The Howl of Motherhood

We all came from mothers: we have something in common.
Our first act almost unspeakable 
hurtling towards bright lights, causing our Other shrieking pain.
Mothers let us off the hook — 
it wasn’t really our fault —
the pea-green stuff was cleared off, we sucked from the core of the earth,
nestled, smiled, were cutely dressed, learned the Hula hoop, read Nietzsche, 
or learned to shoot, worked EMT 
or spent years shooting hoops, opened a laundry

How ridiculous the way life steps in to scatter one ur-motherhood story
it cannot be mastered
as every “birth plan” and over-imposition will veer off course

Let each birth be
or not  
as it wants 

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Ambiguity, Thy name is Spring

“Ambiguity is the world’s condition.…As a ‘picture of reality’ is it truer than any other.  Ambiguity is.”  So says poet Charles Simic.

In that spirit, I submit spring.  Yes, spring is a bouquet pulled and given from the dark dead closet of winter by a surprise lover — and yes, spring is a wide sky of clotted clouds and warty trees.  Yes, canopies of white cherry blossoms making the city street into a wedding lane, and yes, wondering if those branches that scratch the blue sky are dead or slow or what?  

Yes to Bermuda shorts and flipflops, yes to down vests with down parkas.  Yes to breath-scented bacchanalia; yes to depletion and childhood colds that repeat every season.  

Yes to People of the Book celebrating religious holidays like overlapping dinner plates; yes to fractricidal wars.  Yes to moral imperatives that command and consume us; yes to the audaciousness of hope.  Yes to too much, yes to breath.  

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Cascading Seder

After all the words of two Passover Seders, what remains? — meaning unsayable.  After flowing wine, a vertiginous sea, questions of morality and freedom, of being a stranger and redemption, after provocations, interruptions, questions posed with incomplete answers —ah!  The inchoate feeling.  A floating satisfaction.  After all the words, no words. We straddled time — we are slaves, we are part of the redemption — and we sat at a table eating fresh fish cooked in spices with fiery sweet potatoes.  The cat stretches her back.  It was a verbal catharsis that, in Avivah Zornberg’s witty terms, rephrases Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, one must say everything.”  We talk and keep talking and will talk as long as we can. “It,” absence or mystery and longing for full presence, will elude our desires to fix or define, and we will long after it.

We walk outside, feel the spray of rain on our faces, soft wisps of air that are not-bombs, soft clouds-not-plagues, nighttime smell of magnolia mixed with darkness and awakening mud.  The happening happened and meaning was made. The happening is happening and meaning is being made. We don’t even have to say Dayenu! 

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Mythical Rambles on Pico

We pick up the cows where we lost the goats. 
They look back at us, dully sensual, shiny, forgiving, 
lumber up the volcanic trail.  Hoof deep, we’re all off-balance.   
This lava moonscape, land of black chasms and craters. 
A land just out of the kiln.

Cows?  They look back, we lumber on.

Wild calla lilies in the brambles. 
Smells of mint, local cheese, dreamy orange blossom, earth.
Bird of paradise among the grey feathered lichen. 
Dwarf trees, giant leaves. 

Cows?  

Birds sing doo-wop; cats saunter sphinx-like.
Wild dogs bark at a clearing.
A greeting committee comes to the black stone fence;
our friends ramble away, we keep going.

Canopies of trees, serpentine trunks.  
The forest goes dark — someone turned off the lights.
Along the ravine, trees grow from both ends,
bird calls muffled, like wading into the Galapagos.

The earth as a process, dreamed differently.  
Contradictions redefined.
Cactus and rain forest side by side as a lamb and a lion might lie.  
The Azores — remember — where man
entered late.  And still remains stranger.  

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Azores, Déjà Vu and Olà

Visiting the Azores has a strange fusion of ‘Here I am’ and ‘Where am I?’.   Call it a confused familiarity.  Our host on the island of Terceira presented us with a golden loaf of sweet bread  — kissing cousin to the sweet round on Ives Street at the Silver Star Bakery!  Back home in Fox Point, Azores banners hang from car mirrors, fisherman sell me their silvery catch from the back of a truck.  Living in RI, we’ve been imprinted with the nostalgia of others, our largest immigrant population from Madeira and the Azores.   

But the encouter with the archipelago has its own suspended reality — nuit blanche, arriving without a night’s sleep in the middle of the Atlantic on an unknown island.  Under the airport roofs birds were singing.  A city called Angra do Heroísmo, low church bells intoning.  Misty bay, veils of rain.  Whatever I was expecting, (small villages, old men and women collecting vine cuttings, tending their fig trees) was superimposed on an impeccable, chromatic seaside capital.  White and pastel houses alternate, holding each other from tumbling into the sea.  Air playful, soft, doing little arabesques over the dashing Atlantic. A man was etching in the sand a giant heart with the words Ukraine atop.  Like everywhere, credit cards, wifi, fries, English nearly perfectly spoken.  Unlike everywhere, a cheerful Catholicism —candy pink cathedral with a zigzag turret – blue hospital/church — seems central.

There is a sane and calm mode that has created faith in sustainable tourism.  Bulls roam where grass has grown over massive old volcanic craters.  Volcanos created the place and still rule with possibility.  Over on a nearby another island, Sao Jorge, one is threatening to blow.  Except for locals in its shadow, no one seems overly concerned.  We live with it every day, one man says, naming what might be their motto: live with. 

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Standing with Bakhtin

“Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.”  Mikhail Bakhtin, Russian literary critic and philosopher 

Today, as crocus are pushing up their thorny heads and shells of war continue fall, I want to raise the flag of Mikhail Bakhtin. Bakhtin and his theory of multiple voices to the rescue!  Bakhtin as Chief Negotiator at the table!  Bakhtin with not one ear but several ears to hear. 

Bakhtin, who knows that the space of dialog is fragile and is annihilated in the rush to annihilate an opponent. Bakhtin, who suggests bringing a humanity to words rather than make a fetish of them.

In quiet moment, whether it is precious pause in an argument or blank space between text, an incipient melody will begin to form in my head.  I start to translate it with my fleshy voice.  Others will pick up a bar, a thread, will hum, together within the hour we will have created a song.   National anthem: Bakhtin!  

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Armageddon Blues

I wrote the poem “Armageddon Blues,” which was published in Salamander Poetry Journal in Winter 2018-2019. It doesn’t seem to have lost its relevance! The enduring question: Is there time to slice the cucumber?

ARMAGEDDON BLUES

If my nerves were sturdier,

if I could let your apocalypse talk
roll off my back,

if my favorite nightcap were plunging off a cliff
and being pulled back,

if I didn’t like to kick off my boots

and the Ultimate Fight weren’t your morning caffeine,

if you didn’t love to troll and tease me,

if I didn’t ask, for the sake of beauty and continuity,
Is there time to slice the cucumber,

we might roll together in bellylaugh when you predict, They’ll
just take out New York.

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The Ping Pong Mind

It’s hard to concentrate.  Ping pong of the mind is in play — sometimes that restless movement is productive, but not now.  I’m sitting on home, but mind is racing through history, through ditches and pogroms, uneasy peace, good & evil, unstability of thereof, pronouncements and truths which in a silvery instant become their opposites.  Other war zones, names of weaponry, mass injury, mothers.  The mind ping pongs.  I can hear the echo across screens all over the world.

I been reading the work of a Polish poet whose mind ping pongs, Czeslaw Milosz. A witness of multiple 20th century cataclysms, Milosz followed the tortuous turns of his fractured consciousness.  After he arrived in Berkeley, California, he wrote, “Who will honor the city without a name/If so many are dead and other pan gold/Or sell arms in faraway countries?” He was remembering his hometown, Vilnius, then in Lithuania, later a part of Poland in the poem, “City Without a Name.”  

Blink in the poem, then ask where are we now? We’re in Death Valley.  We are lost in wonder.  Also at the zero point for the imagination.  A place of not extinction but a low buzz, imperceptible murmur, desolate, alien.  A place of immersion. As is true with all darknesses, it is alive with potential. 

 I thought of the zero point as Orthodox Christians were celebrating “Forgiveness Sunday.”  To be a fly on the wall in the Orthodox churches! Imagine the buzz inside the heads and consciences of Russians and Ukrainians alike. What are Russians murmuring to themselves? I imagine a descent down to a void, wildness, to experience the howl, a cry of anguish. Radical insight, a shock of recognition.  To be a fly that could make a swerve, a turn in action. The small voice longs to be heard. 

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Mixed Marriages

Saul Steinberg

Mixed marriages make up much of life.
My nose that lives with my two eyes is a mixed marriage.
          (How does my nose live when eyes look down on it?) 
Body and soul share grief and dreams in their love affair.
Redheads and brunettes, poets and accountants, harpists and rappers,Tesla and bikes  
          practice melange ménage.
Certain Americans and Russians, also known as men and women, citizens of the world(s),
etc. do it.  Russians and Ukrainians take risk of the everyday erotic.
Sometimes one will run the bathroom sink while screaming, I can’t hear you when
the water’s running.
They may employ vacuum cleaners and various engines, though rarely war machines.  

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, mixed marriage of the ardent.  Tolstoy the pacifist, the vegetarian, the disciplinarian who insisted that Levin (Anna K) thresh his fields.  Only fools would grab sabres, run to kill others, with great faith and grandeur, to save fellow Slavs.  In August, subvert nature and its harvest, let villages starve while sending villagers to fight long-distance wars? Dostoevsky livid, he wanted to take Constantinople.

Tools required: nimble minds.  Torah students must argue 70 interpretations, fully inhabiting each point of view.  After diving into the kinks, pits, ears, and flesh of each angle, they reject most.  But they hold the key. They have recovered unknown faces.

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(Valentine) Birds of Play

A game of hide and seek, the birds

inside the boxwoods making shrubbery

sing and trill its desire (reminding me 

of other bushes that burn with fire).

As I pass, they quiet.  I move,

they start again, we play this game

of love, of fleeting signs and flipping

our display, of feigning and igniting,

such delicately tuned engines.

In the glitter of winter sun, why shouldn’t 

songbirds rock the hedge — I walk on.

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