Posts by carolynmartinpoet

From associate professor of English to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin has journeyed from New Jersey through California to Oregon to discover Douglas firs, months of rain, and dry summers. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in publications throughout North America and the UK, and her fourth poetry collection, A Penchant for Masquerades, is scheduled for a February 2019 release by Unsolicited Press. She is the poetry editor of Kosmos Quarterly, journal of global transformation.

Sermons ‘R’ Us

It happens this way …

In 1975, Levi Watkins, MD  began his career as a pioneering cardiac surgeon at Johns Hopkins, a teaching hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He spent every day teaching.

If you were to ask him, What do you teach? He’d say, If I had to prioritize what I teach, I’d say that caring is the most important thing. Any fine program can teach you surgical procedure.

And if you were ask him, How do you teach caring? He’d say something like, By sitting down on the bed by the patient. I touch their hand or cheek to reassure them, and residents can see the compassion.

And if you were to ask him, How did you learn to show compassion for patients? He’d say from a role model, the chief cardiac surgeon at the time of his residency. He was a sermon I enjoyed seeing.

And if you were to walk into his office, you’d see a framed poem by Edgar Guest on his wall that begins with: I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.

After having sat through approximately 1,867 sermons in my life – a few of them brilliant, most not, I appreciate those sentiments. For fun, I went to the dictionary to check out the word sermon and found the original meaning. It comes from an Old Latin word meaning a conversation and an Old French word meaning to link together. So a sermon is a conversation that links people together. And isn’t that what many of us yearn for: to have the quality of conversations that link us to one another? Of course!

However, the most enduring sermons are not those we deliver through words but through our actions.

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Photo by Kathy Richard

Some of my old sermons could easily have been titled:

  • Knock, knock. Nobody’s home.
  • My name is Carolyn. I’m a co-dependent, work-addicted perfectionist.
  • I’m lazy and feel guilty about it.
  • I’m ashamed of my body, so I ignore it.

What are my new ones? I’m working on them.

If you’re game, take a few moments. What are the titles of your sermons? You can’t help but be a sermon just by your existence on this planet. What are you role modeling in a caring way that will link you to others around you?

Are you a sermon people enjoy seeing? Are inspired by? Learn from? Pay attention to yours. You may inspire yourself!

 

In the Bathroom with David Sedaris

It happens this way …

I think self-esteem is overrated. I think a certain degree of self-loathing is good. David Sedaris, “Q&A David Sedaris” by Hugh Delehanty, AARP Bulletin, July/August 2018

Admit it: some of our best reading times occur in the bathroom – in the tub or on the potty. This sanctuary is conducive to getting through magazines that have piled up for weeks. I’ve learned to store the latest in our three bathrooms and enjoy multitasking: nurturing my mind awhile attending to my body.

Hence, my encounter with David Sedaris on a Sunday morning in our powder bathroom. In this interview, Sedaris discusses Calypso, his new book about aging; his sister’s suicide; and his obsession with walking. He also explains how his adversarial relationship with his father motivated him to create a successful career.

He explains:

Everything he ever said to me, I did the opposite. Everything. And I made a nice career out of reacting against him. If he had been my biggest cheerleader, I would be a nobody today. He’d say, “You’re a big fat zero.” But that’s exactly what I needed to hear because I’d think, Oh yeah? I’ll show you!

 That got me thinking about all people who motivated me by putting me down. There’s Sister Grace John, my first grade teacher, who gave me an “Unsatisfactory” in conduct for speaking too much in class. The English teacher who red-penciled the only poem I wrote in high school as “extremely maudlin.” The president of a business consulting firm I worked for who called me “a G-d-damn academic who’d never amount to anything!” Oh yeah?

Of course, I’ve had exquisite cheerleaders in my life when I needed them. But today, here’s to Sedaris’s insight. Let’s say, I’ll show you! to anyone who attempts to diminish the glorious beings we are!

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Last line: “Conduct” and that blue U!

Notes from the Garden, Part III

It happens this way …

With apologies to birders, I am not one. Of course I enjoy watching them zip around the yard but I’m not happy when they rev up their music at 4:15 a.m. outside my bedroom window or when three crows chase a hawk across the skies above our neighborhood. I imagine the former are excited that the sun will rise in less than an hour and hope the crows will not catch up with the hawk.

Anyway, three winters ago, my little heart ached at the thought the local birds might go hungry in forecasted snow. So out to the store I went and bought a feeder and some high quality birdseed. Every morning I’d look out the window expecting to see an orgy, filled with arias of gratitude in my honor. Nope! This is what happened:

To the songbirds who spurned my feeder

I’m confused. I thought when thistle filled

the Copper Triple Tube, we had a deal.

You’d breakfast in tranquility, spread notes

around our cul-de-sac, return

for evening snacks, and sing, of course,

your best for me. But I thought wrong.

 

You’ve scavenged through my annuals,

electing seeds – prosaic and alive –

in lieu of mixtures trendy and refined;

refused to jump from ground to rim

before the winter storms set in

to shut my garden down.

 

I’ve cut my loss and hurt, and stashed

the copper with my thistle sacks.

See the note tacked on the vacant pole:

We’re closed. Gone south. Enjoy the seedless snow.

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My little cold-hearted heart finally melted this spring and I bought some songbird seed to augment my leftover thistle. After moving the feeder around the yard four times with hopes of enticing the critters, I finally found a spot – I thought – that was safe and shaded. Six weeks have gone by with a few visitors who knock the seed to the ground and eat from there. This morning I moved the feeder off its stand and watched a little bird stare at it and then at me. No breakfast yet for this little one, no arias for me!

To all you bird lovers and feeders out there, any suggestions?

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Gladiola Update

These pink-trimmed whites just bloomed in another part of the garden and  have for three seasons. The question: Will they turn orange next year? Here’s hoping not!

 

 

Notes from the Garden, Part II

It happens this way …

Six years ago, I planted pink gladiola bulbs and was thrilled when they produced the most delicately colored stalks. Glads usually bloom twice a season in our climate, so I was dumbfounded when the second blooming produced orange flowers. As the seasons rolled on, the glads consistently started out as orange and then second-rounded as pink. Go figure.

Anyway, a poem grew from that experience.

A sonnet for plotting amateurs

Deep Pink, the package claimed and photographed

our dream of gladiola sprays. We mapped

three dozen bulbs around our pastel plots

as complements, we thought, to bright-eyed phlox,

petunias, asters, salvia and mums

and contrasts to the brooding firs we’d come

to love. But amateurs miss facts: bees

are un-enamored of this color scheme

and weak-kneed hummingbirds whir by

thumbing wings at pinks and blues and whites.

We’d only half a natural world until

some mischief rescued our design. It filled

our yard with orange glads in mid-July,

then shrugged with birds and bees, So labels lie.


Then, three years ago I planted glorious blue glad bulbs and was thrilled when

 

they maintained their rich color for three seasons – until this year. The blue turned orange! What mischief is playing with us?

 

Oprah Winfrey and Thích Nhất Hạnh: A Conversation

It happens this way …

While the Internet can be maddeningly time-consuming, it can also be surprisingly miraculous. Last Sunday evening as hummingbirds zipped around the yard and the hum of the neighbor’s air conditioner provided white noise, I was guided to an interview Oprah Winfrey conducted five years ago with Thích Nhất Hạnh. I can’t remember how I found it. I’d like to think it found me.

Among other topics, they spoke about the monk’s relationship to Martin Luther King, Jr., his practice of meditating every moment of every day, and the gift of compassionate listening. About three minutes before the end of their engaging conversation, Hạnh offered the best relationship advice I ever heard. He explained four mantras that can heal and deepen our connection to our loved ones immediately.

Here is a brief synopsis of what he suggested. Perhaps you’ll be motivated to go to the video to hear his enlightened words in his own sweet voice.

 

1. Darling, I’m here for you.

When you love someone, the best thing you can offer him or her is your presence. How can you love if you are not present? And this means your true presence, unencumbered with thoughts of the past or the future.

2. Darling, I know you are there and I am so happy because you are truly there.

You recognize the presence of your beloved one as something very precious. To be loved is to be recognized as existing.

These two mantras by themselves can bring happiness right away. You can even practice them over the phone!

3. Darling, I know you suffer. That is why I’m here for you.

Before you can do anything, your very presence can bring relief. This requires compassionate listening, not trying to fix the beloved.

The fourth mantra is the hardest because it’s about your suffering and your belief it has been caused by your beloved. You would prefer to go to your room, close the door, and suffer alone, and you want to punish him or her for having made you suffer. This mantra helps to overcome that.

4. Darling, I suffer. Please help me.

You go to him or her and, if you can bring yourself to say this mantra, you will suffer less right away.

What simple words. What healing possibilities!

 

 

Notes from the Garden, Part I

Confessions of a Perennial Gardener

 

Six nurseries ago, I said, I’m through.

Colors cozied up in my backyard, five dozen pots

brimmed full, and Nature praised, More is less.

Anyway, I had little planting time or space

and proclaimed a mid-summer freeze.

 

That is, until Perennial Sale this week!

How their names enticed:

Elegance Snow cooling Artic Fire,

Peptalk Pink stirring with Red Rum,

Funfare Yellow hovering over Pixie Blues.

Each multi-life a guarantee to fill

the gap annuals leave behind

and fight against the fret of frost.

 

The choice? Ignore their tags’ advice

and squeeze them into tightnesses

between petunias and marigolds,

behind lines of pansies and mums,

under the semi-shade of maple trees.

 

More is more: my new rule.

When every bloom has dropped, I’ll wrap

my roots around those tucked in last.

We’ll breathe in winter’s depths,

dream of lives to come,

and celebrate death’s impermanence.