It has been so long since I’ve sat here in the library that the roses on my desk have long since died and dropped their leaves – more leaves than I would have thought possible from a dozen red roses of condolence.

The light bulb in my little green lamp has burned out. I type in a relative darkness this morning. In an hour I will leave the house to take the train to work, and I will pass the tall raspberry stalks that lean out over the driveway from the garden and I will grab the ripening berry I’ve had an eye on for days.

Provided one of the magpies hasn’t beaten me to it.

It seems these past weeks I have moved even further away from myself in an attempt to know how to move forward. It is true that death brings change, even deaths that do not spawn grief, but end it. I am “over it”. In a way. Past it, certainly. And now what?

We can do this, you know. We can own our own stories, or just give them up entirely. And we can let go of the need to dictate the stories of others.

We don’t need to be “a survivor” with a constructed story arc that makes us the hero. If we “win” all the battles. We can just live in world with no need to construct a dramaturgy that will bring everything to a satisfying end.

That sets us up to fail.

While avoiding writing, either publicly or privately, I have been thinking again about “whose story”. I have been thinking again about my choice to erase myself from the tidy narrative in my mother’s obituary (which described a woman I never knew): to take that name that is not my name, was my name, out of that paragraph with “[…] is survived by”. Because the truth is that the person who wore that name, who lived that life, did not survive but was born anew, and mothered by so many others.

We can do this. We can give up the need to carry a through-line through the days. Can’t we?

Today I will lecture on Antigone. Creon’s story. And I will ask the students to read the play, translated from a translation that was translated from a translation and handed down through cultures that have come and gone, and were born anew. I will ask them: Whose story is this? Why carry it? Will you somehow make it yours? How?

I learned yesterday that Antigone means “against-birth”.

Can we accept that every considered perspective on every story is a true answer? That all of them are as true as memories?

As true as the dried leaves scattered over a book filled with fragments of poems that I’ve forgotten I’ve written.

I’m off to pick a raspberry.

photo of a ripening raspberry on the stalk

The longest day. There is something about that phrase that speaks to me of weariness, instead of sunshine. A “Here: but no further”. A gentle “We’ll take this slow” turning back toward the inevitable darkness.

And the waxing moon brings with it the melancholy of condolence. The sky is pink and the blackbirds are singing. The wind carries a chill that pricks my arms, my neck and brings my attention to my body. Alive. Responding.

These are moments where the words in my head swell together into absurd phrases: Oh, Love; this beauteous; If but when… Is my subconscious so desperate to fix my experience into a greeting card cliché? A patinaed aphorism? Because these are not my words. How does becoming aware of my body cause me to attempt to escape it, to dissolve into something “bigger” and far more abstract?

The immediate world is enough. The wind, the goose skin, the smell of the crushed grass under my shoe. The moon, pale in the bright night, transparent at tissue paper. These things speak in the vernacular. They are as down-to-earth as a bloody childbirth, as the planting seasons coming and going, as death itself.

Tomorrow the sun will set almost one minute sooner. And like tonight, it will bleed into the sky for hours after while the moon waits patiently to be noticed. This is just the way of things. Whether we will be here to notice it again. Whether we bothered to notice it now.

the crab sheds a shell
hard and twisting, slick inside
as white as the moon


Written for a haibun prompt – dVerse.

It’s raining this morning. I think it may be why I slept late.

Sitting on the sofa looking out the window, a slipped ray of sunlight coming from behind my house, over my roof, hit the white trim on the neighbor’s roof to set it glowing against the slate sky.

This happens often. I sit on the sofa drinking my coffee and petting Leonard and I see this phenomenon. I know the sun is there. Momentarily. Then the eaves stop glowing and I know the clouds have covered the sun again. I feel my mood sink as though it were directly connected to the lux measurement of the neighbor’s eaves.

This happens so often on the weekends that I have begun to see this little moment of reflection like a kind of meditation practice. My mood is variable. And I can step back and notice its own nature, which is something my conscious mind can pull away from and observe. In the same way I can observe my hand. Or my aching achilles. What is a part of me is not the whole of me.

If there is a me. There is the image of the rider and the elephant in Buddhist symbolism. But I am thinking most days I feel more like a dog walker with a pack of variously trained dogs of wildly varied breeds. Today I’m being dragged by the loudly complaining husky, but tripped by the yappy chihuahua.

And there really is Leonard. Nudging my arm off of the keyboard. Putting his head between me and the mobile phone. Standing in my way, leaning his head on my thigh: notice me, sit with me, breathe with me.

This morning I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a film clip of a sea turtle eating a jellyfish. There was something profoundly disturbing about it. The vulnerability of the jellyfish’s beautiful body. The turtle’s leisurely matter-of-factness. It’s unrushed hunger. The small fish swimming around the jellyfish’s tentacles, even now as the turtle rips off parts of the body. The fact that someone observed and filmed the scene. This is life. Look at it. What do you do with this knowledge?

Maybe the point is to do nothing at all. Learn to look for the perspectives and try to hold them all at once? The jellyfish’s perspective. The turtle’s. The baby fishes’. The shrimp’s, and crabs’; the sharks’.

I don’t have to always take sides. Even if, or maybe especially when, I identify emotionally with one. Empathy isn’t wisdom. Empathy alone can’t determine the “right” side.

This morning watching the effects of the clouds covering the sun again, feeling my mood sink, I thought of the rash of grassfires we’ve had in the county this past week. Some quite serious.

Rain’s a good thing todayfrom that perspective.

a strong wind carries
you effortlessly along
in one direction

Now, it seems like every morning I sit down in front of the computer I second guess myself. I wonder if I have already written down the ideas that are bouncing around my head. I am sure I have. My life is all about repeating myself (and maybe repeating what’s handed down in DNA somehow?). Variations on a theme. Every bit of writing a piece of a kaleidoscope image of the same small life. This sliver through this filter. Now turned at this angle.

I don’t know why I’ve become self-conscious about this. It could be a consequence of my restlessness. Feeling like there little that is novel in my life. In the past 16 months, I have not been more than a 45-minute drive from my home. I haven’t sweat just sitting on a beach in the sunshine. I haven’t stopped to listen to buskers in the Bank tube station tunnel or gotten lost in an unfamiliar city. Though yesterday walking back from my vaccine shot at a local jr. high, I got lost here: a 20-minute walk from the house. (I am surprised how many of my neighbors have bright poppies in their stone hedges.)

Part of me would be happy to pack up and move somewhere new. But E. has ties here. And I am as happy as I have ever been. Restlessness aside. Pain aside. I am holding several states of being in my heart at once more easily than I have before. Me packing all my belongings won’t stop the hurt. I am thinking it’s a superstitious impulse. If I make a major change the whole world will have to change. The butterfly effect as an emotional placebo. A half-baked bargain with God. I’ll make it right now. I’ll change and the world can right itself.

I turn my life over and over in my hands and stay curious. This is my life as a worry stone. I suppose it is a kind of sleight of hand or misdirection. Rubbing the stone does little. It’s an eternity project: smoothing a groove with my thumb. But I am doing something in the face of my own uselessness.

It seems to me our culture ridicules self-soothing of any sort, as childish—if not infantile—behavior. We should be stronger. But meditation is a form of self-soothing. Running. Dancing until the sweat of your lower back stains your shirt. Lit candles at the dinner table. A dog in your lap. I am strong enough to hold all the good and all the bad—and not need to pretend I can vanquish the latter.

I keep telling myself.

I am asking myself again whose story it is to tell. Any child, any parent, any lover. Where do we draw the line where empathy & witnessing cross into personal appropriation. Respecting their secrets, their pains, their right to speak for themselves—or choose not to.

These days I am circling an outer ring of something more difficult than I have ever had to bear. The unimaginable. No. That’s not true. It’s the imaginable that your mind toys with like a specter like a hazy figure on a polaroid. The slender man among the trees in the fog. But it is something else when he walks into your bedroom and sits on the quilt so his weight pins your legs. He puts his hand on your sternum and breaths in your face. And he says he’ll be here for you until you die.

Only it’s not me there on the bed. I’m in the doorway. Helpless. Rubbing a worry stone. Wishing it were me on the bed. Surely I could make a pact with God? This is my story. And this is not my story. I am in the hallway. My finger making slow circles on a bit of stone.

a leaf’s edge is sharp
up close, the periphery
can slice you in two

It’s something of a wake-up call when you think in the morning: today I’m going to shower and brush my hair. How deep I’ve settled into that familiar groove. The familiar always brings with it a kind of comfort. No matter how dark.

No run this morning because of the strained achilles. So the blue sky I see from the porch while the dog is peeing this morning, doesn’t quite do the trick it usually can. The plants in my yoga room are all dead, so I can’t bring myself to roll out my mat there.

I’d like something to grab me by two corners and snap me like a sheet. I want to hear that sound of straightening things out. And then I want to get on a plane and go somewhere where I sweat just sitting on the beach doing nothing.

And that is not going to happen. The school year limps to a close and then summer lies there like a damp cloth. There is a joy in hiking in soft rain, in hazy mornings. But something in me needs heat this year. Heat to burn off this restlessness. To get me to kick off this weighted blanket.

Every morning I write a single poem – quick and dirty – as part of my writing practice. The idea is to let go of the idea that my writing is too precious, and my ideas too few to squander on an online blog. I suppose it has something to do with the pop psychology model of the scarcity vs abundance mindset. At any rate, this morning I wrote about a late childhood summer memory. The twitter-sized poem touched off a cascade of memories. And I’ve been trying to suss out why they came up now and how I feel about them.

Ambivalence is the first word that came to mind, but that isn’t true. I don’t have good memories of the Kentucky river with its stigmatizing impetigo (white trash rash), the drunken men in their flipping dune buggies with their near-misses, recklessly chewing up the riverbanks. My mother too stoned to care that my 6-year-old brother was on a minibike and split his skull open on the tailpipe of a parked car, while I fussed in a kind of vertical rut, like a hopping, cartoon drama queen. Making “too big a deal of it.”

But I swam across the river once. And back. Despite my fear of snapping turtles, water moccasins, fish in general, and step-fathers in the specific. Death. Despite my fear of drowning like my cousin had been drowned in a bathtub.

I swam over the dark cushion of fear that was almost like a buoy, like a propelling presence.

I’ve been wondering if this is really facing one’s fear at all. I suppose it is – but then, I don’t feel like I conquered it. It was more like a battle and a retreat. All these years of battle and retreat.

And if I were to conquer my fears, to puncture the cushion? What then? What’s going to buoy me and propel me through the world?

these dark shapes that stack
one on one like bones to hold
a body upright