A poem in every pocket

poem in every pocket

Today is National Poem in Your Pocket Day.  I love that this is a thing now.  I love poems, all manner of them, short, long, rhyming, oblique.  Each poem is a wrapped piece of candy I can never get enough of.  The idea of NPIYPD is that you carry a poem in your pocket to share with others.  I didn’t leave my house today, so I’ll use this post as my pocket.

A Poem in Every Pocket

Imagine a plaza
where some people sit on squat pedestals,
and some people are
talking/walking/milling about,
but all are carrying this secret:
that their pockets are filled
with poems only they
know all the words to.

Mary Pierce

That is my little poem.  It is also my wish.  If you have a poem you are carrying around today I’d love it if you would share it with me.

Between, & all the years that have passed since then

In a kingdom far away

In a kingdom far away

BETWEEN

I wanted a red dress and wide hips —
the better to love with
not necessarily for birthing babies
as those books
would have us believe
their pages filled with
elastic wombs & embryos,
miniature aliens placed there
by god knows what.
Desire.  Was that it?

Motherhood has since selected
something more suitable
for me to wear.
responsibility and self-sacrifice
in a durable weave,
stains wash out easily.
Count on cotton
I hear in my head,
a titter made sonorous
in the hollow of sleepless nights.

Swaddled in flannel with pink rosettes
I dream of a tight red dress
warm breath in my hair
probing fingers
so many places to search for comfort
or passion.
Desire and need are not the same things.
My thighs have grown soft.
I remember when they were taut,
sprawled heedlessly on the edge of caring.

I perched there for a time,
between
the dream and waking,
between
desire and duty,
rivers of doubt flowing on either side.
I stared into the abyss
and leapt anyway.

~~~ written 1995


So, yeah . . . here’s a thing.  I’ve had a stack of old floppy disks sitting in a drawer forever.  A few days ago I bought an external floppy disk drive so that I could finally access the content.  One of the disks was just labeled Poems.  A few of them, like this one here, I hadn’t remembered even writing.  My son was six when I wrote this.  I was busy, probably tired as hell.

There are short stories I forgot about, ideas for children’s books, more poems. I’ll probably go through them slowly, savoring them.  Try to recall where my head was at the time.  It’s a little like finding a trove of letters from someone you used to know, but haven’t seen in a really, really long time.

Could be interesting.

How to be happy

Sculpture by Anne Mimi Sammis.  Located at Narragansett Beach, RI.

Sculpture by Anne Mimi Sammis. Located at Narragansett Beach, RI.

 

Lately, I’ve been working on HAPPY — that elusive state of being that people are always trying to achieve.  Seems like a good summer project to me.  I’ve been on antidepressants for fifteen years, and I recently decided to wean myself from them.  I want to see what difference fifteen years of living and learning has done for me.  So far, so good.

As an exercise in mindfulness (or as mindful as my over-active brain will allow), I’ve started making a list of the things that bring me joy.  Sometimes, I surprise myself.

(By the way, my list is not numbered. If you want to know why, it’s because I hate numbers. They are so often used to measure worth, as in too old/too young/too fat/too thin/too short/too tall.  They grade and degrade you. Numbers do not make me happy.  Ever.  If I were a mathematician I would probably feel differently.  But, I am not.)


 

MY HAPPY LIST

Always put butter on your bread when making sandwiches.  Because who really wants dry bread?

Stand up straight.  Your spine will thank you.  When I was in my early twenties I took beginning ballet lessons for a couple of months.  It was hard, but exhilarating.  I know what a plié is.  The ballet teacher taught us to picture a puppet string sprouting from the top of our head pulling us upright. I still imagine this.

Swim in creative waters every day.  See a rose in the dandelion; a butterfly in the wasp.  Paint a word picture.  Sing a story.  Make some noise and call it a song.

If you are lucky enough to have stairs in your home, run up them whenever possible.  Taking them two at a time is even better. Move your body.  Shake it, wiggle it.  Dance your feet off.  Promote yourself to the Ministry of Silly Walks.

Take time to daydream.  Revel in it.  If someone says you’re a dreamer, say — Thank you.  If they point out that your head is in the clouds, tell them  — Yes, I know.  (I’ve had this whole daydreaming thing pretty well mastered since about second grade.)

Always taste the ice cream as soon as you get it home.  The amount of pleasure you get is commensurate with the meltiness at the top of the container.

Be satisfied.  If you can’t be that, be patient.  (I’m holding out hope that eventually I will own a car with four doors instead of two.  It doesn’t have to be brand new.)  Stuff has a shelf life.  Memories last a lifetime.

Embrace your fear.  I am afraid of heights.  This does not bother me.  I don’t believe I am missing out by not conquering this fear.  I have no need to climb mountains, parachute from planes, or bungee jump from insanely high bridges. If anything, I’m increasing my chances of avoiding serious injury or premature death.

Laugh.  Because, endorphins or something.  It’s easier on your shins than running, and doesn’t make you sweat.

Be kind.  Because, duh.  Kindness is as simple as smiling at a stranger.  It reverberates through the universe.

Read out loud, even if it’s only to yourself.  If you have them, read aloud to kids.  The happiness quotient raises exponentially with the number of kids.

Also, just read.  Read for the words.  Roll around in them.  They are lovely. Read for the story; the escape; the characters.  Read for the child you used to be who got scolded for reading at inappropriate times.  You are an adult now. You can read any damn time you want.  (Whoa . . . just writing that last sentence released a whole swirling cloud of endorphins.  I can tell.)


There.  Wasn’t that fun?  Now you do it, go out and create your own list. What makes me happy is not a panacea.  Happiness isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.  Keep adding to the list. That’s what I’ll be doing.  And if you’ve a mind to, feel free to share the things that make you happy, too.

We’re all in this together.

Into the Forest (a story in 50 words)

 

 

Trees like a beating heart.

Trees like a beating heart.

Life was noisy.

Snow fell, and the woods beckoned —

It’s quiet here.  Come in.

Sure-footed, she blazoned forth.

Light slanted through the trees like a promise,

A golden haze whispered, Stay.

Standing beside three trees, red as beating hearts

She found a home inside herself.

Quiet to last a lifetime.

 

n.b.  The photo came first.  I wanted to see whether, not only could I write a story in exactly 50 words, but could I create that story inspired by the photo.  I like a challenge.  Thanks to the WordPress editors for this one.  It took me nearly a week to do it.  Hemingway, I am not.

 

 

 

 

 

Ring-a-ding-ding

bell pm

Ring out the old, ring in the new
Ring, happy bells, across the snow
The year is going, let him go
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

 Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This was my personal note from The Universe today:

I want you to know, Mary, that I’ve ordered up another year for you.Think I’ll call it 2014.

I’m going to put most of the same people from 2013 in it, since you all think so much alike. But there’ll also be a few new, very cool cats coming to play – give them some time to grow up though.

And I’m going to have things start off pretty much exactly where they left off in 2013, for continuity’s sake. Flips folks out too much when I don’t.

All in all, 365 more days in paradise… and only one request of you:

DREAM BIGGER.

Coolio?

Let’s do this,
The Universe

Dream bigger.  That sounds good to me.  I like that I get my own little note every day from The Universe.  I wake up to them and they always make me smile.  It’s like getting a text from a friend every morning that says, Wake-y, wake-y, you gorgeous creature, you! And you have to believe it, because a friend like that would never lie to you.

Notes from the Universe is just one of the oh-so-many interesting things I discovered through the internet this year.  There are blogs out there, writers who lift me up or break my heart with their words, music–OMG!–the music being played, spoken word poetry, photography, art.  I feel like I spent most of the year in a chair.  Only to discover (on the internet) that sitting too much will make you die.

So it goes.

Last December 31st I blogged about choosing a word for the new year.  One word that I would keep as a source of inspiration, to think on when I needed it. I chose, RISE.  I like how that worked out for me.  This year I’ll take the word DARE along for the ride.

I have big plans for 2014.  There are adventures waiting for me.  After a full and satisfying year of blogging, and discovering kindred spirits, I am going to take a break from all things internet-related in order to write.  Non-stop, seat-of-my-pants, finish-my-damn-book writing.  It’s time.  Look for me in about a month.

Before I go, though, I want to add my voice to the happy throng wishing friends and family well. May 2014 be your best New Year ever.

Cheers and love, people.  Always, the love.

Collecting details: In the bleak midwinter

Observing, collecting details as “glimmers of a beginning.”  A way of finding a story to tell.  That was the challenge this week.

in the bleak midwinter

Somewhere outside my window a machine hums incessantly for the second day in a row.  Its motor drones, the constant whirring sound punctuated by louder grinding noises.  Like a monster being fed, its appetite is ravenous.  It will not be sated.  My husband would be at the window checking to see where the sound is coming from, which neighbor has wood to chip this time of year.  But my husband is at work.  And I am too lazy, too disinterested to check out where Smaug is being used.  It doesn’t really matter in whose yard the machine/monster feeds.  Noise is noise.

Our yard has lots of trees and an overabundance of bittersweet.  The vine sidles up alongside the trees, curling a sinuous path out along limbs, growing thick and woody until it has strangled the life from the tree.  In the green of spring and summer it’s harder to notice the bittersweet in its sneaky trail below a layer of dirt, pushing through shrubs and other plantings.  We hack at it and pull it up, but it is incessant and wears us out.  Now, in the bleak midwinter, it is easy to see.  The vine coils around some of the trees, already thick as rope.

It’s the chill this time of year that I mistrust.  The trees stand like stark centurions behind the house, the only time I can see a sliver of the lake that lay beyond them.  The sky cracks like a sheet of glass.  Fingers feel fat and numb in no time in weather like this.  Why would anyone stand outside and feed wood to a machine?  I imagine how easily a monster like that could steal a finger or two.  There are no do-overs then.

A lawyer I know once defended a man who disposed of his wife with a wood chipper.  The lawyer is a kind man, softly rumpled, with hair just long enough to show a tendency to wave.  He wears sports coats and carries a leather brief case that looks like it was a gift when he graduated law school.  He has a fondness for Mark Twain, and reminds me of Atticus Finch.  I wonder what Atticus would make of a man who rid himself of his wife by such ugly means.  There is no nobility in defending such a person.  I expect the lawyer had his reasons.  He enjoys reading Twain, after all.

Shine a light

Tom with fire.jpg

My brother and his trusty Bic lighter.

The boy in the photo above is my brother Tom.  My mother named him Thomas, but we all called him Tommy.  At seventeen he dubbed himself Tomas (pronounced toe-mas, accent on the second syllable).  He took to wearing sunglasses and being quietly mysterious.  It was the first of many personas he would try on for size while looking for how he fit in the world.

It wasn’t easy for him, figuring it out.  He had a handicap from the start: Youngest of seven; born colicky, and needing a lot of soothing in a busy, boisterous family. He was often lost in the fray.

At two he fell through the heating vent in the bedroom floor, bumped accidentally by another brother as they jumped on my parents’ bed.  He landed in the dining room below, barely missing the table. Astonishingly, other than scaring the hell out of us, and knocking the wind out of himself, he was fine.

When he was three, I dumped scalding hot food on him.  Also an accident.  A pressure cooker containing what was meant to be our dinner exploded when I tried to lift the lid.  Tommy was standing by my side.  I was blown backwards, while lava-hot meat and potatoes shot straight up from the pot and rained down on his back.  I can’t remember how long he was in the hospital, but I do remember feeding him ice cream there.  The scars never went away.

After that he managed to make it through the rest of his childhood and adolescence with only the usual bumps and scrapes.  But he was always kind of quiet and a little aloof.  He liked to climb trees where he would sit for hours looking out at the world.  I asked him a few times what he thought about up there, but he wouldn’t tell me.  I think he was dreaming what life could be.

Tommy lived with me three times in my life, beginning when he was Tomas at seventeen.  I lived in Colorado then.  He wanted to finish his last year in high school somewhere other than where he was born.  We joined the local Y and worked out together, ran around the indoor track together, then went for donuts afterwards.  He wore his sunglasses and skipped classes and shared falafel with the homeless guys who hung out in the park.  At the end of the year he went back to my mother.

The next time he came to live with me I had just moved to Rhode Island.  He slept in my basement and got a job as a cook in a nursing home within walking distance of my apartment.  Eventually he met someone, and moved in with her.  He got a job at Electric Boat and learned how to weld the seams of atomic submarines.  In his down time he helped my husband and I build our house.

He had a baby with the woman he lived with, a boy who looked a lot like him.  He took photos and put them in an album where he wrote things like from father to son and, a man with song and dance not to mention poise across the pages. Then the woman took the baby out of state and had Tom sign a paper relinquishing his paternal rights.  He signed it because “it was what she wanted”, but it broke his heart to do so.  He never saw his son again.

He tried to fill the hole by being a fabulous uncle to his nephews.  He took them for walks and held their hands and watched cartoons with them.  He listened to their dreams and understood.

The last time Tom lived with me his life had begun to unravel.  By then he’d been diagnosed with a disease that would increasingly stiffen his spine and cause him pain.  A few days after he moved in with us, he simply stopped going to work.  He was tired of smacking his head on the insides of the submarines he was welding.

When I turned 35 Tom told me that I was old, being just 5 years from 40, as though 40 was near to the end of it all.  He must have believed that, since he took himself out of the equation at 33.  I’ve written about that choice in a more oblique form elsewhere on this blog.

Today is Tommy’s birthday.  By his thinking he would be old.  To the rest of my siblings–Amy, Kathy, Jaime, S.K.–and myself, he is still and will always be the youngest, the most fragile of us all who, nevertheless, keeps us buoyed and connected to one another by the memory of his life.

Happy Birthday, little brother.  Tonight the light in my window shines for you.

Uncle Tommy with my the Boy, taken two weeks before he left us on our own.

Uncle Tommy with my Boy, taken two weeks before he died.

While my heart gently sings

The Boy is home.  Which is, in itself, a joyous event, but he is also playing the piano in the den.  The sun is bright, near-white from the frigid air outside, but slanting through the window it brings in only warmth that spills across the room. The music rides the sun’s coattails and radiates through the entire house.

What more could one wish for in life than this?

The boy plays, my heart sings. . . .

The Boy plays, and my heart sings. . . .

We are all contributing to the meal today.  My husband is doing the mashed potatoes because no one mashes potatoes like him.  The Boy is giving us his version of mac-n-cheese.  I’m doing the roast and the vegetables.  I’ve made brownies for dessert, extra dark and extra fudgey.   It’s all about easy-peasy today.  And togetherness.

There are no pilgrim hats or cornucopias overflowing with fruit on our table.  I didn’t make a pie.  We are a small group, the three of us, and we are not big eaters.  This year we’re shooting for something more intangible than mountains of food.  Something to fill our spirits rather than our bellies (though our bellies will do well enough). The cherry on the top of our day will be when we settle in to our comfy living room later and listen while the Boy reads aloud the last 50 or so pages of Fahrenheit 451 because I haven’t managed to finish reading it yet, and it’s time.  It is most definitely time.

Oh, that we were all wealthy in love and good will.  That everyone could be kind.  For the wonderful people I am blessed to love and care about (and there are a LOT of you out there) I wish you all that and more.  I wish you peace and gratitude wherever you may be.  Here’s to filling your souls to overflowing.

Because it’s time.

Cleaning house

As I am wont to do periodically, I have gone quiet.  The truth is, that sometimes the world is too much with me.  This is a time when I hunker down, take stock, recharge, rethink, re-plan.  It used to worry me, these periods of introspection. Now we know so much more about things like depression and how introverts function, and I have learned to ride it out.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about, is that it’s time to clean out my house. And not just metaphorically.  After twenty-six years living with the same man in the same house, we have accumulated a lot of stuff.  After a while the stuff gets in my way.

I’m focusing first on my studio.  The room that houses most of my books and all my art supplies.  (I’d include a photo, except that it would embarrass me to no end to have you see how neglectful I’ve been — my family knows what I’m talking about, ask them.)  It’s also the room where I exercise, write and do all my creative work, the room where my muse resides. She is not happy with the mess.

I’m on a mission here:  Pay heed to my muse and get rid of a lot of stuff.  So, if you haven’t heard from me in awhile, this is where I’m at.

I’ll be back momentarily.  I promise.  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this little tidbit.  Something I found in one of the many notebooks I have scattered around the room like old shoes.  I rarely date things, so I have no idea when I wrote this, nor do I remember what its purpose was, other than that I do have reoccurring dreams of flying.

Enjoy.

In dreams, I fly, though there are no wings budding from my back like tender shoots that blossom on spring trees.  No feathers fanning in orgasmic waves behind me. There are just my arms — flesh and blood and bone — to lift me, weightless as a dime while I circle above my oldest fears, childhood tormentors grown fat, and unrecognizable, wearing clown pants and floppy shoes.

Being quiet pm

And this . . . painted while I was in college and my house had hardly any stuff at all.

Who do I think I am?

Like my Family Tree - old, propped up, but still growing strong.

Like my Family Tree – old, propped up, but still growing strong.

My maternal grandmother was full-blooded Mohawk and a devout Catholic.  She wanted to be a nun.  On her way to that vocation she met my grandfather, a tall, handsome white man who was also a state trooper trying to catch her mother in the act of selling whiskey.  It was Prohibition, and Agnes, my great-grandmother owned a speakeasy.  My grandparents fell in love, got married, and my grandfather gave up being a trooper to join his new mother-in-law’s business.  Not exactly a propitious union.  Nevertheless, it produced three daughters.  Only my mother, the youngest, survived childhood.  I was named Mary for that grandmother, though I never got to meet her.  She died when my mother was three.

My paternal grandmother went without a name for weeks after she was born.  My great-grandmother, having recently lost an infant son, wanted to wait and see if this baby survived before handing out a name.  Finally, one of great-grandma’s sisters looked down at my poor, swaddled grandmother and said she looked like a little pearl.  And that’s the name they slapped on the birth certificate.  No middle name, just Pearl and her surname, which was Crawford.  It embarrassed my grandmother, not having a middle name.  When she married she began using the initial from her surname as part of her signature, to legitimize the oddball she always felt she was, as though just the initial of a pretend middle name would make her just like everyone else.  It didn’t, and she wasn’t.  And that was okay by me.

I’ve never looked farther than three generations behind me.  I know nothing besides a handful of family stories that may or may not be true.  I might be related to Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the United Sates.  I might be related to Daniel Webster, statesman and Massachusetts senator.  There might still be a castle in England somewhere with a Stanfield still living in it.  I don’t have a pedigree to tout.  I know that among the generations whose lives I’ve been told something about, most came from England, Scotland, Ireland, and one at least, from France.  Or, like my namesake grandmother’s side of the family, they were already here.

I think a lot about family, about where I come from, and who I am.  When I was about seven or eight, I would stare in a mirror and experience a complete disconnect with the image looking back at me.  Who was that person, I used to wonder?  The face, the stuff behind the face?  Was I real?  I had no clue. (What a strange child I must have been.) When I got a little older I searched the faces of my parents and siblings for  family resemblances, something that would make me feel like I belonged, but  there was such a grab-bag selection of this nose with that jaw and those teeth or eyes, hairlines, cheekbones, hand and foot size that not one of us looked much like the other.  (Later my siblings and I would joke about the possibility of a milkman or two being thrown into the mix.  Except that we bought our milk at the store.)  It still amazes me when I run across families whose members look so remarkably alike that there’s never any question of relatedness.

Like my grandmother, I have also felt like an oddball.  Within my immediate family I used to think I could have been a changeling left on the doorstep by trolls. The feeling has abated somewhat in recent years.  But, sometimes I still feel a little out of sync with the people around me.  What I’m passionate about, what I think about, what I like and don’t like, what I dream.

And I think about the list of ingredients that went into the soup that made me:

A grandmother who thought she’d be wedded to Christ, but chose marriage to another man instead.  She left behind a daughter who was raised by so many other people it took her eighty years to find a place where she feels like she belongs.

Another grandmother who, for want of a middle name, thought herself so much less than she actually was.

Bootleggers, gamblers, drinkers, farmers, a failed blacksmith who played the fiddle, house painters, steel workers, bookworms, librarians – dreamers, all.

And something else.  I look back and see more than just the sum of what they did with their lives.  I look back and see qualities like tenacity, hope, and a desire to be better and farther than from where they began.  All those things are good in soup.

DNA is like a magic show.  I know that sleight of hand is involved, that the trick isn’t really magic, and sometimes I even know how the trick is done.  But it’s still strange and thrilling to observe.  How do geese know to fly south?  How did they know that there was a “south” in the first place?  There are all these questions I have.  In my next life, I think that I’ll study genetics.

Or maybe I’ll just learn to sing.

This post brought to you by the DP Weekly Writing Challenge.