Trying to Have Something Left Over

Lately I have had a poem stuck in my head, much like we often have songs. I suspect it was initially triggered during poetry class. Each week our teacher, poet Tony Hoagland, gives us sample poems to illustrate the week’s lesson. That week, as part of our lesson on voice, we read The Butternut Tree at Fort Juniper by Jack Gilbert.

I had read Jack Gilbert before. Had a copy of his book The Great Fires on my shelf at home because of another poem, heard in another writing class, read by another writing teacher. That poem was Trying to Have Something Left Over.

Trying to Have Something Left Over

There was a great tenderness to the sadness
when I would go there. She knew how much
I loved my wife and that we had no future.
We were like casualties helping each other
as we waited for the end. Now I wonder
if we understood how happy those Danish
afternoons were. Most of the time we did not talk.
Often I took care of the baby while she did
housework. Changing him and making him laugh.
I would say Pittsburgh softly each time before
throwing him up. Whisper Pittsburgh with
my mouth against the tiny ear and throw
him higher. Pittsburgh and happiness high up.
The only way to leave even the smallest trace.
So that all his life her son would feel gladness
unaccountably when anyone spoke of the ruined
city of steel in America. Each time almost
remembering something maybe important that got lost.

I thought of this poem again a couple of weeks ago when someone asked me what place I considered my home town. I answered the same way I always answer when confronted with this question: I was born in Los Angeles, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the truth is, the place that most feels like my heart’s home is Rochester, New York.

I only lived there a couple of years, but those were the years that made me–fraught with emotion, with life and death, with rugs pulled out from beneath tiny feet. Everything that happened during those years was amplified, while I sat at terminal and non-terminal besides alike, still and silent, bearing witness decades before I learned what those words meant.

The poem came up for me again this morning as I ruminated on the novel I am writing this November, and why my main character, a girl without a name, found herself in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Although it does seem the kind of town that might attract someone longing to be lost, I believe in her case it was more than that. There was something calling her. Something like an oft whispered name and happiness high up. Which gives the story an interesting twist, transforming a girl wandering alone into a girl with something to search for, a girl who carries within her at least one happy memory to cling to, even if she doesn’t quite remember it.

Freshly Pressed

It’s been an interesting week.

Last week, I got an email from Andrea of AndreaReadsAmerica telling me she’d like to publish my lyric essay Wider Than an Ocean. It went live on her site on Wednesday. A few hours later, she got an email from an editor for saying that my essay had been chosen for Freshly Pressed, which Andrea forwarded to me, asking if I have a blog she could link to.

I’ve had a lot of blogs, a lot of sites, a lot of online squats and identities, but none of them have had much to do with my writing, or even much about me. And since I didn’t want to tell her no, I decided to build myself a site that does. So here it is.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be gathering up relevant posts from my other sites and consolidating them here–eventually creating an online home that combines all the things I love most. Until then, here’s a video of me reading some poetry. I hope you enjoy it.

Can Poetry Save Us?

I should be sleeping. I could be, were it not for two things that have kept me up into the dark start of the new day:

  1. I finished my friend’s quilt
  2. I read a post on Facebook that won’t let me go

The post was shared by an acquaintance of mine, and it described one man’s habit of sending out postcard poems. My friend’s comment: Can Poetry Save Us? I was surprised to see that the first two responded with an emphatic “No.”

Now I am the first to admit that I am both a total idealist and a blind optimist with very strong thoughts on this very topic (note the name of my site), but since I do not know the poster well, I responded with a simple “of course it can,” but the bigger, truer answer is still spinning inside of me and it is this:

Of course it can. It must. The only antidote for destruction is creation. The only antidote for hatred is love. The only antidote for ugliness is beauty. The only antidote to war is art.

Our government is broken. Our corporations are broken. Our economy is broken. America is broken. And in deep opposition to my strong inner Pollyanna, I do not believe that they can be fixed–at least not from within. I believe that the only solution is revolution, but not the kind with bullets and guns. The revolution we need is already in progress as more and more people opt out of our consumerism-driven train wreck of a culture to focus instead on quality of life, on health, on time to grow healthy food, to cook full meals without cans, boxes, or microwaves, to say no to the mountains of waste produced daily by transforming what other people think of as garbage into usable, functional objects, by transforming it into art.

So yes, I believe poetry can save us. In fact, I believe that it is the only thing that can. And by poetry, I mean art, the act of creation, be it an actual poem, a painting, a photograph, a bracelet with a baby’s name on it, a space opera, a gadget built from discarded parts, a quilt… I have to believe. If I didn’t I could never have spent all those many hours over the last several weeks stitching my hands numb to try and make a difference in the life of a woman fighting a potentially deadly disease. I have to believe that somehow, this fabric, this thread, each thought physically sewn into the pattern–clear lungs, strong bones, body of light, surrounded by the healing power of love–chanted in my mind with each stitch, will make a difference. Because it does. I’ve seen it.

Art saves one life at a time. Start with your own, then move out from there.

Happy Earth Day and OneGarden’s 2nd Anniversary

It hardly feels like two years since I wrote my first post, but here we are, having survived moves, job changes, garden neglect, and a whole lot more. And we will continue to not only survive, but grow.

Here in Santa Fe the days are getting longer and warmer, though the nights still regularly dip deep into the 30s, so it will still be a little while before any seeds can go into the ground. So while my friends and family back in California are already seeing sprouts, I am starting leeks, lettuce, and kale indoors and dreaming of September’s bounty.

So, in honor of this holiday and my new home, I have two small gifts for you. The first is a wonderful quote from Michael Pollan’s 2008 Earth Day article “Why Bother?”

The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.

The second is something I wrote with the recent political and ecological climates in mind.

Where to Start
We are fighting the wrong revolution –
turning our eyes to the government,
our hopes to the corporate machines.
Our fight is not out there.
It’s right here.
In this small space before us.
In the dirt that needs water.
In the lungs that need air.
In the life that needs choices.
In the voice that longs to be heard.

Right here is the hand that needs holding.
Right here is the land that needs healing.
Right here is the mind that needs changing.
Not the President’s.
Not the policy makers’.
Not the CEO’s.
But ours.
Just ours.
Start here.

As gardeners we all know what one small seed can do. What seeds are you planting this year? What dreams for your garden, your family, or the planet do you long to see bear fruit?