Monday, October 31, 2011

Do You Ever Wake Up Batty?

Do you ever awaken with things on your head,

woes or worries, or what you should have said?  

Do you wrangle with someone who's not even there?

Are bees in your mind, or stuck in your hair?

Have you wakened offended, or stuffy with wrath?

Only one thing can save you:

Have a nice laugh.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

“We Are Not Saints.”

Frances, my mother, age 18

I live a checkered life. When I got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous, I went back to the church denomination I was born into, which happened to be Lutheran. A wonderful pastor helped me find a “new” God there, one I could sort of understand and sort of not understand but be comfortable with.

The pastor introduced me to Martin Luther, the man, not the author of the catechism I had to memorize as a kid. Luther had an idea that people of faith are a paradox: They are simultaneously both sinner and saint, screw-ups who live in a state of grace. That concept helped me find forgiveness.

I’m thinking about saints, tarnished and otherwise, because this week’s host of Poetry Jam, NanU, wants us to write about the eve of something hallowed. [Poetry Jam, eve of holy somethings] Tuesday is All Saints Day, which actually means something spiritual to me today. I live to Google, and I found a nice little essay by a Methodist pastor, Rev. Dean Snyder, on

“If Easter is when Christianity celebrates the resurrection of Christ [Snyder writes], All Saints' is when Christianity celebrates the resurrection of the rest of us. The focus of Easter is the victory of Jesus over death and the grave. The focus of All Saints' is resurrection and life eternal for the rest of us.

“I think it can be an act of courage to believe in eternal life and to strive to live lives consistent with this belief. It takes courage to live as though our lives matter eternally -- even if they seem to us very ordinary, even frustrating and disappointing. It takes courage to believe that our lives matter beyond this lifetime, or even the earthly memory of it, when so much of what we do seems trivial and even pointless. It takes courage to choose to do the good and just thing in terms of eternity, rather than what is easiest, even when it will cost us something in the short-term and nobody will much notice or care anyway.

“It takes courage to believe that the lives of others are eternal — that each life we intersect and those we don't have eternal meaning and value and that we have a responsibility to each other that transcends the time, place and circumstances of our present lives.”

When I think of the “eve of something holy,” I think of the three nights I sat vigil with my dying mother. Both of us started out scared. Both us found courage. She’s one of those full-blooded saints now, no longer living a checkered life. This is the poem I wrote as she lay dying.

Your Dance of the Final Days

Your chest rises and falls rhythmically, I see
glancing at the narrow bed across the room.
It is anyone’s room, a blue sea of carpet,
a drawn window shade, but here is your
cedar chest, scarred with memories. Here
is your sewing cabinet, made by your father,
its varnish worn. Here am I, in your office
chair, slash of duct tape on its vinyl seat,
its squeaky, rusty wheels. I watch you
sleep, your labored breathing drowned
by the hum and hiss of oxygen, afraid to look
away. The bedclothes might stop rising
and you slip off, me unaware, intolerable
thought. I want to see you should you slide
from the bed and do a jig across the floor.
I never saw you dance in all these years
but there’s no telling what you’ll do.
You have surprised us all before.
You surprise me now with your tenacity,
my skeletal lioness, chomping the neck
of the very last giraffe.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What's Left?

At day’s end I came to the egg.
I had cried all the tears left in the sac.
Only me and it, and the shadows now.
Did it matter, really, what had happened?
I had magic in my hand. In this egg
lay the seeds of unknown future.
I cradled it. Later I could decide.

This is a flash poem, because blogmeister Mr. Knowitall digs it when people write micro-work for his Flash 55 Fridays, and I dig Mr. Knowitall.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Don’t Say What You’re Thinking

Anger was the topic of our Tuesday meeting, and I heard good stuff, from people whose thought processes I can understand. I share more commonality with the Vietnam-vet biker who says, “Rage is the wind that blows out the candle in my mind,” than I do with the average 50-something I meet on the street. One of the things I love about AA is the wonderful cross-section of purposeful, thoughtful, flawed, and honest humanity I’ve come to know because of meetings.

I got to share that last year I took on the F’d Be I, the Dept. of There-Is-No-Justice, the U.S. Secret-ary of Health and Inhuman Services, the Attorney Generality, and the health-care-not industry over the moral and civil-rights outrage perpetrated on my defenseless 79-year-old demented mother [is that bitterness I hear?], and nine months of misery later, this caped crusader for Truth, Justice, and Human Rights for Alzheimer’s Victims was a sad piece of a work, drowning in her outrage, and my mother was dead, free at last. I got very ill last winter, and by early spring it was clear that my outrage over injustice was harming only me, and I was going to have to change myself so I could live in an unjust world.

Resentment, says the book Alcoholics Anonymous, is poison to the person who nurtures it. How are we to make peace in a life where people and institutions do wrong and suffer no consequences? How are we to live serenely in a world where sh*t happens to innocent people? The fellowship of AA has devised many brilliant means of doing just that.

Mostly, they all boil down to what Gandhi said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Start with giving grace, unearned forgiveness, to people who wrong you, as you have received grace from the loving God in your own imperfect life. Practice restraint of tongue and pen. Do not retaliate, argue, fume, or chew on arguments in your head. Instead, go do good work, own your own part in the shit, and be grateful for the ordinary miracles in your daily life. Work with a mentor. Wash your floors. Reach out a friendly hand to someone in need, and in general, learn to stay out of the bad neighborhood that is your own selfish head.

I am ceaselessly surprised that these things work. They work, in that they build a level of inner peace with the ebb and flow of life. Even if you choke on what you know is hypocrisy as you pray for the person who has offended you, doing it on your knees with your teeth gritted every day for two damn weeks, just because your sponsor suggested you try it, by God, it works! The one who changes is you, not the world, not your neighbor, just the one you live with day in and day out ~ that person becomes someone kinder, calmer, thankful, and a little more honest.

An aging ex-gangster at the meeting said his morning prayer is simple: “Hi, God, I’m awake, good luck.” Laughter is like tapping anger in the back of its knees: down it goes, toppling over like the great pretender that it is, mostly smoke and mirrors, self-justification and often fear masquerading as righteousness. Laughter heals a lot of wrongs, including our own. I’m grateful to be part of a community that laughs at itself and goes to sometimes great lengths to help others.

These days, I practice a lot of not saying the judgmental things I think about others. To a trusted few, I say whatever I think and laugh at it. My head, says one friend, is for entertainment purposes only. When the serious stuff that warrants deep thought crops up, I go to someone who has the kind of faith and wisdom I want, and I sound it out.

A line in a humble little book changed me this year. I found it in AA’s “12 Steps and 12 Traditions” under the discussion of the tenth step, in which we make a practice of honest self-examination and prompt admission of wrongs done. In a paragraph advocating a more merciful view of others, the writer says, “it is pointless to become angry or to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.” The italics are mine.

If I can recognize that my life is a series of adventures in growing up to be the person I want to become someday, if I am in the process of becoming and haven’t yet arrived there, how can I not grant you the grace of your own suffering?

You too are on a journey. I might enjoy thinking, in the private entertainment center of my mind, that you’re damned far behind me thanks to your stupid behavior ~ enjoy thinking that privately for, say, ten minutes max. Okay, twenty, AND I get to tell a trusted friend. Anything more than that is a resentment, otherwise known as beating myself with a hammer and hoping you are the one it hurts: a habit to avoid.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ripples in the Pond

Fog in the harbor, Morro Bay, California

Ripples in the Pond

Sometimes it hits me upside the head,
how what happened to her
touched him and he touched me
and I told someone and
in the telling she was touched
and the touches keep touching.
One day I want to ask God:
Please show me
the ripples in the pond
where my stone reached.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Found: One Set of Wings and a 160, Free

Now here’s a strange true story, mostly, proved by a photograph:

Angel Wings

I know it means something, this moment
of surprise
when I’ve hurled myself out of the car
late as always for an obligation
in that grim world of a parking garage
too far from where I have to be to be there on time
and at my feet
on the yellow paint between gray spaces
rests a pair of white feathered wings
child size
Immediately I see they’re too small for me
but I’m staggered
caught in the open door
between the woman who is late and another
who can stop, bend down, take the gift
slip them on, lift my arms and fly
In that moment, the clocks stop too
the whole world shrinks
as the white wings spread
and stroke
and stroke
against the sky

And for no extra charge,  
a Sunday 160 version in exactly 160 characters
a sort of angel rap piece for my favorite character, Monkey Man,
He Who Hosts the Microest of Micro Fiction:

Angel stop
Angel drop
Angel rock’n’roll
What da weather
Chicken feather
Angel do a poll
Weather fair
Angel hair
Angel wear a stole
Angel wing
Angel fling
Angel save a soul

Strange, the things you might stumble across while doing the humdrum stuff of daily living, if you keep your eyes open. May you be surprised today.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Time for Everything: Killed By a Bank

My family’s business folded this week, 40-some years after my father and mother started it from scratch and built it into a small company that employed 40 people. It’s now in the hands of a large bank that received $316 million in bailout funds from U.S. taxpayers in 2008. The bank demanded large payments on principal that the small business, struggling through the economic times, couldn’t make. The bank received grace from the American people in its hour of need. The bank did not give back the same grace. There's a parable in the Bible about such things.

It’s been a sad day, and it’s been a challenge to quell the little bursts of bitterness. I took flowers to my mother’s grave and sat on the grass beside her headstone as the sun lowered in the sky. I could hear her voice in the distance saying, “For everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

My mother loved the Bible, and it was among the last books she could read before Alzheimers disease took away her words. She raised up her kids in church and planted a lifelong reverence for God in us. The Bible verses I learned in my youth come back to me at times when I need to be reminded that life has an eternal value.

Pain is a good teacher. I’ve been driven to my knees in pain, and come away from it stronger, kinder, more forgiving. We all need so much grace in this life and we find it hard to give. We keep getting lessons in grace because we have poor memories, I think. I keep learning about forgiveness all over again.

I came home Wednesday and laid down on my bed and let the memories of my father and mother’s business play through my mind. Many of them come from long ago but they rolled out vivid and textured, beautiful in their way. I prayed for my brothers and others whose livelihoods are affected, and then I went to an AA meeting, where the topic was gratitude. I looked up the verse from Ecclesiastes that had come to me at Mom’s grave. I was reminded that in the end, the best we can do is enjoy our labor and do good in our lives, and be grateful for the gift.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
What profit has he that works in that in which he labors?
I have seen the task, which God has given to the sons of men to be occupied in it.
He has made every thing beautiful in its time: also he has put eternity in men's hearts, so that no man can find out the work that God does from the beginning to the end.
I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.
And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, for it is the gift of God.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Today's Monumental Events

Waiting for something to happen
 I am restless, uncertain, uncomfortable in my skin. What is wrong, I wonder.

I could sit and stew all day in this miasma. Or I could answer that question: If I'm honest, what troubles me are three unmade phone calls about unpleasant possibilities, and I don't want to tackle them. That's all. So I go outside with the camera to visit the praying mantis in the dahlias. I eat a little because I ought to, not because I'm hungry. Then I make one of the calls.

Hello, little fly!
No one's there, and I leave a message. This is called "baby steps" in my 12-step program, and it counts on the plus side of my personal little inventory. How I feel is my responsibility, so what action can I take to be more comfortable? Take care of business, sweet pea! That would be a start.

Then I make the second call. Check! That one's satisfied. I feel better already. I ponder the third and final call, the ickiest one of all. I'm in a position of strength now, and I can see that I should get answers to "x" and "y" before I place the call. Now I get to make more choices, with a level head and honesty. This problem has no urgency, and it could spend a while in the hands of someone wiser than I am. I have a place for things like that, called a "God box" ~ a gimmick I've been using lately, a little red box and shreds of paper scribbled on and dated. So I put that last call in the box.

I love my lunch.

"Look away from unpleasant surroundings, from lack of beauty, from the imperfections in yourself and in those around you. In your unrest, behold God's calmness; in your impatience, God's patience; in your limitations, God's perfection. Looking upward toward God, your spirit will begin to grow."
Twenty-Four Hours a Day, Oct. 17

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ghost Town, Mojave Desert

I’ve been gone a while, doing things that require work like traveling, writing assignments, lying sick in bed, but today has been a restful day. I took photos of my desk,

my cat,

my flowers,

myself reflected in the computer screen (up above). Then I researched quartz for no compelling reason and wrote a poem based on an experience I had while traveling last week.

Some sad things have struck my family since my mother died last summer, and they caused me to be called out of town. I knew I wanted to write a poem about something that happened on the trip but didn’t know how to begin. At three in the morning Wednesday, sleepless, I wrote down five words ~ ghost, laugh, laundry, edges, beer ~ and posted them as a prompt on Poetry Jam, a blog I’m hosting this week. I wrote the poem Thursday. I’m interested to see what other poets do with the words.

Ghost Town, Mojave Desert

Someone spilled a glass of milk in the sky
and the indifferent wind pushes it
against the barren hills that frame this town.
From the open window of a stale motel
I watch the creamy puddles eddy
among signs that scream for gas, food, lodging
as mesquite brush waffles in a vacant lot.
When I was a girl, I cruised that drag
in a blue Mustang and worked at a florist’s
over there, where that pawn shop squats.
I want to hate it now, with everyone I love
erased from here. But I see my father
teaching me to steer an army Jeep
across the desert, his brown arm braced
against the windshield as we bounce along
and laugh. I see my mother hanging laundry
on the clothesline by the driveway, where
my brothers and their cronies lounge
against their trucks with cans of beer
and shirttails hanging out. I hear my family
working, banging, revving, hammering,
the pop of rivet guns, hissing blowtorch,
the hollow whine of sheet metal
sculpted in their hands. I smell the tang
of ozone, sharp as a knife, after the rain
and I smell the sand, a billion shifting grains
of memory that stick like windblown grit
and won’t wash off, except in the blessed rain
which comes only when it will, not
when you will it. On the edges of my life
the wind still sings its love for the desert
and I taste the sweet bitter fruit of loss.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I’m a Microclimate for God

I found some treasures at an antique show this weekend and took great pleasure in bargaining for them. One of them, a small hand-forged pitcher, asked me to write a poem about it. So I made a little 160-character ditty for Monkey Man’s Sunday 160 challenge. You’ll find others on his blog here.

The Tin Pitcher

Call me old,
rusted and flawed,
but in the confines
of my battered state,
I am a microclimate
for God
where flowers grow:
apparently, my fate.

Albert Einstein Quotes