Fancies

While clearing out the old journals, I came across what reads like a bucket list, written at least 10 years ago. I’ve done a lot what’s recorded…I’m not saying what! It’s not a poem; I’m posting it as I found it. AlexaLighthouse copy

I’m taking the rest of the year off from blogging. I’ll mostly be reading poems, taking walks to watch the last of the leaves fall from the pecan, ginkgo, pistache, oak and sycamore trees, eating, sleeping and practicing yoga. I’m teaching some classes so check the events if you’re in Sacramento and want to attend. In 2015, I add two weekly yoga classes and a poetry class to the schedule so please subscribe to the blog so you hear about them. I’ve got a poetry reading in January and another in February (new chapbook!) and hope to see you face-to-face at one or the other or both.

And since you’re already reading, which means you’re already thinking, why not scratch out your own bucket list-poem-note-log? Mix whimsy with what.

A wise friend told me the key to contentment is living a life in alignment with your values. A list can help clarify what matters. My understanding is that it’s okay to want things so long as we’re not too attached to expectations and outcomes. So I call these “fancies.” Stay lighthearted.

Start jotting: All you need is a few minutes, a scrap of paper and a pen.

Hope to reconnect with you here next year–

 

Fancies

 

I want to sing like a whale sings on midnight escapades.

I want to be the drumbeat of freedom for animals.

I want to taste Maine snow in December.

I want to ride the moon’s curve into the Milky Way.

I want to travel the chambers of my night mind to hidden places.

I want to be pure energy in my warrior pose–a peaceful warrior.

I want to tame my judgmental mind like wind tames hills.

I want to see temples where buddhas sighed.

I want to climb mountains of affection then slide to the far side of ecstasy.

I want to swim ocean currents like a tiger shark.

I want to sing to the mockingbird, tell him I adore him.

I want to twirl a daisy until the petals blur.

I want to bridge the distance between love and hate with silence.

I want to slow the traffic of the streets.

I want strangers to meet hearts extended as well as their hands.

I want to fill the journals of forgiveness with poems.

I want to cartwheel into infinity and walk back again.

I want to meet a magician who transforms swords to ploughshares.

I want to watch a blossom turn into an apple from the perspective of a seed.

I want to be a bumblebee for one hot afternoon.

I want to call the words I need to the page where they are bidden.

I want to hear the elephant trumpet with all the space she needs.

I want each bite of food to taste of tenderness.

I want pain to melt unrecognizably like an ice cream cone dropped to pavement.

I want to see my mother again over a cup of tea.

I want to hold hands with my grandmother through the crosswalk.

For a moment, I want to encircle the world with a grosgrain ribbon of contentment.

I want to listen to every composition and know forgotten languages.

I want to see a dodo bird with a chick safe in a nest of twigs faraway.

Dream readers

 

Read

ORIGIN Old English rǣdan, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch raden and German raten advise, guess. Early senses included advise and interpret (a riddle or dream).

A reader is an interpreter of dreams. This makes sense when you think of a reader of poems. From imagination and experience a poem is spun into existence. It may contain setting and character, maybe strands of plot, but the tension between sound and sense keep a poem in a realm outside linear narrative, akin to the atemporal landscape of dreams.

So, readers, thank you for reading, responding, dreaming with me.

There is enjoyment in this: take a look at the source of the word “dream.”

ORIGIN Middle English: of Germanic origin, related to Dutch droom and German Traum, and probably also to Old English drēam joy, music.

Could it be that as we read a poem we are making joyful music in our minds and within the world through our voices? I like to think so.

And I thank the readers who help me interpret the dreams of my poems and are willing to expand and enhance the dream with me, making something else. I mean those readers who weigh in with edits. Who advise. It’s helpful.

Dennis Maloney sent me an email after the November 1 post of All Hallows to say that “apostrophizing” seemed a little tortured in the poem. I agreed. I’ve made an edit in the version below, re-visioning the poem. It’s a new poem spun between readers–any poet is her own first reader–across a continent with help of the worldwide web. That is enjoyable!

 

All Hallows

Some days even this street

could be a paradise of sorts–

one dozen young mourning doves

gather to pinch insects from cropped grass,

on the upright utility pole the woodpecker

nods his red head to tap a song to the sun,

iridescent starlings are shiny as pooled oil,

and from the fruitless pear tree

the mockingbird demands a hello.

The crescent on the flicker’s breast resembles the moon,

warblers turn backs to danger, bowing to drink from a basin.

Last night on Halloween, a house cat killed a gray mouse

and left it whole on the sidewalk. Even it

belongs to this unfolding perfect day,

the body’s stillness an apostrophe to time.

 

– Alexa Mergen

Pull out of yourself

“But all the telling detail in the world doesn’t matter if the song lacks an emotional center. That’s something you have to pull out of yourself from the commonality you feel with the man or the woman you are writing about. By pulling these elements together as well as you can, you shed light on their lives and respect their experiences.” Bruce Springsteen is writing here about the making of The Ghost of Tom Joad. He’s also writing about the experience of being an artist. I understand what he means. When things are going well, when I’m tapped in, getting an assist from the Muse, there’s a shift at some point–and it can be at anytime during the process depending on the piece–where the tale (song, story, poem) moves from a direct and personal experience–memory, image, sound, idea–to something broader, having to do with more than me. There’s still no guarantee the piece will end up working, but the connection’s been made.

Increasingly,  I believe the connection is the most crucial part of the process. Springsteen says he knew the album “wouldn’t attract my largest audience. But I was sure the songs on it added up to a reaffirmation of the best of what I do.”

Poets aren’t rock stars. (Except in our dreams!) But we are in a position to identify instances of commonality among human and non-human inhabits of our world.  Any work of art requires an emotional centerThe center is ballast. From this stable center, the piece reaches beyond itself and, hopefully, invites someone into an experience of  empathy in which each retains autonomy while relating.

On good days, I find leading a Yoga class resembles this process of poem-making. Yoga is an ongoing practice of finding stable center within the body’s geography, sitting or standing or lying down, and moving in relationship to it.  

Again and again I return to the heart center, near the literal, beating heart, the one that both lets us know we are alive and keeps us so. Teaching reminds me of a satin magic hanky. I go into class having prepared a sequence and (hopefully) cleared my head and warmed up my body. This is, say, the blue section of the hanky. Then class starts and as we move with breath through shapes, the commonality of our incontrovertible humanness pulls a deeper emotional center from me–call that the green section. My intention was to offer conditions for my students’ transformation and I’ve been transformed, pulled and flipped like the magic satin hanky chain. Every artist is changed by what he makes. And teaching can be an art.

As with making anything, what goes into it matters: A poet, a songwriter, a novelist, a yoga teacher trains herself to notice details, develop an ear for rhythm and tone, learn the architecture of lines. But what happens once that table is set–polished silverware, sparkling glasses, bright plates, crisp linens, flowers and candles–what happens after it’s set, when you sit down with what you’ve prepared and whomever joins you, and let that teach you and enrich you, that’s where the joy is.

From Across the Border:

 

For you I’ll build a house

High upon a grassy hill

Somewhere across the border

 

Where pain and memory

Pain and memory have been stilled

There across the border

 

And sweet blossoms fill the air

Pastures of gold and green

Roll down into cool clear waters

….

For what are we

Without hope in our hearts….

Skill-building

Following one’s curiosity can lead to an interesting life that allows for sensation and serendipity.

“Perhaps this is the right time to talk about faith.

Pyramid10Being faithful to skill-building without knowledge of practical future application has always been part of me. Running on excitement, I will pursue a skill or an idea, trusting that one day it will find a home.”

-Daniel Lanois, Soul Mining: A Musical Life

Talking Turkey

Some days, most days, hopping on the internet, browsing the web, posting, replying, checking email accounts, social media, blogs, skimming the ever-increasing newsletters, numbs the mind, strains the eyes, and scrunches the shoulders. Even if I’m interested in what I read–friends’ updates, stories that didn’t appear in print, silly videos, new music, poems and more poems–interfacing with a machine is not as satisfying as face-to-face exchanges over a classroom table, a cup of coffee, a broadsheet.

Sometimes, though, a surprise arrives in an inbox. In response to Poems & Pick-up Sticks, Donnel wrote the note below. I met Donnel at Bakersfield’s Beale Memorial Library in 2003. He was the first student to attend my first community poetry workshop, “Poetry and Place.” He was the only recruit that night (brave soul!), allowing himself to delve into poetry, finally, in mid-life. He and I talked and wrote and had a good time. Donnel lives a poet’s life now, bringing poems and music to hospitals and other settings; he is a crusader for sincerity, humor and connection with the human and natural worlds.

If you’re reading this post, thank you. If you’ve read something elsewhere that generated an image in your mind, send a note to the writer. Let’s use the tools of cyberspace to log observations witnessed in the real world, to remember that what we give our attention to shapes who we are. As we converse, we live among.

 

Alexa –

After reading your poem, What More Can You Do?, I thought about my encounter with a flock of turkeys at my cousins’ place out near Prather, east of Fresno, about 3 years ago.

While sitting on their porch on a spring afternoon, I witnessed a flock of 6 or 7 turkeys pecking their way across the front yard of my cousin’s property, ten acres in the country at the far end of a long dirt road.  Not as dramatic as turkeys in a residential area, but still striking to me since I mostly see turkeys in the freezer or meat counter of my local Vons store.  We sat there on the porch enjoying our ice tea and watching the flock until they foraged their way around the house and disappeared down the driveway.  My cousin informed me that they have become quite common there now, showing up two or three times a week, mostly because they have installed a watering trough that attracts them along with a lot of other wild critters.

Thank you for your poem and how it jogged my memory.

– Donnel

Photo by Donnel Lester
Photo by Donnel Lester
Photo By Donnel Lester
Photo By Donnel Lester

Poems & Pick-up Sticks

Reading “What More Can You Do?” published today in Radius is a little discombobulating. I wrote the poem when I dwelled in a cottage in the tree-lined neighborhood of Elmhurst. I was a bit of an urban hermit, writing a lot, staying close to home in my garden with my old dogs. In eight years there, I got to know just about every neighbor on my walking route, including non-humans like the turkey hen of the poem. Now I live in an apartment a frisbee’s throw from Interstate 80 and am out and about, teaching yoga classes and meeting with editing clients. Birds visit the balcony–a magpie daily drinks from a water-filled basin, hummingbirds sip at blossoms of potted sage, through the second-story window I view crows tossing pecans from the tree–but I don’t know birds in the same way.

While in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia last week, Matt and I stopped in the Appalachian Trail Visitor Center. I shared with Pamela, the volunteer on duty, a story inmates at a maximum security prison had told me: a pair of Canada geese laid and hatched eggs and raised their young right in the prison yard, surrounded by concrete and barbed wire. The experience of nature remained one of the most memorable of the prisoners’ lives; it was the first opportunity they’d had to observe animals so closely. I also told Pamela of a poet from Richmond, an industrial city across the Bay from San Francisco, describing the first time she experienced a dark sky full of stars. She was an adult, already a mother, visiting Arizona on a scholarship. She had not known such beauty existed. Pamela pointed out that if we don’t protect open space we will lose it and children coming up may never have the experience of simplicity that can be found away from society.

The other day, I asked some of my yoga students what the physical practice of asana is to them. More than one responded, “making space.” I spoke with an artist friend this morning about giving away possessions, “making space” for the next idea, the next project. She noticed how few items I retain–books go to Little Free Libraries, clothes to Goodwill, housewares to the SPCA thrift store. I’m realizing as I’m writing that I gave away my belongings–all that I owned when I owned the house where the poem in question came to be–to deepen a sense of belonging. I seek to (moment-by-moment) settle into whatever space exists within a poem or a pose, a conversation with a stranger, or physically, hand-in-hand, for example, while walking with a friend. Because truly everything changes, everything is connected and if human beings have a purpose it’s to pay attention.

As I reread them, these lines puzzle me. The sensation of writing them, sitting on the sofa, notebook in lap, remains but I don’t remember having done so. Who was I then?

“…Like love, like hate, loneliness
can be measured by many methods, as a solid or liquid,
in inches or cubic yards. To think it’s impossible to know

another’s mind. It’s enough that all life seeks pleasure,
avoids pain; suffering at best can be managed. The tree’s
branch stays strong in the wind. The bird is hidden.”

The act of creativity, in whatever form, gives us the space to be without needing to be.

So, how do observations about a turkey hen in the city turn into a poem about perseverance? I don’t know. But wondering is why I make space to receive poems, why I read and listen to them, and why I like to be outside among birds.

Maybe creating a poem is a game of pick-up sticks, requiring concentration, daring, patience, an awareness of the singular and the whole, a desire to both be part of something and to stand apart, all the while knowing outcome depends on skill and chance and an end result may be order or disarray.

Feelings of discomfiture let us know we are growing as we change, simultaneously living and being aware of being alive.

Really

Maira Kalman

“The sun will blow up in five billion years. Knowing that, how could anyone want a war? Or plastic surgery. But I am being naive. And the unknown is so unknowable. And who is to judge? Really.”

Maira Kalman’s The Principles of Uncertainty is a Day Poem. She notes the quotidian and connects details as seemingly random as abandoned sofas and falling cherries into the world of people, nature and politics through time. She even includes the weather. Pay attention; love the world. Thank you.

Very Slowly

Oh, slow things:

poems

drowsy cats

mountains

cranes taking flight

the earth’s rotation

strolling

loving

napping

good food

laughing long

conversations w/strangers

bicycles (the way I ride them!)

paddling a lake

floating on a lake

time as we knew it

Yoga

“Without the base support of our parasympathetic nervous system, which governs respiration, relaxation, and functions such as digestion, our somatic reality can become ungrounded. For this reason, the asanas, or Yoga postures, were traditionally practiced very slowly, with each movement synchronized to the breath, in order to balance the nervous system and open a perceptual gateway to the parasympathetic nervous system. This makes us available to our feeling function.” – Donna Farhi