Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lilies of the Garden

Consider the lilies how they grow:
they toil not, they spin not;
and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.
Luke 12:27 (also Matthew 6:28)

Easter Lilies
Notice that Beaumont, like the lilies, toils not!Bring the lilies home from church,
enjoy them on the patio for awhile,
let them die a natural death,
plant the bulbs in your flower garden,
and the following summer . . .


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pocket Poems

For more on the poetry of Lee Perron
see my essay

"No One With A Nose"

on The Fortnightly [Every 14th & 28th]
Kitti Carriker: A Literary Blog
of Connection & Coincidence; Custom & Ceremony

we come to understand
our lips utter


this friendship
i shall regret
losing --
how many days
does water slip
over these rocks?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book Blogs

Watercolor by Ben McCartney, age 8 (1998)
". . . the business of recording life
meant that there was less time for living."

Doris Lessing
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 2007

This Lessing quotation explains what I feel has been happening to me since I designed my blogs. I've been writing more but reading less -- because the business of writing about reading means less time for reading! A timely input - output trade - off that works well for both my Quotidian and Fortnightly posts, where I get a lot of writing done, but not quite so well for Kitti's Book List, which has seen lengthier years. It's not that I haven't been reading. I have . . . but at a slower pace than I would like.

My project over the weekend was to look over my reading journal for the past couple of years, say a little something about the titles that have so far escaped commentary, and finish up a few posts started earlier in the year. The lists that follow aren't long, but they tie up a few loose ends:

Imagery from Afghanistan and Iran
Movie Tie - Ins
Big Hair Day
Homebody Anybody
Homebody Somebody

Thursday, June 23, 2011

In That Small Cafe

A couple of years ago, I was walking around Chicago in search of my two favorite coffee shops from the 80s. It turned out that Albert's on West Elm had gone out of business & was all boarded up; and Coffee Chicago, which used to be independent and totally funky (where I bought my first espresso pot) was now a Starbucks / UPS. Okay, not a horrible fate; but, alas, no longer unique. Utterly predictable.
Worse, I couldn't even document my disappointment because my camera quit working right then and there in the pouring rain. For on top of everything else that wasn't going quite right that day, it was chilly, gray, and rainy. Whereas -- if memory serves -- back when I used to frequent Albert's and Coffee Chicago, it was always either sunny or snowing softly!

I learned a hard lesson about time travel that day: not only can you not go home again (which I guess I already knew) but you can't even go to the coffee shop again (now, that one was news to me). Sigh. The sweet old Albert's with the pink and black striped awning and chocolate covered strawberries? It is in my mind, not on the street!

I'll Be Seeing You

[click to listen]

I'll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through.

In that small cafe;
The park across the way;
The children's carousel;
The chestnut trees;
The wishin' well.

I'll be seeing you
In every lovely summer's day;
In every thing that's light and gay.
I'll always think of you that way.

I'll find you
In the morning sun
And when the night is new.
I'll be looking at the moon,
But I'll be seeing you.

lyrics: Irving Kahal

music: Sammy Fain
sung by Billie Holiday

Urban Dream HouseTriplex at the corner of North La Salle and West Chestnut

The park across the way . . . Washington Square Park & Newberry Library

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Never Above, Never Below, Always Beside

You are the star of each night,
You are the brightness of every morning,
You are the story of each guest,
You are the report of every land.

No evil shall befall you, on hill nor bank,
In field or valley, on mountain or in glen.
Neither above, nor below, neither in sea,
Nor on shore, in skies above,
Nor in the depths.

You are the kernel of my heart,
You are the face of my sun,
You are the harp of my music,
You are the crown of my company.

~ Traditional Irish Blessing ~

Annie and Aaron Burrows

Last week, I was having a discussion with a few family members about extreme stupidity and gender absurdity in advertising. I really appreciated these thoughtful observations from one of my nephews:

But, for the most part this advertising is offensive. I don't think it's wrong to acknowledge different roles for men and women without sacrificing equality. There's the other extreme. In entertainment it's the other way around. Every TV sitcom features a husband who's a bumbling moron while the wife / mother is the only person capable of keeping everything afloat.

[Or, what I seem to notice a lot: sitcoms with NO wife / mother at all in the picture. E.g., Full House, that stupid Olsen twins show. Hey, who needs a mother when the House is already so Full, right? My Three Sons, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Buffy & Jody -- where was their mother? Oops -- killed in a car accident, just like the Full House mom. In real life, this would be devastating, but in TV Land, it's just one more light-hearted, convenient little plot device! Mom's dead? Not to worry! Apparently, sitcoms can be just as fun and funny, or even more so, without Mom around. But that's another story. And that's me talking . . .
Now, back to Aaron . . . ]

Many people blame these objectionable gender roles on Christian society and western values. But this is far from true. Western society has produced some of history's greatest, most accomplished, powerful women. This is very different from the ancient societies that viewed women as objects. The New Testament (and actually the Old Testament, when properly understood) teaches something very different, and very liberating, for women. Jesus and the apostles rebuked people who objectified women. In fact, men were called to love their wives "as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her." This is in stark contrast to what was popular at the time. The biblical mandate for men and women is mutual submission to one another, not "love honor and OBEY" as many people seem to think.

The 1950's are often idealized as a time when all was right with the world. Yet, as the Cracked article points out, women were expected to be quiet, bring their husbands coffee, and shut up. They were supposed to be happy about a husband who was gone on business trips all the time, and never question anything. We must be careful not to exchange this oppressive past for something equally oppressive under the guise of "liberation."

If we follow a biblical model for marriage, we will see people in mutual service to each other, working hard for their home, family, church, and culture. What a world it would be, huh? There is nothing wrong with a "traditional" home wherein the mother stays home with her children and the father works outside to bring home the money. There is also nothing wrong with doing it the other way around. Or some combination of the two. What IS wrong, is when people, men or women, elevate themselves above the other.

by guest blogger Aaron Thomas Burrows,
shown here with son Reuben


The two family photographs above were taken by
Aaron & Annie's talented daughter & guest photographer . . .

Lyla Jane Burrows


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Birthday to Cate!

Celtic Knot

" . . . knit your heart
With an unslipping knot."

from Antony and Cleopatra, Act II, scene ii

Bouguereau's La Fileuse
shows a woman hand-spinning,
using a drop spindle in the right hand,
with a distaff held in the left hand.

La Fileuse / The Spinner / Girl with Spindle and Distaff, 1873
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)
French painter of classical and mythological subjects, known in his lifetime as one of the world's greatest painters.
{To learn more, see Artsy's William Adolphe Bouguereau Page}

Waterhouse's La Fileuse
shows Fate spinning human
destiny on her distaff.

La Fileuse / The Fate, 1874
John William Waterhouse(1849 - 1917)
English painter particularly of women from Arthurian and Greek Legend, in the Pre-Raphaelite style.

to the best knitter I know, my friend CATE

Cate likes to say that the whole world and all of life are about knitting. Knitting & unknitting! As Shakespeare says:

"Sleep . . . knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care."
from Macbeth, Act ii, scene ii

A few months ago, I came across a great passage about knitting in Sandra Tsing Loh's highly entertaining book, Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting! Early in the story, trying to put up a good front at a pre-school fundraiser for literacy, she springs for a "Knitting Kit," confessing, "I don't know from literacy projects, and I've never knit in my life. I'll buy two!" (42).

As her quest to find the perfect grade school for her daughters grows ever more stressful, and her career spins out of control, she attempts to calm down and make the best of things: "Where's that knitting kit? Here it is! Turquoise wool! Fluffy! Nice!" (154).

By the end of the book, she's in full swing! She's like Cate!

"To calm myself, I reach into my bag and take out my knitting. Just touching the fluffy sapphire - colored wool, with its little red and violet spots, like hidden jewels, and unfolding the cascading foot - and - a - half length of my muffler, and its many satisfyingly even stitches . . . I instantly feel a lift. I sit back on my chair and begin to absorbingly clack my needles" (ellipses Loh's).

Sandra has brought along her knitting to her special wine and cheese session with her therapist, who asks how she is doing amidst all the issues: "'I guess the main thing I have to report is that for once in my life I am incredibly happy,' I reply. I have moved to the end of my row, which was almost finished, and now flip over the muffler and begin a new row. This new row picks up a little more of the violet, with the sapphire. the whole effect is very pleasing. It's such a kick - ass scarf."

Loh is sleeping better, not obsessing at the computer: "'I'm so into knitting now. Oh my GOD, do I love my knitting. It's almost obscene how much I look forward to it. It makes me happy. Look at this scarf! Just looking at it makes me really really happy. That's why I'm graduating from therapy after two decades. I'm just pretty . . . damn . . . happy'" (ellipses Loh's).

All's right with the world: "I have wine, I have cheese, I have my knitting -- there is nothing not perfect in my universe" (248 - 49).

See my previous post
on Sandra Tsing Loh,
A Mom On Fire

and previous Cate posts:
Sandal Weather
Cate's Books
Cate's Coffee Table

and more on Bouguereau
Portland / Minneapolis

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Happy Bloomsday!

Not only is it June 16th,
its Thursday, June 16th!
It's Bloomsday!

Check out my new Fortnightly post: "Parallax"
and enjoy the day!

Bloomsday at the Rosenbach,
#2008 & #2010 Delancey Street, Philadelphia


Some Quotations for Bloomsday, by Joyce and others,
in honor of wandering the streets of Dublin, or wherever:

It is the epic of two races (Israel-Ireland) and at the same time the cycle of the human body as well as a little story of a day (life)... It is also a kind of encyclopaedia. My intention is not only to render the myth sub specie temporis nostri but also to allow each adventure (that is, every hour, every organ, every art being interconnected and interrelated in the somatic scheme of the whole) to condition and even to create its own technique.
James Joyce (Irish novelist, 1882-1941)
Letters, 21st September 1920

"Think you're escaping and run into yourself.
Longest way round is the shortest way home."

James Joyce, from Ulysses, Chapter 13

"Who is it that can tell me who I am?"

William Shakespeare, from King Lear

"And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive
where we started and know the place for the first time."

T. S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

"Happy Bloomsday, citizens, phenomenologists, throwaways, foreigners, gentlemen of the press, evermoving wanderers, weavers and unweavers, pedestrians in brown macintoshes, Wandering Soap, sailors crutching around corners, no-one, everyone! Hoping you're well and not in hell!"
Kathleen O'Gorman, my friend and fellow Modernist

Is reading Ulysses still on your "to do" list?
Well, for a few milliseconds of entertainment, you can
enjoy this minimalist version: Ulysses for Dummies.
It will quickly bring you up to speed, or serve as a
quick review if it's been awhile. Haha!

more about Bloomsday on
The Fortnightly [Every 14th & 28th]
Kitti Carriker: A Literary Blog
of Connection & Coincidence; Custom & Ceremony

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Song for Flag Day

Not only a song

but also a ten - minute short film

written in 1945 by Albert Maltz,
produced by Frank Ross and Mervyn LeRoy

starring Frank Sinatra,
instructing children against
anti-Semitism and racial prejudice

The House I Live In
What is America to me?
A name, a map, or a flag I see;
A certain word, democracy.
What is America to me?

The house I live in,
A plot of earth, a street,
The grocer and the butcher,
Or the people that I meet;
The children in the playground,
The faces that I see,
All races and religions,
That's America to me.

The place I work in,
The worker by my side,
The little town or city
Where my people lived and died.
The howdy and the handshake,
The air and feeling free,
And the right to speak my mind out,
That's America to me.

The things I see about me,
The big things and the small,
The little corner newsstand,
And the house a mile tall;
The wedding and the churchyard,
The laughter and the tears,
And the dream that's been a growing
For a hundred-fifty years.

The town I live in,
The street, the house, the room,
The pavement of the city,
And the garden all in bloom;
The church, the school, the clubhouse,
The million lights I see,
But especially the people;
That's America to me.

The house I live in,
My neighbors white and black,
The people who just came here,
Or from generations back;
The town hall and the soapbox,
The torch of liberty,
A home for all God's children;
That's America to me.

The words of old Abe Lincoln,
Of Jefferson and Paine,
Of Washington and Jackson
And the tasks that still remain;
The little bridge at Concord,
Where Freedom's fight began,
Our Gettysburg and Midway
And the story of Bataan.

The house I live in,
The goodness everywhere,
A land of wealth and beauty,
With enough for all to share;
A house that we call Freedom,
A home of Liberty,
And it belongs to fighting people
That's America to me.

lyrics written in 1943 by Abel Meeropol
under the pen name Lewis Allen

music by Earl Robinson
sung by Frank Sinatra


I learned this song back in May of 1969, when we sang it at our Sixth Grade Spring Concert. When I started at Central School ~ Francis Howell School District, St. Charles County, Missouri ~ there was no piano or music room available, so our music teacher, Mr. Lester roamed from classroom to classroom, teaching us songs to his accompaniment on the accordian. The following year, we were granted a little room with slanted ceilings underneath the stage -- we did have a stage in an auditorium that doubled as our gymnasium.

At the concert that spring, along with the Frank Sinatra number, we also sang:

Hernando's Hideaway

Steam Heat

Baubles, Bangles, and Beads

You've Gotta Have Heart

Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, Mo

Hey, Look Me Over

El Sombrero

Put On A Happy Face

June is Bustin' Out All Over

What a Country

The theme? "Life In the Good Old U. S. A."

America to Me: Central School(sadly, no longer standing)


Sunday, June 12, 2011


Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia

Remember summertime, Vacation Bible School? Kool - Aid, cookies, arts & crafts . . . or crabs, as six - year - old Ben referred to them that one summer when we sent him to the urban Presbyterian VBS, led by collegiate interns from Ohio who had come to the "mission field" of West Philadelphia to "minister" to our privileged children.

Crabs? We thought perhaps the summer curriculum included a unit on beach life, maybe some hermit crabs in a sand tank. But no, it was just dear little Ben's mispronunciation / misunderstanding of good ol' crafts, everybody's favorite! Macaroni necklaces, tissue paper butterflies, log cabins made out of Popsicle sticks, plaster hand prints.

When my sons got a bit older, they were the ministers, helping the tots with crabs, passing out tee-shirts, making huge batches of Rice Krispy Treats to distribute to the Bible School kids at Old Pine Presbyterian. Funny, we weren't Presbyterians, but somehow our Vacation Bible School experiences always seemed to be.

VBS -- mostly harmless. This cool song & video by Ben Folds is a kind of grown - up version. I like to play it in my car, driving past all those "parking lots, cracked and growing grass." Once it gets in my head, I can hum it for days without stopping, practically all summer long . . .


Music video by Ben Folds performing Jesusland.

Take a walk
out the gate you go and never stop
past all the stores and wig shops
quarter in a cup for every block
and watch the buildings grow
smaller as you go

Down the tracks
beautiful McMansions on a hill
that overlook a highway
with riverboat casinos and you still
have yet to see a soul


Town to town
broadcast to each house, they drop your name
but no one knows your face
Billboards quoting things you'd never say
you hang your head and pray

for Jesusland

Miles and miles
and the sun goin' down
Pulses glow
from their homes
You're not alone
Lights come on
as you lay your weary head on their lawn

Parking lots
cracked and growing grass you see it all
from offices to farms
crosses flying high above the malls
A longer walk

through Jesusland

on the CD, Songs for Silverman
by Ben Folds (b 1966)
American singer, song-writer, pianist

"Billboards quoting things you'd never say . . ."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Nose Poem

For today's blog -- and in preparation for a longer post (long story!) coming up in the near future -- I typed up the following long poem, which my nearest and dearest (and perhaps a few of my former students) will recognize as a long - time favorite of mine.

For those who have not read it before, here is one of the best parables I have ever encountered on the topic of sacrifice and the price of experience. This man does not cut off his nose to spite his face. No, he does it to gain both the world and his soul.

from Desire, a Sequence (1977)
by Lee Perron, California Poet & Antiquarian Bookseller

there are so many innocent little things we want
with application and luck and a good nudge from the gods
we may have any of them

it's those gods -- they bestow all things upon you
and they do not ask for much in return
they will give you everything & they will ask back from you only
some small thing --
for instance, they might ask for your nose

come on, they say, why don't you just chuck it in
put it down the garbage disposal and as soon as it works its way
back into the earth we'll give you whatever you want
the deciduous idea! trees die for half the year & take all else in
the universe
-- i can hear what's going on in your mind: what, my nose? oh
no, not me, you must be thinking of some other guy
but you know, a man might do it
he might take a knife & cut a little deeper every day
and if by the second week he's still only through the skin and
hasn't really gotten to the bone yet
in that second week he decides to lob off the whole thing at once
and there he is with no nose
people laugh at him
but immediately the gods start bestowing their gifts
they give him patience & application
he learns how to do things right
slowly he grows in command of his will & intellect
and with these he acquires whatever he feels he needs:
a wife, lovers, respect in his community, a drum set
the capacity to drink limitless quantities of gin

but what is hard right from the start is that nose
he sighs often (through his mouth) and is heard to say
without my nose sometimes none of it seems to make sense
his friends show up and remind him of the cold hard facts of
his noseless life
they tell him to apply himself
and he's back at work again, gathering his desires

sometimes he wonders if he really had to go out & cut off his
nose just to learn how to get things
maybe he could have just gone out and gotten them
but no, he looks around & sees that no one with a nose has
anywhere near the things he does, not a tenth so much,
not a hundredth

whenever he takes a trip to one of those big medical cities --
boston, baltimore, houston, he'll go & talk to the medics
what can you do about this nose? he'll ask
what nose? they reply
he has learned to be earnest always: can you do anything about
getting me another one?
but when the doctors hear the circumstances
-- his confused early life,
his vow to the gods, the garbage disposal
-- they won't touch him with a ten foot pole

there are good years and bad
he goes through periods where he is a great complainer
what is the point of it, he says, if i have no nose?
his friends show up to console him
well at least you'll never have to rub your nose in your own
filth, they say
his friends become his tormentors
there is a long time he won't speak to anyone
night after night he dreams his nose has come back
each night it's the same shape, but a different size
somewhere along the line, tho, he stops fighting things so hard

there are always people to make jokes, even upon the wealthy & successful
he makes them himself in moments of despair
he will howl, every yes must have a no
but every ass must have a nose!
and on his tombstone the universal jester gets off a last good one:
an excellent man / got everything a man / could want; said yes
to all / but could have used more nose

so they laugh at him in the graveyard
but you listen, when that man died he had finally achieved every-

children, grandchildren, troops of friends
the warm feelings of all who knew him
earlier on concubines & no desire left unfulfilled
an animal park names in his honor
real progress in the field of cancer
a fully benevolent philosopher-king in charge of his country
universal justice prevailing throughout the land

at the end they hear him say
you know, if i had it to do all over again, i'd like to try it with
my nose the next time
and he dies
& it is nothing like the death of priam or macbeth
or any of those other simpletons
this man got everything


you have seen it perhaps
there is always the time the car stops
in front of the big white house
or gray house, or blue
it will not go any further with you
the car is stopped
and one of you must get out
and the other drive off
it is all that simple
-- do you think i am talking of love?

or you will be driving down a country road
and there are two sparrows
or buntings or bluebirds
and you hit one of these and it lies by the roadside
and its mate circles about chittering
and then sits on a fencepost
and sings something
this mate, perhaps, is inconsolable
please --
i am not talking about love

your mate dies, or parents
or one of your other friends
there is nothing fearful in the death
the deadman is not the problem
his letters perhaps
some phrase he spoke that rings every after
the way he died, what the surgeons did to his brain, or kidneys,
or heart
what you & he would have been doing now
next week, all summer long as you always did
the deadman did not die
your plans died
and this is what is so upsetting
this makes us so sick we cannot even think

i have seen all the trees
and the great views from mountains
the stars
the tiniest flowers within inches of my eye
but i have seen nothing more beautiful than human desire
in the country, the lawns just going purple with violets
we would have these violets and one particular friend
we have shattered the glazed bowl and make another
rounder, or less symmetrical, or with a plainer glaze
who could blame us? at sunset, we ask for wine
in white dawn we take coffee
we make lovely worlds more & more lovely
and then we see they are better simple
and then we make them simple
this desire is very much like song
our melodies everywhere about us
like butterflies, our desires hover about our heads and our hands

in this beauty
the car stops
the arm reaches for the doorhandle
and there is nothing left to it but the pulling up on the handle
there is away the eyes have of gazing intently downward
the legs slide onto the pavement
and one of your looks back through the car widow
you may touch one another's lips, or not
it hardly makes any difference, so beautiful is desire

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Right to Life" by Marge Piercy

Right To Life

A woman is not a pear tree
thrusting her fruit in mindless fecundity
into the world. Even pear trees bear
heavily in one year and rest and grow the next.
An orchid gone wild drops few warm rotting
fruit in the grass but the trees stretch
high and wiry gifting the birds forty
feet up among inch long thorns
broken atavistically from the smooth wood.

A woman is not a basket you place
your buns in to keep them warm. Not a brood
hen you can slip duck eggs under.
Not the purse holding the coins of your
descendants till you spend them in wars.
Not a bank where your genes gather interest
and interesting mutations in the tainted
rain, any more than you are.

You plant corn and you harvest
it to eat or sell. You put the lamb
in the pasture to fatten and haul it in
to butcher for chops. You slice
the mountain in two for a road and gouge
the high plains for coal and the waters
run muddy for miles and years.
Fish die but you do not call them yours
unless you wished to eat them.

Now you legislate mineral rights in a woman.
You lay claim to her pastures for grazing,
fields for growing babies like iceberg
lettuce. You value children so dearly
that none ever go hungry, none weep
with no one to tend them when mothers
work, none lack fresh fruit,
none chew lead or cough to death and your
orphanages are empty. Every noon the best
restaurants serve poor children steaks.

At this moment at nine o'clock a partera
is performing a table top abortion on an
unwed mother in Texas who can't get Medicaid
any longer. In five days she will die
of tetanus and her little daughter will cry
and be taken away. Next door a husband
and wife are sticking pins in the son
they did not want. They will explain
for hours how wicked he is,
how he wants discipline.

We are all born of woman, in the rose
of the womb we suckled our mother's blood
and every baby born has a right to love
like a seedling to sun. Every baby born
unloved, unwanted, is a bill that will come
due in twenty years with interest, an anger
that must find a target, a pain that will
beget pain. A decade downstream a child
screams, a woman falls, a synagogue is torched,
a firing squad is summoned, a button
is pushed and the world burns.

I will choose what enters me, what becomes
flesh of my flesh. Without choice, no politics,
no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield,
not your uranium mine, not your calf
for fattening, not your cow for milking.
You may not use me as your factory.
Priests and legislators do not hold
shares in my womb or my mind.
This is my body. If I give it to you
I want it back. My life
is a non-negotiable demand

by Marge Piercy (b. 1936)
American poet, novelist, social activist
from The Moon Is Always Female
(copyright by Marge Piercy; published by Alfred A. Knopf)

Brush and ink drawing
from "Studies of Flowers & Animals"
by Shen Cou, 1494, Ming Dynasty

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"She leaves" by Marge Piercy

Love Your Body Poster Contest
Grand Prize Winner, 2005

designed by Diana Fabre of Canton, Ohio

As you know there's nothing I love better than a literary coincidence; and who doesn't love finding something that's been lost for ages?! So I was doubly delighted on my birthday (two weeks ago today), when my friend Katy gave me a poster, featuring the above design by Diane Fabre and the following lines from Marge Piercy's poem "Right to Life":

"I will choose . . .
what enters me,
what becomes flesh of my flesh.
Without choice,
no politics, no ethics lives.
I am not your cornfield,
not your uranium mine,
not your calf for fattening,
not your cow for milking.
You may not use me as your factory.
Priests and legislators
do not hold shares
in my womb or my mind.
This is my body.
If I give it to you I want it back.
My life is a non-negotiable demand."

(copyright by Marge Piercy;
published by Alfred A. Knopf)

The words of this poem were new to me; however, they rang a bell of familiarity in my mind. What was it I could hear? Click! Something in the tone, the imagery, made me think of "She leaves," the poem whose author I have been in search of for such a long time. Click!

Over the years, I have googled so many names, so many keywords, with no result. But this year, on my birthday, something clicked! I tried "Marge Piercy" along with the title . . . and . . . yes! Success at last!

Thanks Katy! ~ for some of the best birthday presents ever: an inspiring anthology entitled Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists, a "Trust Women" button, a bold, beautiful poster by Diana Fabre, and -- at long last! -- a rewarding solution to the protracted mystery of who wrote one of my all-time favorite poems.

Here's a repeat of my post from awhile back, about the poem "She leaves" which -- as I now know -- is by Marge Piercy and can be found in her book To Be Of Use (copyright by Marge Piercy; published by Doubleday):

Save Your Own Life
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
--Anais Nin (1903– 1977)
French / Cuban author, journal writer

Twenty - five years ago, I copied a couple of poems -- "She leaves" and "The Journey" -- into one of my special notebooks. The timely message of these poems spoke to my past experiences with painful accuracy. It was a big breakthrough for me to realize that I had to save my own life, that no one else could to do it for me. I have long admired the wisdom of these two authors and have tried to hold their insights in my heart. Re-reading the poems slowly and carefully has shown me how applicable they are to making any kind of life - changing transition, to cutting free from any kind of overly binding connection, bad romantic liaison or otherwise.

Strangely, however, I neglected to include the author's name on my photocopy of "She leaves," then also failed to write it in by hand. No, it's not like me to lose track of a source like this, but somehow it happened. So for the past two decades, I've been trying to recall who wrote this poem and what book I found it in. I have searched through every poetry book I own and typed in every google search I can think of, but no luck yet. If anyone can think of any way to track it down -- or better yet, if you recognize this poem and know who wrote it -- please advise. It must be out there somewhere!

POEM ONE: She leaves

Someone you fell in love with
when you were virgin and succulent,
soft and sticky in strong hands.

How you twined over him, rampant
and flowing, a trumpet vine.
How you flourished in the warm weather
and died down to your roots
in the cold, when that regularly came.

Then slowly you began to discover
you might grown on your own spine.
You might dare to make wood.

What a damp persistent guilt come down
from ceasing to need.
Every day you fight free,
every morning you wake tied
with that gossamer web,
bound to him sleeping with open
vulnerable face and closed eyes
stuck to your side.

You meet others open while awake:
you leap to them. The pain
in his face trips you.
You serve him platters of cold gratitude.
They poison you and he thrives.

What a long soft dying this is between you.
Drown that whining guilt
in laughter and polemics. You were trained
like a dog in obedience school
and you served for years in bed, kitchen, laundry room.
You loved him as his mother always told him
he deserved to be loved.
Now love yourself.


POEM TWO: The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Poem found in Dream Work, 38 - 39
By Mary Oliver (b 1935)
Contemporary American Poet
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 1984

Along the same lines as the poems above, Germaine Greer writes, "Such counsel [to break free from the "million Lilliputian threads" of a bad relationship] will be called encouragement of irresponsibility, but the woman who accepts a way of life which she has not knowingly chosen, acting out a series of contingencies falsely presented as destiny, is truly irresponsible. To abdicate one's own moral understanding, to tolerate crimes against humanity, to leave everything to someone else . . . is the only irresponsibility. To deny that a mistake has been made when its results are chaos visible and tangible on all sides, that is irresponsibility. What oppression lays upon us is not responsibility but guilt."

from The Female Eunuch (1970), 9 - 10
by Germaine Greer (born 29 January 1939)
Australian - born feminist writer and scholar

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My Friend Hair

A Princess of Greatly Conflicted Hair

In the world of make believe, Melisande is a princess with extreme hair issues. Her hair is too long -- much too long and much too big. Poor girl: it was either that or endure the curse of baldness! Well, we all have our hair issues. In Traveling Mercies, contemporary writer and activist Anne Lamott describes her first - hand experience with extremely curly hair:

"Can you imagine the hopelessness of trying to live a spiritual life when you're secretly looking up at the skies not for illumination or direction but to gauge, miserably the odds of rain? Can you imagine how discouraging it was for me to live in fear of weather, of drizzle or downpour? . . . Obviously, when you really want this [spiritual] companionship and confidence but you're worried about your bangs shrinking up like fern fronds, you've got a problem on your hands."

Lamott recounts the liberating scene in Shawshank Redemption when Andy stands in the pouring rain with his arms outstretched. She confesses, " . . . if I were the prisoner being baptized by the torrential rain, half my mind would be on how much my bangs were going to shrink up after they dried." Ultimately Lamott concludes that "it would be an act of both triumph and surrender to give up trying to have straighter hair."

Sure you want to have the right priorities and keep your mind on higher things, but you also have to live down the prejudiced notions: "good children have shiny combed hair, while bad children, poor children, loser kids, have bushy hair"; the unkind remarks: "did you you stick your finger in a light socket"; even racist insults in Anne's case, because, though fair in color, the texture of her "crazy hair crown," tends toward wiry and kinky -- making it perfect for the cool dreads that she now wears. I admire her soul - searching explanation of making the switch to this new style:

"First of all, I felt it was presumptuous to appropriate a black style for my own liberation. But mostly when I thought about having dreadlocks, I felt afraid and disloyal. Dreadlocks would be a way of saying I was no longer going to play by the rules of mainstream white beauty. It meant that I was not longer going to even try and blend. It was a way of saying that I know what kind of hair I have, I know what it looks like, and I am going to stop trying to pretend it's different than that. That I was going to celebrate instead" (all quotations are from Traveling Mercies, 6 - 13, 229 - 37).

Anne Lamott

Alice Walker

Interestingly, both Anne Lamott and Alice Walker cite over-investment in haircare as an impediment to spiritual liberation. In Walker's terrific essay, "Oppressed Hair," she explains why accepting your hair on its own terms is crucial to a larger sense of self-acceptance and personal growth. She personifies her hair in the most delightful way: "I discovered my hair's willfulness, so like my own! I saw that my friend hair, given its own life, had a sense of humor. I discovered I liked it. . . . I would call up my friends around the country to report on its antics."

She describes her realization, practically an epiphany "that in my physical self there remained one last barrier to my spiritual liberation, at least in the present phase: my hair. Not my friend hair itself, for I quickly understood that it was innocent. It was the way I related to it that was the problem. I was always thinking about it. So much so that if my spirit had been a balloon eager to soar away and merge with the infinite, my hair would be the rock that anchored it to Earth. I realized that there was no hope of continuing my spiritual development, no hope of future growth of my soul, no hope of really being able to stare at the Universe and forget myself entirely in the staring (one of the purest joys!) if I still remained chained to thoughts about my hair" (emphasis added).

Well, it requires thoughtfulness and fortitude to break those chains! However, if there's anyone who can put the issue into perspective, it's these two admirable women: wise Alice Walker who asks if we can ever achieve equality as long as woman aspire to look another way than what they are: light instead of dark, tan instead of pale, blonde instead of brunette, straight instead of curly; and honest Anne Lamott who points out that surrender is not all bad: "giving into all those things we can't control," letting go of "balance and decorum," befriending our hair.

This excerpt is from my essay"Ad Hairenum"

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Take Up Your Cross

Jeweled Cross

"If we all threw our problems in a pile
and saw everyone else's,
we'd grab ours back."

Earlier today, my friend Jodie posted the above "thought for the day" on facebook, along with the comment: "I love this. A friend posted this and thought it was great and probably true. Feel free to repost and share with others."

Thanks Jodie!

Jodie's post reminded me of the following parable that I encountered a few years back in some newsletter or other. Unfortunately, I didn't save the original copy and don't recall any particular author's name attached to it, though I'm guessing it was probably a contemporary writer who specializes in inspirational narratives along these lines.

I have to say that the ironic tone makes me think of the surprising Parables of Franz Kafka, and the instructive anecdotes embedded in The Trial, or the frustrated efforts of "K" to understand the mysteries of The Castle.

If you have come across this story already, please forgive repetition. If you can match me up with an author or title, even better! Thanks!

Here is a paraphrase of what I can remember:

There was a man who was getting so tired of carrying his cross that he decided to go to God and ask for something lighter. To his amazement, God readily agreed and told him to carry his cross over to the warehouse and exchange it for whatever he saw that he would rather have.

The man entered a huge storeroom full of crosses of every description. He leaned his own against the wall and wandered around looking at all the large, heavy, roughly constructed crosses that appeared not a bit better than the one he had just put down. After circling the room a few times, he at last spied a beautiful jewel encrusted cross, so exquisite that he could hardly believe his eyes.

Nestled among the many huge, unseemly crosses, this one was so small and finely made that the man felt sure he could wear it on a golden chain around his neck. He made his choice and carried the precious artifact back to God, asking if he could have it.

"Are you sure you want to take that one?" asked God, registering some surprise.

"Absolutely!" the man replied, "Why wouldn't I?"

"Well," answered God, "that's the one you just put down."

My yoke is easy and my burden is light . . .
take up your cross and follow me!

Weight Training
This is a giant block of whatever is most difficult for you to carry & trust me on this, you'll carry it more times than you can count until you decide that's exactly what you want to do most & then it won't weigh a thing anymore.