Thank you to the editors of Floating Bridge Press for inclusion of my poem in Pontoon. It’s beautifully presented.
1 year ago this weekend, I had triple bypass surgery. It’s been a very difficult year save for the brightness of my marriage to my husband, John, last summer and the continuing love he brings. I wrote a cycle of poems that I thought I was finished with, which I presented at the Rainier Valley Lit Crawl a couple of weeks ago. Things happened to me again, which prompted the start of this poem on Friday, March 18th, the exact date of the bypass surgery. Without going into a lot of detail, I finished this poem today, heaviness lifted, and life continuing on.
I hope you’ll enjoy the poem. I’m doing just fine. It’s for John and all of you.
All You Who Sleep Tonight
Neon moss has inched up the tree’s trunk
from so much biblical rain. An indication of
how this year unfolded. Beauty is found in touch –
spongy, moist follicles envelope fingers intent on
everything alive. If I dug in farther, arm and body
disappearing into green, I might hibernate ‘til spring,
emerging from my cocoon, arms spread, patterns
of photographs, intersecting memories, peopled
by all of you, you who belong to me,
both good and bad, ingrained in corpuscles
mapping my existence. The musicality of
dripping water, coursing through this carpet,
over light infused waves, I could follow
like notes from an oboe, each measure
I cascade down until I break free from
the hollowed out tree of me.
I try these wings; heat warms them
as light filters through stained glass.
Is that you who waited for me –
the one I wrap myself around each night?
Or the one I refuse to let go, she whose
presence alters dreams. And what do I do
with a life of never-ending negatives:
a bad heart, a bad pancreas, opportunities stripped away.
I’ve thought of giving up, casually forgetting
the pills I have to take, letting my heart
fail slowly, an old engine missing its spark.
No one would know. It would be as
a leaf in autumn, robbed of its life-force
falling away under cover of night. Inconsequential.
If I were that tree, moss enveloping it,
and if a big wind toppled it, small insects, and
organisms must begin to burrow into its striated bark.
It is a law of nature to begin again, nursing those in need.
At my deepest low, I woke, sipped coffee with my husband,
watched the sun’s rise – pinks, oranges, blue and light –
all clichés stripped away because if I did not have his love,
I’d be that leaf, falling, a slight wind’s breath
before it’s enveloped by earth, tremors only all of you,
all you who sleep tonight, will feel when you wake.
With acknowledgement to Vikram Seth for the title and line, “All You Who Sleep Tonight.”
This weekend marks the first time I’ll be reading in public for a year. It also marks the anniversary, of sorts, of my journey with heart disease, triple bypass and recovery. I’ll be reading The Heart Cycle, a series of poems about the experience. It has been an extraordinary year, which culminated in pancreatitis and gall bladder removal a couple of weeks ago. I cannot begin to explain how it all felt except through words and getting it down on paper.
I’ll be reading with many other talented writers during the Rainier Valley Lit Crawl #3, and am looking forward to hearing their words. Come out and support the crawl beginning at 5pm at Spinnaker Bay Brewing. I’m up first, so arrive early and have a beer with us!
My reading is dedicated to my husband, John, who bore the brunt of everything that transpired with grace and love.
I’m very happy to report that two poems from my 16 poem suite, See America, have been published very recently.
The Final Drive, Seattle 2015 was published in the Fall/Winter issue of Crab Creek Review. Check our their website here: http://www.crabcreekreview.org
West Hollywood to Pasadena, CA, 1998 was published in the Pontoon section of Floating Bridge Press. To read the poem, you can follow this link: http://www.floatingbridgepress.org/2016/01/05/west-hollywood-to-pasadena-ca-1998/
My heartfelt thanks to the editors and their staffs of these terrific literary journals.
A very special thank you to Kary Wayson at Hugo House who helped edit West Hollywood to Pasadena, CA 1998 and several other poems during her tenure as writer in residence.
Six years ago, at the beginning of Fall on the cusp of turning 50, and after a summer in which all confidence was beginning to abandon me in many areas of my life, I put together a selection of poems and sent them out in the world. I had not attempted to publish anything for eight long years, but continued to write, write, write. On my shelf, each in their own notebooks, were two and two thirds novels, several short stories and many poems. I’m not sure why I never submitted. Perhaps it was the confidence thing, work, laziness, the thought that only writing was the thing that mattered, but most likely it was a combination of all those things. So I submitted several poems finally and won the 2010 Creekwalker Poetry Prize juried by Jannie Dresser, a well-known and lovely Bay area poet. I was astonished. I couldn’t believe my luck, but it did wonders for me – so my thanks to Ms. Dresser – even to this day. Like the Cowardly Lion I felt I’d been given courage by the great and powerful Oz.
I embarked on publishing and put out my first ever novel on Amazon Kindle and entered “The Palisades,” into the Lambda Literary Contest and, lo and behold, it became a finalist. Again, flabbergasted, it was as if I’d been waiting for some sort of validation all my life. Matt Yau, whose well-respected blog, A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook is read widely, placed it on his Top 12 Books for 2010. When I first read his review, I was weeping in the streets since I was reading it off my cell phone in downtown Seattle. Again, validation.
My experience of that book led me to release “The Narrows, Miles Deep,” a deeply personal narrative of the HIV/AIDS plague years. Felice Picano chose it as a best book of 2011 for Lambda Literary Foundation’s year-end round up.
Gaining confidence, I finally finished “Airstreaming” after 12 long years from it’s first few lines to finished manuscript. I released that a year after “The Narrows, Miles Deep.” For me, “Airstreaming” was a pure act of storytelling. Trying to write something completely out of myself, I was insistent on every page being absolutely free of anything I knew, or anything I felt a need to say, but when I got the editor’s notes back she asked if the lead character in the book, Linda, was me. I was floored. Yes, it was. I had written about my need for independence at that age, only I didn’t realize it until someone else pointed it out.
All of these books continue to sell. A few copies in July, nine copies last month, with little to no marketing any more. I haven’t had the time or the energy since the heart bypass. But it does make my heart glad that people are still discovering the work. Do I wish I were selling on a Stephen King pace, or even an Annie Proulx pace – yes, of course – but it’s more exciting to learn on an odd day that someone has read your work that you didn’t know, or receive an email from someone who’s been affected by it. I hope someday someone with influence will discover the work in an organic way and deliver it out to a lot of people, but until then, every little bit helps including recently placing a poem in a literary journal. I do want to get out there and read again, that’s for sure, and I will. It’s a confidence thing again…
Since the heart “incident” finding the confidence for just about everything has been extremely difficult. I have close to 20 pages for a sequel to Airstreaming and about half that for an entirely different novel. Perhaps I just need to write a few sentences, or take the computer to my favorite coffee shop and disappear for a while into the pages. Or stand up at Hugo House and read a few poems during open mic night. The fear of not making it through the latest round of poems keeps me from doing so. Is it distance I need? I’ve been thinking about all of this these days – particularly with the onset of Fall.
I dreamt of a kayak the other night – and of the sea.
For thirteen years I’ve walked along this lake, most with a dog, stick in his mouth, longing, eyes on the lake. Now, I can only touch his stick, which he is offering to me, and which I know disappoints him because I can’t throw it into the water until I heal. I’m too focused on my heart’s beat, and that I’ve dropped more weight. I’m focused on upturning my collar today as the weather has shifted back to Northwest normal. Buster has a sense about me, and he is happy to eat the spring grass, dip his toes in, and swim circles around thrown imaginary sticks. I think how I’ve turned his life around, and how he keeps me walking, the very thing I have to do.
Walking is a sort of meditation. I meditate on all the stories I’ve collected through my job. The one I keep going back to is of this beautiful woman from Denver, hair a black, tangled nest around her thin face, her smile, as she tells me about the book she wrote for her son following her first heart surgery and how, after her second surgery she runs marathons, but still she says, “I shouldn’t be here, but I am.”
I take pleasure when my barber vacuums my head after my first haircut, tasting my first Baja Taco, my first sip of decaf coffee, avocados. Everything seems new.
My book is a lake I walk along every day. Sometimes it’s a mirror, others it is a place I could drown in. Today the sun halos my dog’s muzzle as he runs the trail ahead of me and then looks back as if to say, “c’mon, there is more to see.”
Months of healing ahead
seemed a prison,
a sentence of no action,
and me tracking the sun
across the day a way
to move time.
At the bank,
a retired black man,
warm, inviting eyes,
who’d been in my shoes,
said, “Healing is
an opportunity for stillness.”
Which knocked me down.
His big, wide smile
I could’ve disappeared in.
We reached out,
and I was left with stillness.
These are the family names,
hearts retired young:
Tom, Jack, Brad and Jack.
Reach for the bottle
and lets regale them,
and tell stories long since
with gold leaf, crystal,
elements that lend
themselves to elevation.
We are travelers,
with opportunities for
stillness. We are diviners
for justice. We are
into the unknowable.
We can’t know when
that moment comes,
when our lives move
into silence, into
air echoing with all
that has gone before, but
nights are opportunities
to hold each other close,
in a stilled cluster,
as twins are in the womb,
dreaming of the day
you come out gasping,
knowing that you
can be alive again.
I never want to know
the many things they did when
they flayed open my chest, my arm,
cracked my sternum and stopped my heart.
Blissful ignorance is what I needed,
and some drugs, buckets of them.
I was reminded too much of salmon,
gutted torsos, lungs, heart, parts.
But that’s how they do, these magicians,
these doctors with long pedigrees,
confidence and hubris.
Who wouldn’t want a doctor,
waltzing in, attendants parting like the
Red Sea, whatever music he wants,
when he holds you in his hands?
I got Springsteen for the angiogram,
whom I sung along with
until the bad news came,
when the world shifted,
and time coalesced in tears.
I hope my doctor played
the world’s songbook: didgeridoos, guitars,
bongos, canastas, pianos, ukuleles.
Dying listening to all kinds of music seems
an extravagance for dying isn’t elegant.
I’m here now, in morning’s silence,
choosing songs for a friend’s work,
of which she says, she’s stressed.
I want to tell her to stop,
watch the breaking clouds,
smell the ground after a night’s rain,
but it’s a luxury of healing,
which I’ll have to remember
to do in my new life, my after/life.
Check in with me in a year.
Ask me what song is playing,
ask me the lake’s temperature,
the sea’s color,
how it is to be finally married.
My answers will be ready.
Remembering everything, the heart, at last, breaks.
At first, in the undulating folds as my fetus came together
the cleft separated, a misaligned heart began, beating
days upon days. It remembered the fall, and mother
carrying me to hospital, the salt-air summers in Balboa –
running full ‘round the boardwalk. The heart worked hard
during polluted LA days, strained when angrily
I kicked a door in, but rested in the Sequoia, and rejoiced
in the wet grass meadows, morning’s sounds, quietude,
air ripe with Sierra smells. In the wanderlust days it took
in everything, loved men and women, small fissures erupted
when they moved on. The work of working, stress upon stress
angled in and targeted arteries. Family strife constricted
them: the relentless bullying and hurt over all those years.
Otherness took its toll, dark nights of longing, loneliness,
the hours exploring words, how they fit together,
opened my heart, secretly tapping singular letters
forming sounds to please it. Holding – everything inside
vise-like, constricting further the heart’s muscle. Death
had a hand in this: grandmother, mother, friends. Nights
with Tripp to assuage my heart until he too blocked
it from feeling for too many years forward. Were it not
for the other mothers, fathers, families, and grandmother
that kept it pulsing, my heart would be long dead.
They made it a sea, deep enough to weather storms,
until a day, when love settled home, opened me up,
and guided my heart’s tempest until it was repaired.
And now? All it/I feel is gratitude.
December 1. It’s an interesting day to remember and/or try to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. It’s a time for celebrating the holidays, finishing up the year, planning ahead. But it is a good time for reflection and, I suppose, any day is a good time for that.
In point of fact, we cannot eradicate HIV/AIDS now, we can only educate, care for the inflicted, and remember our friends and loved ones who have passed on. Over the years I’ve lost many friends, having lived in Los Angeles in the epicenter of the gay community that was West Hollywood. I carry their memories with me every day. Mark, Jim, Ron, Don and many others. It was a terrifying time, and it all happened when I was young. HIV/AIDS colored my nights and days and my response to how it affected me personally took two years to write. This emotional upheaval started as a memoir, which ultimately had to be thrown away because it was too flat, too confining, and could not carry the weight of what I wanted to say about that time.
So I went back to my poem, “To Zion,” which was the result of a camping trip I took with a former partner of mine and started my descent into a sort of despair, which no one knew about. it was an amazing experience looking back on it now. The intensity was overwhelming while continuing to work, engage with people and family and do the things one normally has to. At night, however, I’d return figuratively and literally to the darkness, and on the weekends I would work hard at the distillation of my experience and the imaginings of others experience with the disease and try and get at the core of what I felt at the time.
The result was “The Narrows, Miles Deep,” the writing of which brought me out of that despair, and let me go on with my life, rejoice once again it its everydayness and work to finish other writing that patiently waited for me to finish.
Here’s to memory, and loss, and going forward. The following poem, which has never been published comes from that period of time. Ethelbert Miller urged me to combine two poems into one while I was studying at Bennington, which resulted in “The Democracy of Water,” an urging that I thank him for.
The Democracy of Water
How like me to wander blind forgetting tides timetables,
adrift on thoughts sparking like sun off windswept water.
How the tide doesn’t care who you are, or who you sleep with,
and how you dress yourself for late night walks along its ebb.
No, the tide moves in like slowly waking babies, or
arguments when the sky’s black and blinding with rage.
How like me to succumb so easily, to think that I can love
being trapped and washed away, drowning slowly against
The years of disease that I’ll sustain when the needle prick
is positive, or another one close surrenders at death’s door.
The outward turning tide leaves capillary rivulets
in its wake, in the moonlight as we run,
faster down the sloping bank along the water,
bodies naked and changing ever so slightly.
Me from age, you by disease rummaging through you
for things to cling to. We run in,
water thick as blood, as warm, too. We touch,
throw saltwater over us like wet moss, tiny
bursts of vessels seeping down our backs,
your chest, the long trail downward to where I’ve rested
my head with clearer thoughts than these. Speed
is of the essence! Get everything in now! Take it all in!
But light highlights your eyes, your cheeks,
your lips, everything I’ve kissed, loved deeper than this.
We stood, water licking our legs,
the tide pulling like ropes, tied
to unseen forces, deviling us farther on. Farther
into nights bloodless black. “Escape!” You cried,
and headlong toward the beach, our legs pushed against
the tide and carried us back to the ocean’s edge where
we rested on the seawall, my head back to where it
started that night as my eyes searched for the sun’s rise.