More of a Hum, Less of a Scream

HABLANDO SOLA

I’ve been thinking about something. I’ve been thinking about it while I surf, while I ride my bike, in the early mornings when I’m neither awake nor asleep.


JUNE

It’s June. I don’t know what that means to you, but it for me it dislodges something that lives deep in my bone marrow. It brings me flashes of unthinkable doctor visits, sudden plane tickets, a long morning run when I understood exactly what was happening even though I didn’t dare to say it, and the surreal sensation of packing suitcases for a trip that wasn’t a vacation.  A lot of those days turned into poems.

Probably, eventually, if I live long enough, June will just be June.  It will be different. Everything is always different, eventually. You can quote me on that if you want to. You can bet your life savings on it.

After June comes July. July reminds me of long walks, fruit and vegetable markets, chemotherapy appointments, and the ER. August follows, with more of the same. September is a hard month that takes me on a trip through the process of dying. Getting out of your body is as messy as getting into it.  And then there’s October with its interminable silence. Clocks tick 24 hours a day. The sunlight is sharp and cold.


THAT WAS 3 YEARS AGO

You wonder how many more times I’m going to tell you this story? I don’t know. Imagine how many times it tells itself to me. 

It’s a good story.  If today was the end of it, you could say it has a happy ending.  How’s that for optimism?


CELLS

I read once that every 7 years every cell in the human body is replaced by a new cell. Have I written about this before? I might have. I think it’s important.

I’m writing about it now, because I’ve been thinking about my body. Almost half of my body wasn’t even there, three years ago, when Pio and I took off for Milan. These hands are only sort of the hands that packed the suitcases. The feet that walked through pairs of shoes on the streets of Milan trying to make space for all this—those feet are only sort of my actual feet, today. Half the cells in my body—from my ankle bones to the synapses in my brain—never even knew Pio. Half of these eyes never saw him. Isn’t that crazy?

And this: half the cells that make up my brain where the stories are held aren’t even the original ones who recorded the stories. They do the job of remembering the stories they’re told, I guess, but they weren’t even there in my head on the airplane, or at the market trying to remember how to say “cauliflower” in Italian, or in front of the TV together splitting a beer and potato chips (because at that point, why not?), or in the hospital room holding hands when that was all that was left. Imagine. A few years more and not even one cell in my body will have been there.

We remember things experienced in other bodies.


HARD POETRY

I think that explains everything. It explains how we can go on living. Because with every hour and every day, our bodies turn into other bodies that haven’t even experienced our own stories. Our brain cells that remember them were told the stories by previous generations of brain cells. It’s more hard poetry than hard science, but what a perfect place for them to meet. The stories remain, but something about the sound they make is different. Something about the tone. The sound coming from my bones is there, but it’s more of a hum, less of a scream.

You can’t stop it. You can’t make it hurry up. If you just keep eating some food, drinking some water, sleeping at night, and staying out of the jaws of crocodiles, it happens on its own. It’s beautiful. It’s brutal. It doesn’t really matter what you call it.

 

EVENTUALLY

Do I sit around ruminating on this all the time?  I do not.  But it’s June.  Part of me commences a 4-month walk through The Valley of The Shadow of Death.

It’s alright. I fear no evil. 

Everything, eventually, is different.

Afterlife

the world has ended
this is the afterlife

birds here
and  people
speak so many languages

the silence that
sits above
this thin layer of air
is infinite and
louder than wind

i expected angels
in the afterlife
cherubim
saraphim
or, if i’ve been wrong
lakes of fire

but no

the winged things here are
dragonflies
hummingbirds
parakeets
moths

and lakes lie like
broken pieces of sky

The Universe of This Is Not What I Signed Up For

I would like to say something meaningful at a time like this, with our world locked down and life suspended, but those are tall orders. What is meaningful? I could describe my daily experience to you, the peacefulness of my days and my nights. I am among the lucky ones, at this moment. I know that. Luck can change on a dime—I know that, too.

I am in familiar territory. I am the mapmaker of this place we are. I was exploring its contours before you all arrived.

There are ways in which what has happened in the rest of the world has thrown it, en mass, into my reality–the reality of grief. Not in every way, but in some ways. Now you have all had the rug yanked out from under you. Now your world has been shaken to pieces, too. Now you are discovering what I meant two years ago when I wrote about sitting and listening to silence, trying to take it all in. When I wrote about the vertigo of having no solid reference points. The waiting.

Welcome to the planet called Loss. Welcome to the solar system called I Did Everything Right But Everything Still Turned Out Wrong. Welcome to the galaxy called All You Can Do Is Wait. It’s in the universe of This Is Not What I Signed Up For. The tour will begin in 10 minutes.

What are we waiting for? We don’t know. Whatever comes next.
When will it get here? Someday. Some other day that is not today.
Are we going to like it? Maybe. Maybe not.
Do we get our old life back? I won’t. We’ll find out if you do.

Life, again, has proved right this belief of mine that no matter what it is that you think is going to happen, the thing that actually happens will be something else. Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Realize that what comes will not be what you expected or prepared for. Breathe. Wait. Learn to walk barefoot over rocks, bake bread, and sleep with the windows open. You wouldn’t believe how useful these things can be.

Meaningful? Perhaps not.

But, true.

On this planet, The Past and The Future are separate islands in a sea so vast you cannot see one from the other.

Lettuce Soup

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.

Lettuce Soup

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?

Listen…  

Is that the sound of the meek inheriting the earth?

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

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

Poems About Waiting

poems about waiting
hover in the corner
by the ceiling
like angels

they don’t mind because
same as angels
waiting is
what they do

they can wait forever
or until tomorrow
they can wait
for anything
or nothing at all
and they won’t wish
you would hurry or
turn on the tv

while you sleep
they are waiting
outside the mosquito net
nearby
with the cats

poems about waiting
might not have words
because speaking
is not what they do

their language is
made up of comas
and spaces

 

How to Be Okay When You’re Not

I thought you might like a suggestion about how to be okay when you’re not. Because it happens to all of us and it’s good to have a plan.

This is mine:

I go to the beach.  Of course.  Because I can.  But you don’t need a beach to do this.  I sit in the sand and curl up into a little ball, like a seated fetal position. That’s the position I take when I’m really bad. When I’m kind of okay, I might sit cross legged. If I’m good, just feel like I need a huddle with all of my selves, I might sort of lie back on my elbows. It doesn’t matter.

I reach my finger out and trace a circle around me–all the way around–in the sand. It could be a big circle or a little circle—it doesn’t matter. The less okay I am, the smaller I make the circle, like a tighter hug.

I don’t know where I got this from, but it’s been with me for a long time, and I am pretty sure I didn’t make it up. If I did, it’s one of those things that can’t I be the first one to have invented.

This is how to be okay whether or not you are.

The important thing is to close the circle. You may not believe this until you try it, but you can feel the circle close. Something happens. I swear. No, I am not insane. Try it. If you can’t get to the beach, sit on your living room floor and draw an invisible circle. Sit in the driveway and draw a circle with chalk. You’ll see what I mean.

I tell myself that everything that is me is inside the circle. Definitions are important when you’re not okay. Basic definitions. Inside the circle: Diana. Outside the circle: not-Diana. Having something you can be completely sure of is a fabulous place to start when you’re not really okay. And it rocks when you are.

I tell myself that inside the circle, everything is alright. There is enough air. The sand is holding me up. Nothing hurts. My heart is beating just the way it’s supposed to. My lungs are doing a great job of breathing. Everything essential is just fine. I tell myself everything I absolutely need is inside the circle with me. Intestines, for example.

And everything/everybody that is not-me must stay out while the circle is closed. When I’m especially not-okay, I write things in the sand outside the circle. The first letters of names, usually. People, living or not, who, no matter how much I love them, are not me. Only I am allowed inside the circle. I have to be in here alone to be okay, and you have to stay out. Sometimes I review a list of things and people who are not me, mentally telling them they have to stay out right now, setting them on the other side of the line.

It becomes easier and easier to breathe.

I explain to myself that inside the circle, everything is alright. Nothing is missing. Here are my two hands, each with 10 fingers. I have plenty of teeth and enough hair. My legs take me everywhere I need to go. If I am hungry, it is by choice.  Outside the circle, everything can be as wrong as it is, but inside the circle, everything is accounted for, working, in place. It is the only spot in the universe where everything is alright.

I just sit there. Sometimes I close my eyes. Sometimes, if I’m not having a good day, I might cry a little. I don’t usually, but it’s not impossible. So if you walk by on the beach and happen to see me, don’t worry. It’s just salt water. And don’t talk to me. I can’t talk when I’m in the circle. I mean, I don’t want to. That’s not generally a problem either because I think there’s something about the circle that makes you invisible to most people. I’m not kidding. You’ll see what I mean when you try it.

Then when I feel a little better–or the tide is coming in, or my back starts to hurt, or the mosquitoes are biting me, or I can tell I’ve had enough sun, or I’m thinking about how my cats are hungry—I reach out with my hands and open the circle. I make a door in it.

And the rest of the world comes rushing in. But it’s alright. Because on some very basic level, I have remembered that I am still here and there are at least some ways in which I am okay. And that, as I said, is a fabulous place to start.

Try it. It works.

The Devil, A Hermit, and a Guy Hanging Upside Down

What do you say when your friend offers you a Tarot card reading to start the new year? Um, you say, “Yes.” You get on your bike and ride over to her house and willingly accept a vodka soda first because you don’t know what’s coming. If you grow up Mennonite like some of us (ha ha) you know nothing about Tarot cards except that they are definitely Satanic. I giggle as I write this because the idea of the devil residing in a deck of cards is, well, funny. Right? If only it were that easy. Sigh. Anyway.

I expected the reading to be interesting, but I have to say it was FAR MORE interesting than I imagined.  I’m open to input from all sources, so why not a deck of cards to suggest ways in which I might think outside of my box?

We shuffled up the cards, and I pulled 3. These were intended to represent the Past, the Present and the Future. And my friend said you’re supposed to pose a question. I don’t really have any specific questions in my life right now, just vague ones like, “Which end is up?” and “Am I doing this right?” But you apparently aren’t allowed to be vague, you have to be specific—so I made something up about focusing my energy. Which is still vague. And I feel the cards I drew held a mirror up to me in a way that is IMMENSELY COMFORTING.

Funny. I wouldn’t have said I went there looking for comfort, per say. That’s not generally the way I roll. But I rode home later practically crying with relief. Here’s what I drew:

THE PAST

I flipped over the first card that represents the past and there was the fucking Devil. Sorry about the f word.

I gasped. I mean, the last thing you want to do on your very first Tarot reading as a recovering Mennonite is come face to face with the Devil. It scared the crap out of me. And then I almost burst into tears of joy because HE IS IN THE PAST. You and me, you Beast From Hell, are done with each other. Bye.

The more you know of my story, the more levels of meaning the Devil in the Past will have for you. And, no, I don’t believe I have dealt with the literal Devil in the past. I mean that I have been through many difficult scenarios, most of them in one way or another chosen by me. And of course Cancer is an obvious devil who has very recently caused the complete destruction of the life I had. So yes, a diabolical amount of pain and difficulty are DEFINITELY in the past for me. And what a relief to have this comforting pat on the back from a stupid deck of cards saying, “That’s all done, honey. It’s all over. It isn’t now and it isn’t later. It’s done.”

THE PRESENT

This one was so obvious it made me laugh. I flipped over the middle card and found The Hermit. Ha ha. There’s not even much to say about that. And the Tarot deck only has one devil and he’s in the past so what the heck? Everything else is cream, baby. That’s an amusingly accurate picture of what followed The Devil. A whole year that I spent being a hermit.

I am trying to move out of the hermit mode little by little and I think I’m doing a good job. The Hermit card is said to represent a period of withdraw and reflection, which I think all of you have witnessed me doing.  Right again.

So now I’ve got one card left and it’s the one I’m nervous about. Only mildly nervous because the Devil is in the Past, but being as the Hermit in the Present is SO ACCURATE, I can’t help but be worried about what the Future card is going to be. Because if it’s as right-on as the Past and the Present, then…well, that’s a little scary.  What if I don’t like it?

I flipped it over.

THE FUTURE

Staring back at me was The Hanged Man. I was stunned, confused and dismayed–in that order. The picture on the card and the name of it don’t really match. The name on the card sounds like a death sentence, but the guy on the card isn’t dead. He isn’t even hanging by his neck. He’s hanging by his foot with a very peaceful Mona Lisa type of look on his face. He doesn’t actually appear to be in any type of distress at all. In fact, the more I stared at him, the more it seemed like he was hanging upside down because he wanted to. Just chilling in an upside-down tree pose. And he has a halo on his head.

I stopped being upset and became fascinated. I spent most of my childhood hanging upside down from a broomstick trapeze that my dad finally made for me in in a tree in the front yard after I inflicted on him unbearable amounts of pestering. When I outgrew that, I spent an inexplicable amount of time doing handstands against the kitchen door—just chilling upside down. My parents were perplexed. My sisters were annoyed. I just liked it. I’ve always liked upside down.  No idea why.

So what does The Hanged Man mean? My friend and I had to look him up because he’s a little obscure.  We found this description:

In this card, it depicts a man who is suspended upside-down, and he is hanging by his foot from the living world tree. This tree is rooted deep down in the underworld, and it is known to support the heavens. It is believed that the hanging man is actually positioned there by his own free will. We believe this because of the serene expression which is on his face. His right foot is bound to the branches, but his left foot remains perfectly free. His wearing of red pants are a representation of the physical body and human’s passion, while the blue that he wears in his shirt are representative of calm emotions, a color combination that is commonly seen in saints. His intellect is symbolized by the yellow color of his shoes, hair and halo.

Which, supposedly, means:

The hanged man understands that his position is a sacrifice that he needed to make in order to progress forward – whether as repentance for past wrongdoings, or a calculated step backward to recalculate his path onward. This time he spends here will not be wasted, he does this as part of his progression forward. His upside down state can also symbolize the feeling of those that walk a spiritual path, for they see the world differently.

This is a card which is mainly designated towards waiting and suspension. This suggests that this might be the thing that you need to do in order to achieve success or to wait for the proper opportunity. Keep in mind that taking action is not always the best solution and in certain cases refraining from doing so might bring you just as much, if not more benefits.

WHAT IT ALL MEANS TO ME

I told you it was interesting.

What I got from all of it is pretty much a huge pat on the back from the Universe, and a, “Don’t you worry your little head about it.”

The dark days are in the Past.
The Present is quiet.
I’m not supposed to know, now, what’s going to happen later and there is nothing I need to do to bring it about.  So I should just hang upside down and chill.  Be where I am.

I love it. I can do that. I would have been ok with a bright, joyful and glorious future instead of hanging upside down by the foot, but hey. I can hang. Whatever is coming will eventually get here. And if this is what’s coming, it’s good enough for me.  As long as the Devil is in the Past, I can hang right here for the next 50 years or until enlightenment arrives or until somebody cuts me down.  Whichever comes first.