at night i dream of us
of the vast sunny plain
that lies between
i build my house
in the valley there
it is a place I can
have horses and
plant a garden in the
rich fertile soil
at night i dream of us
of the vast sunny plain
that lies between
i build my house
in the valley there
it is a place I can
have horses and
plant a garden in the
rich fertile soil
I don’t know. Whatever the question is, that’s my answer. At least I’m honest.
The things I do know aren’t the answers to anything in particular.
The Tower of Babel
I think of the Tower of Babel. (If you missed Sunday School that Sunday, click here.) Before we all went into lock-down, we as a human species were one thing, invincible. Now we’re all in our corners–sent to our rooms, so to speak. This is different than the Tower of Babel story, because in the Bible story their languages were scrambled so they couldn’t talk to each other. We can still talk to each other. We talk too much, repeating things we heard someone else say, getting into heated disagreements in/over little black letters on a screen. The divisions are in place. It’s Babel. Different, but the same.
“They” closed the borders of the countries of the world. I live in a town that functions 100% on tourism. We don’t have any other industry. We don’t have any other way of earning our daily bread. We (not me personally at this time, but the citizens of the place I live) are hungry.
The streets are quiet. I remember 25 years ago when this quiet was normal. It was The Thing, not the absence of a thing. But it was different, then. There were more trees and fewer empty buildings. I love the quiet. I love the stillness. Finally something that is true is revealed from beneath something that was artificial. Does that make sense? To me, it does.
We fear crime. Stores, closed until further notice, have been emptied by their owners. Naked mannequins stand in shop windows. Restaurants are dark as caves, emptied of tables and chairs. Where has all the furniture gone?
I forgot there were this many monkeys. The hillsides are full of their voices just before dawn. They are everywhere. I thought they were gone–a thinning, endangered population that human activity was slowly extinguishing. Not even. There is nothing wrong with the monkeys. They just didn’t like us is all. Sometimes I’m not sure I like us.
Parrots. Have you ever listened to them? On a morning with no buses, no construction noise, no music from restaurants trying to attract foot traffic. I sometimes laugh at their jokes even though I don’t understand the words.
The ocean. It doesn’t need us. We sigh and suffer for it. We need it on our skin. We dream of it at night. And there it is, luminous, rising, falling, breathing its salty warm breath into the world, cleaner and more crystalline than ever. It isn’t one bit sad.
“When Things Get Back to Normal”
Nothing is ever going to be the same after this. I don’t think “things” are going to go back to being “like they were.” I could be wrong–let’s just take that as a given no matter what I say. We talk about, “after this is over,” and of course it will be over. Everything ends. But maybe we should drop the phrase “when things get back to normal.” Am I the only one who foresees a new normal?
I might know something about new normals.
Having the world implode into lockdown and watching society melt isn’t entirely dissimilar to the experience of having my husband become sick and die. It isn’t the same, but one is reminiscent of the other. Both things happened suddenly. Both things yank the rug out from under you. Both things cause you to have to rethink ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING about your life. Both things destroy what was and leave you with god-only-knows-what afterward. Both things are surrounded by a lot of silence. Both of them involve waking up each morning and having to remember how “now” is different from “then” before you know how to live.
Remember how I confessed to walking and running on the beach with my eyes closed, trying to see with my skin and my ears? Now I can do it on my bike in the street. In little spurts, early or late. More than ever, being able to sense what is around me without being able to see it feels like a critical skill.
What’s around me/us that I cannot see?
I’m told there’s a virus–literally “your death of a cold.” I can’t see it. Should I be afraid of the air?
There is hunger around me. I can feel that. In the empty streets, I see friends who wave and smile. I also see strange people that I never seen before–people who eye me in a way I don’t like. In a house a few miles from here a few nights ago 4 people were shot. It sounds drug-related–somebody owed the wrong person too much money or something. I’m not afraid of being shot in the night. I’m not afraid of being hungry. I was also not afraid the government would shut the borders and that the restaurant owners would find it prudent to take home the tables and chairs. But they have.
Some people–people I know–are looking at the worst days of their lives. I am not. Not yet. Things have to be much different than this before they compare to the worst day of my life. I’ve been poor before. I’ve been hungry. I don’t talk about it much. Once, I made lettuce soup for my stepdaughter and pretended it was delicious (it wasn’t bad, really) because it was the only thing we had. I am a long long way from preparing lettuce soup for a hungry child who depends on me.
Something is Happening
Where am I? What is going on?
I love the silence. No cars. No buses. No dump trucks. No cement mixers. No music from bars. Nothing. I might be obsessed with it. I feel a sort of jealousy regarding it–it is mine and you cannot have it. I don’t want anyone or anything to touch it. A noisy motorcycle drove by this morning and I held my breath. It interrupted the locusts and the wind I was listening to. For a moment it drowned out the sound of the sea and it was like not knowing where I was.
I don’t want things to go back to the way they were. I loved things the way they were. I was happy, then. But something has happened. Something is happening. Do you feel it? Things can be different. Better. Can’t they? If there is more than one way to be, can we be another way now that we’ve had this pause. Like children redirected after a time out?
Is that the sound of the meek inheriting the earth?
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.
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, 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.
i am free
to inhabit all of my skin
to pulse this blood into
you are free
to see me in
whichever color you choose
call me an angel
like a blue morph, i
am at home among orchids and ferns
invisible at rest
unexpectedly iridescent in motion
de habitar toda mi piel
de pulsar esta sangre hacia
cada capilar que
tu eres libre
de verme de
cualquier color que elijas
como un morfo azul, mi
lugar es entre orquídeas y helechos
soy invisible en reposo
inesperadamente iridiscente en movimiento
you can have the
I don’t want it
let’s let your
hang there in the air
I will bare my teeth
in a smile
in the dark
night creatures move
I am in my bed
dreaming of daytime and
I do not see them
in the morning
rain falls lightly
invisible things are
in new places
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.
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.
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
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
there’s no escaping
it follows on the heels of
innocuous events like
you can hide
under the bed,
swim through crocodiles
across the estuary,
climb a tree and
not come down
but Christmas Eve can
hear you breathing
it will trail you
like a tiger
it will catch you
in its claws
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.
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.
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
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