I tried an experiment today. I wrote six short stream-of-consciousness type poems as the day went on. The first two were written yesterday, but the second one got rewrote a bit, and then today, others came and went – and the last one was done during a thunderstorm. It was fun to play with trying to connect them. Happy summer, 2021!
Tender is the light as it swirls lazy dust motes through the once attic window shining on what is left: rusty knob and tube wire, unnamed ancestors in a musty shoebox, candle figurines melted by summers teddy bears succumbing to mold from rain and snow through the fallen-in roof. All left for salvage by squirrels who take what is useful for nests nature unjudging humans not returning memories unclaimed.
The platform is high but out it she ventures will she just take the dive? No – she pads back to the center where the board is less shaky head full of conjecture on staying or going she could use a mentor to weigh out her choices or maybe protect her from the others, just waiting to see how this adventure will turn in the wind will she sink or else swim? Or will she back down start all over again? Her eyes to the sky she takes a big breath tastes the flavor of courage when you’re scared half to death she dashes to the end of the board, out ahead, feels air through her hair hears her heart not her head. Flying or falling, either way, it’s exquisite the victory of choice when life comes and you live it.
What’s really fun? When your people let you know that they’ve received their copies of your new book! These little surprise posts have been popping up on my Facebook feed all month, and I am humbled by and grateful for the reminders of all the kind people I have in my life. These images are from just a few of those posts.
Sign up to hear some great people share their powerful and moving words! The festival is free but they appreciate donations.
In the meantime, Old Stones Understand is available through my publisher, Shanti Arts, through Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and two local booksellers that also use Bookshop.org, which is a small-business alternative to big box if you prefer that.
The day I was killed while doing my job was a normal day in my American skin that is to say my Chinese American skin my nonwhite skin and a taxpaying skin and a kind one and a skilled one and an everyday one and a valuable one
unless your day in your American skin which to say your white male skin and an aching one and a violent one and a privileged one and an everyday one and a more valuable one…
must be a more valuable one
because your bad day means more than my life and seven other lives and that’s just what happens when you have a bad day.
And when someone with skin more like yours with contempt for skin more like mine holds the privilege of holding the microphone of holding the attention of the rest of the country and will talk of my killer that poor poor man and his sad bad day “It’s just what happened”
while I remain nameless but I am Xiaojie I was two days from 50 I was a mom I owned two businesses I was a citizen I was a friend And I was a target.
I live in the Finger Lakes of New York, and late February means it is undoubtedly still winter! We know there’s likely a good month or so of snow and cold left even as we send well wishes and aid to Texas.
The final of my poetry manuscript has been sent off to the printer. Here’s one of the poems from Old Stones Understand, first written about six years ago, but still appropriate for the conditions outside my window and perhaps in many hearts.
What if while shoveling tonight, I stop just for a moment cease the stooping, stabbing, groaning and lifting.
turn my face skyward, close my eyes, hear the wind as my shoulders relax, the handle slack in my unclenched hands.
My ghost age six rides in on that wind, whispering giggles into gusts of cold – that breathless moment at the end of a wicked sled run, with flakes collecting on my eyelids like they did when I finished by making snow angels, just lying there, collecting snow
like wishes, like potential, as they are just now:
icy absolution, melting away all flaws, all complaints and infractions, guilt, real or imagined.
Just so on this frosty night we pause and are made clean, new in the world once again.
There’s something really fun about picking out a cover for a book. When we created “NY Votes for Women: A Suffrage Centennial Anthology” I worked with a creative design friend and we were so proud of the results. I’ve been fortunate again in working with a publisher, Shanti Arts, that is also a promoter of artists. The editor was patient and considerate in picking out this cover, which feels just so right.
We are in the final edits now, and hope to have the release in a few weeks depending on printing. I’m excited to share that news as I have it!
Today is Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. In examining the legacy I find myself thinking mostly of strong women of color in America today and the examples and inspiration I find in all strong, persistent women engaged in making the world better. That’s probably why instead of staying with Dr. King this morning, I found myself thinking of Coretta Scott King, his widow. She was amazing.
Did you see the sunrise on April 5, cold and bright and shaking? Or was your gaze out the window without recognition, your mind on four children their young understandings pushing back against your own pain?
Did you see cameras everywhere watching and dissecting your grief? Did you allow a hope for no more white bullets or bombs through the front of the house while you swaddled and rocked babies in the back of the house?
Did you see a veiled rocky path forward, backward not a choice? A day. A year. A lifetime of patient persistence And unwavering love called pursuit of justice that expanded in spite of spite?
But did you? That first bare morning did you give brief audience to your own grief, too deep and private for anyone else to really understand? Did you raise your beautiful voice once for your own broken heart?
I can’t stop watching the events in the Capitol and the woman who was killed in the riots. And also feeling prophetic that today is the Epiphany for those who celebrate it. It led to this, dashed off, raw, but anyway.
What did you learn as you fell and bled out as your red cap rolled astray? Did it take your misled bile? Have blinders yet melted away?
What will they learn once chambers are restored the debris all swept away? Will they stumble forward united Bruised but building toward better days
when we’ll have learned to heed our whole history including this fateful day and from here more kindly govern. For that epiphany, I pray.
Alone on a full charter bus at nineteen she leaned a warm cheek against the glass to feel the bone-cold outside crystals forming near her breath staring into the first moments of the day after Christmas. Speeding southbound through stars and towns, the family dinner long cold behind her; had they yet cleared Virginia? She looked over the meadows to the distant ranch house roofs, long low rows of blinking lights the red and green chasing each other and she wondered at women inside those houses – were they still celebrating? Or did they go to sleep with the lights on exhausted from the effort required by relentless holiday cheer and she wondered about the contentment of one her age in that house in the middle – if it was all she hoped, her Christmas, her life – or if that girl was looking out her own window watching lights chase each other down the interstate phantom traces of diesel fumes to quicken her pulse ever so slightly.
I’ve never seen snow do this before this morning! Science creating the appearance of magic is one of my favorite things. And an hour after taking this picture on my back porch, it was gone. Light to all…
Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah 2020. I am not Jewish, but am appreciating a little surprise gift all the same – a layout draft of my poetry book, Old Stones Understand, with some graphics and the fonts chosen by my editor at Shanti Arts Publishing! As many times as I’ve read, revised, and viewed these poems, the experience brings a freshness that I wasn’t expecting. That surprise was invigorating.
Yesterday, my mother reminded me of a poem I’d written that is in the collection, which should be out in Spring 2021. Back when I wrote it, she tucked a copy of it in a card for her friend, Marlene, who lives in her building and celebrates Hanukkah. I hadn’t known that she did that, and thought it was a sweet reminder that we never really know how far, or where, our words can reach. I thought sharing it here would be a nice gift for those of you celebrating. Enjoy!
One vial of oil
If one vial of oil can last for eight nights, endure and light and fill hearts for seven extra days of hope – well then, how long can one shred of patience last?
How little space is needed on a ledge, for one toe to grip, to hold the rest of me safe until I can gather strength to push off to the next ledge, and the next and the next?
What if the match that I am, nearly burned down, charred, curled, almost no light left, what if at the last possible second I brush against one dry twig that smolders, flickers and then bursts into the biggest warmest grandest blaze of all?
One injured goose left behind at Third Dam no flock mates in sight she swam through the gloam right wing splayed, not tucked in, head down as a plane flew over and I said a prayer that she recover soon fly off, find a new flock, or become a lucky break for a young coyote learning to hunt, wishing either outcome swift. November’s night shadows lengthen November’s days grow shorter on mercy reserving grace for those professing gratitude – instead I offered a bargain. Some of my blessings for an end to her suffering. A slender aspen quaked reproach “You know that’s not how it works.” And I grumbled back, “I’m just a human. The only thing clear this year is that we know nothing.” And to this, two hemlocks creaked their approval.
A couple of weeks ago, my brain started trading in small poems again. Much like the ones from the start of the pandemic, they are a mix of daily events, moments and thoughts, bouncing from the horror of our days to the comfort in them. I’ll admit they are a nice distraction.
That strange looking tool? That’s called a seam splitter. It does what you would expect.
Hand me that skirt. Thanks. See? Here is a seam. I asked for this skirt because the fabric is still pretty, even though it is worn on that side. This side is still beautiful. Still useful. This is the hope of fabric.
You will be tempted to just grab on and rip. It is fast. It feels good. To tear is to feel quick power. And if all you want is strips for a rag rug, or to tie up tomato plants, that’s fine.
But – you probably know this already – tearing is not usually deliberate. More often it’s driven by pent up energy. Impulse needing release. Need can be blind, like rage. The outcome – a rag rug or whatnot – may not even be a thought in the straining or pulling. Most rips are unintended.
So, hand me that seam-splitter. Thanks. It satisfies in a different way. It’s methodical. When I work it along the seam like this, I can already imagine the potential I am creating. I might be planning a quilt. Or curtains. Or even another skirt with a pattern that I met in a dream last night, these very colors winking at me with purpose and knowing.
With luck, my hands might even contribute to what Dr. King referred to as our “single garment of destiny.”
We take things apart at the seams when we need to start over. When the material we have is still valued, still loved, but just does not fit any more.
You know already that I’m going to say that life is like this too, don’t you?
You have what you need. Consider it in a new way. Move forward with purpose and honor.
In late March, when New York State went into our “Pause” phase in the early days of COVID-19, I began writing and sharing one small poem each day. It lasted as long as my observations brought inspiration, through the end of April. Some are haiku, there were a couple tanka – some were just very short poems. All were based on snapshot impressions of the day in front of me.
That time of spring in upstate NY is notable for nearly-daily differences and changes in the world. I couldn’t get over the sense that nature – the weather, the plants, the birds – were just going on with their natural lives without interruption, and how that juxtaposed so sharply with the bewilderment and shock that the sudden change brought to our human existence. This picture highlights a few of them that speak to resilience.