try not to go there on a day prescribed by a consumer notion. But ignoring hasn’t worked today. I just read a version of the first “celebration” of mother’s day which was the brainchild of one Anna Jarvis, whose mother was a community health activist (Yay for that! ).  Apparently she came to despise the national holiday. Her story below is sad, but edifying.

Jarvis died in a sanitarium in 1948. The holiday she created lives on.
Today, more people purchase flowers and plants for Mother's Day than 
for any other holiday except Christmas/Hanukkah. This year alone, Americans 
will spend $23.1 billion on the holiday. And most of that money will be 
spent on jewelry: $4.6 billion.

So. I have difficult memories of both having and being a mother.  I learned to love my mother late in her life, and am grateful that we managed to become close before her death. I lost custody of my son when he was barely five; yet he is and always has been my greatest joy. So whoever you are, whatever you are feeling on this day, be gentle and kind. Not everyone has the same associations with this day.  I share this, but only for myself.

In which my brother goes to her grave and I shed a tear

My brother goes to the grave
site and says farewell
to the engraving on the rock.

I live far away and today
the buttress crumbles and I miss my mother
for the first time.

I don’t know why he does it
knowing and not knowing him so well
is all I have to go on.

Debt, veneration, relief, it’s all
so mixed, right? Maybe in his melancholy
he hoards an image of our family,

but I feel misplaced today, weepy
as if disowned, shorn from that photo
not like me at all, the cold unfeeling

bitch of me, knowing and not knowing
myself so well, with no urge to go on
after so many years.

 


							
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Tuesday Morning Poem

Forebear 

Even as she rejoins perfunctorily when you query,
–How is school? or Do you have a boyfriend? —
she scoffs at your drab flabbiness, the discolorations
of craggy cheeks, the lag-behind. She mocks as you press
palms into the plague of lumbago.

She forgets uncounted times when she extended
toddler arms, palm facing palm, thumbs up
in the universal salute: Pick me up! And you did,
carrying her even though she was already a big girl
who could walk on her own.

Just as you have forgotten how you sucked dry
your mother’s tits until they hung like
two braids across her chest. How you raced
as far as your legs would bear.

We do not tread nimbly upon the back of time,
we trample its soft belly.

Published at SoundZine, 2010

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Sunday Morning Muse with a Weekend of ‘slight faith’

nancy_botta_picture_of_our_shopW.59170256_std.jpg

On Friday, I was interviewed on the local Port Townsend radio station, KPTZ, by Phil Andrus,the wonderful host of a weekly arts show called Tossed Salad.  The studio is small and when you exchange places with the prior guest, which may be a group of 4 or more musicians and their various instruments, you brush against them to settle into the recording booth. Intimate and friendly, Phil pressed me with questions about faith, what did I mean by this term, how was I using it in the several poems I read during our interview. It’s so enlightening to discover what someone reading the work makes of it. It’s a little frightening, too, the sense of letting go of the poems to float into the realm of someone else’s thought bubbles. You send your kid off to college and hope he does well without your hand-holding.

Yesterday, Saturday, I read from ‘slight faith’ along with two fine regional poets, Susan Rich and Susan Landgraf, at Imprint Books, also in Port Townsend, owned and exquisitely run by Anna and Peter Quinn. I am so thankful and just can’t fully express what gracious hosts they are.  The audience was so engaged and people I’ve never met even bought my book! Of course we made our way to Elevated Ice Cream afterwards, where I had my favorite flavor, cardamom.

Port Townsend is only about 30 miles from my home and to be able to have such a kind reception for my book in my own backyard was beyond fabulous. ‘slight faith’ (MoonPath Press), just released, seems to have gotten a fine send-off. I hope it does well in this world-full of books.

Meanwhile, at home on Sunday morning, with the screen-door open, birds squawking and chirping, and some sunlight streaming (finally!), Bo is crying . . . . to go out. Poor guy has to mew at the door while I have coffee on the porch. green eyes

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Tuesday Morning Poem

Consolation

Imagine the crawl from sight to sightlessness.
Even in dreams you wear bifocals.

Imagine not knowing your grandson’s name, or being
lost in a word-salad thicket of sinister trees.

Imagine lying on your death bed, palms cupped
in a mudra of surrender. And among dementia,

going blind, and dying, you pray death will come first.
This is how you curl into your solace, bidding its shell

to your mollusk, storm of sea blowing in your ear,
inexpressible pain expressed sotto voce.

from “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018)
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Sunday Morning Muse on Monday with Bruise

I slipped in the tub on Saturday morning. I was in Seattle attending a 2-day medical meeting, and spent Friday night at a hotel. As I stepped into the tub for a shower, the bath mat slid out from underfoot, and I slid headfirst into the wall. I have a multicolored bruise at my forehead, that has leaked into the left eyelid. I’ve made two artsy photos of the stigmata so far. And wrote this poem. eye.jpg

A Slip

I was reminded sharply
of danger, of throbbing, of sudden
death. Here is a lavender bruise,
here, a tender egg-bump on my fore-
head. At sixteen, I ran smack
into a concrete wall, chased
down the hall by my brother.
Just kids then. I have worn the years
of depression from that skull dent
with aplomb. Today, it’s nausea
and vertigo. A concussion? Today
I have curtly become an old lady. One
who slips. One who slips in the shower.

 

 

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Tuesday Morning Poem

If it rains when I’m thirsty, am I the orchard?

On the other side of glass it’s raining.
Glass is made of silicon. Rain is H2O.
I think of two hydrogen atoms swaddling
the lone oxygen, how they cleave through
rain, ice, clouds. Or split into lone atoms,
singlet oxygens linking arms in air, or turning
bigamous with carbon: CO2, voila!

Is this downpour meant for me? The progeny
of quake and earth is great upheaval,
subduction plates, solid earth torn asunder.
Through hazy lens, I see nothing essential
or enduring. I obsess over maps, the enormous
ring of fire that surrounds us, a locus, a spit
of land, a catastrophe in slow-mo.

Memories dissolve in smog, mind maps shuffle
and tangle, brain cells lose ribosomes
and centrioles. Sucking my thumb at 8, in bed,
lights out, I thought, Where is God? What
I want to know now is: Exactly where am I?
I think about my childhood, my brother,
the playground, the uncle who . . .

. . . or that day with high school friends when
we skipped class, stood bundled tight, a yoked
circle in snow, unseen, fragrant joint passed
one to one. I wonder if the edge of the universe
will ever catch up with creation. An atom is endless
until split. All unions are ultimately annulled.

Outside, abundant fog obscures Port Townsend
to the east, erasing it. The round earth keeps
her secrets close to her crusty chest.

—from this month’s NaPoMo

 

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