Riding the river of goodbye nights alone taking songs to bed instead of you Heart resigned to half the life we had until we dance again arms yes arms wrapped soft and tight I see you there downriver waiting for my dreams to float the river shoals Less of forever to go around each bend And we will hear our voices say hello and dance outside the time of sleep
I didn’t know I loved the spirit in soil deep under reed marshes connected to it through my bones a vision of roiling life
I didn’t know I loved to sing that song could make me cry joy a quick moment on the backs of notes voices together light to dark
I didn’t know that I loved sense of place color memories until they were gone layered goodbyes in dim sunlight dusty motes on gray air
I didn’t know I still loved touch thought it dried and done but not forgotten only to find a fire so ready lit my blood sang even as I would cry aloud
I didn’t know that I loved words that they would fill every empty place pull me with them words from my eyes words from unheard thought
I didn’t know how much I loved my life sweet along with sharp and hard rushing in over tidal flats escaping just as fast that I could cherish it not just live it
____________________________________________ This list poem came out of a short poetry workshop taught in 2015 by the poet Doug Anderson. We read Things I Didn’t Know I Loved by the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, and were prompted to write our own list poem by the same title. This is the revised version.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” said Charles Dickens. Actually he only wrote it. Dirk Bogarde, my favorite Sidney Carton, said it with eyes shining in the dark. Words reduced to threads at the edge of a frayed cliche. Being able to hold thoughts in my hand for a while as they dribble down the length of my fingers, to land drip sandcastle upright as words on paper. It took forever to learn, but I have no regrets. If only words could cure the world as easily as pull the wool over our eyes. If widdershins could disperse oil spills or brillig or gyre could hoist a lance to run neatly through the heart of hate. That kind of thing. Words for the worst of times.
My mother once said that one of Martha Graham’s dancers was awful to her husband and little boy, but when one saw her on stage none of that mattered any more. My teenage psyche salted that one away as ammunition for the future.
Originally this was going to be a plaintive piece about my mother, life with a parent whose art was in many ways more important to her than her children, something like the childhood she herself had experienced as the daughter of the composer Mary Howe. Years on the memories don’t have the power they used to, because along with having a fairly self-absorbed modern dancer mother, I’ve come to appreciate an artist mother who painted zoo animals, including a never-forgotten giraffe, all over our Colorado Springs bathroom walls.
I had a mother who continued to learn and grow and create well into her eighties, who regained a love life in her sixties after a long drought, meeting a wonderful man who was her partner for almost twenty years, who took photos while she sketched, and was her personal “sag wagon” driver on the many Cross Minnesota Bike Rides she did. I had a mother who morphed from a modern dance teacher and choreographer into a fitness visionary and advocate for home-bound seniors in the Twin Cities. I had a mother who loved me, but couldn’t always show it.
No turnaround happens all at once. My friend Susan was a magazine culture writer in Washington, whose perk was tickets to everything, and she loved to take friends along on their birthdays. One year she took me to the Trocks, aka Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.
We watched this all male dance troupe perform technically brilliant and hilarious parodies of ballet and modern dance. Re-imagining Pavlova’s “dying Swan” with molting feathers. A hysterical Dance of The Little Swans. Side-splitting send ups of Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Doris Humphrey.
Enjoying dance without resentment for the first time in years, I knew exactly what I was watching, understood the finer points of the parody, appreciated the incredible technique and elegance of those men en pointe, all of it a gift from my mother. That night proved to be a small but steady turning point.
I’ve come to terms with my mother’s humanity and limitations, acknowledging her often ill-expressed love, and eventually moving on, setting aside things I now understood better and for the most part no longer mourned.
With emotional dreck hoovered away, my brain cleaner and tidier, it began to imagine again, eventually leading to a creative bender of sorts that shows no sign of slowing down.
A few years ago life took a powerful turn. I joined a virtual creative group, and cannonballed into the deep end with little idea of what direction to take. I still find myself zooming about, trying things that look interesting or challenging. At first it was easy to hang back. Now I know the answer is to acknowledge whatever shows up, look it straight in the eye — and give it a shot. The way she used to.
Tomorrow might have been fifty-two
not just thirteen since thirty-nine
Aligned with family and gratitude
the day always reflected joy,
the heat of our love folded into stuffing
The missing of him has gotten harder
but it seems he knows. I came upon
the sound of his small gasp
that wrapped me up each time
in beauty gauze, when finally ready
I presented myself to his gaze
before our evenings out
Deliciousness itself, just knowing
that he would when I did
that he always meant it.
And I can smile now, the memory
a pitch perfect gift
For years every morning I drank
long drafts of the world,
that words lay in wait
to flash like sunbeams
unable to dance quietly
until the moment of ambush.
For years I would tuck away
throat caught beauty
in dull green strong boxes,
to sit on bare wood shelves
until I could not wait
another moment of another minute
to feel and see again.
For years words found me,
some refused to leave,
sticky stubborn things,
and now, well now I recognize
them as old friends that held the dam,
until one day they stepped aside
to release the flood
as I surrendered.
Day 25 part 2. The NaPoWriMo prompt was to borrow the first line of a favorite poem, and use it as a jumping off point for a new poem. I chose the first line of Mary OLiver’s Mornings at Blackwater.
The Whites are singing the morning awake today, as the dogs get fed, as I make some tea and watch things busy up out the window over the kitchen sink. Today I am grateful, as always, to see another sunrise, listening to music, in a place that I love deeply. Writing is on my mind this morning, I have had little time or energy for it this week, and it feels luxurious to anticipate the smooth feel of my pen on paper.
Day by day the house is looking a little more Christmas-ish. Favorite memory rich things bringing light and color to December’s squeezing down days. I am riding a wave of work that began the day after Thanksgiving and won’t quit until just before Christmas. It leaves my thoughts dim and cloudy in transition each night, muffled by tiredness., unless there is music to open my heart’s inner ear and let feelings out to air.
Happily this time of year is rich that way. Wednesday night found me singing with the Fitzwilliam Occasional Singers, rehearsing for Sunday afternoon’s tree lighting on the Common. Roughly fifteen of us, friends and fellow singers, gather every year to do this, and my city emigre heart is glad to sing again in a small village, and be part of a gift to the children and families of Fitzwilliam.
It will be full dark as we walk over from the church, just before five. The village windows glowing with candle lights. The tree waiting, unlit. Bustle. Portable lights get turned on. People begin to arrive, drifting into the glow from the recesses of the Common. Children sit on the ground in front, a wide crescent of small bundled up figures and smiling faces. It will be cold (but not as cold as last year, when Deb’s accordion froze up and we had to sing a cappella).
And then we will begin. Walden reading A Visit From St. Nicholas (The Night Before Christmas), Bill leading us through the carols we rehearsed, accompanied by Deb on her accordion. Then a carol sing for everyone (first verses only, and lots of laughter for Rudolph). At last Santa will roll in on the Fitzwilliam Fire Truck to light the tree, and talk to the children.
After there will be hot cocoa (so good in the cold) and home made cookies, while folks visit, then slowly disperse as the evening’s trappings are loaded into cars and trucks, along with us. Dark and quiet will settle on the Common again, except for the tree, its shining presence standing sentry until the new year.
You were spinsters then
and from our blinkered perch
we saw two ancients
despite a force of nature stance
and razor gaze conviction
flavoring snail paced tours
through plays and poems
or god help us Hardy
our take on you parodic
not ready to imagine
the depths of passion
you would later find
in brilliant marriage
to a Bishop friend
become a lover
or cloud dancing pilot
pioneering aerobatic ace
a red and yellow blur
carving skies in perfect loops
tweeds and twinsets flung away
your lessons had such legs
and far from trudging through
dull furrowed fields in metered step
we learned to track
and slither catlike round each word
to seize intent and voice and pace
in short a brilliant Poets Ed
put to the test at last
For Joan Ford Rutt (Fordy) and Frances MacRae (Muck), who did all those things and more.