Breaking Down

April 6 2017*

Today has been full of good stuff–I gave a talk that landed well; I got to go honor my 5th grade mentee for the amazing work she did on her research project; I had a chance to dig into big topics with thoughtful students.

But the bookending of the day has been … hard. This morning I read one of those brief, harrowing reports of the chemical attack in Syria:

Abdel Hameed is in very bad shape,” his cousin Alaa said. He’s being treated for exposure to the toxin. “But he’s especially broken down over his massive loss.”

Then, coming home this evening, I learned that the U.S. (Trump, without Congressional approval or oversight) decided to bomb Syria.

Breaking Down

Toxins invade my body; my skin crawls
and shreds in the wake of the incursion.

Blood splinters, liver fails, nerves fray:
my body breaks down but nothing

compares to the emptying
of my hands

the way they will never hold
my children again.

 

*I’ve missed a few days. I have good excuses for them… and it still bothers me.

Spring’s breath

April 2 2017

I’ve missed two days. Sigh. Friday was busy busy busy; Saturday I was in the doldrums. I attribute my state mainly to feeling too frazzled after a long week, not to any atmospheric shifts.

On my run today I was thinking about Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

I’ve told my students the story of how long it took for Pound to find the concision and density he wanted:

The “one-image poem” is a form of super-position, that is to say, it is one idea set on top of another. I found it useful in getting out of the impasse in which I had been left by my metro emotion.

I wrote a thirty-line poem and destroyed it because it was what we call work of the second intensity. Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later [1912] I made the following hokku-like sentence:

“The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals, on a wet, black bough.”

In other words. In other words, it took Pound 18 months to make the poem we know today, that takes us from metro station–a peopled and high tech image–to the incredibly abstract and simultaneously concrete petals. What kind of petals? What kind of tree? We don’t need to know anything more.

Today’s poem – well, I don’t have 18 months for it. It’s just another imperfect poem, reminding me of what it feels like to make images.

IMG_0628.JPG

—A photo I took in the arb Thursday morning. I’m fascinated by logs, dead trees, fungus.

Spring’s Breath

Spring blooms crocus and grape
hyacinth, peeks of color, promising
rebirth, just like every damn spring.

Damp dewy logs sprout polypores,
blooming shelves, shapes that promise
that from one death comes new ecosystems.


addendum: oh the stories those logs and fungi could tell!

teaching

March 30 2017

Today was one of those long, busy days where so many voices and data points and demands stretch at your attention and tug on your focus that you’re (by which I mean I’m) left with deep wells of need for whiskey and ice cream at the end of the day.

Teaching

Some days language spools in my brain
and flows gracefully through my lips
making delicate word clouds in the air
that portend great things, name vague
theories, crystallize the inchoate.

Some other days–though often those same days–
words clump in corners and resist,
they hide in tangled bilingual masses,
they stumble and glower and refuse
my requests and then they laugh
at my clumsiness.

biographies of violence

Missed a day yesterday and feel all sorts of discombobulated because of it.

March 29, 2017.

One of the conversations I was having yesterday (instead of writing) was about what we remember of our feminist beginnings. Before we named it feminism, what are the ways in which the world responded to us or contained us or named us in ways that required our feminist achings and strivings? Maybe a lot of people have a “click moment”–that term introduced in 1971 through Ms Magazine for the moment when your eyes open and you see the sexism and misogyny that you swim in. And while the most “conscious” moment for many of us is in a moment of college education, I’d argue that the majority of cisgender women probably experience an accumulation of moments starting when we’re very young. Sara Ahmed talks about becoming feminist as “how we redescribe the world we are in”. Of course, redescription is only necessary if you recognize the failures and gaps of the description you’ve been given or that you’ve been giving.

What do you remember of your earliest redescriptions?

Redescribing the World

I traveled through Narnia,
dwelt in little houses in little woods,
and held hands with Betsy and Tacy.

Girls abounded. But even Jo, fierce
Jo, dear, creative, willful Jo
“grew up.” In growing up, girls moved
indoors, domesticated.

No surprise then that I searched out
biographies of grown women– Harriet
Tubman, Florence Nightingale, Marie Curie:

their stories roamed outside the home.


Another Sara Ahmed quote: “We all have different biographies of violence, entangled as they are with so many aspects of ourselves: things that happen because of how we are seen; and how we are not seen. You find a way of giving an account of what happens, of living with what happens.”

Biography of Violence

That man at the edge of the playground
in his car with his penis showing. He waved at me;
I ran away.

That creepy high school teacher
who insinuated what he wanted and needed from me.
I pretended I didn’t understand.
I smiled.
I made sure I brought friends along anytime I had to see him.

The long walk to school from the bus stop
always involved catcalls. Most were funny;
some hitched my breath and quickened my step.
Did you learn, too, how to carry keys between your fingers?

We were friends. When I woke up in the middle
of the night, groggy, confused,
he was there, and I couldn’t gather my voice to say no.
Afterwards I blamed myself.

These scars don’t shine on my skin, but they have altered
my rhythm and rhyme
in this world. Keys
between fin
gers eyes dart
head down
smile pretty
let me
be

Diaries of Cuba

IMG_1816March 27 2017

Day 27 of Lent. I’m doing much better with the committing to something than the divesting myself of something. The latter has involved some trips and stumbles and a lot of trying to figure out why. I have spent a good portion of my parenting life saying something like, “oh, kids have a hard time with transitions.” Yesterday I had a moment where I realized that, oh, maybe I have a hard time with transitions too. And this thing I’m trying to give up for a bit, well, it helps me with all those annoying transitions: waking up; relaxing after stressful days; getting ready for bed. I’ve thought about it as a “reward” but it’s also, importantly, a “smoother.” I don’t think knowing this all will help me give it up for the rest of Lent, but at least I know a little more about me.

I rarely journal, but I’m always glad to be able to look back at my journal, like I just did tonight.

Diaries of Cuba

I have dreamed of Cuba since reading
a decolonizing Calibán
and Tres Tristes Tigres and Nicolás Guillén
with his son and ton and santo canto,
and who can forget Martí and his revolutions
for the Revolution.

My dreams of Cuba rerouted through Mexico
and California, channeled through images of Che
performed by Culture Clash poking loving fun

at what we all wanted: revolution without war.

In Cuba I wander the halls of the Museo de la Revolución,
yellowed newspapers and used battle gear side by side
in display cases.

Violence is tucked safely away, in between narrative sheets
of the way it happened to become
the glorious Cuba de hoy.

I walked the streets of La Habana,
salt and jacaranda in the air, people gathering in the streets.
They congregate on sidewalks; carry eggs from the market; they
hurry to get home before the aguacero hits.
The skies dim ominously, but people smile brightly.

Something to square: here images of Che and Fidel
illuminate the Plaza de la Revolución
and also every person we talk to asks, “the U.S.
sounds very violent; does everyone have guns?”

“You’re safe here,” they say.

alabanza

In “Alabanza,” a song that marks Abuela Claudia’s death in In the Heights, Usnavi (played by Lin Manuel Miranda) eulogizes,

Abuela Claudia had simple pleasures
She sang the praises of things we ignore
Glass Coke bottles, bread crumbs, a sky full of stars
She cherished these things, she’d say: “Alabanza.”
Alabanza means to raise this
Thing to God’s face
And to sing, quite literally: “Praise to this.”

Singing the praises of the overlooked, the ignored, the minor… that’s something I believe in.

alabanza

to my little toes and the way they seem to fall
off the slope of my feet; to the smell of chocolate
cereal in the air on certain fall mornings; to the spring
of my step on muddy terrain; to the humming of my son
as he gets ready for bed; to the callouses on the tips
of my fingers; to absorbent washcloths and cleaner counters;

to the sweater my mother gave me that envelops
me in cuddliness; to cinnamon tea sweet fragrance;
to the medicines that stave off allergies; to the first conscious
breath of each day; to the letters of the alphabet;
to my favorite coffee cup from Red Wing and the way it sits
in my hands; to my gray hairs and crow’s feet;

to singing; to song; to sound; to voice; to the catch
in my throat when I’m trying not to cry; to the spread
of my jaw when I smile with my whole body.