poem: Everything falls in autumn

Welcome autumn! A love poem for the season.

Everything falls in autumn

sycamore fronds of gods’ large hands
dry drops of birch leaves
confetti of caterpillars in ivory, sunflower, tiger
orange, clover green, tulip red and tulip black

We too fell in love in this season are
falling now into another into
the planet’s soft soil where bones
are words to tell an account–

hollow skull of a nuthatch
a sow’s pin-shaped fibula
one white-tailed deer’s hollow tibia
bleached ribs identifiable as ands

– Alexa Mergen

bell hooks and her first lines

I’m in love with Appalachian Elegy by bell hooks.

Not only are the poems in her collection gorgeous, the index of first lines is a poem in itself. Each line is like an asana (pose) in a fluid yoga sequence.

For a treat, read these lines aloud, even at a whisper at your desk.

again and again

all fields

all old souls

autumn ending

 

barren broken hills

blackbirds

bring Buddha

burning body of love

burning pain

 

clouds dressed in gray

 

daybreak

 

earth spirit

earth works

equine whispering

 

fierce grief shadows me

fierce unyielding winds

fierce winter cold

fire so hot

fly high

 

go high up

 

hard rain

harsh winter wind

hear them cry

heavy heart

here and there

 

in the gray blue wash of dawn

 

lingering twilight

listen little sister

 

mammoth caves

migrating birds

morning dawn

mud sliding down

my world is green

 

night moves

no crops grow

 

on hallowed ground

overlooking water

 

pink and white oleander

 

red beard

renegades roam here

returning to sacred places

ritual places

 

small horses ride with me

snow-covered earth

softly treading black bear

soil rich with lime

sometimes falling rain

stained black

stark stolen sky

star of david

straight ahead

sublime shadows of midnight

such then is beauty

sunken faces

 

take the

tap dancing

the glory in old barns

toward light

turtle islands everywhere

 

walking the long way home

when the dawn

when trees die

wilderness within

winds of fate

wingspan wide

with water

Poem: Flash Flood

Thank you, Cloud Appreciation Society, for publishing my poem “Flash Flood.”

Growing up, I spent summers with my grandmother, Helen Stephensen McBain, in Henderson, Nevada. This was long before Clark County was so built up and I practiced driving as teenager along the wide open roads.

Getting caught in a flash flood a real risk. Sheets of rain, seemingly instantaneous rivers of rainwater. The landscape transformed in minutes. Then…sun and dryness again. The wonderful drama of the desert environment!

 

Flash Flood
Clark County, Nevada

hand raised to the windscreen she
points a finger north at the sky—
plum-dark clouds convene

desert air plummets in degrees
I am cold

Looks ugly. Pull off the road.

we squat in the Ford like toads in a pan
the sky a stadium of stampeding masses
this old woman grabs my hand

with a breath the storm moves overhead
snaps like starched sheets spread on a bed
Interstate 95’s traffic stands still

blurred cars stop in the road
for seventy-two minutes
we’re all in separate cells

holding our horses amid the pell mell

 

From Alexa Mergen

Close with animals

There are so many reasons I am grateful to yoga, its study and practice, the students and teachers I learn from. They include less physical pain, easier breathing, healthier digestion, better sleep, happier relationships and more joy.

Topping them all is a greater intimacy with the natural world.

Practically, improved balance and proprioception (essentially body awareness) allow me to enjoy hiking more. A couple of years ago when I slipped on a slick rock and took a tumble in the Yuba River I escaped with no more than a gash on the chin. I attribute that to falling fluidly. I’d had some bad falls in my twenties, including mild concussions. Slipping in and out of equilibrium as we do in asana has helped me cooperate with gravity. (I’m six foot one, so when I fall it’s a long way down.)

On a more cryptic level, being at ease generally, a result of millions of practice moments in breath and meditation, and a resulting ability to listen and still, has brought me into a greater intimacy with the non-human world than I could have hoped for as a little girl observing ants at Folger Park on D.C.’s Capitol Hill, stepping outside on a summer night to count the little brown bats catching mosquitoes under street lamps, crawling through the dewey grass with Jeoffry the tabby cat, or sleeping on the linoleum floor, my head resting on the soft side of the family dog.

I believe the ability to feel intimacy with the natural world–not just appreciation–is as important as policy in protecting what sustains us: air, water, open space.

Images I offer students derive from the animal body, from the movement of wind and water.

(Naomi Klein mentions the value of such imaginings in this interview.)

Trailhead lessons put new meaning in the notion of “grounding.”

So when I heard these stories on NPR, I was moved to tears. They include accounts of Laurel Braitman arranging concerts for wolves and Judy Collins describing the first time she heard whale song. Alexandra Horowitz weighs in with common sense.

E.O. Wilson calls for setting aside half the planet as permanently protected area, linked expanses.

This Smithsonian story tells more.

Maybe the answer is to surrender to interconnection/intraconnection. Union? Yoga.

To cultivate both wonder and stillness.

How wonder and stillness come together.

More on staying calm and keeping still.

Be well.

Yoga for Poetry (Month)

Dear Reader,

Happy National Poetry Month!

 

Two years ago, I got curious about where and how poetry and yoga intersect. This blog was born from that wondering. I still think poetry is a wonderful companion for yoga and yoga for poetry. This post originally ran as a guest post in 2013 on BreatheRepeat in a slightly different version.

5 Ways Poetry Can Be Your Yoga Companion

Poems revitalize and deepen yoga practice.

Both poetry and yoga require stillness and imagination; both arts draw attention to the narrow space between memory and expectation.

Each requires a willingness to be surprised, changed and delighted. Here are 5 ways poetry can meet you on your mat and enter your heart.

1. If you’re a teacher, read a poem aloud in a class, especially during savasana (corpse pose) when everyone is relaxed and receptive to insight, sound and language. Hearing the poem in a group setting, after sharing breath and exploring possibilities together, supports the universality of human expression and experience. Ideas here.

2. For extra motivation to lead yourself through a home practice, listen to online recordings of poems. Within a few minutes of listening, the poem is ended and you’re underway, continuing the practice with the music of breath. Possibilities here.

3. When learning a poem by heart, take frequent movement breaks with yoga, slipping into utthita trikonasana (triangle pose), steadying yourself in tadasana (mountain pose) or honing concentration in vrksasana (tree pose). Attention to breathing helps the words sink in. More tips on learning a poem by heart.

4. Read in constructive rest. Poetry books tend to be small and light; you can hold the book overhead as your back body sinks into the floor. Constructive rest puts you in the state of relaxed attention ideal for poetry.

5. When writing a poem, make a new shape. When working on a poem, I’ll often settle into viparita karani (legs up the wall), keeping my poem-in-progress and a pencil nearby. Inverting and resting seem to awaken the unconscious, providing access to solutions of problems in image and rhythm.

(Do you like poetry and yoga? Live in D.C., Baltimore or the Eastern Panhandle? Retreat on May 7 with At Home in Our Bodies.)

 

Edging Exotic into Consciousness

A poem from Sacramento anthropologist, poet, friend, Jeanine Stevens.

Jeanine began the poem in an At Home in Our Bodies workshop held in my living room in early 2014. It was a peaceful and powerful gathering of smart women reading poems by other smart women across all stages of life that I was fortunate to lead.

Thank you, Jeanine!

Edging Exotic into Consciousness

White space as breath holds narrow interstice, a small pocket that grows
multitudinous inhaling the entire Artic Sea. The scent of balsam

as from stately firs is gobbled up as fragrance by hungry lungs. Incense
becomes smoke, slips down vessel and tissue to mid-section. Even if

tarnished like an acid etched mirror, belly wants its share, devours
all, nothing frittered away. Rumblings of metaphor, the is ness

of mulled-over images chewed into morsels, reformed, released
to rest in golden channels. The conduit is assembled, the smoke

extinguished. If my thigh feels chafed and I rubbed hard enough, what
would emerge? This great human shank sprung from the center of green?

 

Note: First published in Edge. Poem used with permission of the poet.


More from Jeanine on Yoga Stanza:

House Wren

Moonshadow

Evensong

Enjoy!

 

Virabhadrasana II + Robert Bly

 What does it mean to be awake?
To be awake is to maintain a sense of wonder and curiosity, or to regain them when they’re lost. Neither can be experienced without a sense of openness.
     Inquisitiveness or curiosity involves being gentle, precise, and open–actually being able to let go and open. Gentleness is a sense of goodheartedness toward ourselves. Precision is being able to see very clearly, not being afraid to see what’s really there, just as a scientist is not afraid to look into a microscope. Openness is being able to let go and to open. – Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape
In Virabhadrasana II, warrior 2, I’m aware of being alone, even if a dozen fellow AlexaWarrior2practitioners are in the pose, too. The shape requires fingertip to toe engagement, crown to root to heel. The pose combines strength and vulnerability. It invites curiosity about the present moment. Anyone of any age can be a warrior; the pose can be practiced standing, in a chair, in a bed or on the floor.

After Being Alone

Spring water flows out of a culvert –
I am here, wholly in the sun,
and it is wholly in the sun.

A leaf sails down the flowing water –
only a few inches deep, with old sticks below –
water so clear it has no body, no one can judge the depth…

Once out of our mother’s womb
we sail so easily,
awake or asleep…
My life is an example,
here at forty-eight barely awake!

Pair with: Virabhadrasana II, warrior 2

Speak: Be ready to land on that final exclamation mark. The poet helps the speaker with the vowel sounds in forty, eight, barely, awake. They lead to a crescendo.

Consider: What’s the relationship of being alone to being awake? How are our lives examples of our choices and attitudes?

Note: Poem to be published in Like the New Moon I Will Live My Life, click this link (by April 9, 2015) to support the Indiegogo campaign to published the book; poem used by permission of White Pine Press.

(Sur) render

In my yoga community we’re thinking about what it means to “surrender.” Within the word surrender is “render” which means to provide or give or to represent artistically. In yoga, we surrender by giving ourselves to the moment, and by moving and breathing with an awareness that we are part of a greater humanity, a vaster non-human world. It’s a form of “giving in” by giving all that we have in the moment.

For many years, my poems were forms of remembrances of times and people past, or expressions of desire for the future. Now in writing I want nothing more than to surrender to the moment by rendering it.

 

Passers-by

The fountain’s in the front yard

where the driveway meets the walk.

A tumble of water can be heard

behind pedestrians’ talk.

 

Green and gold hummers zip,

water shimmers and sprays,

doves, sparrows, finches sip,

each afternoon, a rackety jay.

 

A big dog stops to slurp

a sloppy draught of water;

a watching squirrel chirps,

little plum-loving potterer.

 

A red-faced boy–

more properly a youth–

splashes his brow, leaves a coin,

an odd oblation, a meandering truth.

– Alexa Mergen

Virasana + Glenis Redmond

The hands have options in virasana, hero’s pose. They may be placed palms down on the thighs, resting on femur bones powerful beneath skin and muscle. They could nestle together, palms up, in the safety of your lap. Fingers can take a mudra or interlace and reach for the sky. The arms may twine to unite the hands palm-to-palm. The hands, like those in this poem, have much to say.

What My Hand Say

 

For great-grandpa, Will Rogers

Born in the 1800’s

 

My hand say, Pick, plow, push and pull,

‘cause it learned to curl itself around every tool

of work. The muscles say, bend yourself like the sky,

coil yourself blue around both sun and moon.

 

Listen, my back be lit by both. My hand

got its own eyes and can pick a field of cotton

in its sleep. Don’t mind the rough bumps —

the callused touch. I work this ground

 

like it was my religion and my hands

never stop praying. Some folk got a green thumb,

look at my crop and you’ll testify my whole hand

be covered. I can make dead wood grow.

 

I listen to my hand, it say, Work.

My hand got its own speech. It don’t stutter

it say, Work, Will. Though it comes to mostly nothin,

this nothin is what I be working for.

 

Come harvest time I drive the horse

and buggy to town. Settle up.

This is where my hand loses its mind,

refuses to speak.

 

Dumb-struck like the white writing page.

The same hand fluent on the land,

don’t have a thang to say around a pen.

The same fingers that can outwork any man

 

wilts. What if I could turn my letters

like I turn the soil? What if I could

make more than my mark, a wavery X

that’s supposed to speak for me?

 

Glenis Redmond

Note: Poem won the Nazim Hikmet Poetry Contest, 2011; used by permission of the poet

Pair with: virasana

Listen: The poem’s speaker takes the reader through an intimate story. Allow a range of emotions to texture your voice as you read.

Consider: Your hands. Notice others’ hands.

Love is All

 

Teacher Mary Paffard writes that the principle of ahimsa, essential to the practice of yoga, “is the conscious act of not acting or moving out of violence that allows us to be what we intrinsically are–love.” I have found in recent months that love is all.

This is not a simplification: choosing love again and again requires attention and fearlessness.  I wobble, teeter and stumble. But possibilities inherent in love encourage me to try again and again. The word “love” comes from Old English, “lief” which is related to “permission” as in “with your leave.”

There’s a great line in the movie “Adaptation” about how it’s more important to love than to be loved. That ties in with the old notion that giving is a greater gift than receiving. Couldn’t all life be intrinsically love? Observe unselfconscious interactions of mammals, including children, at noncompetitive play. The separation between one and the other recedes.

Perhaps, we all want in some way to be permeable, to blur false edges of our being and to come through (the prefix per–) to one another, to the world. I know poetry allows for that permeability.

Clarity

The moon wakes me,

shining in my face.

Sleep follows from the sheets,

rumpled and sweaty

from a night of unanswerable questions.

At the backdoor I reach for the lock,

to turn it and release

two dogs to the dark morning.

Before my fingers move the chamber

I look up

and through the screened window see

the shadow of a hawk

glide to rest on a bare elm

branch and the moon

there

shining on the bird’s face.

– Alexa Mergen

from Late Peaches: Poems by Sacramento Poets (Sacramento Poetry Center, 2012)