Hard to Love

You fold your matchstick arms, one atop the other,
The sun is a token of yellow,
Glinting through the window behind you,
Playing off the filaments of your skin,
The skin of my soldier boys.

You twist the straw wrapper,
Threading it through your fingers,
Then crumpling it in your fist, which contains your story.

I choose to take another bite, the avocado slippery on my tongue.
“How do I unscrew you?” I think.
“How do I unfold you?”
You who have determined to occupy so little space.

I think of you,
Tucking yourself under the pews at church,
Until the parishioners left and you slept there alone,
Notched in the arms of God.

I wait for you.
I wait with you.
I wait.

You slough off your shell.
And tell me about the father who sold you,
And your mother who let him.

You walk a tightrope between telling and keeping,
I hold onto your silence,
Watch the landscape of your face,
Marvel at your eyes, still white, still lit.

You tell me about being a slave at the age of ten,
And of the man who tried to undo your silver straps.

But the worst of it all
Is the family who rescued you,
Called you Princess,
Loved you,
Taught you,
And then,
And then poured it all out and sent you back.

You say to me, “I think I must be hard to love.”
With bravery trickling down your face, you whisper,
“It is hard for me to love.”

I nod.  I know this difficulty of loving and being loved,
The exquisite risk of allowing myself to be loved.

We sit across from each other,
Two so hard to be loved.
And somewhere on the table,
Between lunch plates and crumbs,
Love has joined us.

for E.L.M.

He Used To

My heart is heavy tonight.  Within the last month, two of my former students have lost their fathers.  There is no grief so searing as a little girl losing her father too soon.  The latest loss leaves me hollowed out.  This father was a great man, the kind of man who all the children gravitated to because of his gentle way.

I am locked in grief.  For his wife.  For his son.  For his darling daughter.  For everyone who knew him.  It is a piercing loss and all I can do is blink back tears and write.

He Used To
He used to walk her to class each morning,
Hug her tight,
Kiss her freckled nose with kindness.

He used to smile at her,
The corners of his eyes crinkled with happiness,
Her eyes mirrors of his youth.

He used to adjust her helmet strap,
Remind her to hold on tight,
All at once holding onto his little girl,
All at once letting her go.

He used to be able to kick free from the deep,
To push toward light,
Toward air,
Toward truth,
Toward life.

He used to look into her adoring eyes,
Know her love was real,
Know he was worthy of being loved.

Then he stopped knowing
Her freckles,
How to hold on tight,
How to kick to the surface,
How to quell the lies with truth,
That he was worthy,
That he was loved,
That love was real.

I used to know that man.
Now there is only his freckled girl and the
Beautifully raw memories of
Who he used to be.

image courtesy of weheartit.com

 

Thankful Thursday #64

image courtesy of running-on-healthy.com

This week I’m thankful for…

  • “just because” flowers from the hubby
  • rain on the roof
  • reading in bed
  • road trips with friends
  • celebrating two of my dearest friends by eating their birthday cake for breakfast
  • the school kids who sang the national anthem at the Kings game and their choir teacher who was so proud of them that she was literally bouncing
  • poetry.  It’s been an exhausting week fighting for what I feel is in the best interest of my students.  And when I’m discouraged, I turn to poetry.  Here’s my favorite from the week:
A Prayer
Let me do my work each day;
and if the darkened hours
of despair overcome me, may I
not forget the strength
that comforted me in the
desolation of other times. 
May I still remember the bright
hours that found me walking
over the silent hills of my
childhood, or dreaming on the
margin of a quiet river,
when a light glowed within me,
and I promised my early God
to have courage amid the
tempests of the changing years.
Spare me from bitterness
and from the sharp passions of
unguarded moments. May
I not forget that poverty and
riches are of the spirit.
Though the world knows me not,
may my thoughts and actions
be such as shall keep me friendly
with myself. 
Lift up my eyes
from the earth, and let me not
forget the uses of the stars.
Forbid that I should judge others
lest I condemn myself.
Let me not follow the clamor of
the world, but walk calmly
in my path. 
Give me a few friends
who will love me for what
 I am; and keep ever-burning
before my vagrant steps
the kindly light of hope. 
And though age and infirmity
overtake me, and I come not within
sight of the castle of my dreams,
teach me still to be thankful
for life, and for time’s olden
memories that are good and
sweet; and may the evening’s
twilight find me gentle still.
~ Max Ehrmann ~

Bone on Bone

I was recently introduced to Louise Erdrich, no not like in person.  If I’d met her in person, I would have disappeared into a big cloud of nerves.  She’s a Native American novelist and poet.  She owns her own bookstore.  Oh, and in her free time she devotes her attention to restoring tribal lands and languages.  She’s a 10 on the cool scale.

The other day I read her poem, Advice to Myself, and in the same way that I had to-absolutely had to-emulate George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From, the first time I read it, I found myself compelled to write my own poem using Louise Erdrich’s beautiful and raw text as a skeleton.  The link is an interview with Louise Erdrich.  In the interview she reads Advice to Myself at around 21:40.  Do yourself a favor and set aside time to watch the interview.  You may not agree with everything she says.  I know I don’t.  But the discussion of her writing and her writing process is worth your time and then some.

Here’s the poem I wrote after being enchanted by Advice to Myself.

Bone On Bone

by Alicia McCauley

Leave the laundry.

Let the lonely socks find their own mates to curl up with,

in between the static legs of pants and heartless shirt chests.

Scrape the lint from the trap

and throw the handful of downy gray into the trash.

Sweep the lye that bleeds from the garage floor

and dump its snowy residue

in with the lint

and other discards.

Pay no attention to the wisps of winter slipping beneath the door.

Let the cold have its way,

freezing the earth

that hibernates and exhales in sleep,

rattling barren tree branches on your windows.

Talk to the trees.

Tell them they are welcome

to come inside

where warmth breathes and steams up the windows

and picture frames.

Don’t bother keeping all the pictures straight on the wall.

Let the faces of your beloveds cock their heads

in bemused wonder.

Don’t worry about the settling dust on the shelves

or about the dishes abandoned in the sink.

Don’t worry at all.

Wait.

Listen.

For the symphony of your life

in the treble of your husband’s snores

and the whirring flutes of bicycle wheels and wind in your hair.

Feel the percussive heart in your chest

bouncing off your ribcage,

pulsing into your fingers as they skitter

across vowels and consonants

becoming words

becoming paragraphs

becoming

the story of your life.

In this fiery rush where creativity intersects destiny,

Write with flame,

Write with honesty,

Until your words are stripped down to sinewy truth.

Bone on bone.

Be unflinching in your pursuit of the word

that imparts your spirit with joy.

Be relentless in chasing hope rising

on the wings of a Phoenix.

Pay no attention to the shoes piled by the door.

Slip outside

barefoot with your camera around your neck.

Feel the cool, earthen night between your toes.

Surprise the trees in their midnight dance,

spotlit by the face of the moon.

And when your smile chatters

and frost gathers at your nostrils,

return to the heat of the house

and to the laundry basket

waiting with socks to warm your feet.

Slip your heart into the chest of one of your husband’s old shirts.

Brush your fingers along the cheeks of loved ones

as you float past them in the hallway on your way to bed.

Listen for the lullaby of rest rising and falling from your beloved.

Curl into him,

letting your heavy eyelids turn the page on the day.


Fall Back

The trees drum my window pane.
The rain taps Morse code on my roof,
A storm is whispering its secrets to me,
Reminding me to fall back, fall back,
Fall back to sleep for a blessed extra hour.

The clock’s red numbers blush at 4:36am,
Everything in the house is hushed,
Against the sound of the storm and your snores filling the air between us,
I close my eyes and fall back, fall back
Fall back into your arms.

You stir ever so slightly and I press into you,
Watching your eyelids flutter as dreams play in your mind.
I know the topography of your face like I know myself.
I kiss the scar beside your eye and fall back, fall back,
Fall back through decades of memories with you.

I watch ruby minutes flicker by,
You wake and tease me about stealing all the covers.
We giggle and wrap up in arms and legs and blankets,
I lie awake with gratitude for this extra hour to fall back, fall back,
Fall back in love with you all over again.

Photo by Martin Kenny of the gorgeous photo blog seenobjects.org

Poetry From Little Lips

Children have such a way with words, pairing combinations that just pulse off the page.  Their little lips seem to spill poetry.  I’m lucky enough to be a fly on the wall when they mish mash those beautiful combinations.

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye collected some of the things her son said and reads his words here in her poem “One Boy Told Me”.

You are, no doubt, scrambling for a piece of paper this very second to write down the wonders that have slipped through the lips of your son, daughter, niece, nephew, granddaughter, grandson, the kid next door, or even that funny kid in front of you in line at the post office.  Do it, grab a pencil and write it down.  Quick, before your grown-up brain forgets and instead fills up with mundane things like the grocery list.  And then share your lines or a link to them in the comments section please.  It’s National Poetry Month and we all deserve a little more poetry in our lives.

Thinking Spring

April is National Poetry Month and although the first day of Spring was nearly a month ago, it feels like Spring is just now arriving.  So here’s a little poem to celebrate the fact that maybe, just maybe winter is finally giving way.

Thinking Spring

The sign outside my front door reads ‘Think Spring’.

In the breath of summer, that leaves me cracked and dry,

And in the fall, when bouquets of colors fall at my feet,

But especially when the cold song of winter whistles through the crack of my front door,

I’m thinking about all that is secreted away, tucked in and waiting to bloom,

All that is just waiting for wind’s warm whisper that Spring has arrived.