Looking Up

They predicted snow last night, but this morning there’s just a soft rain. Still, Leonard doesn’t want to go out in it. Neither do I really, and I am a bit ashamed of that. What I wouldn’t give now to lie down on a green lawn and stare at a blue sky. To feel the sharp blades of grass on my arms, knowing I will itch for hours afterward.

Maybe I can get to the beach tomorrow. Maybe the wind will have died down but the sea will still be agitated from the storm. But it is a while yet before I can take off my shoes and walk along the edges of the tides.

I guess winter is really a season of sensual deprivation. Or it can feel like that, at any rate. The cold is numbing. The body’s instinct is to withdraw. A hot cup of tea, a hot bath. But the air is so stale inside.

I haven’t used the outdoor yoga room since summer. Sometimes I get in a groove that is difficult to rock myself out of. I guess we all do. Even though I know I would feel better if I could just… get up. The doctor says that just to walk in the evenings is enough. But it’s not. At least that is what I tell myself, and use that as an excuse not to do even that. I set the bar high.

I flip the house so
I’ve a sea-bed perspective –
eyes looking up, but
the thresholds between each room
are ridiculously high

A single sun salutation is a kind of secular prayer this morning. An upward salute, pleading for something to take this weight from my chest. Finding a willingness, the courage to actually let go of it.

What would be left in its place?

Sometimes it is easier to cling to the weight than deal with the hollowness.

Between raindrops, ………………

………………………space, certainly,

but we call it all rain. …………..

Camille T. Dungy, “There are these moments of permission”

Empty Hours

This morning I look in the mirror and see the swollen half-moons under each eye. I’m still dealing with insomnia. I grab a coffee mug and open the sliding door to let Leonard out into the yard. The snow is coming in nearly perpendicular to the earth, and half-melting the moment it touches anything. The table outside is covered with a gray slush and hailstones. Leonard comes in again, wet and miserable, heading straight for the treat cupboard.

I’m on a second cup of coffee before I even sit down to write.

My morning routine has sort of toppled on its head. Yoga and meditation when and if I force myself. But I know all things circle back and am trying to be patient with myself. No whipping. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.

I’ve cleared my calendar again, to settle down with mint tea and a book of poems. This afternoon: Camille T. Dungy’s Trophic Cascade. I am having a difficult time giving in to relaxation. But I would be lying if I tried to convince anyone that the guilt I have means I am actually getting anything done. Housework. Yard work. I honestly don’t know how the hours are leaving my presence so empty.

I lay on the shakti mat and listen to a podcast. I eat. I long to go running. Or rather, I long to want to go running again. Patience.

Leonard nudges my arm so I will lift it out of his way, and he lays his head on my chest and stares at me. I have no idea what is going on in his head when he does this. Sometimes he will lift his head and, very tenderly, bite the tip of my nose. Honestly, it’s as uncomfortably intimate as it is amusing.

The clocks spring forward in a little over a week. Which means that the mornings will be dark again. I am already mentally preparing. After that, Easter, and then headlong towards summer. It’s only this year that I am conscious of the ambivalence I feel when I become aware of myself wanting summer to come soon. In wanting the days to fly by. I have no idea if I am late to this understanding? Late to understanding the value in savoring all of the days? Sometimes I catch myself counting backwards. From 95 on a good day. From 100 on days when my respect for science totters on the edge of faith. Then I remind myself that there is no guarantee and that to put off really paying attention to the days until I am retired may not be the wisest of plans. What are those seven regrets again? And why on earth am I thinking of them now?

You know. I don’t think I’m going to regret not doing the dishes right now.

I’ve got a book of poems and an overgrown puppy.

the cold winds squeezing
between the sash and the sill
intermittent taps
reminding you of the world
beyond the quilt and the tea

Deadheading Poppies

Sunday morning. And sunshine. And resistance.

There are so many things I should be doing and choose not to. It starts (or rather doesn’t start) with making my bed. Changing the sheets, walking the dog, vacuuming the entrance hall. All the things I will do today. Grudgingly.

Unless I manage to adjust my attitude and find a way to let go of the resistance.

This has been a week of settling into myself. Not that it has been easy. Friday, walking home from the doctor’s office, I saw two sparrows in the bushes. Ragged-looking, bed-head feathers sticking in every direction, looking hung-over and crotchety.

I’m projecting.

I think settling-in requires a good shaking-up first. Taking a good look around at what you dropped without realizing it. What you didn’t even know you lost but explains the peculiar hollow feeling in your solar plexus.

These things that slipped out of your hands in a moment of weakness — of self-doubt.

When I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror I see a woman disheveled and swollen. Who hasn’t stood up straight and smoothed her clothes, sliding her hands down along her sides — who hasn’t lifted her chin, in months.

Isolation is a complex experience.

I’m filling out a nightly questionnaire regarding how the coronavirus restrictions are affecting mental health. One of the questions asks if you felt lonely today. Another asks if you felt close to another human being. I answer: no, and yes respectively. Near the end of the nightly list of questions, though, is how many minutes you spent socializing in person. 0. It’s been 0 for a very long time. So this questionnaire makes me wonder if I even know what “loneliness” is. If I even recognize it when I feel it.

“Did you avoid social situations today to avoid stress?” Well, now. That’s a stupid question. When have I not done that?

I kind of doubt this little research project by the University of Oslo intended to make people anxious, but I am not convinced it isn’t making matters worse for me. I am not sure I am benefiting from a meta-awareness of my own isolation.

On the other hand. I haven’t been this creative in years. With no one looking over my shoulder (except the ever-supportive E., who serves as a touchstone of reality), I’ve rediscovered a sense of play so far gone, I thought I misremembered ever having had it.

Losing a sense of community can mean losing the fear of judgment, too. Maybe that is why so many poets are loners?

Several places in the New Testament state that no one is a prophet in their own land. And the explanation for the verses is about the people in the community taking the prophet for granted. But I believe that self-censorship plays a role. Why risk a tenuous belonging?

It’s a gamble to stick your head above your prescribed station. It can lead to exile or execution. Just look for yesterday’s tallest poppy. Either way – censored by them or us – we can so easily lose ourselves.

But I think by circling this space, again and again, I am picking up what I lost. Colors, textures, dreams. In this isolation I can forget to look over my shoulder to see who’s looking over mine.

It’s a long, slow route, but I think I’m getting there – wherever “there” is.

tiny, twig-like claws
scratching the palm of my hand
a quiver of down
a ticking-tiny lifespan:
catch it now — quill on vellum

Bell Jar or Tea Cozy

This week for some reason, Leonard has been particularly intense on the morning walks. Birds are grabbing his attention lately. And he keeps burrowing into bushes before I tug him back. Something about spring I suppose. Maybe the rats are already leaving their nests?

He was still wound up when I dropped him off at the house and headed to the trail. This morning’s run was unusually dark. Usually, we can see the lights from the houses blinking from the other side of the lake, but this morning the trail faded to greys and blacks, and then indigo ink where the curves of the stones along the shore meet the nothing. I guess it’s the fog that seems to close down the area, like a bell jar. Instead of getting a sense of an endless, dark abyss beyond the rocks, it felt claustrophobic. As though, if we were to veer to the right we’d not wade into the cold water, but hit a screen of woven night, woolly and coarse. I’m going to think of it as more like a tea cozy than a bell jar.

I ran slower than usual. Which is as slow as sleepwalking. Thoughts moving too quickly – out of sync with my breath and my body. I’m still feeling disconnected.

Back at our regular hour now, we see familiar faces. And a new one. Someone got themselves a shepherd puppy. “Good morning”. People here don’t acknowledge one another at the train station, at the store. Even at work, the administration has to remind us to say hello to one another in the corridors.

But walk those extra 300 meters from “civilization”, once you hit the trail: “Good Morning People”. It’s one more reason to force myself out the door at 5 a.m.

I have a week of winter vacation now and the timing couldn’t be better. I’m hoping that the quiet will help me fill my ballast again. I’ve been slowly destabilizing since long before the pandemic. Looking for something to hold on to. Even during meditation I can be side-swiped by a random thought and find myself knocked to my metaphorical knees again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time. How we move through the world only seeing what has been. Only seeing an illusion of what has been. The story we weave as events pass under our arms and through our hands

time flows like water
from behind, around our ribs
under our armpits
and through our hands, as we weave
one of a million stories


A Site-Specific Performance

These past few days have been difficult. Something like a storm surge instead of the constant ebb and flow of effort and ease. Someone used the phrase storm in a teacup. But that’s not quite right.

I get it: sometimes drama is a diversion from a real problem. A shrew in the bushes on the loose riverbank in spring.

But sometimes it’s the sputtering leak before the hose bursts.

I typed out a list of things in a messenger exchange with my kid. He called it my anti-gratitude list. I felt a little foolish. But I’ve been considering since whether I needed to write one. Not to dwell on, but to see what I need to let go of. All the fancy therapeutic writing exercises, when maybe all I need is this list on a piece of paper.

And maybe a pair of scissors.
And maybe a thick, black marker.

A box of matches
(Something in a minor key?)
Driftwood and kindling
Fricatives and plosives

All spells are taken
back and forth and back again
until the very end
“for each man kills the thing he loves”
doused in oils and dissonance