Three Meditations

What is it about bodies of water that pull our human bodies toward them for reflection and renewal?

I’m so happy to share with you, readers, this poem by Jeanine Stevens. I love, love, love it and I hope you do, too. Please breathe and enjoy.

 Three Meditations

by Jeanine Stevens

 

 
Pond

Trees drop shadows. Purple filters asparagus green.

Cool water barely moves,

yet the pond breathes sage: a gentle summer.

Hidden in the riparian belt near Arcade Creek,

     bugs flit, skim circular.

Oxygen is here in the exhale of fish.

I sit cross-legged on the bottom, arms folded waiting

for thoughts I know will come:

    the worry of a life resurrected,

    my own tardiness. Each flaw

I morph into a silver minnow that swims in loops.

I’m patient until I weary of its motion, then encase

each in a bubble and release to the glassine surface.

 

River

I stand on the Salmon Falls Bridge.

Autumn wind spins the pines,

water cascades over boulders,

    scatters stellar jays and mountain chickadees.

These are cool-season colors: bone clouds, pale sky 

The air is pungent with late sun on dry buck-brush.

Upstream, a medium-size log tumbles in the current

    thrashing anxious.

Other birds land on the railing, also looking.

I absorb the logs agony, watch it travel underneath

    steel girders, reappear and pause for my gaze.

Enough introspection: it disappears downstream.

 

Ocean

Near Goat Rock on the Sonoma Coast, my skin sticks

    with salt spray and yellow sand.

Surf roars, soaking up speech. White foam laps knees,

     bronze kelp, slimy and wet, hugs my body. 

A brown pelican glides overhead, drops its lunch near

    my feet, a fish chunk oozing pink gills.

Mid-winter, I brought all my concerns with me.

A gray gull harps the wind.

Her angle of flight spirals, embeds in my repetitious

    monkey mind, a century familiar

yet temporal— like fish breath and catapulting log,

this gull, so ordinary, exits

    behind a twisted cypress hugging the cliff.

 

Jeanine Stevens spends her time writing poetry, constructing collages, practicing Tai Chi and thinking about water.

Poems & time

A thought from poet and neuropsychologist Sean Haldane in his Time/No Time The Paradox of Poetry and Physics:

The final paradox is that we have got time the wrong way round. We think of time — and measure it — out there, in the universe. But the universe is timeless. Our clock measurements are simply lengths. Time is not out there it is in here — in us. We invent it as we live it. And our days are numbered by the external clocks we identify all around us. Yet we also experience, in occasional discontinuities, the timelessness of the universe of which we take part. Although we die — we are finite — we are eternal too. As William Blake wrote:

To see a world in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.

Haldane says in an interview with The Guardian,

I don’t have huge faith in the possibility of psychotherapy to change people as I used to. In fact, I now think poetry has more capacity to change people than psychotherapy. If you read a poem and it gets to you, it can shift your perspective in quite a big way, and writing a poem, even more so.

William Blake’s Job, who famously struggled to come to terms with time.

Want to bring more poetry into your life?

Read poems. Aloud. Breathe life into them.

Want to write one? Get started here. Keep going.

More prompts here from my Meditation, Movement and Verse class.

Want to memorize someone else’s poem? Here are tips.

Ready to try reading a poem at open mic? Tips here.

Curious about intersections of poetry and psychotherapy? Check out the National Association for Poetry Therapy.

Here’s a sample of writing that grew out of a workshop I attended.

And writing from a workshop I led. Three Weeks Before Summer guides you through a similar process.

Move past roadblocks

Karr’s tips for moving past writing roadblocks, adapted for Yoga Stanza.

  1. Keep a commonplace book for copying out chunks of poetry or prose. When I was struggling to understand Wordsworth’s long poem “Michael,” a professor suggested I copy the whole poem longhand. Bingo! I saw the poem clearly, as if through magical reading glasses.
  2. Write reviews for online outlets. Follow the guideline of Right Speech as you review–is it kind, necessary and true?–and remember your task is to serve the reader of the review.
  3. Augment a daily journal with a reading journal. Copy passages, record connections, ask questions.
  4. Copy quotes longhand onto index cards and carry them around. Karr suggests including writer’s name and source. You can also share these with friends.
  5. Memorize poems. I suggest making the shape of viparita karani while you memorize. Or pace the room. Or carry the poem with you to memorize and refer to it.
  6. Write longhand letters to your characters.

More bits of advice that have stuck to my writing socks like burrs:

7. I heard Barry Lopez suggest cultivating another art in addition to writing, preferably something hands-on. Through the years, I’ve crocheted scarves, kept a garden, made postcard collages and baked pies.

photo-2

8. From Julia Connor: Treat your writing as you would your granddaughter (or grandson), tenderly.

9. Also from Julia: Think of your journal as your personal art studio. You have a place to go.

10. From Sherman Alexie: Read a thousand pages for every one that you write.

11. From Susan Kelly-DeWitt: As an artist, you don’t want to feel like you’re moving backwards. I think of this also as being willing to let go of the edge of the pool. Be brave. Swim.

12. Also from Susan: When you’re the least sure of what you’re doing, that’s likely where the magic is happening. Write through uncertainty.

13. From one of the inmates serving a life sentence at New Folsom Prison. “Care for your creativity. Respect it. Take care of it and it will take care of you.” Don’t ever take it for granted. Don’t forget to feed it. When I teach children, I sometimes liken creativity to a dog who benefits from training and requires assistance making a home in our world.

14. From Kate Braverman: The world needs more readers, not more writers. Maybe keeping a journal is enough to satisfy your storytelling and there’s no need to write for public eyes (at least sometimes).

15. One more from Susan: Know that you marry your writing. That’s the level of commitment at which it happens. (Be sure your partner’s on board!)

16. Still want to write? Like Karr, I’m not super-keen on writing exercises per se. But I have held on to The Triggering Town. It’s effective for prose and poetry. Get a taste of it here.

Enjoy!

in honor of an hour

Please enjoy three autumn poems to mark a lost hour regained.

This poem arrived when I was hammock lounging on a slow fall day at my little, old house on Second Avenue in Sacramento’s Elmhurst neighborhood.

Deciduous

Swimming this morning among the branches
of the straight pecan, the sweeping plum
four bird species: sparrow, phoebe, nuthatch,
kinglet, the latter raising his ruby
crown to his crony. Like a shoal below
on my back I am relishing an hour
returned as we fall back to standard time,
this year´s leaves drifting softly to soil
to bury my body, returning down.
And one and one and one and one the wind
is teasing gold from deciduous trees.

previously published in The Pedestal Magazine


Across the street from that house a turkey hen roosted in the neighbor’s tree each night for weeks.

Time Change
This autumn, we tell time by the turkey hen
who roosts in the sycamore tree.

Dusk comes, love, time
to change from bluejeans to nothing.

Don’t count Octobers.
This idiom’s too new for us.

Math’s trim language confounds our ears.
I’m a copper feather; you its spiral drift.


My husband’s grandmother in Indiana showed me how to slice open a persimmon to predict the winter weather.

A friend’s grandmother in Nevada City, California shared her recipe for spice cookies and persimmons to make them.

Walking the D.C. area, the native persimmon is easy to spot along with cultivated varieties in front yards.

Diospyros virginiana

Inside a persimmon, an eight-pointed star

A knife slices and wise women foretell the severity of winter
from the curved white sprout within a slit black seed

Cold winds ahead

The sphere’s two halves flame oceans for a galleon to sail
tipping from edges of flat worlds into what

One dozen fist-sized fruits a friend collects
to present in a basket lined with leaves

Spoon the pulp onto lips in cuplets of silver
Cook the flesh with cinnamon into pudding and tart
Provider of vitamin A to apes dependent on sight
Curvy succulent ornaments of bare-limbed branches

Persimmons: Pomona’s gown
as she wields a blade over Rome’s cornucopia

Persimmons: the sadhu’s robes,
as he wanders India empty-handed with desire

Persimmons: orange
u.f.o.s dotting skies of transformation

Fall fruit of valley trees
Fall fruit of valley
Fall fruit
Fall

previously published in Turtle Island Quarterly and available in Winter Garden (purchase here!)

Holly O’Meara

Tears, seeds, snow.

Arising, abiding, dissolving. This is the process of a whole life, a single breath, a simple yoga flow and the cycle of poems. I love how Holly O’Meara’s poem arises from reading, abides through an imagined conversation in a specially created space, and dissolves in the strength and ephemerality of water as snow.

What are the causes and conditions that make a poem happen? Holly says,

This poem came from my practice of writing after reading another poet’s work. I was fortunate to encounter Benny Andersen’s “Goodness” in This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the World, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye. I didn’t know at the time that Andersen is famous in Denmark as a musician and writer. I felt a personal connection to “Goodness,” and allowed myself to respond imaginatively from that place.

To the Man in Denmark: Your Letter Took So Long to Arrive, I’m Writing the Answer Now

I sit all alone
with my watch in front of me
spreading my arms
           again and again
-Danish poet Benny Andersen, “Goodness”

I spoke to him once
the man who sits alone
practicing goodness with his body
by opening his arms.

I do that in yoga, I said.
The teacher shows us how.

Yoga? he said.
And when you hold yourself like that,
does someone come and cry on your shirt?

No but sometimes I feel the push of a spotted seed
baked inside the earth.

Ah said the man. Here it would be buried in snow.

 

 

Holly O'Meara
Holly O’Meara

Holly O’Meara lives for her yoga practice, and the mind/body/soul dance where poetry arises. She is a poet, art therapist and psychotherapist living in Los Angeles, CA, where she also leads poetry writing circles.

 

 

 

Gusty winds may exist

A poem found this week among old notes. Rereading it, reworking it, I remember pulling off the road to jot the initial draft down following a visit to Abiquiu, New Mexico. Great spaces for cloud gazing, letting in and letting go.

(Dear Reader: Always carry a small notebook, in case!)

Gusty Winds May Exist

The way a cloud casts a shadow
over hills of pinon pine calls to mind

times we are apart. Love wants to-
getherness. River sea.

I cannot appease my heart but wait with it.
Love, no love–

fate sits by the ash tree. Clouds drift away
or dissolve: by and by all is light.

– Alexa Mergen

Revise a poem, revision a life

Revise. To look again.

Five years ago, I submitted a full-length poetry manuscript to a respected press. It was accepted. Soon now, the book will be out. (Yay!) Some of the poems included go back a ways.

Imagine having all your favorite clothes dating back 15-20 years in your current closet.

(Maybe you do. If so, go take a look!)

Re-reading the manuscript poems is like taking out those favorite clothes, holding them up to the mirror, remembering what happened and who I talked with when I wore them, maybe trying them on to see how they fit, even doing a little altering. Carefully re-placed on their hangers, the clothes are arranged in the closet so that each piece has a place and fits in as part of a whole. I can add a few more items of clothing. What will they be?

Revising writing means looking at detail honestly so that you can add and take away for the sake of the whole. It also means leaving well enough alone. It’s a process of reconsidering. What a terrific opportunity.

An activity labeled with re- as the prefix means we are getting another chance, a do- over, an again, a re-freshment.

Certainly, this week, having re-turned my hometown of Washington, DC after decades away, every step on the sidewalk is a re-working, an updating to merge who I’ve become with who I was.

When I lead poetry workshops, we are often re-calling events to re-cord them. “Record” relates to the word cor, heart. How mind-boggling that we can hold the past in the present and re-make it.

This is one way we heal.

“Healing” derives from an Old English word hǣlan, which means to re-store to sound health. We have the power through art to synthesize all that has occurred. In sharing our art, formally or informally, we encourage others to revise their lives with healing in mind.

What looks differently to you than it did yesterday? How are you in a state of perpetual revisioning?

Surely, letting go and welcoming in are two sides of the same silver coin of change.

 

 

 

For ourselves and others

Finding some ease within oneself, physically and emotionally, can allow one to do one’s work–and by work I mean the actions of daily life–more adroitly.

“This body and heart can be tools for peacemaking. But they are only valuable tools when they have vitality and energy. We study ourselves so we can move beyond this self. What you learn about is you. When you study this “you” closely, you start to disappear. Even if you find a terrible person inside you, if you look at it closely, it doesn’t stand up. Nothing really does. At bottom, we cannot be reduced to one thing. Even spikes of craving only last for a few minutes at a time. Because our cravings and addictions can be so exhausting, it’s important that we learn from them and transform these old habits so we can become useful tools for social change. We practice both for ourselves and for the culture at large.” – Awake in the World

People who have bottomed out and kept going–like the inmates I’ve written poetry with or friends I’ve known who were undone by alcoholism or mental illnesses–convey that no one can be reduced to one thing, one incident, one word. Nothing’s that simple.

Yoga offers practice in being resilient and flexible, falling moment by moment in and out of equilibrium. Sometimes the practice of asana resembles the process of receiving or making a poem. A single moment depends on recognizing the context of other moments. And what seems like one hour’s practice or one sole poem that can be framed by the clock or the page is really a part of every practice and every poem. As we are all connected to one another.

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