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!

 

A Story About Type 1 Diabetes

Four years ago today, my daughter Audrey was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. This is our story.

The 49th Year

I smelled it.

Untreated or undiagnosed or unacknowledged Type 1 Diabetes smells like fingernail polish remover, and I smelled that on my 14-year old daughter, Peanut, three years ago today.

I was the only one who smelled it, and I smelled it for a week, on her breath and on her skin. I sniffed her for a week while she slept—and she was sleeping a lot—while she ate, while she watched TV. This irritated her a great deal, and I can see why. Every time she turned around, there I was with my nose in her hair, or trying to get a whiff of her breath. I knew something was wrong.

There were other symptoms, sure. She was losing weight which could be explained away by her age—14. She was hormonal. Her body was changing. Things were shifting as she grew taller. She was eating strange things like Frosted Flakes…

View original post 1,752 more words

The LOVE Is Already There

Last Monday, around 11:30PM, I received a private message from an old high school friend. She wanted to share with me the FB post of another classmate and friend of ours–a post that poked fun at folks like me who are using FB to stay informed and to connect with like-minded people looking for constructive and loving ways to protest the policies of the new administration. It was a clever, for sure, but snarky too.

I might not have answered if I weren’t determined to stay awake. You see, my 17-year-old daughter, Peanut, has Type 1 Diabetes. Lately her blood sugar has been dropping during the night. When this happens, I read or watch TV until her blood sugar numbers are in the safe zone. I have a nifty little app on my phone that alerts me to Peanut’s low blood sugars, and I had just returned to bed after watching my daughter drink a half a Gatorade, when my old high school buddy popped in on Messenger.

I was fatigued, and I had to stay up, and my heart began to race. I responded (not unkindly at first although eventually I did get pissy) and this unleashed in my old friend a bundle of ugliness.

I’ve been pondering this post for over a week now. In the meantime, I turned 50 and was the recipient of many lovely birthday wishes, an Italian cream cake baked by my mother an outspoken Republican and baker extraordinaire, and three champagne toasts. I attended a visitation for an old friend’s father and was sung Happy Birthday to by the lovely ladies cooking the funeral dinner.

I finished a book called Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russel Hoschild in order to try to understand the whole “Make America Great Again” business. I remain baffled (but this might be mere stubbornness) although Hoschild’s book was both an illuminating and tender examination of the tremendous gulf between liberals and tea partiers and a call to action based on empathy.

I’ve had lunch with friends and lunch with daughters and lunch with mothers. I sat on the porch with my husband on an unseasonably warm day and we drank beers and willfully ignored the fact that it’s not supposed to be 65 in southern Illinois in February. I watched a bunch of 5th grade girls play basketball and grieved for those days when my own children played 5th grade basketball.

According to my Fitbit, I’ve logged 54 miles walking and pondering the conversation I had with that old friend. First I wanted to shine a light on her late-night rantings. I mean, who starts a mean-spirited political discussion with someone at 11:30 at night in a private message? I wrote (in my head) reams of scathing responses that were not empathic at all.

And then I waited. You see, she said one thing to me that evening that I want to focus on here. She wrote to me, in response to my latest blog post about love, “none of us, NONE are buying into your…’I love everything and everyone and every person.'”

She’s right.

That stings. Because I want to love big and expansively. I want to “love the hell out of them,” as Martin Luther King Jr. told his followers. I want to L O V E the way I believe we are intended to, and still I fall short.

I do NOT extend my love to donald trump or jeff sessions or betsy devos. I talk a good game about love because I really do believe in it. But let me tell you, there are days that I spend most of my time watching MSNBC and reading The Washington Post or The Guardian, and what I am filled with is definitely not LOVE. It’s a twisty, knotty, tangled derisive, divisive outrage. And there are days when it threatens to blow my head off (did you see how they silenced Elizabeth Warren as she read Coretta Scott King’s letter?).

So how can I in good conscious continue to write about LOVE?

In the days since my old friend took me to task for writing about love, I’ve listened to John Lewis’s interview on Krista Tippett’s On Being more than once. I printed the transcript from the interview, and I have scoured it for some formula that might help me love those I do not want to love–because that is part of the problem. I want to parcel love. NO sending love to those not worthy of such an elevated feeling.

John Lewis describes love as “a way of being” He contends that love is “a way of action. . . It has the capacity, it has the ability to bring peace out of conflict.” 

I can sort of wrap my mind around this. Love, not as an elevation of feeling, but as a “way of being” in this world. This is what I aspire to. It’s hard work. This sort of love demands presence. It demands that I open my arms to the world as it is, not as it should be or as I would like it to be. It demands that I look at the world as John Lewis does to believe that “the good is already there. The love is there.”

It’s just up to us to make it real.

 

**on another note, yes. I did turn 50. But the blog will remain The 49th Year. Keep reading and loving.