Friday, December 20, 2013

Like A Herd of Luminous Deer: New Baby, Old Friends

Often when I imagine you
your wholeness cascades into many shapes.
You run like a herd of luminous deer
and I am dark, I am forest.

Photo by Andrei Contiu

There is the baby in your arms and your husband beside you in the dark of a December night after the snow fell all day and you birthed this child. You brought him into the world; your body shook like a hurricane, like something primal and wild and as he slid from the nether world of your womb. You cried and let the world come anew; let the waves wash over you. And when it was all over we remembered it as though a dream—we looked at the boy and fell in love.


The first snow of the year, and then the baby; an old friend comes to visit and we speak true things. The true things fall onto the table between us like shiny stones; I am breathless and remember the sea. All things come from the sea. All things from the sky at night where the moon hangs like a paper crane. Oh, all the true things between us and the deep wells of fear I felt for you, as though you were calling to me as you began to climb the mountain and I did not know if I would see you again, but the fact that I always do reassured me.

Old friends, like saints or angels, old friends like rhythms in our fingers, on the tip of the tongue. We walked under the Christmas lights and easily I slipped into that old sarcastic glove of self—the horrible jokes at someone else’s expense, and the love, too the love, because we laughed and laughed and you pointed to the bar where you’d met your now X-husband and our other friend said, “Probably a lot of people met their husbands around here.” And we laughed at that and how he was a pilot and you had loved him but it had not worked, it couldn’t. But there were the boys now and you loved them, and they were beautiful. They made it all worth it.

One of us was too cold and the other two were lit with a wild longing, to laugh and be near each other after stuffing our faces with so much rich food. But we left the lights and returned to the car and you dropped me off at home and we said we would meet again the next day but we never did. You were doing art and I was mothering. And our other friend said she had to stay home because the roads were bad and also she didn’t want to sprain her ankle walking on the slippery sidewalk.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

To Prove Our Separateness

From Parker J. Palmer's "The Woodcarver" 

This is death and why we fear it--the loss of our boundaries and distinctiveness, the annihilation of self. Driven by this fear, we act over and against things to prove our separateness, and in the process our action becomes adversarial, fragmenting us and our world, destroying hidden wholeness. 

Lake Champlain, 2012

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Come Then, November

Come then, November, if you must.
Dark and lovely, shadowed with earth.
Fill me empty,
Stark as night as the bird lifts
And shadow spills forth,
As a stream, as a shutter--

We walk the mountain.
The snow falls steady and pebbled.
Moses opens his mouth
To taste, to touch, to feel the shock of cold.

My father, complicated
Like the pattern of bare trees through
The woods- simple like my discovery
Of a heart-shaped leaf in the gray pool of cement
Earlier this morning--
Falls behind

Sweat covers my brow, cold in my fingers
Heat crawling at my back.

I long, yes long
To live in these deep woods
On this cold mountain, my heart split
Wide by the silence that feeds and the water
Stream, foot path, stonewall, gold of fallen leaves.

The sorrow of hands that will pale and cease to be,
The joy of birds lifting, diving, swirling in unison
In the blue-gray bruise of sky--
The snow growing thick, a yearning,
As Christmas passes into new year
And light begins its slow return.

We turn once more and
Are forced outward--

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bird, Rabbit, Son

In her hands, a small bird like an organ stitched outside the body. But the bird has died and she carries the carcass, which to her is still the bird. Beyond the field stands the horse, white, shrouded in mane, stomping its bored hooves into the dust.

My brother is a boy, and there, my sister with her white-blond hair stands recalling the day she killed a rabbit. It was an accident. She dropped the tiny white creature and it curled its spine, stretched its body not in flight, but ugly, like a rat or cold fish flopping. The neck snapped at the spine, the rabbit dead. I tried to comfort her. "I know it’s not my fault," her frail child’s body in pink bathing suit, her voice like one who knew no darkness, as though darkness existed only beyond her. 

My brother then. I don’t recall his childhood. Faintly, he was writing a book about a white stallion and we all laughed with unrestrained glee at this. Sweetly, we walked the road home together once during a spring-break from college. He was five, perhaps. Filled in the way well-loved children are with fearless love. “Race me to the sign,” I shouted and away he ran.

And what if the organ, dead, worked its way to the outside of the body; worked its way through the skin to surface like a sliver of wood? If the body can generate life, why not regenerate? Plucked like an apple—torn away—leaving the skin paler and pink-hued, a scar to mark its deliverance.


It is autumn and we are full-fledged now. In the yard behind our duplex, I sit with my son, two-years-old. He picks the burdock I have told him not to pick, one stuck already in his downy red hair. I watch him, my love unrestrained, fiercely protective of this one life, my own, and yet weary in the way one who has learned to distrust her instincts grows weary.

Gunmetal: The sky is blue and clouds catch there, smoky and bone-white, their edges lit up like neon bar signs. Deep afield in the blue and heady acres, the clouds grab hold. I close my eyes and listen, far off, the sound of honking geese, screeching like children in the school-yard. But when I open my eyes I can’t see them, not yet. This strange honking like something from another time, like nothing of this time, time-out-of-time, in the space of this era where we touch each other not with hands, hold each other not with voice, where we kill each other not with gun—with gun—but robotic man-machines.

Nothing I held true as a child 
still holds.

The geese are afloat now in the sky; beautiful black bodied, dark bodies flying there in pitched arch. I hold my son in my arms. He points with tiny hands. I don’t know what he sees, what he shouts out. But he is pleased. Later we will roll in the grass and he will jump on me again and again, screaming with bodily pleasure, wild with exhaustion, set free.


I am always trying to get at something that exists, rests, lives, just around the bend. There were years when I lost everything. We believe in our immunity, that our privilege vaccinates us from caring about the dead, lost, imprisoned, stolen, or enslaved. Not the ones overseas, over there, but the ones right here. And our children, God, our children, they cannot be here in this paragraph too. Dead organs make their way to the skin, where you will pluck them like fruit, or let them fall upon the loamy earth, and become fertilizer. Already the body regenerates anew.

In her hands, a dead bird, cupped there as she flees.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

This Is the Book You Need

It's sort of late on a Saturday night and I'm sitting alone listening to the rain. My life is so full and I have just recently decided to love the chaos, love the mess, love all the sweetness therein. I've been back in Vermont a good three weeks now and a bit adrift as always, a bit lost in the transition, emotional and moody, bitter and grumpy. Transitions always offer a crisis for me. I don't know why. I mean, I do, but I don't find it interesting or helpful to know. And so I've been trying to ride it out and seeking my path and my voice and my heart and finding so much love in my husband and son. They root me to the earth, they offer breath and life and water. And I try to see that every day. I try to practice gratitude for all the blessings. But I fall short, often.

And lately I have been looking hard for the little magic in me that seeks out the holy, the divine in us all, that feels alive, only I don't think I realized that I was seeking it. I think I felt like if I only got a bit more organized, a bit more accomplished, a bit more dedicated, a bit more well-established, a bit MORE... well then you know... Maybe I'd feel better. And maybe not. Maybe I'd just want more, probably I'd just want more and there would never be enough.

Today I went to the Burlington Book Festival to listen to the Pulitzer prize winning poet of twenty books, Yusef Komunyakaa read. I ran into Jon Turner at a table in the lobby selling his second book of poems published by Seven Star Press in Vermont. Jon, his wife Kathy, their son Forrest, and dog Sadie were the previous occupants of the apartment my family and I rent. I've heard him read his poems, know of his work with Veterans Against the Iraq War, and my husband knows him and has always spoken tenderly of him. Jon sent us a care package of beautiful earth things he'd made for our son after Moses was born. A rattle and a little incense burner made of stone and feather, some incense.

At his table we exchanged words about writing and life, his new baby boy, Sage. I bought a copy of his book. At home I began to read "Reasons to Find a Stream" on the front stoop, waiting for my husband and son and some other family to return from their outing. I knew as I read his introduction that it was this book I had been seeking.

Maybe it is funny to say that. Maybe it's too dramatic or something. But I'm saying it.

from the intro...

Jon writes: ... The roots of these stories and thoughts have helped me make conscious decisions to chisel away all that is not my true self and embody the wisdom and love known to be seeded within me.

Read it again.

These are words to live by.

I know there is something in the earth, in nature that heals, and that the sky and the water, the mountain and the breeze speak if you are willing to hear. I know too that what is true, what is holy, what completes us will never come of my own doing--my willful ordering of the world--but of patience and the willingness to listen, of the practice of faith, of God, of seeking what is divine in each one and thus all things.

I know that the divine is within and all around and I am want for a practice of faith that I can connect with, that helps me to be free and alive and more capable of love, unharnessed to the MORE culture we live in.

Jon's poems remind me of all this. I can hear in each word rendered the force of love that has healed the grave and haunting pain left in him like shrapnel after his time as a marine in the Iraq War. In the turn of a phrase such as "How long has this ancient wind/ passed before us un-noticed" or "In the unwritten letters and poems/ are the true faces of war" I feel the hours passed in silence, in meditation, in communion with nature and God, with great spirits and ancestral teachers. I sense the prayers offered, the smoke and shadow of a man as he makes his way through trauma, to meet his ancestors at the foot of the mountain and climb with their hands in his to the peak, to give offering and rejoice, to find gratitude.

I have been told that it is from gratitude, love comes. It is in gratitude we open ourselves to love and not the other way around.

This little book makes me grateful that there are poets like Jon Turner who sings his soul on the page with sincere love and the unabashed confidence that what he offers must be voiced--a gift to the world, hard won, blessed, eternal.

Thank you.

from Old Ways

you will ride your horse
to greet the lightening
the herd, the eagle
but your body will be gone
your life a memory
your breath
the wind

Buy the book at Send an email for a copy.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Late Summer Storm, Time, and Xu Bing's Phoenix

Xu Bing, Phoenix

Late summer thunder storm. Lying in bed beside Moses, half asleep, half sleeping, half nursing and singing, the thunder rings and when the lightning flashes through the trees I am again reminded of the way that I feel my entire life exists unspooling not in linear fashion, but like water moving and expanding and filling this present with what has passed and perhaps—though I cannot say—what will be.

The lightning flashes and the outline of the leaves on the tree in the yard, the tree just beyond the window, imprint in memory, summer at the lake cabin in Northern Minnesota and my Auntie Kris with her poof of hair and flamboyant maternal love, her sunflower seeds and cigarettes. It flashes and Moses curls into me and I press on with my singing—a crackling, nasal sound only beloved by a child of his mother. I think of the awful pain of time and the way—I heard a poet say this today on the radio—myth connects us to eternity. I think of the part of me that would somehow prefer a life as a hermit in the woods, though with a family, with children. How much I love children and never knew until I had my own and my sisters had theirs and they clung to my side with their sticky hands and hot breath and whispers. Their voices so sweet, one might cry over them.  

And then sometimes I think of the depth of my inner life before I had a child, a husband, an incessant need to clean, keep house, make money. I think of the way I lived in collusion with poets, and how their words spoke to me in my bones, my organs, my skin, the ends of my fingers, my hair—in the place that we go when we stand at the window with the lightning so near and the thunder booming (finally the downpour that will lift this humidity so that we can all get back to work and quit walking around like zombies).

Mostly I regret the loss of time in this way: there was the time I lived in that one apartment all alone and really I was devastated by loneliness but it allowed me to enter into books and words and thoughts and ideas so deeply that I lived in another world and yet that world was this world, only the best of it. And the time when I was a child and I played in the woods and I told myself that I would grow up and become a grown-up, but that I must never forget what it was like to be a child. But of course I did, because to be a child is to live free of worry—I know, this is sort of a privilege and not every child gets to live this way, but I do think it has something to do with not yet comprehending the boring game that the grown-ups have created with life, working and paying the bills and worrying about this and that. And the time this summer when we all sat around on the beach watching the toddler-babies play and running after them and feeling exhausted from the heat and from taking care of the babies with all their wonderfully complex needs—that time, yes, I miss it tonight.

I think too of the wedding we attended just a few days ago, of my dear friend from graduate school and her sweet, sweet love, married in the Mass Moca. We all ate dinner under Xu Bing’s Phoenix birds, lit up and hanging, the size of large sail boats, made completely of scraps found in construction sites in urban China. Moses running beneath them, tossing his toy horses and yelling “giddy-up,” breaking a plate as we all—my writer friends and I—ate breakfast for dinner because Sarah is yes, that amazing that she would have breakfast as her wedding supper.

And then the storm quiets and Moses sleeps and I kiss his cheek and my husband’s cheek and go into the kitchen and eat some ice cream and listen to the silence and think of all the other silences, and all the other landscapes that weave in and out through my mind at any given moment, in time. But the Phoenix, my god, it was brilliant to see. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Paul Yoon's Snow Hunters

photo by Peter Yoon
I first read Paul Yoon’s collection of stories “Once the Shore” (a title I envy) last year. I remember the color of the book and the feel of it in my hands. Published by Sarabande (I almost always love the collections they publish), the colors of the sea painted its cover and that was all. 

Then the stories. 

Night after night I sought them under the dim nightstand light, with my love asleep beside me. I didn't think that I would like them at first. And then I couldn't pinpoint why these spare and luminous stories followed me through the day like dreams. But it had to do with the poetic in fiction. 

And how to explain?

There is a part of me that has always wanted to hide in language but equal to this, there is a me that loves to expose itself. It is not exposure exactly, but a cutting through to the human truth of something, that gets at the poetic. I recall reading Julia Kristeva and finding that she believed that the poetic was simply (though really complexly) the way language made the world anew. And not only that, in true postmodern riff-raff, it made the world. I recall, once, thinking that I would watch my child (when I had one ten years later) ever so carefully as he evolved into language. As language took hold of her. (The body of the mother [need fulfilled] murdered and made into letters/ language, the body of the father). Then, I did love to write poetry about such things. Then, I did love the graduate seminars on semiotics and such that I believed would grant me access to some mysterious world of academia. 

It can’t be as simple as the poetic makes anew, re-engenders, recreates, can it? I’m not sure.
When I think about Paul Yoon's writing I immediately get a tangible sensation. I can feel the work. I can feel the sea, the ship that carries his Yohan in SnowHunters to a new life, the cool water of a river that took his friend, the smell of snow in his lost and war-torn country, or the dusty shaft of sunlight coming through the room where Yohan sews and the radio plays and the dear tailor for whom he apprentices sips tea as he works. I want to be there. In this simplicity. In the world anew. There are no distractions, no chaos of social media, trying to keep up with this and that, and so on. Life is stripped to its bare essentialness. This is what we are really doing here when and if we can stop distracting ourselves. But this is any era, not just our own, in which we are distracted from what is real, what is true and beloved. We mostly all know what is worth loving. But the poetic seems to conjure this for us. And if we have forgotten that the act of drinking tea is sacred, the poetic will remind us.

In his first and much anticipated novel, Paul Yoon is a poet of fiction. There is a clarity, a cleanness and a beauty to his spare prose. Here is the way the novel opens.
“That winter, during a rainfall, he arrived in Brazil. He came by sea. On the cargo ship he was their only passenger.”

His first line announces what the book will offer. It tells us how he will give us the story. It is not a simple story at all, but he will cut away everything but what we really need, and give us this gift of clarity. And so he does (He stated in an interview that he cut back much of the writing about the time Yohan spent in a POW camp because he wanted the reader to imagine it). Often his sentences are short. 
                     “It was now 1954. He stood on the sidewalk, holding the blue umbrella.”

Here and there we are startled by his words. 

                      “How clean were the eyes of the dead,” he writes and that is all. 

We, he knows, will imagine more and with a deeper intimacy of our own, and in a way this is how he shines as a writer. He gives the reader room to imagine the story.

In an interview at the back of the novel he says that he isn't good at writing dialogue and therefore he avoids it. The first of the three sections of the book contains no dialogue. Thus like many great writers, he has allowed his weakness to become what defines his voice, and what makes his work unique. And thus in this silence we find ourselves deeply embedded in the mind and voice of our narrator. 

Snow Hunters has been called a haunting story about the effects of war and the hope of starting anew. And I agree. Time diminishes only to reappear--Yohan is close and then far far away from his father, the war, from the former lives he has lived. And then finally, he seems to open himself to the future, to see a life renewed. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer Haunting

Summer. I stand on the sidewalk at dusk and watch wild geese fly north; crying, crying into dark night. The American flag snaps in the wind, a sharp, familiar noise. When I look back, the V is gone, the night quiet. Ahead of me my husband pushes our one year old son in the stroller. I have lagged behind, tired, restless. Rain brought the end of a humid spell. The day was blue skied, cool with lofty clouds. In the afternoon I scooped up my red-haired boy and whispered in his ear, you are all I’ve ever wanted. It startled me to say that. I pressed my lips to the soft pillow of his cheek. He threw back his head and laughed, then brought his small hands to my face and pressed them into my cheeks. His blue eyes mirroring mine.
Summer. We used to covet night. My not-yet-husband and I. Sitting at outdoor café tables in town, sipping whiskey on ice or cold pints of beer, listening to country bands, acoustic guitars strummed by young men in love. We drove to the beach, it was the only place I wanted. Not home, no, never home. I didn’t want the night to end. Swimming, the moon hung amid the bramble of clouds. Its dappled light fell where the water shoaled and we plunged in and floated face up, bodies freed. Sometimes a lone sailboat drifted at the edge of our swimming cove, and I thought of all the places I wanted to go, and other times we lost each other in the shadow of trees or the darkness of a new moon night but never for long. In the sunlight, our love felt fragile, but not there in the dark, our bodies wet and kissing.

Summer. The loon calls deep into the night. As a child, I slept all summer in the loft of a cabin beside a murky lake. Some nights I climbed into bed between my parents. Their bed lay level with the open window and I on my belly could look out into the night and the lake, could seek the moon in its bed of sky. There in the cold of the lake the loons cried, a fluted howl, an echo that reverberated in my chest, stuck in my own throat, paddled at the rivers of my heart. The call of the loon still haunts me when I hear it, visiting my parents in Minnesota, my son asleep beside me. It’s a beautiful haunting, a way of aching. And like muscle memory, I slip into the intimacy of longing. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hush of Relief: Rainy Days Bring Quiet Reflection

I'm going to blink and I'll be 40, 50, 60. My, how it flies. I am thirty-three and a half years old and I feel as though already I have lived five lives, yet time runs like water through my hands. I don't want to die, am I allowed to say that? I whisper it in my sleep, in the dark, with the young breeze coming in through the window. After I have clicked off my tiny reading flashlight and turned over to sleep. I don't want to die and I don't want you to die or you or you... but I don't want to live forever either.

In a hundred years all of us, every single one of us (well, almost), will be gone. Every living human breath will have passed on. I am forever startled by this fact. I suppose we all are. I like to think about who will live here, in my home, in twenty years? Another young couple with a baby, having a baby, planning a wedding, getting married or married or not or just young, or perhaps an old woman will wash her dishes in the porcelain sink and stand where my feet stand, looking up over the top of the neighbor's house at the triangle of sky. Or, after turning out the light, looking out to find the moon. Will she sit before the window and watch the tree turn from green to gold, from bare to green again? Will she too be amazed by the quickness of the changing seasons? Is she here already? Pacing the short span of the hallway, looking in on my sleeping loves, sitting with me for morning coffee. And what if I am her and she is me? But I never stay too long in one place, it's bad for the soul. Though I return.

Only the fluidity of cycles makes sense to me. I can feel it in my bones. Will my God fault be for believing I have lived many lives, and more still I have to live? There is no part of the soul or spirit that lays itself dormant, basking in splendor. There is only the rush of joy, pure like a child's hope, that fills and spews and empties in a hush of relief. It is safe to say I don't know. And I will tell you too, I believe the truth of my own heart.

Lately, I have felt quiet, pensive, and internal. Perhaps I am resting, readying myself for the next journey, or healing, or catching up with myself. I don't feel in a chit-chat kind of mood and yet I miss women. I miss the way they smell, the glory of their hair, the secrets they keep and tell. I miss the way they make me tea and clean the dishes, and tell me what to wear. I miss long leisurely chats over coffee, and walking with them. There are truly so many women I have loved and lived beside in this life. And we have told each other story upon story, because stories our the secret magic of women.

I also miss the ocean. I miss walking alone, restless at night, not worrying if my son is awake or if my husband is too tired or if I'll be too tried in the morning. I miss the smell of the forest and I miss reading for hours until my brain is so fully overloaded I must sleep. Oh yes, but, the truth is, I love to miss. I love to long and recall, to remember and retell.

The long days of rain have brought eager growth. Love flows from my heart and not my mouth.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Spring At Last

Yesterday, another Sunday, Moses and I slept in and then I went for a run. In the afternoon I went to my monthly writing group and then came home to Josh and Moses, Clark and Asa, all playing in the backyard. Moses a mess. Asa (4 years old) nestled in a hole in the ground he had dug, like a cub. Josh left to go do his Insanity workout, and Moses and I ate dinner.

We walked to the park at the end of the block after dinner. It's spring and the trees are budding, the air warm and breeze, soft. We ambled down the hill of green grass to to the little league field. Moses spent some time walking back and forth over the little gravel path, enjoying the sound of his shoes crunching the rocks.

We walked half-way back up the hill and lied down on our backs in the grass and I pointed to the sky and said, "Sky, Moses, sky. That is the sky. So big." And so he pointed up and said something like, "sky, sky." It was a beautiful, early evening sky of faded blue, and when I stood and looked up the hill at the trees that someone had planted many years ago, that were just beginning to bud for the season, I had that feeling that I sometimes get. It is so beautiful here. And I knew that here, meant Earth and life. Like a bundled ribbon unfurling out of my chest, I felt that fleeting sense of my ending and my beginning and my being all wrapped into one. I could see the world and me in at from some other place, far away. And in that place, whether it be in my mind's eye or my soul or my spirit, I felt and knew only my joy, bursting forth ever-green, ever-hopeful.

Sweet, sweet five years.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Moses, Sunday morning 

Sunday morning toast and coffee. It’s gray outside and Josh is pleased because it means that we will lounge about all day and I won’t try to get him to go jogging with me. He is the king of the weekend lounge. Silence for a minute when he leaves for the grocery store to pick-up dinner things that will go into the crock-pot for the day, and milk, bread, and seltzer—staples. But as soon as he’s back the ipod goes on because Josh lives in music, I in silence or NPR. Moses sits in his chair licking peanut butter off his toast and shouting out non-words that sound like words. He yells, “elfoo” and points.  Josh responds, “You want to go to the elf zoo?”  Me too! Me too! I don’t think the exclamation mark is overused in literature—this is an aside—but when I see one, I admit, I feel exhausted just looking at it.

Birds flutter up outside my window, the wind whorls, I see a man walking with his coat pulled tight around his chin. I worry about a friend I haven’t heard from. I am basically calm, content and generally pleased unless I think about certain issues—Monsanto, guns, violence, politics, poverty, and the systemic poisoning of the earth. These issues are so enormous they crush me. When I was a tad younger, I really believed I could change the world. I thought I could just talk to people and we’d have a conversation and they would change their mind. But I don’t have these conversations now days because I now know that if I have no intention of changing my opinion then I am not having a conversation with someone. Still, I think we deserve to have clean air, water, and food.

Moses shows up smiling at my side. He has peanut butter in his hair, on his shirt, crusted on his face. He looks at me and then toddles off to smear the PB somewhere like the bed or the couch. When I was in Minnesota recently I didn't write anything, except for the thing about Lake Baikal and feeling like I was underwater. Returning to my desk today feels adventurous and slightly daunting. There is something akin to muscle memory that happens after a break from writing.

Moses likes to pretend like he’s a dog. He sticks his tongue out and pants, he says ruff, ruff. Yesterday he saw a dog fetching a ball and it was like his ideal word fest because everything is either a ball or a dog right now. He wakes up some mornings and points at the light on the ceiling and says ball. Sometimes, in the dark, when he is going to sleep, he claps his hands. What does he clap for? Sleep?

I am reading Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle, esteemed VCFA poetess and teacher. In her essay, “On Poetry and the Moon,” she quotes Paul Auster: A here exists only in relationship to a there, not the other way around.

I read this in Minnesota. Later, I read an article in Orion by William Giraldi titled “Splendid Visions, A meditation on the childhood sublime,” in which he writes, “But that’s the paradox of place: We want to be somewhere, and then we want to be somewhere else. There’s always somewhere better, even if the place we are is best.”

I have created my own “here” out of my “there” and though I’m not always sure if I should be here or there (Vermont or Minnesota) or somewhere entirely different, I know that there speaks to here. I know that longing for somewhere else—in measure—develops a sense of beauty and that being away from a place makes me love it and understand its intricacies more.

I see the end of Perch Lake road just before it hits Dean Forrest Road. It’s the sweet spot in spring on a windless day, so warm that we feel summer in our bones as we turn the corner onto pavement. I see the dog ahead of me, his back legs doing that funny shuffle, and the blue sky of sun and lighthearted clouds. I look out into the brush where come August I will see the berry pickers. And to my left the towering pines stand like old women guarding the forest. I smell August—hot, dry and bittersweet. Here, in Vermont, there is a wetness and humidity to the summer. My skin is slick with sweat, my hair is damp, everything is a godlike green, so green we feel drunk with the color of spring.

Sunday morning the sky is gray and I am mostly content, mostly joyful thinking of this and that. Moses beside me growing bored, wanting my attention, and the ipod playing something rather hideously non-Sunday morning-esque. Moses touching everything and then repeating my no, no, no… Soon I will bathe him and dress him and we will go out into the world, and all that Sunday morning magic will disappear. It will fade into the ether, promising to return again next week on this holiest of holy day. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Underwater: Lake Baikal, Russia

Lake Baikal in Winter

Lake Baikal, Russia: The picture was stolen from a sweet little blog called Tywkiwdbi who stole it from somewhere else. I love this image because this blog began as a travel blog of a trip I took to Siberia, Russia and Mongolia where I visited Lake Baikal. It's a beautiful place. I drank Russian vodka with my dear friend Linden who I rarely keep up with these days. I do miss her. I miss traveling. I promised myself I'd return to Russia to ride the train all the way across Russia someday.

Too, these chunks of snow covered ice in sun make winter seem beautiful again. I really thought I was going to make it out of this winter unscathed by the winter blues that seem to plague everyone I know in this part of the country. It's becoming a little intolerable. I am in Minnesota visiting and they still have three feet of snow on the ground-- OK, maybe two, but it's a lot. Enough so that when walking the path to the little sauna, the snow on either side of me is knee-high. And when will it ever melt?

And, tonight I have the distinct feeling that I have been underwater for a very long time. I don't know how long. Is it days, months, years, lifetimes? Perhaps one feels this way around the time her first child turns one. OR it could be that Moses and I got the flu right after we arrived in MN and are just now feeling better. OR I could belong to somewhere else, deeper still then the fairy dreams of my childhood or the watery rivers of my youth or the dusted memories of travels to places far away. 

I hear my sister giggle upstairs in her former bedroom. These are the thoughts of the day and sleep will dissolve these feelings like cleaning out a residue. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

An Open If

If in the city by the sea you fell in love.
If violence did not happen on accident.
If the boy’s hand was cut free with a sword.
If two degrees is a destination.
If the news didn’t kill your desire to act.
If the color of the sky at dusk made you happy.
If the baby’s smile got free and chased the goat.
If war was not a form of pleasure.
If your gun was ready in your hand.
If we did not want for change.
If the body were a destination.
If you didn’t just because you could.
If the sun.
If memory is walking through the house in an old dress of your mother’s.
If your father understood why you read so many books.
If you only chopped wood.
If you were not made of water.
If you were only water, waves, and the sea.
If the hands of boys were made sacred.
If you accepted.
If you were willing.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lidia Yuknavitch: A Language All Her Own

The Chronology of Water

Reading Lidia Yuknavitch's memoir "The Chronology of Water" is like nothing else. I feel like I am moving with her across the wide expanse of a lifetime. I feel like I am feeling what she is feeling as written in this book. I feel wordless, yet embodied. I feel heavy with the pain I have yet worked through in my own life about childhood, self abuse, self destruction, self sabotage, and the beautiful madness of youth. I admit that I too was a swimmer and then a diver as a girl. Not as good a swimmer as Lidia, but I am taken back to that early love of the water. I love the smell of bleach when I clean the bathtub because it reminds me of chlorine from the pool. I return to those locker rooms and showers and muscled, yet secret "girl bodies" more beautiful than any I've since known. These were not thin or frail or undernourished bodies. They were wide shouldered, big armed, strong thighed girl bodies.

Lidia has her own language, a voice developed from both a rich understanding of feminist theory and its knowledge of the father-language, and full with the truth of woman speak. She is not a writer's writer, she does not flower on the page or relish abstraction, she cuts you and then salts you and then eats you for dinner. I feel like she understands womanhood better than anyone I've ever read. She understands girl shame and father hurt and culture war and sexuality better than anyone I've read. I identify with Lidia (and I must call her Lidia) and yet I'm a little afraid of her. The Chronology of Water is an important book.

"You see it is important to understand how damaged people don't always know how to say yes, or to choose the big thing, even when it is right in front of them. It's a shame we carry. The shame of wanting something good. The shame of feeling something good. The shame of not believing we deserve to stand in the same room in the same way as all those we admire. Big red. As on our chests."

Friday, March 1, 2013

Wild Geese

Wild Geese

Now wild geese return...
what draws them
crying crying
all the dark night?


It is that time of year in Vermont (Late February, March, April...) when the body, starved for sunlight and warmth, begins to curl inward and when bad TV as escapism doesn't cut it anymore. Walking becomes a necessary daily activity for me lest I shrivel up and slip through a worm hole.

I point out the wild geese and ducks to Moses as we walk the lake path. The shore is lipped with ice, but the lake is mostly open water. He points and babbles. As much as possible let us hold on to this cyclical sense of living, I think. Atrocities come of human want for eternal life, for endlessness, fame and fortune--the linear hope that we are evolving into better beings within our lifetimes. But as anyone who has a child understands, in the beginning, we are so tender and true, so open and filled with genuine love for the world. How could we grow better than this? Of course, there are those of us who believe these qualities are better traded for toughness, thick skins, finagling, scheming, calculated risk taking... I do not walk among them most days.

In this movement towards spring, into light, the cycle of thawing, I think of what in me needs thawing. Last night I crept into the bedroom where my son slept in our bed on the floor and knelt beside the bed. A sat in stillness waiting for my body to open to the silence. First the shoulders relax downward and back, the chest moves forward and up, the head realigns on the neck, the heart points out--an openness can be felt there, a thawing.

I was trying to remember what it felt like to be loved as a child, to will my mind to remember the way my mother's embrace felt, my father's happy laughter and playfulness. I have no specific memories of anything until I was about three or four. Mostly, my memory is watery and restless. I have one memory, actually, from when I was about two. I may have been older, but I think I was two because of the location and the way I thought about what I did. It is not the most pleasant memory. My father punishing me for drawing on the back of the bedroom door.

I remember the feeling of joy I had when looking at my red and blue scribbles, of pleasure. I believed I had done something wonderful. And then my father coming in, disapproving. Me, not understanding why he wasn't pleased. I don't like this memory now especially because I worry I will do something like this to my son...I am sure I will someday. And of course it will be what he remembers.

I sat a long time, but did not, could not remember the feeling I was searching for.

What draws the return of the wild geese? We know they are made with internal clocks, something in them telling them when to go, when to return and how to get there. We too are triggered by the angle of the sun, the length of daylight, and warmer weather, here in the north. We walk to the lake to watch the thaw and feel in ourselves a great breaking open. Our greatest pains are laid bare near the end of winter, on the brink of spring-- that here truly doesn't arrive until May. But we spend these months--as though in migration--flying back. The raw pain we have all known colors the sky; the wet smell of spring, the newness, the promise, offers reason for gratitude. If we are lucky we find it.

We love to complain about the winter and talk about the ever changing weather here in Vermont. But most of us would never leave the seasons behind for blue skies and year-round warmth. Most of us love the drama of it, the emotion, the cycle and migration.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Disquietude, Francesca Woodman

Self-portrait at 13 Boulder Colorado 1972, notice that her
left hand is holding a cable linked to the camera (Wikipedia)
It has been written and I agree, that the ghost of Francesca Woodman is there in every photograph. Most of her work is self portraiture in rundown buildings, ruins. The youthful body contrasts the broken building, but does not look out of place in such settings. Why?

from Space series Rhode Island 1977

Here the body becomes the wall. The body, between two windows, headless, the navel of a child. The feet darken into shadow, there is a dirtiness there. I love this photo sometimes. What does it say about her womanhood? Can the naked female body signify anything other than womanhood? Yes. Perhaps.

Last night I dreamed a dream that washed like a wave too close to reality. I carry it still into the white afternoon. The snow has fallen, the sun shines on the dust making a brightness one cannot comfortably look at for long. Out the window the shadow of trees fall on the shed, crosshatch of limbs.

Untitled Rome 1977-78
Here (above) there is something sorrowful, romantic. What does the cala lily mean to her? How odd that it is there behind the corner. The woman seems, not Woodman, at ease.

Space 2 Rhode Island 1975-76
I am drawn to these photos but also repelled by them. I feel more and more wordless the longer I look at them. Disquietude. A nude woman stuffed into a museum case, her breasts pushed against the glass, her hand, half a flower and the other outside, holding, hugging around. This is her take on womanhood. What a young girl feels. I could never reveal or expose my body in this way as a young girl but there was a desire to. As though there might be a way around the culturally imposed self-hatred of women. Perhaps the only cure is age, denied to Francesca 

Untitled New York 1979-80

Parts of the body. Severed. There is a sexuality here. I am reminded of freshman comp, learning about advertising schemes that used women's body parts I am reminded of high school and feeling the full power of my sexuality. Not understanding, terrified and yet oddly liberated. The body is broken down into parts. I am reminded of cleaning liquor bottles at a waitressing job. There was a conversation between me, the male bar tender, and the old man owner about sexism which ended with him--the owner of course--telling me to dust liquor bottles. 

Untitled Rhode Island 1975-78

"...A woman apparently dead at the lip of the ocean, reflected in the mirror of another woman whose own face is displaced by that very mirror." 

Untitled Stanwood Washington Summer 1979

Two women in a game of hide-and-seek.
Two women standing in prayer.
Two women blending into the forest.
Two women wearing old dresses.
It is almost 1980.

She could not have known
that she would leap
from a window
at the terribly
young age
of 22.

for more

Monday, February 4, 2013

On Love and Broken Hearts

Francesca Woodman

Love clouds memory, overpowers. I can’t seem to call her forth from the deeps. I see her, a half-silhouette in the waning light of August. She is older now. Not old, I mean, we are in our twenties. Grandma is still alive. The cabin, still someplace we want to go, a place longed for. I don’t think I’ll ever return to that cabin, the lake cabin our grandfather built. The place he and his four children our mothers and their two brothers, and his wife, spent their summers. Truth is that cabin is tainted in every way, but I can’t get into that here. What do I mean, love clouds? I am looking through the window into the windows of my back porch, through which I see trees that I can describe in my mind better than I could ever explain if I were really seeing them. It doesn’t matter what we are really seeing, it is just the emotion we long for. The trigger that shuts down the thinking mind, lets us live there in the currents of the underworld, the past brain, place of ancestry, of mythic imagination. I can never explain to you how much certain moving clouds, on windy days, in blue fielded skies, mean to me. But I can say, in the rivers of the soul such clouds give us glimpses of the Beyond, whatever that means to you. I can say, the color of the sky—blue, like the veins of the skin—tastes of salt water and sun, it smells like the sea when you were a child and you ran into the waves, dove with them until your eyes stung and your head burned from the sun and you were so tired and hungry that all you wanted was to sit in your mother’s warm lap eating mint chocolate ice cream, dreaming of the hour you’d catch the wave just so and it would pummel you towards shore.

The Beyond, to me, is many things, one being a place where time folds in on itself—shuts down—and we float free, soul and body free. Looking through the windows and trying to remember her, to recall her to mind, all I see is her walking in an oversized red jacket beside a tall thin man near a lake that stretches beyond the horizon. A lake that when you look at it, flows all the way to the sky. I want to see her with her son again. Remember that her love for him moved her through this world. I know she thinks she has lost him. She has, but no one can say what the future holds. And yes I am writing this here for you. I know I can’t reach you. But I can go on loving you as if everything in the world depended on it, knowing it will never do a bit of good. This is broken heartedness. You see. I know you think you’re the one with the broken self, but your broken self has broken the hearts of dozens of people who go on loving you because they can’t stop and they won’t and they never will. But you could, you really could, save those hearts if you were just willing to try and love yourself again.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cold Snap

View from the window at Perch Lake. I helped my mother plant the pines 20 odd years ago. 
A cold snap followed the January thaw; my grandpa passed away last week. Yesterday his funeral in Minnesota, which I couldn't attend. I am told they cut pine from his former tree farm to use as decoration for the church. I am told so many Caseys packed into my parents house that my sisters thought the floor might give way, landing them all in the basement. I was sad to miss the merriment that goes with the passing of one such as Grandpa whose life was filled with children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and who, up until the last few years of his life, lived fully, blessed.

We are all waiting now for the weather to give, going a little stir-crazy. Moses is walking with only two weeks until his first birthday. Full with baby love, he carries us books to read aloud to him, snuggling in close, pointing at images and whispering sounds. He repeats certain one-syllable words and points at the ceiling, "up" he says and I lift him up and let him touch the lights or the birdies hanging in his room. Up and up and up. I wonder if we too learn in bursts and spurts as children do...slower of course....years of trying to be a kinder, less bossy, less sensitive, rash human, and I still hope for my own burst of what grown-ups call "change" instead of "learning." A bitter week of bickering it has been and we are stuck with the same old diligent, ridiculous problems. Alone, I pray to try harder. I have learned that one can only try and try and try.

It is a charmed life indeed. Our problems are only problems because we ascribe them this meaning. Moreover there are many chances to learn, to grow, to burst forth in change. And I don't mean that in everything there is an opportunity to learn something. Though perhaps there is, I don't look at things and try to learn lessons. I just look at things and try to accept them as if naming what is, what is not.

A cold snap and I wonder if everywhere people are so in tune with the ways of the weather, the particular names of things like snap and thaw and break that make living in the north all the more enthralling, because those who stay must confess to a love of adventure, hardship and challenge. Winter pushes us forth, demanding we adapt while offering us such desolate beauty that even the coldest heart is warmed.

My sweet grandpa, Roger John Casey. 


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mid-Winter Revisted

A gray hollow, the color of fog hanging

over the tundra of the mountain,

wrests from my body a loneliness


through and through.


The fast moving clouds,

tributaries of blue leaking out—

wrong colored.


January thaw, the wet rain and nothing to speak of,

dirty snow and the pigeons marching, marching.

There again the unlit wicks of trees scaling the sky—


the vision  overpowers, like the scent of  

cinnamon, lavender, leather

catches and keeps,


a window through the ashen skies—

I too want to stand nude, yet burning,

waiting for rapture.




Friday, January 18, 2013


A gray ache, the color of fog hanging
over the tundra of the mountain,

wrests from my body a loneliness
through and through
the fast moving clouds,
tributaries of blue leaking out—
wrong colored
January thaw,
the wet rain and nothing to speak of,
dirty snow and the pigeons marching, marching
there again the wicks of trees
not tender but delicate, the vision 
overpowers, like the scent of
cinnamon, lavender, leather
catches and keeps,
a pocket of warmth in the ashen skies—
in the grim solitude of mid-winter