Thursday, June 23, 2022

A New Poem: The World of Our Making

A few weeks ago I attended Deena Metzger's Writers' Intensive.  Once again, a profound week with a wonderful group of writers.  The intensive does not focus on writing poetry, but rather on stories.  Still, one poem came in response to the poem I received at the beginning of intensive, something to contemplate and consider.  I may blog some of the personal story I wrote about later, but in any case, here is the poem.

This summer,

water use in our dry

northern California

will be restricted.

My little pomegranate tree,

only two years old,

just burst out with three deep red flowers.

Last year the tiny fruit fell off, too heavy

for spindly young branches to bear.

I don’t want the baby tree to die

from lack of water, so I will

catch shower-heating water in a bucket

and save the liquid from steaming artichokes

to dribble onto the dry soil.

 

The rains do not come, cannot come.

No rain to evoke sadness

or a flow of memories, but sadness

and the ghosts of memories arrive.

What comes from the sky is dust,

what water arrives is in our eyes.

Looking up for omens and comets,

we struggle to see, to hear something,

to wait for a message, to change.

And still, I love the earth.

The earth Is not the world.

The world of drought and fire,

floods and reckless storms

is of our making.

Our tears are salty and insufficient.

The blown dust and ash clog our eyes.

Yet despite all the horror, all the brokenness,

the redwoods and pines draw up

and display their good green life.

The earth still and always reminds us

to keep on, to love anyway,

to sit down with our ancestors’ ghosts,

to keep telling the stories.

The earth has everything, bears everything –

us, the trees, the life-giving waters,

the myriad other beings.

With all that we have done to her,

can we do any less?





Friday, May 13, 2022

A Spring Poem : April Rain

 I realized that it would be good to post this before we'e so far into spring that it's not so relevant.  

April rain

after a dry winter.

Some night visitor ate both

baby cucumber plants,

but the tomatoes are fine,

the fresh garden verdant

in the soaked soil.

A tiny bit of mist

floats down onto my cheeks,

invisible to the eye,

as the sun struggles

to break through.

 

This is the sky

that reigns over

the tiny plot of land,

this urban refuge

in a world of turmoil.

It is a hugeness, this sky,

changing, changing,

full of billowing clouds

at this moment –

this moment of breath

and herbaceous scents,

of a light breeze rustling

the tender new branches

of the Japanese maple

and the reaching shoots

of clematis vine.

 

These are the tall trees,

redwood and pine,

who lift their bodies

high above the houses,

whose unseen roots

intertwine beneath

the earth.

 

This is my heart,

heavy with fear and sorrow,

burdened with uncertainty

and resistant to accepting

the fact.

 

There is a show of sunlight now,

between drops of mist,

between the rain that was

and the rain to come.

Between.  As we all are.

Between life and death, of course,

but also between breaths,

between times of connections,

between moments.

 

Each between is

an opening,

each between a space

in the clouds,

each between a possibility

of letting go, a possibility

of ending, a possibility

of love.

 





Saturday, April 16, 2022

A New Poem: Defeating the Demons

Descending stairs

in pre-dawn darkness,

I enter the cave of memory

and confront

the demons named

         Routine,

         Boredom,

         Dullness, and

         Fear.

I muster up the energy

or the interest

or the will

to say –

         Hello, yes,

         here we are again.

Yet again.

 

The weak winter sun rises

and burnishes the side

of the castle’s tower

across the valley.

A beacon flashes

from parapet

or window,

beaming directly

across the expanse

to me.

Is this a sign, an omen?

Then, just as quickly,

the sun and

the beacon both

disappear, and behind

the castle a rainbow

arcs across the sky.

The demons are,

for the moment,

defeated.


 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

A New Poem: Falling

Our front door (visible in this photo) is down an outdoor flight of stairs, as we live in the lower unit of a duplex on a hill.  

I've been worried about the grandkids on the stairs ever since we moved in.  The two who live upstairs often run up and down, but wouldn't you know it?  I was the one who fell.  It was a doozy - headfirst down some number of steps (I don't really know where the slip actually happened.)  I was really fortunate in that no bones were broken and I didn't get knocked out.  Just nicely banged up and bruised.  This was a few weeks ago, and I'm fine now, and, boy, am I careful going down now!  An experience not to be repeated.

Interestingly, afterwards I was in a Zoom meeting with about 25 other people, and it turned out that six of us had fallen recently.  It set me to wondering what was up with that, and in such dark times that we are living in.

And so, this poem came.

 

Falling.

We are all falling.

A trip

         on a tree root.

A headfirst dive

         down a staircase.

Carrying groceries.

         Or crossing the room.

 

We are all

Falling.

Birds are falling

         to the ground.

Whales are falling

         onto the shore.

Bodies are falling

         from missile strikes.

What does it mean,

         all of this falling?

Will there be time and a way

         to rise back up, or

Will we sink down, down,

         going down with the ship?

Will we sing

         as we go?

 

A card falls out of the deck,

Landing face up on the altar.

It is the card

         of Gratitude.

If we land there,

         our hearts may

Fall

         open.

 

SoulCollage® card: Gratitude


Saturday, March 12, 2022

The Beauty of the Process

 If you saw my last blogpost, you’ll recall seeing this SoulCollage® card:



 

To recap, I made this card to help me overcome my fear of the statistics around my cancer diagnosis.  I have struggled to come to terms with the methods and nature of the western medical establishment in which the disease is treated rather than the person.  But this is just backstory, as you’ll see.

 

Here’s one of the beauties of SoulCollage® - while the process of making these collaged cards is very simple and a lot of fun, whether done alone or in community, it also can generate far greater insight than you might expect. There are basically two ways of making cards: have an idea of something you want to make, something you’d like to include in your deck, and look for images to capture that; or just pull images that you’re drawn to and see what evolves.  I always thought that the second method yields the most surprises.  Often, you don’t understand the import of what you have made until after (sometimes long after) you’ve made it.  But with this most recent collage, which was clearly created with a specific intention, the same kind of surprised awareness arose well after the fact.

 

Let me explain. The young woman’s image at the top of the card was cut off a photograph of her rock climbing.  I wanted a picture of a woman overcoming some difficulty, and this picture seemed ideal.  And so, I placed her practically climbing over the doctors who formed the lower background. On one level, this clearly achieved what I intended.  Mission accomplished. 

 

I selected the photo of the field of sunflowers for the lower background because it was full of life and new growth. As the sunflower is the chosen image of life and hope for sarcoma patients, it embodies even deeper symbolism. (And this was before the invasion of Ukraine and all the resulting sunflower images, but another synchronicity, for sure.)

 

The doctors are in their operating room, peering down at the little figure on the bottom left – me: small, bald, and fatigued from their ministrations.  April was the month I was diagnosed, and so I included the calendar page along with numbers representing the awful statistics concerning this disease. 

 

I will say I did feel some strength and resolve after completing the card.  But it didn’t end there.

 

A few days later, I sat with the card again, and another realization leaped into my mind and practically bowled me over.  Truly, the woman is no longer a rock climber.  I succeeded, as SoulCollage® inspires us to do, in giving the image an entirely new context.  She is now picking flowers in a field.  She is leaning over to pluck one.  Oh. My. God.  She is Persephone!  Of course she is!  And the medical establishment sits in the underworld beneath her.  Well, I have obviously been on an underworld journey.  And yet, the little me in the corner holds a big bouquet of sunflowers.  She will arise.  I have.

 

But is Persephone about to be pulled down like when she first picked the flower?  Or is She in this field during one of her subsequent annual ascents?  The card does not say, but in SoulCollage® we let the image speak.  What the woman said when I first made the card and before I understood Her significance was, “I am one who has been at the will of the medical system, for good and for ill.  I am one who has climbed out of the mindset that I have to be one of their statistics. I am one who chooses life and who refuses to be intimidated by their statistics.”  So, knowing this, I can be assured that we are viewing one of Persephone’s returns in the Spring.  She and I have already been down there.  There will be other descents.  But not now. 

 

And what about the central doctor?  Is he then Hades?  That’s a tricky question.  We can never approve of Hades’ actions in abducting Her, but is He evil?  What a terrible job He was assigned!  I can’t blame Him for not wanting to bear it alone.  Sadly, in the ancient times of the myth’s origins, Greek marriages were often conducted in this manner, or at least without the women being consulted, yet alone giving consent.  I do not condone his methods, even so.  But it is also true that through this awful act, Hades made Her a powerful queen. Her life and purpose drastically changed, and who can say whether this was a good thing or bad?

 

But back to the doctor – he did save my life (and I truly love my surgeon who called me “my miracle patient” and who, interestingly, was born in Greece). He, unlike Hades for Persephone, was not the cause of my troubles.  But he did drastically change my life.  Then he, they, western medicine, left me in this place.  My surgeon gave me the chance. If I want to be truly healed, I must use what they can offer but also take it into my own hands. I’m the one who can harvest the sunflower.

 

I have always tried to imagine Persephone’s story forward, beyond what we’re told in the myth.  It is up to Her to choose how to proceed.  Hades offers Her tremendous power in all the realms. I like to believe She took it on.

 

What the card does not show, and so perhaps I need to make another one, is that there is community.  I may often feel alone, and in many ways my suffering and path are all my own, but as the sunflowers grow together, connected, in the field, I am not alone.


Saturday, February 26, 2022

Update and a Poem

 Usually, after my every-three-months scan comes up clear (and I’ve done this often enough now to be able to say “usually”), I breathe a sigh of relief and happily face a few months of reprieve.  This time, however, I had a different response.  Don’t get me wrong – I am truly grateful and can even say thrilled at the results.  Many are not so fortunate.  But the worry did not completely abate.  Partly it is because my primary oncologist told me that he wants to continue scanning every three months for three years (from my surgery), instead of the two that I had anticipated.  That isn’t the worst thing in the world, and I can only hope that I make it three years in remission.  And I do understand that it is good to catch things early.  He just reminded me that my rare cancer recurs frequently, and that my specific version was aggressive.  This isn’t one of those “make it for five years and you’re pretty much home free” types of cancer.  This kind (leiomyosarcoma) is a “you’re never home free” variety.  I don’t think I’ve heard a single story of “one-and-done,” although that doesn’t mean that it has never happened.  I suspect anyone who may have made it into that camp dropped out of the support group, and we just don’t hear about them.  I do know of some twenty-year survivors.  But the statistics aren’t good.  You don’t want to know the five-year survival rate.  Let’s just say, it isn’t great.

 

In addition, I had a melanoma cut out of my leg last month.  My dermatologist says it was early stage, and she got clean margins.  I assumed I was done with it, but when I went to my local oncologist after my recent scan, she told me to watch out for swollen glands and lumps in my groin, which would indicate the melanoma having spread to lymph nodes.  Sigh…One more damned thing to worry about.

 

As Annie Lamott says, “Life is just too goddamn lifey sometimes.”

 

Despite my gratitude for it having saved my life, when I’m immersed in the medical world, I all too easily fall into fear of the statistics.  I know the docs don’t really intend to scare you (at least not the ones I’ve dealt with), and I realize they have seen all the worst-case scenarios played out.  And I suppose it’s better that they do inform you, unlike the old days when the truth was so often hidden from patients.  But our emotional responses are not really their concern (and yes, there are still so many ways western medicine sucks). 

 

If I allow myself to live in the grip of the statistics monster, I don’t know how to have a decent life with whatever time I have left.  And right now my life is way more than decent, despite cancer, the pandemic, climate collapse and political chaos.  I have a loving family, a good home, healthy food, poems to write, communities to be part of, and that medical care that I’m complaining about.  And I don’t live in a war zone.

 

So, after dealing with all the doctors in their stark white, intimidating and impersonal exam rooms, I have to spend a few days shaking off the fears and the statistics.  It’s not easy.  I wish I were the kind of person who can more easily shrug things off and move on.  Before I had a life-threatening diagnosis, I didn’t have a clue about what life is like for those who have.  Now I know.  Let’s just say, it’s a lot to come to terms with and I hope you never have the experience.  I’m not writing this so you will feel sorry for me.  You have your own bag of worries to carry around.  But writing is something I do to help me let go of the fear.  I debated about sending it to you, but I decided that it could help (me, if not you) to give you a glimpse into my world, into my lifey life.  I don’t know about you, but I do appreciate hearing about what is really, truly going on in my friends’ lives and struggles.  Maybe you do, too.  No point in hiding, is there?

 

I do feel determined to not let these situations run me.  I would dearly love to turn my attention outward and away from myself.   

 

Here’s the poem that is part of my banishing the statistics demons:

 

Victimized by Statistics

 

The news is good,

I tell myself.

Free and clear for

three more months.

Then I enter

one of those horrid

little white rooms

where I am only

another statistic

waiting to tally.

My relief drains away

under the palpating

hands, and I shrink into

an uneasy and smaller

version of myself.

True, they royally grant

me my reprieve, but

along with it comes

instructions to be

vigilant and wary.

As if I needed

one more dose

of fear. As if

there is paltry hope

beyond their statistics.

As if it is of no concern

that once again

I feel like a

ticking time bomb.

 

 

After writing this, I decided to take one more step in healing this situation.  so, I made a SoulCollage® card that is about moving beyond being a victim of the statistics.  Here it is:




 

  Sorry for the repetition for those who read this on CaringBridge.