To All Dog Lovers Out There

It happens this way …

A friend just emailed me to say she put down her dog this morning. It was a compassionate thing to do since her sweet dachshund was suffering so much. My friend’s heart is cracking open with grief again – she’s experienced this before –- but she will assure anyone who listens that the love she has shared with her dear pet is worth the pain.

Everyday I receive FB posts from my dog-loving friends across the country. They include messages about the benefits – physical and spiritual – of owning a dog – or, better yet, being owned by one. They make me laugh about the silly things dogs do and joy in the tenderness dogs show in nurturing abandoned kittens or guarding a sleeping child. I can understand the love.DSC07973

We don’t have a pet – unless you want to count the feral cats, steller’s jays, juncos, robins, and other various creatures who play in our backyard. The traveling we do makes owning a good excuse. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving a dog in a kennel or even having someone other than us watch over it when we flew away.

Perhaps another reason is equally true: the experiences my brothers and I had  with pets growing up in NJ. I dug out this poem that appeared in Fall 2016 in an anthology called Our Last Walk: Using Poetry for Grieving and Remembering Our Pets.

I think the last six lines nail the truest truth about my lack of pet-ownership. A million cheers to all of you share love with, and learn love from, your pets. Someday …

 Love’s Labor’s Lost

or Why I don’t own pets

Three chameleons

disappeared

into our bamboo shades.

The horny lizard’s

soft-curled back

amazed

then,

like goldfish

in their hazy bowl,

flipped

its down-side up.

Unamused,

dad booted out

the lab who

slurped

his cabbage soup.

The speckled mutt

arrived

one day,

ran

away the next.

Need more

reasoning?

A droop-face cop

charged

our summer yard

and shot

two frothing pups.

My heart

can’t bear

another crack.

I fall in love

too hard,

too fast.

 

SMITTEN: How do we identify ourselves?

It happens this way …

There’s a new anthology coming out in a few weeks called SMITTEN: This Is What Love Looks Like from Indie Blu(e) Publishing. It features 120 women, ages 16-87, and their poems about loving women. Five poems of mine will appear in it.

During the past few weeks, I’ve met a number of editors and contributors via social media, answered interviewers’ questions, and read the interviews of women from around the world. What a powerful community this anthology is creating!

One question consistently stopped in my tracks: “How does your identity affect your work?” In the context of this lesbian collection (There: I’ve used the L-word! It’s only taken me seven decades to do that!), the question implies how does identifying as the L-word (ok, I’m not perfect yet) affect my writing?

Huh? Being a very late bloomer – I didn’t start to write poetry until I was 27 and didn’t come to grips with my sexuality until my early 40s – I never thought about that.

Being a woman beyond a certain age, I had identified myself as a teacher, business trainer, and writer; a carbon-based humanoid who happens to be a woman who happens to be a lesbian. I have written a number of poems about my personal relationships which have appeared in a variety of journals, but I’ve not been in an overtly lesbian anthology before.

I realized this was somewhat of a coming out into a world larger than my corner of Oregon. I knew former students of mine would read my interview on Facebook, Sister of Mercy friends would do likewise. I haven’t hidden my relationship with my partner of almost 27 years, but neither have I broadcasted it in such a far-flung way.

All this is to say, the question of identity is complex. How do we define ourselves? In terms of our work roles and/or our familial relationship? In terms of our race, ethnicity, education, sexuality, social standing, friendships, religious or political affiliations? All factor in and maybe identity is a mosaic: each a piece of the whole that is us. I’m still pondering who I am. Any thoughts about how you define yourself?

PS: Here’s one of the poems that will appear in SMITTEN.

I love you more than Mariska HargitayPoem

And so the day begins with you

explicating last night’s dream

about the way she stroked your cheek 

with her arresting smile and lured

you toward a dark-eyed kiss before

you fought her off explaining

it would be criminal beyond

the ordered bounds of law 

because the fact is I’m downstairs  

in muddy garden clothes and sleepy hair

waiting for your lips so I can ditch

my coffee cup and stubborn poem

to wage my outdoor chores

and you’re telling me you’re telling her 

you never swore a vow or wear

a wedding ring but when stray nights

tempt you toward a luscious offering 

you walk away you’re telling me 

you are faithful even in your dreams.

 

 

In Memory of 9/11

9:11

It happens this way …

Here, a Holding On 

for New York City

October 1, 2001

 

Twenty days of barricades

and twos and threes pause

on Chambers Street –

business suits, backpacks, hoodies,

uniforms in every shape.

No one pontificates

over vacant desks and pews,

tear-wet beds, fire stations gone,

bone fragments searching for home.

 

Here, they’re awed.

Tower shadows fled.

The first time in thirty years

Village streets and living rooms,

store fronts with their sidewalk signs,

responders struggling with ash

bathe in sun. They bathe in the sun.

 

Here, light takes hold

and I, a stranger from 3,000 miles west,

grab a subway strap,

head to an uptown hotel

to write this down.

 

August 7, 2017

Here, breaking news:

DNA defines one more loss.

(Male. Unnamed. Per family request.)

Who’s left?

Eleven hundred twelve gathered

in dusty dark, sharing thoughts

they thought as shadows dissolved.

Comparing notes on deals signed,

dinners served, dreams deferred

for the practicalities of work,

little words unsaid.

 

Here, holding on –

each to each –

until they’re freed from this room

where they’ve agreed

on the coarsest truth:

closure is a myth.

 

The Theology of Not-Yet

It happens this way …

index.aspxI just finished reading Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life by Harold S. Kushner, the author of Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. Each chapter was a revelation about God’s nature, Nature’s nature, and human nature that stopped me in my tracks. Admittedly, I will have to go back and read the book again in order to internalize the wisdom and Biblical insights of this compassionate rabbi who writes to the heart as well as to the mind.

But for now, I wanted to share the book’s closing words. They  brought me to tears. Given the political and theological insanity that has been ripping apart our nation, I needed to hear these words:

               This world is not the world God intended it to be. Some human beings have made it  worse and continue to do so, while others have made and are making it better. I am sustained by the words of Martin Luther King Jr., quoting Theodore Parker, an abolitionist who died in 1860: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” And it bends toward honesty and toward forgiveness and toward generosity.

Kushner aptly calls this perspective the “theology of not-yet.”

One of the lessons I learned when we visited Philadelphia in July was that the vision of the Founding Fathers – so revolutionary, so world-shaking for its time – was still evolving in the not-yet history of America.

The huge sign on the side of the American Jewish History Museum was a poignant reminder of that fact. Writing to the Jewish community in Newport, RI, in 1790, George Washington said, “Happily the Government of the United States … gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

DSC08485

Today, all I can summon up is “not-yet, not-yet” while cultivating the hope that we will all bend toward honesty, forgiveness, and generosity so it “will be” in a future we are creating together.

 

 

 

Beware of staring ducks

It happens this way …

QU10COVERHALF-1-800x1200Yesterday I received my paperback copy of the summer issue of QU, a literary magazine published by Queens University of Charlotte, NC. I knew they had accepted a poem of mine, but wasn’t aware it had already been posted in a digital version on May 19.

Anyway, what I want to share today is how persistent inspiration can be when it won’t let go of you. The poem is called “Anatidaephobia.” Huh? That mouthful means having an irrational fear of being stared at by a duck. Double huh?!

This word was coined by Gary Larson in this Far Side cartoon.

Far Side

The set-up is hilarious and so is the made-up word

However, I didn’t see Larson’s cartoon initially. Rather, while I was watching a You-Tube interview with the incredible Judy Dench, she used the word off-handedly. At first I couldn’t understand what she was saying, so I played the video back several times and guessed at its spelling. By now I was hooked and was compelled to find out more about it.

People often ask writers and artists where they get ideas for their work. In this case it was happenstance – coming across the Dench video – combined with sleuthing to find Larsen’s cartoon, and then weeks of hard work shaping the poem into images that played with the original definition and then expanded it to be more universal.

The fact is from childhood on, I hated being stared at. I could feel myself blush whenever I walked into a room – whether it was a classroom as a student, a party with people I didn’t know, or a department store when I was approached by a salesperson. Being invisible was so much more comfortable!

Even as a management trainer, I always made sure my audiences had handouts. Not only did these keep me on track with the ideas I wanted to share, but they also got folks to look down rather than at me.  I would actually become disconcerted when someone, who was probably more auditory than visual, kept staring at me. So, believe me, I know firsthand what this phobia is all about. I just substitute people for ducks.

Who knew a made-up word for a made-up phobia would lead to a real life truth? Inspiration did!

To the last days of August …

It happens this way …

Glads

Notes from an August Gardener

 In the depths of winter, I finally learned that

within me there lay an invincible summer.

– Albert Camus

 Sunday morning

and not one bird makes a sound.

They’re watching me

cut each gladiola down,

keeping silent in respect

for my grief over orange,

purple, white, and mottled pink.

Until next year, I relegate

each stalk to recycling.

 

I’m enamored with intensities

that startle and invigorate

before they slip away:

day lilies, four o’clocks,

Rose-of-Sharon trees,

lovers on rebound,

lightning strikes of poetry.

 

Still, around the yard –

patient and long-lived –

hostas, daisies, and geraniums

ride the summer out.

They’ll hang on until

first frost – if affection’s paid.

 

Just as the lid drops on

what has been, empathetic birds

turn their muteness off.

They remind me

when summer is invincible,

there’s no mystery in falling,

falling in love again.

Make More Mistakes

It happens this way …

Last week’s post about my lying to cover up mistakes uncovered a distant memory. It was 1980 and I was standing at the kitchen sink in our Woodbridge home, washing dishes with my Aunt Florence. I blurted out, “I’m thirty-five and I’m still terrified to make mistakes.” I don’t remember what prompted that admission, but I do remember the angst in those words.

It took me decades to become a recovering perfectionist and to earn the freedom to make more mistakes.

I used to blush ferociously when a driver honked at me for some perceived traffic gaffe. I must have been doing something wrong.

I used to feel it was my fault if a meal I ordered at a restaurant wasn’t up to par. It was my mistake for ordering it.

I used to feel gut-punched when an editor rejected a poem. Wrong publication, wrong editor,  wrong piece. My fault.

Today – older and somewhat wiser – I’ve learned that there really are no mistakes.

FilmThey are only mis-takes – to play with movie parlance – that lead me to the surprising and unexpected.

That wrong turn I took because I was distracted led me to a route around a traffic accident I didn’t know happened. Who knew?

The fancy blouse I bought three years ago and never wore was perfect for a social event this year. Who knew?

Five poems rejected by one publication got accepted individually by three others.

And so it goes.

I’ve decided to embrace what Tallulah Bankhead once said: If I had to live my life over again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.

 I won’t wait for the next life to make more mistakes sooner.  Today’s a good day. In the process, I hope to discover how much more intriguing life can be after each mis-take.