Superpower / Duty

I’ve been thinking about humans, as a species.

We seem to be undergoing a species-wide crisis while all the other things on the planet are doing fine. Better, in fact, since our carbon footprint suddenly shrank several shoe sizes.

Some people say this is Mother Earth putting us back in our place. I don’t know. Maybe. Nature does this to all of her species once in a while–I don’t assume it’s anything personal. We’d like to think we get special treatment, but we don’t really.

I go to the beach to breathe in the sky and search for my sanity, and I find myself wondering: what does the planet even need us for? Besides building glass and concrete cities to cover the land and sucking fossil fuels out of the earth only to dump them into the sky, what can we do that other species can’t? Even an elephant can paint a picture.

So?

I know what the earth needs buffalo for: to trim and fertilize the plains. It needs birds and monkeys to spread seeds that keep the jungles growing. Wolves cull the smaller mammals in the mountains. Hawks and foxes keep the mice population down. But people? Would there be too much of anything without us?

I don’t know. Not that I can think of. So what is our thing? We must have one.

And then I thought of one thing–one thing humans can do that other species can’t–not dogs, crocodiles, guanacaste trees, blue whales, daffodils, kitty-cats, boa constrictors, or bougainvillea.

We can appreciate aesthetic beauty.

Plants and animals are capable of appreciation–I have no doubt about that–but I don’t think they appreciate the beauty of a sunset or a brilliant rainbow. My cat laying under the hibiscus bush appreciates the shade and the cool ground, but he doesn’t care about the flowers. The dogs playing with coconuts on the beach love the game but they aren’t sighing over the colors in the clouds. A rose bush likes bees I’m sure, but it doesn’t appreciate how beautiful a butterfly is.

People can do that. It might be our superpower. It might be our duty.

I feel compelled to state these observations as I watch our species struggle in an identity crisis brought on by something so small as to be invisible. Other species can love. Other species can help each other. Other species can build and create. But are we the only ones who can give value to something simply for its aesthetic beauty? I think we are.

And?

And, I don’t know. Is appreciating beauty going to save my life or yours if it comes down to that? I don’t see how. But there are a lot of things I don’t know, a lot of things I cannot conceive of in my little mind. I’ve got no health claims to make (unless we’re talking about mental health?); I just think this would be a great time to find something beautiful and appreciate the heck out of it. Go ahead: a cloud, a flower, a person, an animal, music, a work of art…

I’m joining you. It can’t hurt. Never underestimate the power of things you don’t understand and don’t even necessarily believe.

Unexpectedly Iridescent / Inesperadamente Iridescente

i am free
to inhabit all of my skin
to pulse this blood into
every capillary
i own

you are free
to see me in
whichever color you choose

call me an angel
a liar
a lion
a stone

like a blue morph, i
am at home among orchids and ferns
invisible at rest
unexpectedly iridescent in motion


soy libre
de habitar toda mi piel
de pulsar esta sangre hacia
cada capilar que
me pertenece

tu eres libre
de verme de
cualquier color que elijas

llámame ángel
mentirosa
leona
piedra

como un morfo azul, mi
lugar es entre orquídeas y helechos
soy invisible en reposo
inesperadamente iridiscente en movimiento

The Year of The Knife

In place of a New Year’s resolution, I have a New Year’s image to keep present with me for the next 330-some days. It came to me as 2019 was ending—2019 that I promised myself would be The Year of the Open Hand. And it was.

2020 is The Year of the Knife. Not The Knife as a weapon; The Knife as a tool.

This image of The Knife presented itself to me one December morning as I was walking on the beach. Of course a knife can be used to injure, but that’s not the knife’s fault; a knife is useful for lots of things. In the hands of a surgeon The Knife can save your life. In the hands of a tailor, it shapes your clothes. In the hands of a hunter or a gatherer, it provides food. You can use The Knife to mark your path through the forest so you don’t become lost. Everybody needs one.

The Knife is necessary for separating. It separates what is useful from what is not useful. Sometimes it separates what is well from what is sick. It separates things into useful portions—think of an axe or a hatchet turning a fallen tree into something you can cook with or use to build a dwelling.

The Knife can open what is closed: a melon, a package, a locked door.

It splits yes from no. It severs now from later (or before). It divides too much into portions of enough. It defines. It peels away a bitter rind. It cuts the umbilical cord of beginnings and allows/requires things to become what they are.

I don’t know what I will need this Knife for in 2020, but it seems like an important tool to learn to use well. And carefully. You could hurt someone with it. You could hurt yourself.

Interestingly, a few weeks after The Knife came to me, I went to visit my friends who owns the deck of tarot cards that gave me such a fascinating directive at the beginning of last year. Again, I laid 3 cards on the table and turned them over. No devils this time. Whew. But there was The Knife—two of them, in fact—on the card intended to represent The Present: The 2 of Swords. On this card, a woman sits blindfolded with her back to the ocean holding 2 gigantic swords in her hands, crossed in front of her like an X. She is clearly a swordswoman, she is clearly well-equipped, she is clearly attentive and calm. Whereas she is non-threatening, she demands absolute respect. I like this girl.

And so?

So, happy Year of The Knife.

You can have one, too. Take an invisible blade, slip it into a sturdy sheath so that you don’t hurt yourself, and put it in your imaginary backpack. You have one whether you know it or not—of stuff you carry around with you. Put your knife in there and remember it when you have to separate what you want from what you don’t want, what you need from what you don’t need, or when a thing must be in smaller pieces to be good or useful to you. Choose not to use it to injure.

If your Knife is sharp and you are careful, you can make something beautiful with it. That’s what tell myself.  That’s what I’m trying to do.

Stop

this poem wants to say
enough is enough
but it doesn’t
know the language
it only knows wind
and the dust it carries
that settles everywhere
and is there
in the morning

it wants to say
no more
but it can only
shuffle leaves and
throw little sticks to the ground

this poem takes a breath
turns around and
doesn’t say anything

What the Tree Trunk Said

Part 1

I don’t know what kind of tree it was or where it came from. Clearly, Hurricane Nate brought it.  Maybe the hurricane took it down and threw it into the sea. Maybe it was a fall from some other time that dislodged from its resting place in the current of so much water and launched downstream. If I were to guess, I’d say it probably floated to us from the south because hurricane winds seem to me to blow from the southwest. Although, I don’t know. This hurricane was like no other, and I wasn’t here. It was early October 2017, and I was in Milan in the middle of my own hurricane.

I came home to Tamarindo, a stunned widow, in November after five months that lasted five years. The sky in Tamarindo had cleared by then, the electricity was restored, fallen limbs were cleared away, and it looked almost like nothing had happened. I might have looked that way too, at first glance.

I went to the beach to gather my thoughts a little, and when I saw it, I froze and sucked in my breath. In the middle of the beach on the rock reef that juts out into the water, where tidepools form at low tide and fishermen toss their lines, was the dead body of an unimaginably enormous tree. The force of water needed to throw this giant up out of the sea onto the rocks is inconceivable. And yet there it was.

And there it stayed.

I thought surely the next 10 foot tide would move it, but no. Or maybe the next tropical storm system. But no. All of us picked our way across the sharp lava rocks sooner or later to have a look at this marvel. Tourists took their picture beside it. Novios carved their names or initials into it. It became part of our landscape, part of our story.

From the first moment I saw it, I felt a strange affinity for that tree trunk. I think it’s weird that at essentially the moment Pio died, a hurricane unleashed on Tamarindo. I’m not trying to connect the two in any direct metaphysical way—I promise I’m not. But in my mind, the two things are absolutely connected. Nobody who lives in this town will forget that hurricane. And neither will I.

I stared at the trunk of that dead tree on my beach walks. I felt sympathy for it–both of us, hurricane victims. Both of us washed up here in Tamarindo, waiting to see what happens next. Both of us getting pared down by sun, wind, rain. Both of us in the middle of the water, sand, and sky. I felt like if I could get a good photo of it, it would be my self-portrait. What is left of a giant thing after it is destroyed.

I’ve lived at the beach long enough to know that tree trunks, no matter how big they are or where they wash up, don’t stay there forever. Eventually another hurricane comes, or a big swell or a hard rain, and they move. Sand shifts, and they sink and are buried, only to reappear another year after we’ve forgotten where they are. I hoped I didn’t meet up with this giant in the surf the day it dislodged, that it wouldn’t harm any of the boats anchored nearby, depending on which direction it took when it rolled free.

Part 2

In September 2019 I went back to Italy. I already told you about that pilgrimage disguised as a vacation, so I won’t make you read it all again. It was an important trip and marks a turning point of some kind that I have not yet identified. I came back in the beginning of October, lighter in more places than just my wallet.

I went to the beach to gather my thoughts a little, and when I saw it, I froze and sucked in my breath. Impossible: my tree was gone. A September storm must have dislodged it while I was gone and took it away. I knew that eventually it would move, but I thought it was still to big and too heavy.  I thought I would watch it go.  But it both came and went during my two important trips to Italy.

While I was trying to fit that into my surprised mind, I saw something else that stopped me again, and right there under the mid-morning sun in front of God and everybody, I burst into tears.  Up ahead of me, the giant tree trunk was laying on the sand.

Out of the ocean, from its place half-in half-out of the water, onto the dry land.  I knew immediately and without a doubt that there is a message for me in this. And I knew exactly what it is:

If two years is long enough to move a fallen giant like me, it’s long enough to move you.

 

That’s what the tree trunk said.

Sometimes I agree, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I feel like no amount of time is long enough. But I always beg for clear messages and one thing is for sure: that was a really big tree.


Together

L’accento L’avrò Per Vita: Poesie in Italiano da CERTA COME IL POMERIGGIO

Il sabato 9 novembre ho fatto una piccola presentazione del mio nuovo libro di poesia e ho letto 5 poesie primo in inglese, poi in italiano.  Il libro, CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON / CERTA COME IL POMERIGGIO e una raccolta di poesie sull’amore, la vita, e la morte.

Un mio amico ha fatto dei video della presentazione e oggi, qui, condivido con voi le 5 poesie lette in italiano. 

Non ridete. L’accento Americano l’avrò per vita.

 

1 di 5: Una poesia che descrive il mondo di “prima,” e finisce con un avvertimento

2 di 5: Sul momento in cui la malatia è scoperta

3 di 5: Una poesia che parla della morte e il primo momento (di momenti infiniti) di silenzio

4 di 5:  Contemplando cos’è che si deve fare quando hai gia fatto tutto quello che potevi fare

5 di 5: Una poesia riguardo i cenere, promesse, e il mare

Namaste

 

You Can Always Come for the Cookies / Videos from a Poetry Reading

On Saturday, November 9 at Tamarindo’s one and only bookstore, I held a small launch party for and reading of my new poetry collection, CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON. I think I had realistic expectations regarding how much of a crowd a poetry book about death might draw, so I was pleasantly surprised by how many people showed up. Thirty is the number I heard: old friends, new friends, strangers, other widows.  I sold all the books I have.

I made a lot of cookies and bought some wine for the occasion. Even if you don’t love poetry (not the biggest draw in a surf town), you can always come for the cookies. I’m good with that.

A dear friend of mine videoed my presentation in short segments, which, today I am sharing with you. Following, is the introduction to CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON, and each of the 5 poems in English.

A neighbor who is also a poet made this comment to me after reading CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON:

“You say it’s a book about death, but it isn’t. It’s a book about life. You use shades of black to show us all the other colors.”

 

INTRO 1: HOW THE BOOK CAME TO BE, AND HOW IT CAME TO BE IN TWO LANGUAGES

INTRO 2:  WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THIS BOOK?

POEM 1 OF 5: A poem that paints a picture of “before” and ends with a warning

POEM 2 OF 5: About discovering sickness

POEM 3 OF 5: A poem about death and the first (of an infinate number) moment of silence

POEM 4 OF 5: On what you must do after you’ve done everything

POEM 5 OF 5: Later, contemplating ashes, the ocean, the idea of going home

Namaste

CERTAIN AS AFTERNOONCERTA COME IL POMERIGGIO

Echo / Eco

this poem
opens its mouth
to ask for something it wants but
then there are no words

the hole in its heart
is perhaps too deep to fill
too strange
a cave with too many chambers

it’s a poem that has learned
to adapt to anything
it can become a cricket
or a whale
it can vanish completely

but when asked what it wants
it only echos

* * * * *

questa poesia
apre la bocca
per chiedere quello che vuole, ma
non le vengono parole

il buco nel suo cuore
è forse troppo profondo per riempire
troppo strano
una grotta con troppe camere

è una poesia che ha imparato
adattarsi a qualsiasi cosa
può diventare un grillo
o una balena
può svanire completamente

ma quando gli viene chiesto cosa vuole
fa solo eco

A Heart the Size of Your Fist

Excerpt from Marry A Mennonite Boy and Make Pie
Workplay Publishing, 2018
pp. 174-175

 

I knew that letters were going to come but wasn’t prepared for what happened when I found one lying in my campus mail box. I flashed hot, then cold, then nauseous, and I had to go somewhere to read it—somewhere that is not home. No one must look at me.

Across campus on the other side of the railroad tracks that run behind the theatre, there is a tree I sometimes climbed. It’s a scruffy old pine with branches that are naked near the trunk—a hiding place I discovered last spring before I met Tom, when the guy I’d been in love with all year started going out with somebody who wasn’t me.

I rode my bike to my tree with the letter in my pocket and climbed up to the seat where I mourned that other heartbreak.

Don’t cry. Whatever you do, don’t cry.

I didn’t want to go home with red eyes and snot on my shirt.

Don’t cry.

The problem wasn’t my housemates. It was Tom I was hiding from. Obviously, at our house you could cry if you wanted and you didn’t owe anybody an explanation. But Tom would expect one. One I didn’t have. When he said he loved me, I said it back. And I meant it. I did.

 

I didn’t cry.

I read the letter, and read the letter, and read the letter. I held it to my face. I pressed it to my arms, to my cheek, to my heart. All I could do was think about breathing. All he asked was for me to come back, but I couldn’t move from that tree.

 

Can you love two people? If you love two people, is one fake and one real? Which one? Or are they both lies?

Can you fracture into a thousand pieces on the inside, and outside no one will know? Can you die and still appear alive? Can you live without understanding anything?

What is happening to me? Why can I not let go? Why does it matter more than air? How will I live my life?

Can you ever be alright again, ever, after you are absolutely broken? How can so much pain fit into a heart the size of your fist?

 

It was like the day in Los Rios that I reached from the shower for my towel and was stung on my pinky finger by the scorpion hiding there. I stared in dumb disbelief at my hand, as a blinding pain surged through my tiny finger and exploded into the entire room. It charged the air around my body like electric and shook the walls of concrete. All the while, my smallest finger looked exactly the same.