Growing Light – Mantra Part III

In the secret garden of my heart I am growing. . . light. I intend to distribute it wherever I may, so that others may cultivate their own gardens of luminosity, and the light in us will scatter the darkness wherever we go. . . joyfully we shall rage against the night. . . and we shall prevail!! I am a warrior of light! I was born to rise and to shine light into the darkness. And I will feed the mouths I was born to feed.

Light glows under sod. . .
My flowers gleam like the stars
Luminous garden.               [This poem was published in Three Line Poetry, Issue #50]

 

 

Paradise Inside – Mantra Part II

According to Garrison Keillor bad things never happen to writers. Everything is material. Man I have some good stuff stored up. Ever re-learning, joy does not come from the state of your circumstances, but the state of your mind.

I am still learning this and it is exciting: Paradise is inside me, not outside me. I can walk in paradise now if I establish that paradise inside me, in my mind and in the spiritual realm, not in my circumstances. But if I don’t cultivate a paradise inside me, it doesn’t matter how rich or how beautiful my circumstances are around me—I can still manage to be miserable, in my paradise on earth by thinking my happiness is something that ‘happens’ to me—something caused by the world outside me. I am the only person in the universe who can decide what I focus on! Even God doesn’t force me to focus on something I don’t want to!! I AM THE CAUSE. My LIFE IS THE EFFECT.

When I choose to focus on the light and not on the darkness, I’ve made my life a kind of paradise from the inside out. There is ALWAYS something beautiful around me, even in the darkest and most agonizing situations. Even when I was watching my sweet Diane die, there was always something beautiful inside of us and even around us. And we focused on it. My eyes are the vehicle of light for my whole internal world. . . as Christ said, if my eyes are full of light, my whole body will be full of light! Before I can walk in the light, I have to Find it and Focus on it. She who has eyes to see. . . let her see.

 

The Flask – Charles Baudelaire – Lines of the Day

There are some strong perfumes that cannot be contained.
Which seep through any glass of bottle or of vial.
For instance, taking up an Oriental chest,
Whose stubborn lock will creak and groan on opening,

Or poking through a house, in closets shut for years,
Full of the smell of time – acrid, musty, dank.
One comes, perhaps, upon a flask of memories
In whose escaping scent a soul returns to life.

A thousand thoughts have slept cocooned within this flask,
But sweetly trembling there, packed closely in the dark;
Now they release their wings and take their gaudy flight,
Tinged with an azure blue, rose-glazed, spangled in gold.

Fluttering to the brain through the unsettled air,
Rapturous memory pervades the atmosphere;
The eyes are forced to close, Vertigo grasps the soul,
And thrusts her with his hands into the mist of mind.

He forces her to lie next to an ancient tomb,
From which with cloying scent–Lazarus splitting his shroud–
A gaunt cadaver moves to its awakening:
Ghosts of a spoiled love, enchanting though impure.

So when I am entombed to mortal memory,
When I am closeted in some deserted house,
When I’ve been thrown away, an old forgotten flask,
Decrepit, dusty, cracked, rejected, filthy, rank,

I will be tomb for you, beloved pestilence,
The witness of your force and of its virulence
Dear poison made by angels, drink that eats my soul,
Oh you who are the life and ruin of my heart!

Translated by James McGowan

Wild Is the Spirit – new poetic form

Wild is the spirit that urges sin be
Child is the dearest that surges in me
Pain is the prison that holds it inside
Feign is the -ism that told me it died
Angst is the effort to break out of chains
Strong is the deft thwart that aches, shouts, and strains
Strife is the giant that shoulders the cross
Life is the triumph of soul over loss
Hope is the whisper that runs through my veins
Trope is the image that stuns you and reigns.
Love is the life force that rises beyond
Dove is the wife – source that prizes the fond
Home is the destiny, freedom the scheme.
Roam till I rest in me, Eden’s redeemed.

 

This is a new form based on a form created by Mary Meriam, called Basic Me.
There are four rules and I added one of my own to this poem.

Meriam’s rules:
– 4 to 14 lines of dactyl-dactyl-trochee-iamb
– rhymed couplets
– first word of each line is one syllable
– the word “is” must be in each line

My additional rule: every stressed syllable should have a rhyme or a near rhyme in the second pair part of the couplet. (This one I believe I invented?)

Swims Inside the Fish – Lines of the Day

“To some degree we are what we are longing for. Some part of the ocean swims inside the fish.”
Coleman Barks explaining Plotinus’ metaphor about the predicament of human consciousness as a net thrown into the sea (we are the net, the sea is the soul) in his introduction to Rumi: The Big Red Book. (p. 9)

Our Last Adventure – Poetic Memory

The number of your days
was down to the double digits,
but we did not know this yet.

You could still walk and
pull around your IV pole
with its multiple bags.

The pseudo-boyfriend
was a flake and had never
fulfilled his promises
to take you out to
Lake Michigan
or for a picnic anywhere.
His negligence infuriated me.

I don’t know where
I got the gumption,
but we finally dressed
you up in a pair of
overalls, stuck the IV
bags in your pockets.
I wheeled you down
to the lobby.
Left you for a few panicky
moments while
I dashed out to pull up the car.
I felt like I was robbing a bank,
sneaking you out of the
hospital like that.

We drove five minutes
to the house of a friend
where I had been staying
while caring for you
during the days.
No one was at home.

We walked in through the
garage– I worried about fumes
and filth somehow
infecting you.

I sat you down
in the living room
and you ate a Popsicle
on the white couch.

It was our last adventure.

What will you do with your one wild and precious life? A Eulogy

I pulled you out of your crib when
you were six weeks old to put you
in your walker, like I did my dolls.
I was three. It is amazing that you
lived to see your first birthday
with me as a sister.

At 15 months you saw our brother
hit and killed; you were not
wearing a mask; there was blood
everywhere;you must have seen
everything. What did it do to
your little developing soul?

At three you were still being
potty trained. I remember Mom
screaming and raging at you as
she cleaned you up the first night
we moved into the apartment on
Walnut Street. That rage would
be the hallmark of our
childhood.

It would haunt you throughout
your life. You came by your anger
and violence honestly. Handed
right down, mother to son. Of
course, she was the adult child
of an alcoholic. Too bad good
therapy was not available to
our social class. (And might
not have been welcome if it had
been).

You were a beautiful boy with a
beautiful smile. People often
thought you were a girl and I was
a boy because you smiled so
damned much and your hair
grew so fast.

Something happened when they
put you back in second grade
because your reading wasn’t up
to snuff. It was the year of the
divorce. You were eight. But you
had a growth spurt that made
you six inches taller than your
new classmates. It was hell
being the one who stuck out.

Your nose, my precious brother,
flat and somehow bridgeless,
made you feel like the ugliest boy
in the world. You were adorable,
my love. I wish you could have
felt it.

Kids made fun of your nose and
you threatened to give them one
just like it. The fighting began.

Being put back made you feel
like you were the dumbest boy
in the world. You would never
overcome that, to your dying day.

You were my faithful, adoring
little brother. We had such
adventures, crawdad hunting,
climbing trees, rescuing kittens.
Even then you told the funniest
stories, complete with wonderful
Warner Brothers Cartoon
imitations.

You were a sweet
heart, stuck.

While you were still in school,
you started collecting weapons.
Knives, Chinese stars, nun-
chucks. You lived with such fear.
Later you would advance to
guns. Mostly you used your size
and your fists when conflicts
arose (and didn’t they mostly
arise from within your own
soul?).

You were in and out of school for
the next eight years, always in
trouble for fighting with someone.
Your freshman year you got in a
fight with someone for throwing
an ice cream cone at the back of
your head. You were told you
could never come back to that
high school. It was the only high
school in town.

When you were 18, you tried to
go back. The teacher said you sat
in the back of the class with tears
streaming down your face. You
couldn’t do it. Later you would
get your GED while incarcerated.

You had a “big brother” for two
heartbeats. You had people try to
take you under their wing. But
no one could unbreak your heart.
No one could figure out how to put
the pieces of you together  again.
Not even me, much as I loved you.

You were 15 when I went off to
college. You felt so abandoned,
you moved out of the house and
in with a girl exactly my age. You
never explained this to me until
we were well into adulthood.
I had no idea.

A man from our church took you
into his auto shop and taught you
the business, one of the best things
that ever happened to you.  You
stayed in that business all your life,
rebuilding cars from the ground up.

You drove an old jalopy that looked
like it was held together with duct
tape and would have been rejected
by any self-respecting third world
country, but I think you drove it
to prove you could keep any vehicle
alive if you willed it. Also because
it used to belong to our dad, and
you were secretly sentimental.

You were in and out of jail and you
almost went to prison. You were
never a better letter writer than
when you were in jail. One time
when I was in grad school and you
were in the joint for 30 days, we
exchanged one letter per week.

I sent you a letter with a Doodle
Bug stamp. That was your babyhood
nick-name. You made the mistake of
sharing this with your cellmate.
Never lived that down.

When you grew up, you were
simply known as “Dude.” That
was back in the seventies before
people were using “dude”
ubiquitously as it is used now.
I asked you not that long ago
how you felt about everyone
taking your name in vain these
days. You smirked.

As an adult, you were six foot two,
280 lbs, and covered in tattoos. An
old Sunday school teacher of ours
saw you at a gas station once and
started to get right back in her car,
but then she recognized you and she
said, Oh, that’s just Eric. Sweet little
Eric.

You had a rough start of things, but
grew up to be a funny, loving, fun-
loving man with a lot of hard-won
wisdom. You were loved by everyone
who knew you.

You were a self-proclaimed redneck
who lived in a trailer with two pit
bulls, a rat terrier and a girlfriend
who was almost as decorated in
tattoos as you were. (Oh, I forgot the
boa and 15 rats you kept to feed it.)

You loved guns, Trump, and the
confederate flag. You had a sign
in the window with a picture of
a gun that read, We don’t call
911.

In your thirties you once complained
that I used to beat you up when we
were kids. I don’t remember that!
I remember that we would wrestle
and I would win. When you
complained I said, You should thank
me, Dude, because I made you the 
bad-ass that you are! But of course,
you did that all by yourself.

Evil Knievel was your idol when
you were a kid, and you were
always doing wheelies and all
kinds of stunts on your dirt bike.
You broke your arm when you
were eight, riding down a hill full
speed ahead on a bike that had
no brakes. It was never clear to
me whether you knew this at
the beginning of your descent.

At any rate, our apartments were
at the bottom of the hill and as
you came upon them, you put up
your arm to shield yourself from
a square iron pole, breaking your
arm in not one, but two places,
on either side of the pole. That
was one thing about you, Dude,
you never did things halfway.

As an adult, you continued living
dangerously with motorcycles and
cars. A few years ago, you had a
horrible accident driving a four
wheeler in the woods in downstate
Virginia. You plowed down a tree
while you were trying to outrun
your buddy– You were airlifted
unconscious from the scene by
helicopter. You had broken your
femur in two places, too, just like
your arm, made sure it was good
and busted. But you had a real
good time until you ran over that
tree!

Besides being a badass on wheels,
you were also very protective.
One time I was visiting from college
and a friend of yours asked, Is that
your sister? You said, NO! That is
not my sister, don’t even look at her!
It was so sweet, you didn’t want
your friends flirting with me.

Another time when all three of us
were adults we went to Pizza Hut,
where I happened to mention
something terrible someone had
done to me years ago, which I
thought you already knew about.
After a moment, you went out to
smoke a cigarette. And you didn’t
come back . . .  and you didn’t
come back . . . And suddenly our
sister and I both realized, OMG
he has gone to get his gun!  We
jumped in the car and raced across
town to stop you so you didn’t land
yourself in prison.

We got there just in time. Had a bit
of a verbal shootout, but nobody
died that night and nobody ended
up in jail. So it was a win-win for
everybody.

You were protective and loyal, and
you loved your sisters.

For all your scariness, you were
really tender hearted. When
Grandma died in ‘97, it liked to
have killed us all with grief. And
here were you, all big and tall and
tough and when you got that call at
work you said you sat down in the
middle of the burrito factory and
cried like a child.

On the other hand, you  were also
the funniest person I knew. I
recorded one family conver-
sation back in 2000 where I said
something snarky to Mom and
our sister said, ‘Lisa you’re writin’
yourself right on out of the will.
Mom laughed and said, What will??
And you said, in your very best
hillbilly accent, You know that
Tupperware set you had yer eye
on, well forgit it!

And you could tell a story! You
could tell a tragic story like your
accident in Virginia as if it were
a comedy, have us laughing till
we cried. From hilarity, not from
pity. You really loved to make
people laugh.

The poet Mary Oliver asks, What
will you do with your one wild
and precious life?

You died suddenly on September
17, 2017, quietly and in your sleep, at
age 47.

Your life was shorter than we wanted
it to be, but you filled it to the brim
with the people and things you loved.

You lived hard.
You worked hard,
you played hard
and you loved hard.

Your Harley, The Beast, was put
on display at the funeral, where all
your friends could pay their respects.
I’ve never seen so many rough-
looking grown men cry.

And most of the funeral procession
was a cavalcade of motorcycles who
revved their motors as loud as they could
to honor you on their way to the cemetery.

Mom is convinced that you are up in
heaven driving a Harley alongside
Jesus as your Biker Buddy.

Oh, Dear Little Doodle Bug,
I dearly hope that that is true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Woman Who Wanted to Paint the Town Red – Humorous Speech

Anybody else have a grandma who wore cowboy boots?
My Grandma Gladys wore cowboy boots with
bright red polyester pantsuits.
She wore thick black mascara, gaudy jewelry,
And dyed her hair coal black till the day she died.

She smoked like a chimney,
cussed like a sailor,
and told wonderful tall tales.

Once, when I was a little girl, I said
Grandma, you exaggerate.
She said, Elisa I don’t exaggerate, I just lie.
Both perfectly illustrating my point,
And showing herself to be a marvelous role model for little girls.

Pantsuits, nail polish and jewelry were not the only things
Grandma preferred in red.
She had thick red shag carpet throughout her house
and almost every year she would re-paint
the outside of her house in some combination of red and black
or red and white, as long as there was red.

In fact, she would have painted the whole town red
if she could have— and she nearly did.
One day she decided that all the dumpsters
in her town of 278 people should also be red.
She managed to convince most of the town
to paint their own dumpsters.
But there was one lady, this diehard holdout
who simply refused to have her dumpster painted.
And so my grandmother snuck over to her house
In the middle of the night and painted it anyway!
She was always doing crazy things like that
to make people laugh all over town.

Like many of my family members,
Grandma was a bit crusty on the outside,
but a big marshmallow on the inside.
So you might imagine her ambivalence in
Raising a child who was going blind.
She seemed to hold my mother to the same standard
As her sighted children
Sometimes she would get so frustrated she would say,
If you would just open your damned eyes, you could see!
<pause>
This might seem a little brutal,
But keep in mind, we’re talking about a family in Kansas
Who survived the Great Dust Bowl.
And who, unlike their wussier neighbors,
Did not migrate out to California when times got tough,
but stubbornly stayed on their land.
And do you know what they ate to survive?
Boiled racoon and fried squirrel!
But by God they kept their land!
And it was exactly this tenacity of spirit and tough love
That made my mom into the incredibly
independent blind woman that she is.
<pause>

On the other hand,
Every time they went to the eye doctor
And he told Grandma that her little girl
would be completely blind by the time she was thirty,
Grandma would cry and cry and cry.
<pause>
And then she would let my mom
eat an entire box of pastries on the ride home.

You could also see Grandma’s softer side
In her love for animals.
She had her own business grooming and breeding little dogs,
mostly Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Malteses.
She would paint their little toenails bright red
brush perfumed powder into their fur so they wouldn’t smell,
and then add a little bow even if they were boys.

She also kept birds and lots of fish.
And she even had a great big iguana for years.
As for the fish, they were usually very well taken care of
and she would get up in the middle of the night
to add water to their tank.

She also happened to love
to bleach everything that got in her way
(she was so famous for that bleaching
that everyone thought it very fitting
that when she died
she actually died right in front of the wash machine
with a jug of bleach in her hand.)

So of course one night,
she accidentally grabbed the bleach
instead of the water and to her horror,
all the poor little fish turned white and floated to the top.

As for her birds, several of them were talkers.
My grandpa’s name was Roy and
One of them liked to say, Roy is a dummy, Roy is a dummy.
Another one liked to say, Let me out dammit, let me out!
So grandma had a slightly twisted sense of humor.

In addition to raising perfumed dogs,
and teaching birds to deliver insults and obscenities,
Grandma was a successful Avon lady for years.
She used to bring me little demi stick perfumes
and perfume in cute little animal shaped bottles.

So I was not surprised when, one April,
for my sixth birthday, she handed me a little Avon bag.

Now you need to know that only 18 months earlier
my 3-year-old brother who could have passed for my twin
was killed in an accident,
so it was just me and Eric
and our parents left,
And the whole family was still choking from grief,
and now my mother was pregnant with my little sister.

So it was against this backdrop
that I was handed the little Avon bag.
<pause>
And when she put it in my hands,
to my very great surprise,
<pause> it moved!!

When I opened the bag
To my delight
I found the most adorable tiny
little brown peka-pom puppy
named Little Bee
who lived well into my college years.
It was many years later when I realized that was
Grandma’s very loving way of helping us with our grief.
And it was a good one.
Little Bee was a bundle of joy.

So Grandma was a good soul and in spite of her antics,
And maybe partly because of them,
She was loved far and wide.
So much so that even though her funeral was a graveside service
on an extremely cold weekday in January,
over 200 people came out from miles around to honor her.

I could tell so many stories about her other antics,
but the last story I want to share with you
is about her scandalous romance with my Grandpa. <pause>
My biological grandfather was a violent alcoholic
whom she divorced before I was born.
So the only grandpa I really knew was Grandpa Roy,
Who was . . . only one . or . two years older . . . than my mother!
That’s right, my grandma was a cougar.
<pause>
This was in the 60’s and you can imagine
it was the gossip of the town for over thirty years—
everyone was always trying to guess
exactly how many years older my grandma was.

She kept this such a secret that when she died,
my aunt found her driver’s license sewn into
a secret compartment in her purse!

Having given this a great deal of thought
She once proposed to my grandpa
That they put the year of her death on the gravestone,
but not the year of her birth.
So that’s exactly what they did.

And she took that secret with her to the grave
And went out painting the town red with frustration,
And making sure it was she who got the last laugh.

Savoring Moments and the Glorious Gift of Wordsmithery – Meditation

Someone has said
we don’t remember days,
only moments,
but need this be so,
especially
for the wordsmith!?
How many moments
in a single day
might we immortalize
by merely clothing
them in the splendor
of language?

This is the glory of writing!
That you may take the
ephemeral and give to it
an inky substance
that, applied to the concrete
and blissfully tangible,
touchable, smell-able, page,
endures beyond
the power of one’s otherwise
relatively feeble mental
repository.

It occurs to me that
there are hundreds,
if not thousands, of days
I don’t remember.
It grieves me to count
my losses.
Surely each of them
had tens if not hundreds
of moments worthy
of reflection in the
years that would follow.
And I let them slip away,
never to be retrieved.

I wish someone had
made this truth known to
me in my youth.
I would have done
three things.

First, I would have savored
moments like expensive
chocolates, like rare perfumes.
I would have become a
collector and a connoisseur
of moments!

Second, I would have carefully
curated my memories
such that the ecstasies and
the everyday joys might at least
balance, if not outweigh, the heavy
emotional burden of the moments
of agony and malaise that seem
so often to eclipse our happier
memories.

Third, where the beautiful memories
were shared, I would have striven
to help the other souls
capture those memories for their
own private collections.
I would have brought them often
to their minds that these
thoughts might remain alive.

I am thinking of Oliver Wendell
Holmes, Jr. referring to words
as the skins of living thoughts,
and I am thinking of thoughts
as the translations of moments.

And I am also thinking that I have
perhaps as much life ahead of me
as I have behind me
and, as there is no time like
the present (and, according to
Eckhart Tolle, no time but the present),
I hereby resolve to pursue
these three lofty goals
of savoring, curating, and
sharing the lovely moments
that comprise this beautiful
life I am living — through the
magnificent gift of
language!

 

 

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