Archive for the ‘Breathing Space’ Category

Sixth Day of the “Gratitude Challenge”

I am grateful for the love of my family: my parents and siblings (biological, as well as the “brothers and sisters,” travelers and “strays” my parents — especially my mother — were known to “take in”). Because of their constant example, I learned that people come first, things second. I am grateful for parents who let me make my own (often imprudent) decisions and live with the consequences of my actions. From this, I learned to make better choices for myself. I am also grateful for my husband (a good choice), my children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, assorted cousins, uncles, and aunts. There are two things that run in this family: a keen sense of humor, and a love of food, both of which make life a joyous celebration.

Memories of childhood and adolescence come flooding back at the most peculiar times, it seems, bringing with them a jumble of emotional associations. I am grateful for memories of my parents and siblings (biological and “adopted”) because they allow me to re-experience the love they’ve always shown all over again. Today’s poem was evoked by one such memory:


Gripping the edges of the cafeteria tray
Dad had given us in lieu of a sled,
my brother, light as froth, blew
past the first curb
at the bottom of the hill,
flew low over the frozen road,
smacked the opposite curb and caught air

before sliding down the second,
while I, styling like an aerialist atop the pedestal
of my first pair of high-heeled boots,
the black suede-and-leather calf-highs I just had
to have, despite all Mom’s admonitions

they’re not practical,
you’ll want to play in the snow,
and getting them wet will just ruin them

just stood and glistened like the snow-clad trees,
craving last year’s red galoshes.


Astronomical Phenomenon on Day Three

Hi ho, hi ho! I’m starting a new job today (another of the things I am supremely grateful for) so I hope you don’t think it’s “cheating,” but for time’s sake, I thought I might share a poem with you that I had already written, if you don’t mind. Writing well, though a labor of love, is hard work, a work that I am also very grateful for. The poem I’d like to share with you today literally took months to write from rough draft through to finished product. The scene it sets, however, came to me as I drove to work each morning. I do a lot of writing in my head while I’m driving to and from work, it seems. In any case, this poem also delineates a few more of the things I’m grateful for:

Astronomical Phenomena―6:39 Antemeridian

Moon faints against the sturdier light
reflected in my rear-view mirror:
Eastern sky ablaze with rising.

Hills clad in creosote, sagebrush,
Joshua trees coax her―dropping
behind the Western horizon,
she sheds her robes.

Had I mountain-moving faith
to remove these blocks of clay,
I’d part these knolls, watch wordless
Moon subside, sink into willing Sky’s
subsumed in greater light.


Two Out of Seven Days of Gratitude

For Day Two, I wanted to try to come up with something along the lines of what might be considered “Love Letters to the Cosmos,” but as is often the case when you’re writing, (especially B.C. — Before Coffee!) the poem decided to go in another direction all on its own! I’m not too sure about the “literary” quality of this piece, but I think it speaks for itself. So, here’s another set of things for which I really am grateful:

To Whom It May Concern

Thank you for traffic
that comes to a dead stop
and refuses to move for hours―
it gives me time to sync my mind
and meditate on my options.

Thank you for the calls that drop
smack in the middle of conversation,
especially when I was just about to learn
the facts, or get those vital directions―
because I get another opening for contact.

And for all the things that make me wait,
slow me down,
I’m grateful―
because trying my patience
is what lets me know
it’s working.

The Seven Day Gratitude Challenge – Day One

A high school friend, Shelia Reid Dent, issued me the “Seven Day Gratitude Challenge” and I thought it might be kind of a cool project to see if I could come up with seven poems that fit the bill. For seven consecutive days, you’re supposed to list three (different) things that you’re grateful for. The point, I suppose, besides counting your blessings, is to re-focus your mental energy on the sunny sides of life, rather than hanging out in those dark corners where a lot of poetry seems to dwell. I’ve often complained that a lot of really dark and confessional poems seem to have made it onto the publication “top hits” list recently, and blathered on to anyone polite enough to listen about nothing really celebratory making it in the world of print, but as the sign I used to keep taped up over my desk points out, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. So, taking up the “I’m grateful for” gauntlet, here goes —

Day One:

Concealed Carry

A neighbor’s rooster
scores the pre-dawn grey―
What day is it? I think,
stumbling awake.

It’s a day I will spend with my grandsons!

We walk to the park after breakfast,
slaying ninjas and stopping to admire
pennies, snails, and rocks.
The younger holds my hand,
sure of my footing. “I missed you,
Grandma, I missed you,” crows the older,
which knocks me from my feet.

Under a melon slice
of moon, we gather ourselves
to tell of our adventures,
no day ever more perfect than this.

What Women Want

A dear friend of mine, the wickedly talented romance writer, Selene Grace Silver, recently made me a gift. From what she has publicly acknowledged as her favorite poem of mine, which by no coincidence is titled “The Gift,” she created this picture so she could share it with her readers online: The Gift_Web

It is a love poem for my husband, from a new chapbook (Liturgy of Small Feathers, Yak Press) due to be released in July. But it got me thinking about reciprocity, and the initial impulse I had for writing the poem in the first place. We’re all familiar with the oft-repeated idioms and adages: “It is far better to give than to receive,” or “Give ’til it hurts,” and even “Charity begins in the home.” Each of these sayings express an idea that the giver of the gift is somehow greater, more noble, than the person who is on the receiving end, that there’s more love in giving something away. This idea suggests a fundamental inequality in the relationship between the two, and implies that the giver loses something that the receiver then gains.

There is a very old love story about a knight who, due to some unlucky turn of events, is cursed to marry an ugly old crone. Much to his surprise, however, when he enters his bedroom chamber on his wedding night, he is greeted by the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen in his whole entire life. He cannot believe his extreme good fortune. This gorgeous woman explains that it is she who has been cursed, and what happens next is entirely up to him. She can either be beautiful by day, so that everyone at court and in public can see what a knock-out he’s had the great good fortune to marry, but then turn back into the ugly old crone who shares his bed in private at night, OR she can be ugly during the daylight hours and greet him at night as the beauty he sees before him now — the choice is his.

Our gallant knight thinks about this for a moment, looks tenderly into the eyes of his bride and says, “My dear, it’s your face, your body, your appearance — the decision is not up to me. You decide.”

As legend has it, because the knight wisely recognized what women want (to control their own lives, their own fates) and acted out of love (and against his own self-interest) the curse was broken, and his gorgeous wife was freed to be completely her own person — and was, therefore, beautiful all the time, day and night.

This story illustrates for me the kind of reciprocity true giving (and true love) is based on: a relationship between equals. One in which giving and receiving are the same. There’s an old Hindu proverb, “They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing.” To give is to receive. When you extend love, both gain — there is nothing to lose.

I am deeply indebted to Selene, my editors, my writing community and friends for all they love they’ve extended to me. But even more, I am grateful to my husband for his unflagging support in allowing me to continuously make my own decisions, be my own person, and choose my own fate.

~ Liturgy of Small Feathers, Native Blossoms Chapbook Series One, No. 2 available now from Yak Press.


Poem in a Bottle


"Steerage" Anne Yale, 2009. Brushed air.

Catching Up

Breathing Space: ruminations on veiling and unveiling the rent –

The fact is you can’t escape the past by moving on,
it just moves with you.

– Fabian Black

Behind Door #1 – She’s one of the “cool kids.” Sleek and polished in ways I am not, wrapped in a tan linen shift and peeking out from behind a chin-length asymmetrical bob, she carries herself with an aloof grace and serene beauty that I will emulate (but not master) until I am well into my thirties. Confident and poised, she seems a far likelier candidate than me (a nerdy brainiac) for a retail management training position. Nonetheless, we’ve been mentored by the same executive, and despite the fact that I totally blow the interview, we both secure a spot in the same class of management trainees.

Multi-valent Pasts – though accurate, this account is deceptive, as it is written in present tense, in that it describes not what is, but what was. It presents my immediate impressions of someone I know as I first encountered her 32 years ago. However, as the account is just reaching you now, I think it offers an effective illustration of the ideas Adam Frank presents in Where Is Now? The Paradox of the Present, which posits that each one of us is “trapped in our own now,” and that paradoxically, the conclusion we must draw, given the evidence of our senses, is that “the reality that light travels at a finite speed forces us to confront the strange fact that, at best, the present exists at the fractured center of many overlapping pasts.” I think this poses some interesting implications for writers, who struggle constantly with time (should I write it in past tense? Or present?) and the crafting of a readable piece of work. It’s easy to get bogged down in the past. Frank’s ultimate question: “So where, then, are we in time? Where is our ‘now’ and how does it live in the midst of a universe comprised of so many ‘thens’?”

Door #2 – my kitchen counter and pantry are graced with a collection of clear glass canning jars in various sizes, (some embossed with a floral design, some not) instead of the usual kitsch-y canisters that were so popular with homemakers everywhere back in the ’60’s. My rooms have brass bowls filled with handmade potpourri. Through the kitchen window (for which I made my own curtains) I watch the backyard for hummingbirds. She is much more “Martha Stewart” than me, and my ideas about homemaking have benefited from her influence, my experience made richer with my life intersecting hers.

First colleagues, then friends, we became roommates for a while after that management training program, until she moved to Phoenix. My husband and I followed her to Phoenix shortly after. Not long after that, she married the man of her dreams. Exchanging being single gals in the big city for our new role as pioneer wives and homemakers, we entered the “and they all lived happily ever after” stage of our lives at the same time.

Quantum Mechanics in the Elevator – in a captivating TED talk on creating the first visible quantum object, Aaron O’Connell, a particle physicist, proposes a spectacularly useful analogy to help lay people make sense of quantum mechanics, one that I also find particularly applicable to the question of “now.” He says that alone in an elevator, quantum objects behave one way, but when there are other things in the elevator (such as light, heat, wind, etc.) the object behaves differently. The implications for larger objects, (i.e. us, our bodies) he says, is that “all the objects in the elevator, are really just quantum objects, just crammed into a tiny space. You hear a lot of talk about how quantum mechanics says that everything is interconnected, well, that’s not quite right. It’s actually, it’s more than that, it’s deeper, it’s that those connections, your connections to all the things around you literally define who you are, and that’s the profound weirdness of quantum mechanics.”

Other Doors — the only change I’d make to this assertion, however, is instead of the “things” around you defining who you are at that time, I’d say it’s the people. In this way, each new job, city, or role in life that brings you into contact with a new group of people can be considered a different “elevator.” My friend, Kathryn, and I shared the ride in two of them, as management trainees at Woodies in Washington, D.C., and then as newlyweds in Phoenix. We lost touch for a long time after that, however, as our lives diverged and we took other elevators.

Convergence of Spheres — in a bona fide “Facebook moment,” we just had an opportunity to catch up with one another over breakfast last week. We don’t revisit our first two elevators. Old history. Instead, we “Readers Digest” the intervening years, focusing on the really important details: what’s happened with family members, relationships, work. Turns out, time (or at least the perception of time) is relative after all. We cram twenty years into a conversation of two hours’ duration. Who else can you possibly do this with, except an old friend? There’s kind of an “instant recognition” factor, where you don’t have to waste time re-hashing the pre-established, free-standing “elevators,” and can just fill in the blanks from where you last left off.

After we’ve parted ways again, it hits me: no matter who is in our elevator and regardless of the many elevators we’ve each been influenced or defined by, or which of the many pasts we bring with us into this moment, this “now,” each one of us possesses a stable, undying, indestructible core (much like Dylan Thomas’ green fuse) that operates consistently (like O’Connell’s quantum object cooled to “just above absolute zero”) throughout. Not only that, but it occurs to me that what she and I have in common (and what probably made us friends to begin with) is that we share an artist’s heart/soul. She articulates in clay what I endeavor to render in words: an aesthetic that projects a sense of whimsy, a creative impulse that says “try not to take life too seriously,” and an energy that carves out some measure of serenity in the midst of our crazy lives.

Now, we’re back where we first started, it seems. It’s good to see her again.

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