Kindness for Easter

I haven’t posted a poem here for a couple of days. Because life.

But I have been thinking a lot about mercy (thanks to Anne Lamott) and what it means to be kind. It’s hard work, harder than being angry, harder than hating. It’s work that I must do, but I have to tell you that lately it’s been more difficult that usual.

It feels like we, as a country, are hurtling towards destruction tossed about by a mad tweeter whose decision-making process is commandeered by a narcissistic devotion to good polls.

It’s fucking scary–there are bombs involved, big-ass bombs.

And yet, the dogwood trees bloom, and a single chipmunk runs beneath the just-about-to-bloom lilac bushes in the back yard. My grandkids come over and swing high on our wobbly old swing set. Old friends send pictures of their reunion, my daughter brings sushi home, and for the first time in 26 years, we do not hide eggs in the back yard.

Life, no living is a beautiful thing.

This big-hearted love for the world always brings me to poetry where I can find that love distilled. This morning, I am sharing with you a few lines from Naomi Shihab Nye‘s poem,  Kindness. I hope you will follow the link and read the rest of the poem. Happy Easter, friends.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Clear-Eyed and Joyful: On Spring

I’ve pretty much been a grump this winter. And it’s been a fairly mild winter–so what’s up? We’ve experienced nice, warm, sunny days in January, February and March, and you know how I felt about those days? I felt mean and dissatisfied and glum.

If someone said to me, as lots of people did on one of those delightfully moderate days:

“What a beautiful day, huh!”

or

“We sure are lucky this year with weather!”

or

“It feels like spring!”

I smiled buoyantly, nodded my head, and said something like, “Sure thing!” But what I was thinking was more like this:

“Have you ever heard of global warming? It’s February, for God’s sake. We should be trudging through snow, or running to the IGA for supplies to get us through an ice-storm! This isn’t normal, people. I know it’s pretty and all that, but we are like those damn frogs boiling to death in a cup of water heated so slowly we forget to jump out!”**

I looked like a chipper little spring worshipper, but I was muttering and mumbling and not enjoying a minute of the beautiful weather. Hmmm…what would we call this sort of behavior? We could call it clear-eyed and unsentimental. Or we could call it indignant, judgy, self-righteous, and joyless. I’m okay with clear-eyed, but I hate the last four.

I’ve been posting poems here in celebration of National Poetry Month. In looking for poems to post, I’ve read a lot of older poems, poems that have been out in the world for so long, they belong to everyone. The other day I did a search for “spring” poems on Poets.org, and this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) popped up.

Spring

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

 

Wow! I’ve got something in common with Edna St. Vincent Millay, I thought. Instead of enjoying the lovely weather, I’ve been pissed off that it is only disguising our ultimate demise, death, and destruction. (of course, Edna wrote a kick-ass poem about it, while I walked around with a fake smile)

 

I read the poem over and over. I knew it was speaking directly to me, and finally I got what it was saying.

 

Don’t be such an asshole, Bridgett! 
You can enjoy beauty.
It’s always a gift, even when it’s a sign of global warming.
 You can smile and mean it.
You can raise your face to the sun.
Don’t take yourself so fucking seriously.
You can be clear-eyed and joyful–holding two truths at the same time.

 

I get so caught up, folks. I get so caught up in worry and fear.

 

Yes, I’m terrified about the multitude of ways we are destroying our planet and the new administration’s seeming determination to speed that process up, but it’s just silly not to enjoy a beautiful day.

 

So the next time someone says to me–“Beautiful day, huh,” I’ll answer, “It is.”

And mean it.

**According to Wikipedia, the whole frog scenario is false. A frog will indeed jump out of water as it heats up.

A poem by Edith Sitwell for Sunday

Interlude

Edith Sitwell, 18871964

Amid this hot green glowing gloom	 
A word falls with a raindrop’s boom...	 
  
Like baskets of ripe fruit in air	 
The bird-songs seem, suspended where	 
  
Those goldfinches—the ripe warm lights	         
Peck slyly at them—take quick flights.	 
  
My feet are feathered like a bird	 
Among the shadows scarcely heard;	 
  
I bring you branches green with dew	 
And fruits that you may crown anew	  
  
Your whirring waspish-gilded hair	 
Amid this cornucopia—	 
  
Until your warm lips bear the stains	 
And bird-blood leap within your veins.

Another War Poet: Siegfried Sassoon

While the press gushes over President trump and the “decisive” action he took against Syria without questioning why it’s better to bomb than to accept refugees, I have been reading some poems by soldiers who refused to  gloss over the ugly facts of war. Here is a poem by Siegfried Sassoon.
Attack
At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow’ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to, meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

Wilfred Owen and “the old lie”

Yesterday, the United States launched 59 cruise missiles on a Syrian airbase. The airbase is where the US believes the Syrian planes that carried out the horrific chemical attack originated. It is nearly impossible to watch footage of the aftermath of that chemical attack and not be filled with shock, disgust, and a desire to retaliate. I do not have answers; none of us do, but it is wise to remember our history and to revisit poets like Wilfred Owen.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen, 18931918

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Connection: Anne Lamott and Naomi Shihab Nye

Last night, alone in the king-sized bed I was lucky enough to crawl into after traveling with my parents to St. Louis for an early morning doctor’s appointment, I opened Anne Lamott’s newest book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering MercyIn order to understand just how freaking delighted I was, you have to know that I love Anne Lamott. I have loved her for years. When I am down, I go to my Anne Lamott shelf and read from one of her many books. I love her so much that this shelf is in constant need of replenishment because I am constantly giving Anne’s books away (this might be a theme with me).

Often, if I need a hit of Anne, I go to the Salon archives of the columns Anne has written for Salon.com over the years, or I check out her FB page on which she shares what it means to be human. I need that so much–that sharing of what it means to be human–that when a new Anne Lamott book is released, I await its arrival with a greedy giddiness that I typically save for a glass of red wine after a long day.

I was greedy, giddy, and tired last night when I opened that beautiful new book. Goddess, there is something beautiful about a small book, isn’t there. The way it feels in the hands–compact and dense. The way the heavy paper feels against the fingertips. The slight give of the spine when you begin to read. Yes, I was greedy, giddy, and tired last night, but grateful too. Grateful to have a few moments with a new book before slipping into sleep in preparation for an early morning.

I was unprepared for the epigraph–Famous–a poem by the wonderful Naomi Shihab Nye, another writer I would follow into the dark. (an interesting tidbit–Nye was born in St. Louis, MO) A good poem can make me cry. I cried last night because I felt connected–that is what poetry does–it connects us. And that’s why I’m sharing a few lines of the poem here even though I said I would try to share poems only from the public domain.   I encourage you to follow the link so you can read the entire poem.

a few lines from Famous

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

And if you love this one–you will–read more poems.

And check out Hallelujah Anyway too–you won’t regret it!

 

Oh, the Wandering Clouds: a poem by William Wordsworth

This might be the first poem I loved when I found poems, when I began to fall in love with words and and the way they could snap and spark against other words, the way they felt leaving my pencil as it scratched across the page, the way they conjured whole worlds. I’m still delighted when I become that lonely cloud in the first line of this poem by William Wordsworth.

The Daffodils
William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Emily Dickinson and Miss AKR

It’s National Poetry Month, and in celebration of poems, I am going to attempt (yes attempt–no promises) to post a poem a day–only poems in the public domain unless I get permission of the author to post.

But before I post a poem, I want to announce the winners of the Amy Krouse Rosenthal drawing. I did say WINNERS because I drew twice. I couldn’t help myself. I not only love to buy books for myself, but apparently I love to buy them for others. I think I just like to buy, read, mark in, carry-around, sleep with, spill coffee on, take a bath with (you get the picture) books. So I decided to hold two drawings–one for Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal and one for Little Pea and The OK Book. So we have two lucky winners.

Karen Zuber is the winner of Encyclopedia and Textbook

Lauren McClain is the winner of Little Pea and The OK Book

The books are on the way ladies, I will message you when I have them in my hot little hands, and we can arrange a drop off or a pick up!

*******

And here’s your poem for today–a great reminder for me today to not take myself so damned seriously!

I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)
Emily Dickinson

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Beauty Begets Hope: Missing Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I have not survived against all odds.

I have not lived to tell.

I have not witnessed the extraordinary.

This is my story.

And thus begins the cool-as-hell encyclopedic memoir of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a book that changed the way I think about writing and living. The book is Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, and it was published to acclaim in 2005. The copy I hold at this moment is not the first copy I’ve held in my hot little hands, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Since the day I opened the pages to this book, I’ve been shoving my own copy into others’ hands–“You have to read Amy Krouse Rosenthal,” I say. “She is one of my favorite authors.”

Amy Krouse Rosenthal died March 13, 2017.

That Monday morning, I woke with a feeling of space between my heart and my gut–an uncomfortable space, a feeling of emptiness and dread. I’m anxious by nature, so I’m not new to this feeling of floating doom, but often I can point my finger at some insistent and persistent doubt or worry bubbling just beneath the surface of my consciousness.

And no, I’m not claiming to have powers of clairvoyance although I believe there is something of a mystic in all of us, but when I heard the news, I knew that emptiness was a direct and physical reaction to Amy Krouse Rosenthal leaving this world.

If you are a reader of my blog, you know that I am a fan. If I lived in the Chicago area, it is likely that I would have been a stalker sort of fan, haunting Amy’s favorite book stores, hanging out at The Bean hoping for a glimpse of the coolest writer ever. As it is, living in the southern portion of the state, I only made it to see Amy once, and it was one of the best days of my life because even though Amy was sick, she was full of life.

On her website, Amy describes herself as someone who likes to make things. In her life, she made 30 books, numerous short films, a couple of TEDx talks, three people she loved a lot, and beauty.

We weren’t friends although I did have the great pleasure of meeting her on August 8 in Chicago. Amy, who was sick with ovarian cancer at the time, held a book-coming-out party for her delightful new memoir-of-sorts, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

I’ve said it a million times, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life changed my life. I didn’t like it at first, but then to my surprise and delight, I loved it, I was enchanted, delighted, curious, I wanted to know how she created this outstanding record. It’s beautifully constructed, and the structure is inspired. I have read it over and over because it reminds me  that cynicism is overrated. It reminds me to be genuine and earnest and honest. I thought I might never love a book this way again.

And then Amy got me again with Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy with a group of giddy early readers of the book. I read it on the beach with sand on my hands. I didn’t expect to like the texting component as I don’t love texting to begin with, but it grew on me immediately. My phone was sandy and sticky because I couldn’t help myself, I wanted to hear the wine glass sing, to put a message in that bottle, to hear Ted Koch read his poem.

Amy’s memoirs aren’t like other memoirs. They are like walks through her brain on any one day. We get to know her through her thoughts. These memoirs are brain maps.

The truth is, I’ve been trying to write this blog post since the moment I learned of Amy’s death. I want it to be perfect. I want it to be worthy. I want it to be enough, but if I learned anything from reading Amy’s books and listening to her TEDtalks, from watching The Beckoning of Lovely over and over it is this–“Make the most of your time here” NOW, “Make do with what you have” NOW, “Beckon Lovely” NOW because NOW is more than enough. NOW is the right time to live, love, post on your blog, kiss your kids, eat another piece of blueberry cobbler, take a walk, sing with the Dixie Chicks,  watch that big bellied robin in the back yard.

So here I sit with my grief and my gratitude for Amy Krouse Rosenthal and I write.

A couple of months before Amy died, she went on a train to think, and she asked folks for things to think about. I was feeling pissed and depressed and anxious about the election results, and I wrote to her:

I have been thinking a lot about the place of beauty in the world. I’m wondering if it’s still important to put flowers in vases or set the table nicely or make art. And I’m a writer, so this is a big question. But sometimes I wonder—do we have time for all this stuff when things could get so bad?

I was a teeny bit self-pitying at that point, but Amy went on that train, and she wrote back.

Martin Luther King advised “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.” Even in this time of doubtless disappointment, when I witness something beautiful—a tree, a string quartet, the face of a loved one—what I feel is hope.

She wrote a lot more than what I share above, but I want to focus on that hope. Beauty begets hope.

It’s not too much for me to remember. Beauty begets hope.

A couple of nights ago, a friend and I made the most of our time here now and we got tattoos. Beauty begets hope.

A yellow umbrella for Amy and a reminder that I’m enough, what I offer the world is more than enough.

It’s a lesson I may have to learn now that it’s tattooed on my arm.IMG_2479

 

As usual, I want to give you a pair of Amy Krouse Rosenthal books, so if you leave a comment, or send me a message, I will enter you into a drawing.

 

 

National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month begins on April 1 2017. I’ve been thinking a lot about poetry and its place in a country that seeks to denigrate and eliminate the arts. Poetry has the power to bring us together as well as the power to speak truth to power. In anticipation of the upcoming monthlong celebration of poetry, I thought I would take the time to post a few of my favorite poems.  I’m going to start with a long time favorite by the brilliant, late, Adrienne Rich who would have much to say about the state of politics today.

Here are the first few lines

Song

You’re wondering if I’m lonely:
OK then, yes, I’m lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

(read the rest of this poem, here)

 

I’ll be posting links to some of my favorite poems and poets during April. I hope that you will share with me your favorite poems and poets too!