I love the way artists inspire one another. It can be really friendly!
Yesterday, I got an email from Will, a friend – through – another -friend who came to a reading in July. This picture of him is from one of my favorite spots, our local heart rock wall. I’ve written about this magical spot, and it appears on my cover page. Here’s what Will had to say:
“I keep your book of poems on top of my bookshelf so I can see the cover. I’d just gone to the Heart Rock Wall with a friend a few days before. A photo of me in front of that wall looked so triumphant and joyful that I chose it for the front cover of a CD of original songs that I released last month!”
I’m also an occasional contributor to a quarterly nature poetry journal, “The Avocet.” Its editor encourages contributors share our name, state, and an email contact with each poem we submit. Then, readers – other poets mostly – can get in touch to express appreciation for a poem they like. It’s a very sweet system.
Artists appreciate encouragement and I’m happy to follow their examples.
There aren’t many followers to my infrequent blog – but if you are one of them, let me know – how do you find encouragement for your art? How do you encourage others?
This year, the following poem won 2nd place in the New York State Fair Poetry Contest! It was a joy to go there and read it aloud, along with other contest winners. My inner 8-year-old was thrilled to learn that there was such a thing as a State Fossil. And then when I saw what it looked like…well. All the better.
*also known as the sea scorpion, Eurypterus Remipes is the NY State Fossil.
Sea scorpion is a name mysterious, briny, deadly a fearsome label placed by those perhaps unsettled by the ancient creature.
When Eurypterus Remipes emerged to land 300 million years ago was it with the stealth of the hungry spying a trilobite and trying a bite not yet knowing it would proliferate, fossil remnants of its empire littering the Empire State?
It could not know, Eurypterus that its name would sound like “uterus” to yet-unimagined humanoids noting its resemblance to female organs.
Were the white-bearded scientists who discovered Eurypterus horrified, giant conquering vaginas ruling the Silurian period? Was that ability to birth, then with brackish versatility partake of pleasure unbridled perhaps the most fearsome – hence, a cautionary nickname?
And would it please Ms. Eurypterus to know that modern New York women have our own sea scorpions, in our lawful control, these rights, at least for now, not extinct?
On a Friday of heartbreak one of the neighborhood vixens helped herself to cherries dropped on the ground by our backyard tree nosing nonchalantly for a hospitable half hour no question to her freedoms just an omnivore with no dilemma only juicy bursts of sour and gentle pink light through tree branches at the end of a better day in the history of foxes than of humans.
from “Old Stones Understand” – 2021 Shanti Arts LLC. in response to the June 24th Supreme Court Roe v. Wade overturn.
At day’s end all over the world, we lather the cloth.
Time to remove the makeup the armor the magician’s blindfold the leather the ancient battle-mask the gunk.
Scrub through the fake smile the nervous twitch the uncertain glance the bruise the pox the shame the un-yield the unintended insult the fully intended dig the well-meant concern the sloppy unwelcome kiss the piercing glare.
Keep scrubbing: try to get out the control the no way out the making do the not good enough the slap the sting of no choice the scars the silence.
And now, sister of the world, sleep. Tomorrow we start again.
Green converse sneakers. A wry deliberate choice when worn with a green lamé and black lace dress strapless for the start of summer 1987 fancy and scandalous perfect for an ex-boyfriend’s prom where I knew no one else the breakup days before, the date kept anyway to not waste this va-voom costume with mint green high top sneakers lending balance.
The look and the shoes both the converse of what I was inside: flouncy exterior, stripped-down interior party girl dancing, philosopher watching waiting for the night and its stale obligation to end so the in-between feeling of being 18 in that world could figure itself out in the dawn of 19.
On Women’s Day – we stand holding up more than half the sky our arms as tired as our fake smiles upon uttering a wish, “Happy international women’s day.” Happy? Too tired for happy.
In America tired of a Senate that won’t pass Women’s Healthcare Acts tired of states grabbing for control over women’s bodies tired of arguing why an athlete should be able to wear shorts that cover her ass if she wants tired of wheedling voices saying “well, not ALL men…” tired of being blamed for our low pay if we didn’t speak up tired of being called a bitch for speaking up.
Tired of blank stares from other women when you point out that we have no Equal Rights Amendment no law guaranteeing equality for women after it was fought for 50 years ago and clearly we stopped too soon because my friends who marched in the 1970s now fear for granddaughters. Stopped too soon because these grandmas who helped women get safe abortions and recover from unsafe ones in the 1960’s now can’t believe the complacency and apathy in the ears of those who can’t conceive the metal clang of the canary cage door and won’t be paying attention as it slides shut behind them.
We are tired of the invisible American understanding that we are meant to hold up more than half the sky for 82 cents of every white man’s dollar or 70 cents if we are black or 65 cents if we are Latina
So arms trembling we hold up that sky and feel shame that we lapsed in the expected relentless virtuous gratitude and try to wring pride in our resilience from the stones in our hearts –
But yeah. happy F*ck!ng international women’s day.
On January 20th it was the five-year anniversary of the Women’s March, an event that occurred in hundreds of cities and communities around the world and involved millions of people. I was at the march in Washington DC. I remember the way we felt at the end – like we had a toehold on hope again, after being frightened at the implications for women upon the results of the 2016 presidential election.
And here we are in 2022. Things seem grimmer than ever for women, given attempts to end body autonomy in healthcare through a very real chance that Roe v. Wade will be stripped away. Voting rights are in peril for ordinary Americans as well – and more. It’s tiring just even typing these sentences out.
That morning my friend and mentor, Zee Zahava, shared a list poem called “My Body” on her Facebook page. It inspired me to create, stream-of-conscious, my own “My Body” statements. I then shared them on Instagram @Staceycithaca and Facebook, slowly, in chunks over the course of two days and now I’m sharing them here in this collage. I love how it was clear, at the start, I wasn’t sure how many I’d end up with. I let the process flow as the days progressed – and it wound up with 8 segments.
All this is to say – if you have a spark of inspiration, roll with it. Especially if it moves you to do one thing to break you out of a feeling that verges on hopelessness.
I came upon them In the clearing – An old woman in a puffy coat And bright pink hat Surrounded by hemlocks and oaks And the swaying stopped my steps.
“Matsukaze” she breathed, eyes closed, Arms stretched up As she stood arms out, Fingers splayed to December air And leaned, Just a little, This way then that Like the trees in the breeze Leaned from their trunks, Just this way then that.
And I thought of all the air rushing through them In their near-stillness And so I stopped my rushing Peeled back my pink mittens Reached my own limbs skyward And closed my eyes. And started to move just this way then that. And when the oaks creaked I creaked And when the hemlocks moaned I let out my troubles
And along the path more people came And stopped And raised their arms up And some were yogis doing tree poses And others experienced a faint karate kata memory All releasing Our breath rising through branches Stirring the breeze with the trees Letting peace come to us.
Today, my son, you ate two toasted waffles as the early light came up outside our windows. Two waffles and four strawberries steeped in syrup and as you went off to finish getting ready for school I thought of the four teens shot dead in Michigan, Madisyn, Tate, Hana, Justin and what they had for breakfast on their last morning of school.
I thought of the families aching and raw of – how many? Of almost 400 kids since 2009 at school to learn, not die and on the drive to school as my voice asked about your sneakers, my heart wondered if the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas school hallway lockers hold the laughter of their 17 dead or if there lingers an odor of terror when friends rest a cheek against the cold metal?
Two things are sure. One, there is no room in those spaces for thoughts and prayers impotent without action.
Two, nothing holds grief like a parent’s heart.
And as I watch you walk away from the car, into spaces we all want to trust I wonder what those hearts remember of their babies? A particular expression? A flash of eyes in a playful moment? Or what shoes they had on that day walking away?
This week I learned that “Old Stones Understand” received an honorable mention from the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards in the poetry category! For a first effort, I’m pleased with this recognition for my little collection of poems, and grateful to Shanti Arts Publishing for the nomination.
Royal Dragonfly, each year, makes awards across a wide range of publication types and genres – 66 in all. Worth checking out if you’re a new author!
My shoes celebrate the forest floor weeks ago they crunched the leaves on this path loud and delectable homemade potato chips for the feet and today the frozen mud, like clay yielding in its satisfying way as I move through these trees again asking in each season whether strangers who know your secrets are really strangers at all?
The hemlocks know what I wonder as together we lean over the cliff, all our branches stretching for the first flakes of snow.
I want to know will they come as big fat kisses that wet my cheeks?
As gossamer angels resting on my eyelashes?
Or fast and furious, not able to clean this world fast enough but trying all the more?
In 2009, just after Halloween, I flew to Tucson to be with my dad. His second wife, Lynn, had passed away just a week or so before. The day before my return coincided with the All Souls Procession, a celebration of life that defies description. It really does. It’s a giant, moving party-as-parade that ends with performances and the ceremony described in this poem – and it was a very fitting way to end a somewhat unorthodox but perfect week and to reflect on her passing and life and death more generally.
It is not the way of leaves
to care about how they fall.
It doesn’t matter
whether there are heavy, thunder-filled
or miles of bright blue and sunshine.
A leaf doesn’t
cry out in pain if a harsh wind
tugs it from its twig
nor does it giggle with mischief if it
manages to break free on its own.
A leaf doesn’t
fret over which is better—
to swoop down in a wild, swirling canopy,
a rustling riot of yellow magic with hundreds of others, or to flutter demurely to the ground
in a quiet, private moment.
No leaf even considers holding on,
resisting its destiny,
its part in the inevitable pattern.
For the leaf, simply letting go
is the thing.
-from Old Stones Understand, (c) 2021, Shanti Arts Publishing
A brown cardinal baby nestled in the crook of our back porch trumpet vine invisible until her big red dad returned again and again bearing grubs to nourish and maybe soothe after her important launch.
Later in Target a mom scouring aisles her own fledgling just new in a dorm the store shelves bare of what she really sought: Comfort. Love. Courage for a newly flown almost-man His deepening voice still soft around the edges
What can she do? Settle for a really good pillow or favorite snacks, deep breaths the vein in her forehead carrying the same tension as the frantic to-and-fro of a parent bird No rest. Just utter faith it will be enough
while there they go, strong and confident like we’ve always believed yet never quite been ready for. Do birds feel it too?
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.