Breathe Like You Mean It

9873446-young-woman-enjoying-the-fresh-airI’m a breath holder. I have to continually remind myself to inhale and exhale. I breathe best when I’m getting a massage, doing yoga, walking – all things I need to do more of. I am trying to breathe deeply today with intention for an old friend. He is a high school pal who is undergoing a lung transplant as I type this.

I have a candle lit for him. I’m playing Stevie Wonder over and over because I heard he loves himself some Stevie. I have not seen this friend since our 20-year class reunion in 1997. That night, he looked just like he did in high school–dashing good looks, athleticism, did I say dashing good looks?

I remember David standing in the same spot in the senior hall our last year at school. He’d watch people pass by. He always had a mischievous smirk on his face. His letterman jacket did not say Dave or David – it was emblazoned with “Buns,” his nickname.

If my memory serves me correctly, he was also voted “Biggest Flirt” our senior year.

I envision him today with breath, giving the nurses a run for their money. I see him strong as I dig in my flowerpots, planting coleus and lemon balm. I’ll take a walk on my trail in a bit. That’s when I breathe most deeply, with purpose. That’s when I pray. Yes I pray – grateful for breath, air, life.

I Am Most Alone In A Crowded Room

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“A writer is essentially a spy. Dear love, I am that girl.”

-Anne Sexton

I am most alone in a room full of people. Although folks often see me as having a sanguine type personality, I am not good at schmoozing. I prefer overhearing conversations I am not a part of – snippets in a café about one’s boyfriend – “He totally messed up the clean sheets” – or at the grocery store checkout stand this morning – “Yeah, my kid was born without an arm.”

I wish to be a potted plant strategically posted along an outer wall. My point is that “performing poetry me” is a different beast than “let’s have a one-on-one conversation me.” Give me a stage, lights, a microphone and I am “on.” Reading poems aloud to a crowd is an out-of-body experience. Don’t expect that same persona ten minutes later over sparkling cider and gluten-free crackers. That girl is in the parking lot, keys in the ignition, heading far, far away.

I did discover after Yesterday’s reading at Elliott Bay Books that wine helps. A lot. I was actually able to stay in the room and engage in a handful of ongoing dialogues. This morning, the morning after a satisfying reading, I am back to melancholy bliss, on my way out the door to the café hopefully to eavesdrop on a conversation I am not a part of.

Put Your Feet Up

photo (1)I don’t own an electronic reader, but I wanted to read my friend’s e-book last night so I downloaded a kindle reader. It was free and easy. Within moments, God’s Whisper Manifesto was at my fingertips.

Andi Cumbo is a writer’s writer. We met in grad school. She lives on a farm she recently purchased in Lovingston, Virginia (see photo). I have no idea where this is, but I am ready to pack my bags and head there for sanity’s sake.

My friend’s vision for her land is admirable: to create a space/place where writers, artists, and dreamers come together to work, rest, and play, living simply.

I am no book reviewer. All I can offer are a dozen points from the book that stuck in my mind and kept me awake last night. The farm is all about community and living communally. I’d like to incorporate or reaffirm these important points in my life. What about you?

1. Don’t lord your choices over others.

2. Be deliberate in how you spend your time.

3. Make noise until it becomes music.

4. Roll down a hill, spin in a circle.

5. Have a couch that welcomes feet.

6. Honor the way a person needs to work and the fact that all of us need to play and rest.

7. Sleep the sleep of an infant, drool running down your chin.

8. In the evening, sit down and share a meal. Never refuse dessert if you want it. Then, find a fire, a book, or a desk.

9. Let an animal cuddle at your feet or on the couch. Relish the purr of a cat.

10. Honor each other’s stories.

11. Give money away with no expectations.

12. Tell someone your DREAM.

If these simple truths resonate with you, stop by Andi’s website and find out how to purchase the book. It’s less than five dollars.

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There Is A Baby At The Ocean

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What is more sad than the death of a child? I was glancing at the Sunday paper yesterday morning. A small headline on page A9 read, “Dead infant found in Ocean Shores”. Ocean Shores is a tourist town on the Pacific Ocean in Washington state about two hours west of here (Olympia).

On Friday night, a woman walking her dog noticed a rag on a branch. At closer inspection, she found a dead infant in the vacant wooded lot.

This news wiped me out. I cried. I lit a candle for that baby. I wrote a poem so that I might capture this moment of grief by memorializing that little girl or boy on paper.

Sometimes the only thing that gets me through is writing myself to that place of fear and shock.

Yesterday, I was incensed at the fact that the newspaper had buried the story on page A9. Page A1 bore a photo of a Mazama pocket gopher, a species that dwells on our local prairies and is threatened by extinction. Not that I have anything against gophers, but . . .

This morning, I read that a 21 year-old woman and her boyfriend are in custody. Tips led authorities to the pair holed up at the Oasis Motel in Ocean Shores. Here are the last two stanzas from the six stanza pantoum I wrote yesterday. It’s all I got.

A woman walking her dog noticed
Looking closer she saw the child’s body
A rag hanging on a branch
The baby was already dead

A rag hanging on a branch
Stormy conditions – wind, rain
The baby was already dead.
There is a baby at the ocean.

I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet

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Give me the spirit of the dancing sign holder -a woman I pass by at least once a day on the corner of College Street and Pacific Avenue near Olympia, Washington. Here, I would have included a photo of this swing’n sway’n roadside attraction, but the tax preparation company she works for did not give permission.

She’s a young woman in her twenties. Strawberry blonde hair in a bob, average build. If she were walking down the street, you would not turn your head. But when she picks up the sign and gets her groove on, something happens. Gyrate does not explain it. It is much more organic than that.

This woman is channeling something I want badly. Maybe it’s moxy. If the sign swinging dance she does were poetry, it’d be slammed in your face. Hop, pivot, and twirl are her body’s words choreographed to communicate the rhythm of freedom she feels in her spirit.

I want to bring that shimmy and shake to my writing. To elevate the mundane, turn it into a dance. Excuse me while I get up from this chair to whip my hair, calling on the muse to join me on a safari of self. Allow me to remain untamed.

Poetry . . . In The Beginning

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I wrote my first poem sitting on a stump in a fort I built under a winter apple tree. I was around seven years-old. Because I lived in Olympia, Washington, in the shadow of Mount Rainier, most of my poems spoke of snowy peaks and the majesty of the mountain. I also wrote of cats. We had many. I wrote of longing for a horse and my love of dogs. Like I said, I was in the second grade.

I had an indoor “office” as well. When I sat at my mom’s grey metal typewriter table, which held the old black Royal she still uses today at 87, I became “Mrs. Hogan,” writer/poet/reporter. I slid #3 Ticonderoga pencils between my tiny lips, pretending to smoke cigarettes, blowing rings in the air. I wore one of my “church” hats and used a steno pad to take notes.

One of my early poems went:

Challenging ramparts

Rule the sky

They’re made by God,

They’re mountains high.

I am sure I wrote there instead of they’re. I probably spelled challenging wrong as well. I sat in that fort and copied the poem in my best handwriting and took it in to read to my mom. She didn’t respond well. She didn’t believe I’d written it. Although I did “borrow” the phrase challenging ramparts from a caption I found under a photo in National Geographic, the rest spilled from my tender little heart.

Yesterday, I sat out on the porch with my little neighbor girl, Candace. She’s in kindergarden. The boys go off to play rough. Candace comes to visit me. Covered in “play” jewelry I gave her last week, she sits at my bistro table and pulls a tiny notepad from a purse. My heart skips a beat.

“What’s the notebook for?”

“I want to write something, but I don’t know what?”

“Have you ever made a poem?”

“No. Will you help me?”

At that moment, it was like the lottery office called to tell me I’d won a million dollars. We sat for 30 minutes working on our poems. I gave her a journal and told her April was poetry month. She left to chase the boys – something I would have done at that age. She said she’d meet me tomorrow to make another poem.

I told her I’d be waiting.

THE BIG POETRY GIVEAWAY 2013!

My Try Poetry Giveaway

Thank you to my dear friend, Poet Susan Rich for facilitating the 2013 BIG POETRY GIVEAWAY! To start, I am following both Susan and Kelli Russell Agodon’s lead and sharing a little snapshot of myself. Did you know . . .

1. I quit beauty school when I was a senior in high school.

2. I shook President Bill Clinton’s hand while saying something totally inappropriate.

3. I eat Cheetos with a fork.

4. I wrote my first poem in a fort I built under a winter apple tree.

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5. I was the worst sugar plum fairy in history.

6. My chapbook,”How To Talk To Your Schizophrenic Child” will be published this year.

7. My six sons can say, “My Mother Wore Combat Boots” as I am an authentic WAC Army Veteran.

8. My religion is love.

*****

My heart skips a beat when I know I am going to hear the next poet read. She’s my homegirl from Olympia and she is just a lovely woman.

New Bike, Porch, Poetry Giveaway 011

The first book I’d like to give away is Olympia Poet Jeanne Lohmann’s beautiful collection, “As If Words”, which chronicles the years of her marriage with humor and sensuality. Poet Joseph Stroud says of the book, “an extraordinary celebration of the deep and abiding love of a lifetime between two people . . .” It’s hard to pick just one poem to share:

Rosemary

Pruning the dark green spikes,
shaping the overgrown bush
to manageable form, I
cut the lopsided arms,
make room for lemon thyme
and lavender.

Between my breasts a broken sprig
sharp as grief remembered,
bruises my skin. The smell of rosemary
assaults me in the sun
and I do not want to go indoors
or change my clothes.

*****

The second book I will be gifting some lucky “winner” is Sheila Bender’s, “A New Theology – Turning To Poetry In a Time Of Grief.” This book of prose and poetry delivered me last fall from a tough time after the disappearance of one of my adult sons who lives with mental illness. I felt like Sheila was in the room with me, arm around shoulder, telling me to write through the pain. Writer Sue Silverman says of the book, “Bender’s voice, her poetry and her prose interwoven guides us through her journey of grief to a new theology of life . . . we, as readers, find help and hope for our own healing, regardless of the nature of our loss.”

New Bike, Porch, Poetry Giveaway 009So, what do you have to do to win one of these books? It’s easy! For details go to:

http://thealchemistskitchen.blogspot.com/2013/03/sign-up-now-to-participate-in-big.html

I will put everyone’s name in my favorite vintage hat and draw the lucky winners on May 1, 2013. If you win, you will receive your book in the mail soon after that. If you can’t wait or don’t feel LUCKY, please go to your nearest independent bookstore and buy one or both of these books. You’ll be happy with either.

Finally, HAPPY NATIONAL POETRY MONTH! Wrap poems around your being for the next 30 days. Your spirit will sing. Your soul will smile.

Revisiting A “War Poem” A Decade Later

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Note:  I realized yesterday that today is the ten year anniversary of one of my poems. I remember that only because it was written at the beginning of the war in Iraq. The poem comes from a conversation with my young son (now 20 years old). The form is called “pantoum” – you will notice there is a pattern of repeating lines. This poem, “Talk Over Pancakes” appeared in a “Poets Against War” anthology many years ago.

Talk Over Pancakes

On a Sunday afternoon
My son asks if he will have to go to war
Kids at school said so
Eat your pancakes

My son asks if he will have to go to war
Things ten year-old worry about
Eat your pancakes
I bet those kids in Iraq are scared

Things ten year-olds worry about
Stockpiling food, flashlights, water
I bet those kids in Iraq are scared
Tanner stacks pancakes like sandbags

Stockpiling food, flashlights and water
Will my brothers have to go to war?
Tanner stacks pancakes like sandbags
Do mothers of sons create soldiers?

Will my brothers have to go to war?
Put your plate in the dishwasher
Do mothers of sons create soldiers?
American flags dot the neighborhood

Put your plate in the dishwasher
Do I know anyone who will die in the war, Mom?
American flags dot the neighborhood
We post a NO WAR sign

Do I know anyone who will die in the war, Mom?
Mothers hiding children
We post a NO WAR sign
Kids learn about war between commercials

Mothers hiding children
Boys bend dolls into guns
Kids learn about war between commercials
Pick teams, play army

Boys bend dolls into guns
On a Sunday afternoon
Pick teams, play army
Kids at school said so

For The Love Of Deadlines

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I thrive on them. They are my caffeine-injected whoopee cushions.

I’ve done everything around here I can possibly do. Even re-copied my to-do list. Now, it’s time to write. No, maybe I’d better go make some toast. On the way to make toast, I notice the kitchen floor needs to be swept. While grabbing the broom in the laundry room, I remember there are wet clothes in the washer. When I open the dryer, I find a clean load that needs to be folded.

Four hours later, I sit down to write but fall asleep in my “writing chair” after covering up with a bath towel from the clean clothes pile. I wake up one hour later. It’s 2 pm. I’ve got two hours to get a couple of new poems from my head to the page before tomorrow‘s weekly writing group meets. There’s also that 3,000-word essay/article, which also needs to be in by tomorrow that I’ve not yet begun.

This is the stuff I live for. Bliss. In my reporter days, it made my editor nuts. I was a car, and stories were my tank of gas. The more I could drive down the road the better. This same editor called me in her office one day and said, “I’m pushing you from the nest.” I’d driven her crazy. She fired me.

I went on to earn a BA and an MFA in Creative Writing. It never would have happened if I’d not been “released.” I thrived in college because of the deadline-oriented world it was – both as an undergrad and in grad school. I gave myself a 9 pm deadline to finish this blog post. It’s 8:36 pm now. I will top off the night reading a friend’s new chapbook of poems.

Many of tomorrow’s 3,000 words will come to me before morning. I’ll drive them to the keyboard by noon. Away we’ll go on our journey to familiar territory. One nail biting milepost at a time.