Poetry + Writing

Pandemic, A Poem

Today is tomorrow’s yesterday.

Today, in my sleep, I went back to yesterday, and felt a little relief for tomorrow.

From my worn mattress and the heavy load

in the flaps of my overloaded BMI screaming for a life renewed.

Today, in my sleep, I escaped back to yesterday

Before the quarantine grind.

I went back and told myself that I was living in an unknown paradise.

Yesterday,

There was a storm, but I could breathe easily without a mask.

There was  a fall, but I could hug and hold the injured hand.

There was a circumstance that required not a bit of sanitizer.

There was a school with students hiding phones under their desks.

There,  electronics were the constant battle

And when I said, “zoom,”

it meant to hurry to the bathroom and back,

not a series of technical difficulties followed by thirty emails full of “my internet.”

There was a town hall where people could see the color of one another’s eyes

and make decisions that considered everyone.

There was a church meeting held in the chapel down the street instead of in the Bible on the couch.

There was a run to the store at midnight for the project poster,

and, believe it or not, the doors were open and the lights were on.

There was that longest line at the DMV where people crowded the entire room

and someone coughed and no one noticed.

There was a last minute meet-up with a friend

for two cups of something while laughing at the same table and sharing just a taste.

We could pick up our own straws, and not worry if our skin accidentally touched the plastic.

There was a run for pizza without a dousing of Purel on the drive home

before reaching in the bag for a breadstick.

There was a thing unknown in today’s new normal called 

baking and cooking for neighbors just to say I care.

There were visitors crowding the halls and living spaces 

of the elderlies’ homes to show solidarity 

instead of the touching of hands through glass windows. And no use of doors. 

There were sports on the fields and courts

while also running on the bedroom TV while the husband ignored the kids.

There were dog-walkers who dared to chit about the weather

on the same stretch of sidewalk 

while their animals sniffed one another’s butts.

There was empty space in the fridge full of possibility

Instead of mediocre produce

 bought only every other week or in as few trips as possible.

And on those trips, one could wander, 

and they didn’t get a dirty eye-stare when 

Accidentally venturing down the one-way aisle in the wrong direction.</p>

And they didn’t have to imagine the look of the scolding at the mouth, 

because it wasn’t covered.

When there was a smile,

It wasn’t accompanied by an oral declaration of, “I just smiled at you.”

At the bank counter there were suckers and dog biscuits,

not plexiglass or a “drive-thru only” service sign.

There were students hiding phones under their desks.

There, electronics were in constant battle with learning

Instead of the only means for  learning.

No one was muted

And when the teacher said, “zoom”

She meant hurry back from the bathroom,

Not show me your pajamas

And email me excuses.

There were teachers at classroom doors 

with hands outstretched for a five, a ten, a special handshake, 

and sometimes even a hug.

There were busy restaurants where no one wore gloves.

There were gyms and pools 

and bars and cars 

packed to capacity with complete strangers.

There was an old lady at Target 

writing a check on an ancient and sterile book 

and a man behind her 

with an equally sterile wad of bills 

followed by millennial 

Who, unlike me,

always knows just when to swipe or insert.

There were stadiums full of tearful parents 

and so many simultaneous parties for hopping.

Caps and gowns were waiting to be shed

 instead of just photographed.

The caps could be hurled and exchanged 

without a worry at all by either the findersor the keepers.

There was international travel 

To wherever you wanted to go

and many hotels without vacancies.

“No room in the inn” meant

hoards of people were paying a pilgrimage

not makeshift tents as a place for people to die 

at an otherwise verboten and patrolled Central Park.

Those annoying celebrities 

used to embrace and compare designer clothes 

instead of chanting, “we’re all in this together”

From their annoying vacation homes

Transformed into makeshift studios.

And seriously, who picked out that horrible wallpaper?

Even us poor people wouldn’t have that wallpaper.

Sorry, you’re not more relatable.

There, doctor friends were in the Bahamas three times a year

Instead of selling off their VRBO’s 

And taking skipped mortgage payments on their mansions.

Temple worship was the sharing of holy water before its possible contamination.

There. A hot flash didn’t require a thermometer 

And a walk on the beach didn’t require 6 feet.

There was my sister who was always playing taxi  

instead of complaining about not being allowed across the Idaho border 

to go out to eat 

because literally everything is closed in Washington

And those potato farmers don’t want her bacteria

Yesterday, quarantine was something for sci-fi novels and The Pentagon, 

not a daily reality.


Social distancing was something only introverts did

And it was called being a couch potato

Or “netflix and chill.”

It never lasted more than a few days

Unless it was Spring or Winter Break

Or you were a thirty-something living in your dad’s basement

Because people were actually required to go to work. 

.Corona that was a beer

and COVID sounded like something that maybe two people did on YouYube

instead of the excuse I use to justify my kids are watching YouTube 

all day every day.

Back then, whenever it was, 

Last February

Or five years ago

The unemployment rate was the best it had ever been,

and China was the place where we got cheap goods 

instead of conspiring germs or gauged medical supplies.

Today is tomorrow’s yesterday.

And today is the first today ever

that I want yesterday instead of tomorrow.

Stay Gold, Knights.

Stay gold.

 

 

 

To my very first students:

I’d like to leave you with a story. It’s a short and simple one.

Once upon a time, a great American poet named Robert Frost penned a poem.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
By Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Years later another great author named S.E. Hinton wrote a book titled The Outsiders, one of my favorite novels of all time. I never got a chance to talk to you about The Outsiders, just as I never got a chance to tell you a lot of other magical literary things I would have liked to stuff into our last two months of school. However, I do have high hopes that maybe you were introduced to this great American classic in junior high. To jog your memory it’s about a bunch of American boys stuck in the socially-constructed life of violence. Read the book. You won’t regret it. Then, watch the awesome movie.

In Chapter 9, while struggling to breathe (that’s all I will say because you know how I hate spoilers) Johnny turns to Pony Boy and admonishes, “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold…” In his dying state, the one message Johnny has for Ponyboy is to “stay gold.” Here S.E. Hinton is making specific reference to Robert Frost’s poem. You should go back and read and analyze the poem to contrive so many meanings packed into these two words. Meanings such as:

  • Life is short.
  • Change is inevitable.
  • Carpe diem.
  • Accept what is.
  • Cherish the early experiences that shape you.
  • Shine to your fullest.
  • Everyone’s time will be up eventually.

My students, my last words to you are “stay gold.” Not just because I am Mrs. Gold, but because the message packed into the two words include everything I want you to know, everything I hope for you in  your lives.

Stay gold.

I love you. I love each and every one of you. Thanks for sharing your lives with me. Thanks for teaching me. Thanks for giving me one of your golden school years. I’ve loved almost every minute I’ve spent with each of you and the minutes that weren’t so hot, I still will cherish in my heart forever. You are all some of the best people that ever happened to me.

S.E. Hinton started writing The Outsiders when she was fifteen. That is younger than most of you. I challenge you to really think about that. Some of you might not bloom until later. I hope I can write just one mediocre novel before I die. I don’t know why some people can do things at fifteen that I am still working towards, but I will never stop trying to play catch up. And neither should any of you. You all have miracles to create of your very own. It might not be in writing. It might not even be in reading or speaking, but it will be from our three class principles: listening, learning, and loving. Your miracles will be something that comes from your heart. Teaching you all was a labor from my heart. I know I wasn’t perfect. In fact, I know I was far from perfect, but I am better because of each of you. Every one of you has shaped me into more of an S.E. Hinton than when I started as your brand new teacher. And, that is a miracle that I will never EVER forget. If any of us exist after this life, I will look for you. I will always be looking for you to tell you I love you and I believe in you, no matter what.

Stay gold.

Hopelossness

Saber was his name.
My brother’s dog.
He belonged on the set of Sandlot.
Minus the growl.
Because he was a gentle giant
that wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Just like his human counterpart, Braxton.
My nephew had passed to the other side.
Too soon.
Paper angels filled their lawn.
What a shame it was that B was gone,
but his dog was there
laying, hanging his head on the stoop
waiting for his boy to come home.
The reunion never took place until Saber died, too.
I would have liked to have been there, Braxton
because in many ways I am still on that doorstep
my brain is reeling in the why.

Lucky was his name.
The little mutt with crazy wire whiskers.
He was a high-strung dog,
but how she loved him.
Her boyfriend relayed through sobs that he found Lucky
licking up her blood.
My hug that can’t be given is in that backyard fire
along with hers
among the coals and guts
wondering along with Lucky
where she went and why she went there.
Stephanie, my dear friend,
I’ll never stop
reliving the conversation
we had over messenger
a week before.
I told you there was hope.
You could still live a full life
even with a mental diagnosis.
I’m so sorry that I wasn’t convincing enough.

I don’t know their names.
One was a fat chocolate lab
and the other was a bronze retriever.
He walked them every day.
Twice a day.
Like clockwork.
Early morning and right after rush hour.
They dragged him along
and he held on tight
to both of their leashes
and their bags of poo.
But his own life was slippier.
Hey you, we said hi in passing
for years, but you never
had many words.
You let go of your life
and your dogs are probably
still sitting at the window
with scrambling paws
tangled in the blinds
waiting for their walk.
When our neighbor texted
to report the news,
I cried
because I wanted to see
those bags of poo
one last time,
so I could tell you that
you mattered.
To your dogs,
and to me.
Even if we weren’t friends.
Even if I don’t even know your name.
Daily, since the news, I drive the streets
that never again will know your soles,
and my soul feels empty.

Chinchillas.
He loved them.
He tried to convince me
to love them, too.
I wouldn’t even look,
even though my kids said they
were the softest animal on the earth.
Caleb was the softest human on the earth.
His smile.
His laugh.
His love.
His open arms
and funny jokes.
Everyone’s friend.
Everyone’s cheerleader.
His love for cooking.
I want to buy a chinchilla
just for you, Caleb
because I didn’t listen last time when you told me to
and because maybe
just maybe
the chinchilla’s fur
in my hand
will bring back my ability to breathe.
But mostly I want to travel back
two weeks and embrace your face
and tell you how much you taught
instead of just remarking
on how handsome of a young man you had become.

For the lovers of {fill in the blank with cat therapy}

My Post(1)If People Would Purr

we would know that our offering is accepted and appreciated,

we could feel the satisfaction of providing pleasure,

we would be secure in knowing that they want more of our touch,

and

when our purr spontaneously combusted, it would bond us to that space in time where we fell asleep to another’s purr humming beside us.

 

The Peace of Wild Things

When I was eighteen, a few of my friends brought me a stuffed animal wild thing for my birthday. This was back in the days when my nickname was Crazy Ali, and I was a wild thing. I was free. I wanted nothing more than to wander. I also loved the book Where the Wild Things Are. I didn’t even associate loving that book with my own desire for adventure where Max had the ultimate adventure when he met the wild things.

If I were to write a book about my own perfect adventure, I would be the wild thing, and my adventure would be finding my way to peace. But, gosh dangit, Wendell Berry beat me to that story. And, how I love him for it.

My Post

Dear Mom [Week 33]

Hey mom,

I’ve taken two trips to your house since the last time I wrote, so that has to count for something, right? It’s been ten weeks since my last letter. So much for every week. In my defense, it seems like it’s only been one week. My life is so crazy, time beats me to the finish line every day. I sure love you. I love how I feel at your house. I feel like I matter. Like I mean everything. I don’t feel like that at my house. I never feel like that at home. I mostly just feel like everything would fall apart without me, but I never feel like anyone really cares about me. I know it’s not true. I know LG loves me and I know my kids love me, but LG is modest in his communication and sentiment and the kids are…well, kids.

Thanks for making me matter, mom. I need to come to your house every day about dinner time when I am in dire need of a nap. HA! I have been thinking a lot about home lately. Not your home or even my home, but HOME, home. I use my keenest imagination to picture my Heavenly Mother and Father’s family room couch. How far is my room from theirs? What does the kitchen smell like? How do I get one-on-one attention when there are so many others? Is it boisterous like yours and mine? Is it the peaceful perfect quiet that I wish I could command? All I am left with is clouds and gold. That’s it. And light. I don’t know anything else. I can’t even conjure it up from any storybook.

I was thinking about how I love Chocolate Malted Crunch from Thrifty’s. When I eat it, I feel the joy of a long day well-spent with family and friends at the beach. I feel sand in my hair and sun on my nose and shoulders. I want to walk straight to the car and be the first to dib shower number three. My kids think I am so silly with my sentimentality. LG thinks our whole family is a little weird about our attachments, but I think that they are the ones who don’t really get it.

I know without a doubt (well, maybe with just a tiny doubt) that someday I will sit at God’s table and eat something that I can only get in His realm. I will close my eyes and feel all the feels that I love. I will remember all the other times that I sat there eating the same thing and feeling so wonderful. I will wonder how I could ever let it go again. I will want to stay right there forever. And, then God will send me away on another mission, and I will have to wait years to get that taste again. The taste will always be my favorite, and the view from Her window will always feel like clouds and gold. Someday, you and me and dad and everyone else will laugh about how I thought chocolate malted crunch was as good as it would get. We will laugh because we will be glad that we can remember now. Remember it all, including the malted crunch, but laughing at it’s inferiority to whatever it is we get at God’s house. We’ll be glad that the veil is gone. And, then I will take a walk to dad’s dairy and you will consult with the Barsons and make up a batch for Family Home Evening.

I cannot wait for that reunion.  I will ponder it the rest of my life. How I miss my daddy. It hurts at every skin cell. I feel like I will never be whole again. I will never be totally happy again. I used to think you were overly emotional when you talked about missing your dad. I get it now. There is a hole. Not just in my heart, but everywhere. There is a hole in my peanut butter jar. There is a hole in my jumper cables. There is a hole in the green frog tape on my garage table. There is a hole in my cedar jewelry box on my dresser. It says Valdez. Dad mailed it from Alaska. There is a hole on my porch where he jimmy-rigged some wood slats to keep my screen door from opening too wide. There is a hole in my dog because dad loved her. There is a hole in the house down the street because I used to walk past while they were building it and smell the sweet scents of construction and think about dad. That hole happened after he was even around. There is a hole in the Pacific Ocean the size of the Pacific Ocean. Because it is dad’s ocean. There’s a hole at Disneyland because he took me there. There is a hole in Abigail’s car because one time dad bought me a new tire when it was flat. There is a hole EVERYWHERE. A hole only he fills, and I need him here to fill it. Not there. Here. So my tears roll down my face as fast as they can trying to make their way to the Pacific. They feel gravity pulling them to fill up the hole.  They will never succeed. The hole will remain until I am gone to a place that I no longer have to feel it. A place where he will be.

Oh mom. I hate this. I hate living without him. I know you feel the emptiness thousands more than I do. Thanks for letting me write to you about it. It helps. A little bit. I hope it helps you, too.

This array at your house helped me a lot. Thanks for your lovely storytelling, mom. You always know the most important things to say. Sometimes without saying a word.

IMG_20170407_182035372

The Home I Can’t Remember

The home I can’t remember
seems too far away.
Especially since you beat me back
You always win – touche.
Someday instinct will find me there
You’ll be the first I’ll find.
We’ll deserve our rightful place
on our favorite restful couch.
Yet, we will know it won’t last long.
No one there dares slouch.
Mom is always up there cooking.
Dad is usually off at work.
You and me are now like them.
Never will we shirk.
Yet, before we run off to help,
we eat our favorite treats.
We breathe, we sigh, we reminisce
from our favorite seats.
We won’t miss home down there on earth,
there’s no need to even visit.
This best home of gold and clouds
is the most affectionate.

It’s all about your heart.

Hey you,

I love your heart.
It’s good.
It’s pure.
It’s tender.
It’s lovely.
It’s bigger than the moon.
It’s grander than Time Square.
It’s wider than a drive through Kansas.
It’s one of the most beautiful things on earth.
It’s powerful.
It’s strong.
It’s limitless.
It was made to love you first,
but sometimes you give it away to other people,
thinking you’ll take care of you later.
That’s a bad idea.
Apply the magic of your heart
to your own scars first.
Then, you’ll have your own heart longer
and you’ll be able to love others greater.
Be selfish with your heart
as long as you need to
because
my heart will always be here waiting
for yours to come and play.

The End

I started writing this for my husband. He teases that he is going through emotional adolescence right now. He is. It’s not always fun being a teenager, and his emotional phase doesn’t come with Friday night parties and summers at the beach. Dangit. However, I can’t wait to see the guy who emerges. I guess I’ve been married to an emotional child for almost 20 years without even knowing it.

I’m so proud of my man and the hard work that he has done to get in touch with a buried heart. It’s scary to stare at yourself in a mirror. It’s horrifying at times. It’s the hardest work any of us will ever do, and he does that hard work for me, and me alone. He makes me feel important with his journeying. He’s wandering through the Sahara only to reach the Artic…just looking for his heart, so he can give it to me. Sometimes, I hate the journey and wonder why it has to be so hard. Other times, I see peeks at gloriousness. I feel lucky. Even though we have had so much to learn, we’ve been privileged to learn it together.

I changed the way I wrote the poem to not be just for my husband. It’s for everyone because we all should have the high honor of someone loving us just for our heart.

Thank you Mindy Gledhill for a beautiful song.

A Simply Marvelous Life

caroline-harpWhile going through old class notes for my current paper, I found this story I wrote last spring. I remember how it made the student that presented after me cry. I felt so bad as she approached the podium upset. She explained that my story was especially tender to her because her dad had passed away recently. How was I to know that within months I’d be in the same “dad gone” boat?

I remember telling my dad of our plan to take a gift to the orphan boys and how he loved it. He wholeheartedly sanctioned it to my kids and he shared an inspiring story of his own. He cried. What a tender memory. He believed in the art of compassion. He lived the art. How grateful I am for him and his  example. He inherently knew that the true joy of life was within our relationships with others.

I am grateful to have come across this story today. I’ve been in a school slump, not feeling up to the writing task. Today’s discovery reminded me of the importance of storytelling. Even if I am not the most eloquent storyteller.

A Simply Marvelous Life

“Those poor, poor boys,” Mother said loud enough for the room to hear as she read the newspaper. I asked her, “What boys?” She explained. Twenty years before she used to work with this guy. They were nothing more than acquaintances. “But still, it’s just so tragic.” He was dead now among the remains of his personal jet. It crashed on take-off in Colorado. The crash also killed his wife, and two of his five children.

Mother seemed obsessed over the three children left. It was hard to understand how complete strangers to her sabotaged her heart for months. She talked about them to everyone. Her friends. Her kids. Sometimes she would even talk to random strangers about how grateful she was to be alive. “Shopping with a toddler is hard, but it makes it easier when I think about how blessed I am to be alive.” When the family knelt in the family room every night, mother would sometimes pray out loud for the family. “Bless those boys.”  When I complained about chores or homework or getting my phone taken away, she would remind me to be grateful. “You have both your parents, and all of your siblings. Remember, life is marvelous.” When Christmas neared mother told us that in the quiet of one morning she heard a voice in her mind. It was a woman begging, “They must have a gift from us under the tree.” Asking our forgiveness mother said she hoped we’d understand her stealing from us. She had withdrawn from her Christmas account, upsetting her carefully budgeted plan, to buy something for the orphans. She apologized and explained that we might have a little less this year. “But, I just feel it my duty to provide a gift for them from their dead mother. I can hear her voice as clear as day. I can’t ignore it.”

As Father drove us to the next town over, Mother watched her five elves stretch and giggle among the large sack of gifts in the back. The wrapped gifts would be left anonymously. “Because that is the best kind of giving,” mother said. The boys’ names, the ones their mother gave them, were monogrammed on their blankets. A note was included reminding them of their mother’s love, all the way from heaven. “She had found a way to hug them, through the mind of a stranger.”

Mother had done some serious sleuthing to get the names and address of the boys, but could hardly believe her eyes as they pulled up. When they verified the house number to the information on the paper in mother’s hand, everyone voiced their utter shock. A chorus of “no way” echoed the yelps of surprise as the vehicle reached the top of the mountain. The boys lived in a literal mansion. Mother laughed. “What in the world?” We all told her we should take the gifts back home, but she directed her elves to drop the gifts on the doorstep. “Be quiet. Don’t let anyone see you. Hurry up before someone calls the police.” As we sprinted our way back to the modest minivan that cowered under the massive gate, my little sister spared a glance for a golden harp glowing through the windowed fortress. We jumped in. The tires peeled. My baby sister described the harp’s shine to her amused mother. How badly Caroline wanted a harp. She had even written to Santa for one. She didn’t know what I knew.  Santa had already bought her a harpsichord. It was the last Christmas purchase she had made right after the wrapping for the boys’ blankets.

We never knew it, but in those first few moments driving home, mother deeply questioned the meaning of helping where help didn’t seem to be needed. Those boys had more than she or hers ever would. The answer came quick, at the traffic light on the way home. Flashing behind her eyes, red and green, it spelled one word. C-o-m-p-a-s-s-i-o-n. Mother turned to dad and said, “I guess tonight we got to help meet an emotional need, not a physical one.”  Yes, compassion knows no class structure. Or biases. Only pure love. And that night both mothers had managed, from separate realms, to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.

The next day mother listened as her baby girl, surrounded by her parents and four siblings, transformed our family’s condo into a two-bedroom castle with music from her harpsichord. As Mother closed her eyes to enjoy the marvelous moment, a familiar angel voice spoke to her mind one last time, “It sounds just like my harp.”

 

He Shuts Her Out

He shuts her out.
Again and again.
For years on end.
Every time it’s harder.
Every time it’s hell.

He shuts her down.
Time after time.
She listens
but does not understand
the silence.

He shuts her door
and walks out cold.
He’s as mad as red,
but won’t admit
the honest cause.

He shuts her heart
and deems it untrue.
Her intentions are
misconstrued.
She wants nothing but him.

He shuts her mouth.
She can’t say a thing
that will make
him understand
his rejection’s blow.

Because his is always
more
larger
complicated
and unknown.

He shuts her out.
She can’t get in.
She sits alone
and wonders
if he will ever

Let her in.
To see a place
that has been
transformed
just for her.

He shuts her out.
She’ll never know.
He won’t clean house.
It scares him so
much more than she does.