Sunday, May 4, 2008

"Who Put the Honey in Your Heart?"

Who put the honey in your heart? — from Storycatcher by Christina Baldwin.

Our writing group assignment last month was to ponder and write about Christina's wonderful question. This is what I came up with:

My heart waited for the honey,
hopeful , like a wounded womb healing, preparing for an embryo;
or a robin’s nest slowly, patiently, twig by twig
being readied for new life to crack open
and fly

The honeycomb of my heart held cells empty and waiting,
or filled with debris and detritus of life

But the cells held strong, patient

And when the time was right --
the debris swept away
the hive heart clean and purified --

The swarm arrived
bringing pollen and nectar from many fields
rich with music, laughter, friends and lovers,
sisters now close and loving,
gardens, oaks and cedar trees

And there, finally,
with work and persistence
with care and attention:


sweet and sticky


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The silence I seek

(Written Summer, 2007)

Silence has become elusive. I chase it as a child chases butterflies through a field with a holey net. As a dog chases its tail.

Seeking silence, like deep hunger: my body trembles, I cannot concentrate, I am irritable and panicked.

I walk outside my building downtown, leaving work. Noise assaults me, kidnaps me, will not let me go. Brakes screech, backhoes growl and roar, jackhammers beat out unearthly rhythms, sirens scream. At the bus stop, lanes of traffic speed east, speed north, engines idle, then engage, rap music booms from too-large speakers, car alarms blare and echo off tall building walls.

On the bus, children scream, mothers scream at children, adolescents talk too loud, one-sided cell phone conversations pierce the clamor. My seat mate has headphones on that do not mask the sound of his heavy metal.

My breathing is shallow. I cannot find myself in the cacophony. I desperately try to connect with breath, with mantras. I plug my ears until they ache.

I arrive at my bus stop on Hawthorne to the din of street musicians, caf├ęs al fresco on every corner with beer- or caffeine-induced conversations that compete with four lanes of rush hour traffic. I hurry home to refuge, to sanctuary.

Two-year-olds are in the back yard. They squeal and screech and cry, bang on pots in the sandbox. Up and down the street, dogs bark in a chain reaction to a passing jogger. Neighbors on two sides are remodeling, adding rooms to their already close houses. They do not keep bankers’ hours. Hammers, drills, sanders, planers, jigsaws, routers are constant companions to the afternoon and evening hours.

Rare moments when I do find silence, what do I do with it? Like the dog chasing its tail, I’m not sure what to do when I catch it. I have caught hold of myself in circular motion, the stillness still evasive, the need to fill it up profound. I sit on the cushion. I follow my breath. It leads me to something I must look up on the internet, something I must listen to on the iPod. Something I must write or read or watch. Someone I must call or email. Not later; now.

What am I escaping that lives in that silence? What thoughts or feelings will bubble to the surface if I allow them space and time? What fear keeps me from fully embracing the rare gift of silence? Though it is the thing I long for most, is it the thing I also fear the most?

Latte ceremony

(Written December 2005)

I treat myself to a latte
once a week


It is a ceremony

It must be an atmosphere befitting
ritual and reverence
a place I can linger with my
cup and my thoughts

The cup must be ceramic
of a certain weight and heft
and with a handle big enough to fit three or four fingers through
No wimpy china and certainly,
no paper

I prefer the baristas who take care with my treasure
perhaps swirling the foam, forming a delicate leaf
or heart on top
I nod in gratitude, tip liberally

I take my latte and
maybe biscotti or a scone
sit in a corner
watch the steam curl from the cup

Timing is everything
Not too soon; singed tastebuds will miss the ecstasy

The first sip is a blessing

I do not read or talk
during the ceremony
I must drink slowly enough to
but not so slow that the liquid gold
cools to tepid before I finish

The last sip is a prayer

Sometimes I lick the foam that clings to the side
of the cup
before I return it to the counter

I push in my chair
pull on my coat
walk slowly out into another week

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

African Violet

(Written March 2008)

The African violet sits on top of my old piano, surrounded by family photos: there’s one of myMom grandfather and his vaudeville quartet; another of me, age 2, wearing a sun bonnet and looking quite self-satisfied, sitting on the beach; there are my sisters, Jackie and Nancy, at a recent family reunion; and one of my mom in her 20s, a wistful look on her beautiful face, dreaming of a future that would never manifest.

Mom was never keen on keeping many house plants, but she did love her African violets. She always had a half dozen or so lining her windowsill, and she pampered them so they were lush and healthy.

When she died ten years ago, there were just a few of her things that I longed to take home – an old garnet ring, a favorite crystal bowl, one of her sketchbooks. And the smallest African violet, the runt of the litter.

We took Mom’s ashes out to Hunter Point, the beach on Puget Sound where we’d all spent so many happy times during summer vacations. In the sixties, Mom and Dad built a beautiful home there on the beach. Mom had always expressed her wish to return to the Point by way of having her ashes sprinkled there – she loved watching the sun rise behind Mt. Rainier and the views of the Olympics and several islands in the sound.

We didn’t have a boat or a dock, so we stood there on the beach on a cold October afternoon – Dad, Nancy, Jackie and me – and tossed her ashes as far out into the water as we could manage. I watched as the water lapped up on shore, her ashes mixing with sand and seaweed and tiny shells.

I kept a handful of her ashes. I found a pretty box to put them in and placed them on my altar, where they sat for several years.

The African violet thrived. It appreciated the sunny south window spot I made for it. After several years, it looked like it was outgrowing its pot, so I transplanted it into a bigger one. A few months later, I noticed that it seemed to be splitting into three distinct plants.

It was October again. Seven years had passed since Mom died and I was in transition, planning a move and a new life with my partner. I didn’t want to keep Mom’s ashes anymore – but I had no idea how to dispose of them respectfully. The garbage can was out of the question. The compost pile? I would appreciate that for my own ashes, but Mom, not so much. It was a long way to travel up to Puget Sound to join this handful with the other ashes that had become part of the beach.

Then my partner Laurie made a suggestion that resonated deeply. “You’ve been talking about separating the African violet,” she said, “why don’t you do that and put her ashes into the pots?”

On the anniversary of her death, I mixed her ashes with potting soil, tenderly pulled the violet into three separate plants, and repotted them in pretty ceramic planters. I delivered Nancy’s to her the day she moved into a new house; Jackie wrapped hers carefully and took it home to Houston after flying up here for our wedding.

Now Mom blooms regularly on Jackie’s plant stand, on Nancy’s windowsill – and on the old family piano next to a photo of a dreamy young woman.