my birthday present

my birthday present
My awesome birthday present 1/26/11 (see story under my first post)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Taking the First Step

Start Close In
Start close in,                         
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first thing close in,
the step you don't want to take.
Start with the ground you know,
the pale ground beneath your feet,
your own way of starting the conversation.
Start with your own question,
give up on other people's questions,
don't let them smother something simple.
To find another's voice follow your own voice,
wait until that voice becomes a private ear
listening to another. Start right now
take a small step you can call your own
don't follow someone else's heroics,
be humble and focused, start close in,
don't mistake that other for your own.
Start close in,
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first thing close in,
the step you don't want to take.
~ David Whyte
If you feel you have already taken the first step, and it was not all that difficult, then David suggests you  are kidding yourself, that was probably not really the first step you need to take to make that important change.
Below is some encouragement, some reason to take the plunge.

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

David Whyte          (click on his name to link to his website)  

So the closed doors that are before us serve to represent new possibilities, but practical fear prevents us from rushing through them without proper caution. The important thing is to make sure we don’t allow those doors to remain closed too long.
Here is a link where you can hear David discuss and read the poem. Notice his opening comments on getting poetry to as many people as possible. I can identify with that.
Someone has set their own pictures to his reading, not great, but the audio is wonderful. I have two of his audio books and I think he is awesome. See what you think of his style of reading. He will be at Mercyhurst Sunday, March 27 at 8:00.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Something lighter by Toi

From a Letter: About Snow

        for Chana Bloch

I am at a retreat house,
and the nun who runs the house told me to look at my face in the mirror.
I did, but the only thing I keep seeing is the face of Snow, the huge Pyrenees
            sheep dog.
He's so frightened, they can't let him off his leash!
His human eyes, long-suffering, like a saint who's forgotten how to smile.
I hear the breed is naturally shy, and this one was abused by his previous owner.
No wonder he backs away!
But to see a creature so large--120 pounds--so timid.
Once, they say, scared by a deer, he broke his leash and ran.
A mile away a woman stopped with her pickup and he jumped right in!
Who knows why the frightened make decisions!
Today I jogged with him, his thick rangy self leading the way.
Now we're sitting in the shade by the community house while I write this letter.

by Toi Derricotte

I saw Toi Derricotte read her poetry last night. You can see my discussion on that in the comments on the post below. I wanted to share this poem to show that everything she writes is not  heavy and hard hitting. I was very impressed by her.  She is a professor at Pitt and lives in Pittsburgh. If you ever get a chance to see her, I'd encourage you go.

The line that moves me in this poem is " Who knows why the frightened make decisions."
It reminds me of those unlucky souls in our society who are scared shitless, but because of  the dire straits they find themselves in, must make decisions that we, in better circumstances, may question. I feel for them.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Toi Derricotte

St. Peter Claver
by Toi Derricotte
Every town with black Catholics has a St. Peter Claver’s.   
My first was nursery school.
Miss Maturin made us fold our towels in a regulation square and nap on army cots.
No mother questioned; no child sassed.
In blue pleated skirts, pants, and white shirts,
we stood in line to use the open toilets
and conserved light by walking in darkness.
Unsmiling, mostly light-skinned, we were the children of the middle class, preparing to take
       our  parents’ places in a world that would demand we fold our hands and wait.
They said it was good for us, the bowl of soup, its pasty whiteness;
I learned to swallow and distrust my senses.

On holy cards St. Peter’s face is olive-toned, his hair near kinky;
I thought he was one of us who pass between the rich and poor, the light and dark.
Now I read he was “a Spanish Jesuit priest who labored for the salvation of the African
        Negroes and the abolition of the slave trade.”
I was tricked again, robbed of my patron,
and left with a debt to another white man.

I have heard the argument that it should not matter that we were raised to think of God as male and of Jesus as Caucasian. I have long struggled with the Holy Father, the patriarchy of Christianity, women’s second class status throughout. However, because of this perception as a female, I am able to identify with the message in St. Peter Claver. This poem helps me understand how much harder it would be to swallow Christianity as a black female.
This week I chose to feature the black poet,Toi Derricotte, because she is going to be reading her poetry Hart Chapel at CUP at 7:30 on Tuesday evening, March 22. I will be going, call or email me if you care to join me. I know several of you have heard her in the past and were very impressed, so i am looking forward to seeing her.
Derricotte is nationally recognized and has written several books of poetry and prose.    As you will see on her website, she does not “look black.”  This is perhaps part of the reason she wrote the poem below, A Note on My Son’s Face.  I find this poem to be brutally honest. I think it would be extremely difficult to share these feelings even with the closest friend, yet she is willing reveal herself to us.  Her candor serves its purpose, here too I am given some level of understanding as to the vicious toll prejudice takes on its victims. Very powerful poems.
Derricotte appeared on PBS and you can hear her reading a poem at this link.

A Note on My Son’s Face
by Toi Derricotte
Tonight, I look, thunderstruck
at the gold head of my grandchild.   
Almost asleep, he buries his feet   
between my thighs;
his little straw eyes
close in the near dark.
I smell the warmth of his raw   
slightly foul breath, the new death   
waiting to rot inside him.
Our breaths equalize our heartbeats;   
every muscle of the chest uncoils,   
the arm bones loosen in the nest   
of nerves. I think of the peace   
of walking through the house,
pointing to the name of this, the name of that,
an educator of a new man.

Mother. Grandmother. Wise
Snake-woman who will show the way;   
Spider-woman whose black tentacles
hold him precious. Or will tear off his head,   
her teeth over the little husband,
the small fist clotted in trust at her breast.

This morning, looking at the face of his father,
I remembered how, an infant, his face was too dark,   
nose too broad, mouth too wide.
I did not look in that mirror
and see the face that could save me
from my own darkness.
Did he, looking in my eye, see
what I turned from:
my own dark grandmother
bending over gladioli in the field,
her shaking black hand defenseless   
at the shining cock of flower?

I wanted that face to die,
to be reborn in the face of a white child.

I wanted the soul to stay the same,   
for I loved to death,
to damnation and God-death,   
the soul that broke out of me.
I crowed: My Son! My Beautiful!   
But when I peeked in the basket,   
I saw the face of a black man.

Did I bend over his nose
and straighten it with my fingers   
like a vine growing the wrong way?   
Did he feel my hand in malice?

Generations we prayed and fucked   
for this light child,
the shining god of the second coming;   
we bow down in shame
and carry the children of the past   
in our wallets, begging forgiveness.

A picture in a book,
a lynching.
The bland faces of men who watch   
a Christ go up in flames, smiling,   
as if he were a hooked
fish, a felled antelope, some
wild thing tied to boards and burned.   
His charring body
gives off light—a halo
burns out of him.
His face scorched featureless;
the hair matted to the scalp
like feathers.
One man stands with his hand on his hip,   
another with his arm
slung over the shoulder of a friend,   
as if this moment were large enough   
to hold affection.

How can we wake
from a dream
we are born into,
that shines around us,   
the terrible bright air?

Having awakened,
having seen our own bloody hands,   
how can we ask forgiveness,
bring before our children the real   
monster of their nightmares?

The worst is true.
Everything you did not want to know.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Little Levity

The Crows Start Demanding Royalties
                   Lucia Perillo

Of all the birds, they are the ones
who mind their being armless most:
witness how, when they walk, their heads jerk
back and forth like rifle bolts.
How they heave their shoulders into each stride
as if  they hoped that by some chance
new bones there would come popping out
with a boxing glove on the end of each.

Little Elvises, the hairdo slicked
with too much grease, they convene on my lawn
to strategize for their class-action suit.
Flight they would trade in a New York minute
for a black muscle car and a fist on the shift
at any stale green light.  But here in my yard
by the Jack-in-the-Box Dumpster
they can only fossick in the grass for remnants

Of the world’s stale buns.  And this
 despite all the crow poems that have been written
because men like to see themselves as crows
(the head-jerk performed in the rearview mirror,
the dark brow commanding the rainy weather).
So I think I know how they must feel:
Ripped off, shook down, taken to the cleaners.
What they’d like to do now is smash a phone against a wall.
But they can’t, so each one flies to a bare branch and screams.

"Crows" by Lucia Perillo,  from Inseminating the Elephant
(Copper Canyon Press, 2009).

How about some fun poems this week?

Lucia Perillo just won an award,  the  Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry,  for her latest book, Inseminating the Elephant. I found several of her poems on line and I really like her powerful imagery and clever sense of humor.  She has multiple sclerosis and much of her poetry reveals her frustration in dealing with the disease that has her confined to a wheel chair. Maybe that is evident here in that she perhaps wishes to sprout new bones and, like the crows, trade in one form of mobility for another. Isn’t it fun to see what a powerful image she creates in naming crows “Little Elvises?”  By the end I am fully identifying with the crows’ frustration at being taken advantage of and I am right there with them, screaming in the trees.

And then there is this poem about Cher. I have admired her since I was a teen because I perceived her to be cool and confident, free of the hang-up of caring about what other people think, unlike my people pleasing self.  And, in my opinion, unlike the typical woman of the 70's, who was just finding her independence and place in the world. This poem takes me back to that era when women were making giant strides but how much progress have we made? Are our young women still feeling pressured to be sexy, skinny little Barbie dolls who are all too ready to reliquish who they really are?

 I expect you will see more of both these poets in future posts .


by Dorianne Laux

I wanted to be Cher, tall
as a glass of iced tea,
her bony shoulders draped
with a curtain of dark hair
that plunged straight down,
the cut tips brushing
her nonexistent butt.
I wanted to wear a lantern
for a hat, a cabbage, a piƱata
and walk in thigh-high boots
with six-inch heels that buttoned
up the back. I wanted her
rouged cheek bones and her
throaty panache, her voice
of gravel and clover, the hokum
of her clothes: black fishnet
and pink pom-poms, fringed bells
and her thin strip of a waist
with the bullet-hole navel.
Cher standing with her skinny arm
slung around Sonny's thick neck,
posing in front of the Eiffel Tower,
The Leaning Tower of Pisa,
The Great Wall of China,
The Crumbling Pyramids, smiling
for the camera with her crooked
teeth, hit-and-miss beauty, the sun
bouncing off the bump on her nose.
Give me back the old Cher,
the gangly, imperfect girl
before the shaving knife
took her, before they shoved
pillows in her tits, injected
the lumpy gel into her lips.
Take me back to the woman
I wanted to be, stalwart
and silly, smart as her lion
tamer's whip, my body a torch
stretched the length of the polished
piano, legs bent at the knee, hair
cascading down over Sonny's blunt
fingers as he pummeled the keys,
singing in a sloppy alto
the oldest, saddest songs.

"Cher" by Dorianne Laux, from The Book of Men.
© W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


The Swan

This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,

while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.

For MCJ who lost her mother on March 4.

Mary's email notifying us of her mother's passing  echoes the sentiment of this poem by Ranier Maria Rilke, a German poet (1875-1926). His poetry is incredibly beautiful and I will be posting many of his poems in the future. For today, I hope Mary finds Rilke's image in The Swan to be comforting.

John O'Donohue wrote the following poem. Along with Rilke, I find him to be one of the most sensitive and inspirational poets I have yet encountered. May this too offer some consolation to Mary and anyone else who is experiencing grief.

For Grief
                John O’Donohue

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you gets fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence.

Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows it way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From the gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.

"For Grief " by John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us.
© Doubleday, 2008.