Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Burning the Old Year (Naomi Shihab Nye)

Letters swallow themselves in seconds. 
Notes friends tied to the doorknob, 
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn't,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn't do
crackle after the blazing dies.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "Burning the Old Year" from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

When Sarah posted Nye's poem on Facebook I felt a keen, driving need to touch, feel, hold the ephemera of 2013.  I should count my stones instead, but there is an urgency to this, a voice shouting, "Take account.  File, save, treasure, or burn the hand written petitions of the year gone by."

I take heed.

Artist's postcard. I took a snowy January walk to her art show.  Snow drifted in the streets and flakes stuck to my hair and scarf.

"Patron Receipt" from a quick library trip. Cloaked in Red.  Did I read that?  No, one of the kids, I'm sure of it.

 Ikea sales slip.  I recognize only one item on the list and realize it was a friend's receipt, not mine.   She bought me a Skydda mattress pad.

Date book entry, April 7: "Write thank you notes" (for what? i can't remember), "Pay bills," "Balance the budget."  What isn't written: "Mary passes."

Yoga practice created by my friend Stephanie.  It's on lined note-book paper with little stick figures demonstrating how to perform the poses.  At the top is written "Stability."  She underlines this word twice.

Fluorescent yellow post-it note.  "Sheets, drawers, E. BD, camping list, $ store, B. library."  Only B. library, sheets, and camping list are crossed out.

Broccoli soup recipe.  The grease stains suggest that I've used it several times this year, and it's true.    A note at the top tells it like it is: "It's easy and fast!"

Stack of cards from my surprise birthday party.  The top one reads, "#40, You Go Girl! Love, Amber."  There was so much love.

Newspaper clipping. "Club prepares for Brockport Giftaway with Toy Drive." Thousands of toys.  Tears.  Fatigue.  Joy.

Christmas card.  The very last holiday card of 2013 reads: "Wishing you much Peace & Love in 2014."

Even as I recycle and shuffle and file these feather-light tokens of the last twelve months I realize that these *are* the stones.  If each one erupts in flame and is reduced to ash they will still be gems, still golden, still treasures. Even those things that go up in smoke carry supplications and griefs and gratitudes to the heavens, perfuming the air with prayer.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snow Globe

Today was one of those days that makes you want to capture each scene and trap it in a snow globe: winter play, cookie baking, sleeping in, reading, goofing off.  Days like these both exhilarate and frighten me since underneath it all I feel shaky like the whole pretty snow globe is built on tooth pick legs. Beneath the joy is so much grief and fear, but I worked hard today (harder than I should have to) to let that go and "live in the moment," as they say.  

My friend Sarah said that December is the month to feel all the feelings, and it is true.  Every little thing feels so tender and momentous and wonderful and rocky all at the same time.

It's exhausting maneuvering these ship-swaying December waves of emotion.  These one moment excited-and-giggly and the next moment teary-and-scared feelings. 

I miss my mother and my sister who live far away beyond mountain ranges and states.  I miss my deceased father and grandmothers who live beyond even the sea and sky now.  I miss my far-away friends who are everywhere but here in my tiny little town. I miss friends who are only streets away but who have grown as distant as if they are in foreign lands. 

But despite this heart-sore missing of so many people I do recognize that I am surrounded by love.  My good, kind, sweet friends and family, near and far, shower me with light and affection, and I know I am blessed and lucky.  I want to push this feeling of happy gratitude to the front of my life and to feel those feelings more deeply than those that pull me down with sadness.

I try.  God knows I try.  And sometimes, on days like today, I win this little battle, and I will crawl into bed contended and warm. Tonight I will sleep the sleep of the fortunate, and I will dream of the sea and the mountains and I will taste sea salt on my tongue and smell redwood in the air.  I will wake in the morning to the sound of the snow plow and ready myself for another day.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Light Ekphrastic

I have a couple of poems in The Light Ekphrastic today.  Please head over and check it out.  I worked with the amazing photographer, Lynne Parks.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Body the Battleground

Today I  wrote the featured post over at Antonio Valladares's Healthy
Urban Kitchen. 

Antonio is a personal trainer and nutrition/lifestyle
couch as well as the founder of Burn Sports in NYC.  He has been
featured in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, The Washington
Post, Time Out New York and many other magazines and publications.

It was an honor and privilege to write for Antonio.  It was a tough
piece to write, and there is a raw edge to it, for sure.  I hope you
or someone you love can relate to my story.

Monday, February 4, 2013

How to Clean Your Sink

9:00 AM

Tell yourself that you will write for one hour straight, no interruptions.  It is your Writing Day after all.

Make a cup of tea.  There may be grease and grime and some weird food-stuff stuck on the tea kettle.  Clean it.

As you wash the tea kettle you will see that the sink is gross.  Gross as in you need to get out an old toothbrush and the bleach gross.

Since you clearly cannot write while your sink sits in the kitchen all dirty and gross you must postpone the beginning of your Writing Day. This will only take a minute anyway.

To make sink cleaning more “literary” you should find a lecture by Lynda Barry on You Tube to listen to while scrubbing. 

While Barry talks about “creative concentration” and how to transform images and memory into stories run your paper towel covered finger nail around the metal edge of your old 1950s sink.  It’s really the only way to get out the grime.

Your buddy Lynda will mention “imaginary friends" and "imaginary enemies” and you will cry thinking of an old friend who has dumped you unceremoniously and unkindly.  Not to worry, tears bring up the shine on the porcelain.

Use the toothbrush on the faucet and handles.  Wipe off the soap pump.

Your tea is now cold. Stick it in the microwave to revive it.

Do you know what goes well with tepid tea?  Pickles.  And cheese.

After the pickle-tea-cheese snack return to the sink.  Buff it dry with a clean rag.

While you have the rag and toothbrush out you might as well clean the counters, too.  And the stove.

Have another piece of cheese.

Scratch off the words “Writing Day” on your calendar. There is always next week. 

10:00 AM

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winter Chill

December is just two days away, and I'm not prepared.  Oh, I have gifts purchased and Christmas cards ready to send.  I have the calendar full of parties and events.  But, still, I feel a dread that quickens my pulse and tightens my throat.

I have lovely memories of golden roasted turkeys, holiday carols, and frosted cookies. Yet, scattered between these are darker memories that still chill my bones:

1. Nana: She becomes ill and enters the hospital right after Christmas. I wait to hear how she is, but I'm scared.

2. Daddy: He dies, suddenly, one December day as I prepare for college finals.  Everything changes.

3. Momma: She gets terribly sick and is admitted to the hospital. I am too far away to get to her.  I am helpless.

4. Grandma: She dies, after years of suffering, in a nursing home in St. Louis. I hadn't seen her in over a year.

5. Sister: She is admitted to the hospital in San Francisco after her water breaks six weeks before her due date.  She gets an infection and my niece is born pre-mature. She is forced to spend Thanksgiving day in the hospital.

My mother and sister are fine now.  They are healthy and well as is my sweet little niece,  but every year as the holidays approach I begin to panic.  I find myself grinding my teeth and my neck tightens with anxiety.  I have trouble sleeping, and I become nervous and twitchy.  I jump when the phone rings, and I find myself thinking, "What will happen this year?  Who will it be? What will we have to deal with now?"

I dream of my father and grandmothers and wake with tears in my eyes and my head aching.

I know this type of thinking is irrational especially considering that the majority of the holiday seasons I have lived through have been pleasant and uneventful. But I cannot help it.  My heart has scars that itch when the weather turns and the days get darker.  There is no salve that will calm the irritation or soothe the pricking of fear I live with this time of year.

All I can do is watch the snow fall and hope, hope, hope, that this year will be a good one.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Today I found a fragment of the wallpaper that hung in our living room when we first moved into our house nine years ago.

The day we closed on our house our friends came over with a bottle of champagne and a gift card to the hardware store.  We drank and laughed and toasted, "to our new home!" as we all peeled at corners of the wallpaper that I said had to go.  The paper in the living room, to our surprise, came off in long, thin, easy-to-peel pieces. Soon everyone had a glass of bubbly in one hand and a strip of wallpaper in the other.  Our two-year old toddlers raced around ripping paper and weaving between our legs, and I felt so happy to be here in this place with those I loved so dearly.  I felt so secure in that love, those friendships.

To my surprise I found a working phone in the dark, dirty basement.  I snuck down and dialed my mother in California.

"Oh honey, your first home! Daddy would be so proud!"

I cried with her, a little drunk now, and wished my father was there, so I could have told  him about how I had saved and scrimped in order to buy this house.  I'd have told him how we ate lots of cheap macaroni and cheese and didn't buy new clothes for months and only had one car.  He would have applauded my thriftiness and, like my mom said, would have been so proud.

I look at the wallpaper shred now, and it makes me sad and nostalgic.  Why didn't I take pictures that day?  Why aren't there snapshots of us with our friends, arms around each other in goofy poses? Where are the pictures of us all standing in the empty kitchen or waving on the front porch?  Why didn't we have a camera to take shots of the kids  being crazy and enjoying themselves in the wide open rooms that smelled of cleanser and dust and other families?

I don't have those photos, but I do have this wallpaper scrap.  It's something.