Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Conversations about Witches

I co-wrote and performed this piece last year at a show called She Comes Undone, outside  Chicago.  The indented poetry is from a poem called Living With Witches by Al DeGenova.

The conversation came up recently about owning and loving all of our inner demons.  They are part of us, part of who we are, who we are becoming and they should be accepted and loved for what they taught us.  So that we may live together in harmony without ourselves. 

Conversations About  Witches
I’m 18 years old.  Dad’s angry again. A dish whizzes by my head with no warning, no expletives and I duck just in time.  Saving yourself requires more these days.

He says “You have no friends. No one cares about you.  Who do you think you are?”

And quietly, at the sink, washing the dinner dishes, I reply, “ Yes, I DO have friends who care for me.” But the shattered dish on the cabinet next to my head reminds me to never speak my mind, hold that tongue.

I am always wrong, they tell me.  They bore me so they MUST know better than I.  So I retreat to my 10X10 room, with a door that doesn’t lock, the only safe haven, and write songs. 

I’ve stepped into an alcoholic rage once again – to a fist raised on Ma and my pregnant sister.  An angry cry comes forth from a place I have not yet come to know.  I hear myself scream, “Don’t you dare!”  And I feel the whoosh as his fist strikes the air next to me.

I cry when you're crazy
when you scream in my face
when you can't smile
when everywhere is a room without doors
that, by necessity, was built from the inside out
but there is no out.
"you look in the mirror, see what you saw, take the saw and cut your way out." 
The answer to a childhood riddle, simple,
all a matter of your point of view.
But you
always see the glass half empty.

I see the same glass nearly spilling over
and I cry when you're crazy.

            * * * * *

I can’t wait to go to bed at night.  I try to stay awake as long as I can so I can imagine and dream.  I dream of being saved by John Travolta, Robert Redford or Paul McCartney, who I was supposed to marry.  They have come to my rescue time and time again no matter what obstacles I place in front of them.

But I can’t stay awake and I fall asleep and dream of the man in black, who is always waiting for me in the dark.  I run from him, but I can’t seem to move my legs and my screams are never heard.  He always hurts those I love.  I watch in horror knowing that I am saved for last.  It is not safe in the waking or sleeping hours.

I believe the good witch of Idyllwild
who sold me faerie dust to lighten the heart
happiness to sprinkle on your pillow.
Sweet dreams.

And if the happy dreams don't come
I hold you through your nightmares.

            * * * * *

They missed my high school graduation.  They missed my plays, my basketball games, my broken hearts and dashed dreams.

My little brother chased my dog into oncoming traffic hours before The Miss Illinois contest which they were late to and missed my talent competition.  My lips trembled all night forcing a smile.  “What are you crying about?  It was just a damn mutt.”

My mother and my aunts told me I had to take care of my older sister all the time.  But who will take care of me? 

Dad said, “You don’t need college.  You’re just going to get married.”
“But you paid for the others’ schooling.”  So I worked.  And on the coldest day of the decade, you refused to drive me “all the way downtown!” to work and dropped me at the train because my car froze.

I came home for lunch from work to an empty house one day and decided to try Dad’s Tab and scotch cocktail so I would drive into a tree on the way back.  I vomited instead.

Having no other place to go after a bad fight with my husband, I took our son and went back home.   Ma came home to find me and giggled about our argument.  "See, I told you he didn’t love you." she said…

There is the selfish witch of Morton Grove
who stole your childhood
greedy thief in mother's clothing.

The woman who bore you and forgot the pain
who cannot tell you whether you had measles or chicken pox
and doesn't care.

The woman who had no use for a second daughter.
Useless you, never good enough, insignificant.

The woman who taught you to cry without sobbing
without a sound, without movement
tear tracks line your cheeks like scars
you hide your sadness with uncanny skill.

This is the witch jealous of your successes
who taught you that your glass is always half empty.

            * * * * *

I am 6 years old and it is the first day of school. First grade and I wanted to wear the outfit I chose.  Ma insisted I wear what she wanted and of course, I fought about it.  “Please”, I pleaded.  Then “I won’t wear it.  You can’t make me!”

Yes she could, as she raised her open hand to me.  I continued to fight but I was too small and the welts stopped me in my tracks.  She won, I lost.

I am 10 years old.  One summer morning and I’ve done something wrong.  A battle was waged and I lost again.  “Just wait till your father comes home.”  Dad woke me up to hit me late that night.  I had forgotten the incident already and asked, “What did I do?”  “Your mother told me to punish you for this morning.”  He didn’t even know what I did.  He was just following orders.

“God Damn It!  I love you!” Dad said as the welts on my skin began raising and reddening after his rage had subsided.   And I was thinking, “Please, DON’T love me.” 

Then there is the unseeing witch of the world
who sews a costume you must wear
but doesn't fit you well.
You squeeze your breasts
your hips, stretch your arms
and legs, cover your face.
This woman's suit twists you
forces you to limp and hurts
hurts deep into your muscles
deep into the part of you that will always fight
but you cannot shed the clothes of your role.
You pull and tear, contortionist in a straightjacket
struggling to escape
to strip naked
to be woman that you are for all to see your beauty and imperfection
struggling not to succumb
not to be shrivelled, numb, faceless.

            * * * * *

I asked Ma and Dad to our house.  I needed their help.  My despair had reached its lowest point.  My therapist said don’t do it.  She knew better but I did it anyway.  I was desperate for their help.  “Listen to me!  I need you to hear me!  Suicide IS an option now.  Please, I am dying.”

They stared at me, silent, unable to accept their role in my life.  And denied me.  They left and soon after, disowned me, quickly closing the void left from my removal.  I had no family now.  I was alone.

There is also the relentless, brutal witch of guilt
sadistic sitting on your shoulder
who cuts notches in your ribs
for each mistake, every weakness
pummelling your self-esteem
forcing you to bruise yourself
whipping your own heart
blaming yourself
for the sharp cruelty of the predators
preying on your vulnerability.

The witch who teaches the words,
"I am unworthy,"
"I cannot know happy."

And I cry
knowing you are good,
sweet lamb.

            * * * * *

I wrote the notes.  Many notes.  How do you explain to your children that you can no longer hear their voices, see their faces.  I felt nothing.  I was nothing.

The grief was intolerable as war raged from my insides out.  My world was grey.  Living was no longer an option.  What words does a 7 year old understand in a suicide letter?  I was abandoning them.  They will hate me.  I wrote the notes, every day.

And then there is the unforgiving witch within
dressed in depression
who drains your life like a vampire
like a virus
until you are empty.
She is the powerful witch
strength like God
who leads you to Hell
or worse, Limbo
where nothing is all there is
who steals your eyes and ears
so that visions of
summer sun-showers and
sunsets on California beaches
and the sound of your son's laughter
are silent blackness

And I cry for you
when you're crazy.

            * * * * *

But do not fear the love witch
in me in you in our son
in our unborn child.
This witch, barred from your youth,
you watch from the corner of your eye through a smokey cloud of mistrust.
This witch is hope.

This gentle witch who with subtle gestures
can guide your hands, your eyes,
your heart
who can teach you to
live with witches.

The witch who makes me sing encouragement
undying faith in your strength
like a cheerleader at the close of a crucial game

the game you must win.

The witch who keeps me crying
arms around you when you're crazy.                                                  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Egg Juice

You offered me your leftover “egg juice” long after I had finished my breakfast, half a bagel and one soft boiled egg.  It was cold by now and I had nothing left to soak the juice up with.  Once again, I asked you,

“Why is it that I can ration an egg perfectly so that each bite of bread has an equal amount of yolk so that there is nothing left of either when I am finished?”

It is the question I have posed to you our entire marriage.  You and our boys who learned from you this wasteful habit, eat cereal with milk and when you are finished, there is a bowlful of milk left.  I have asked my son the same question of “why do you leave so much milk behind?” and he will answer by filling the bowl with cereal again and when it is gone, there is still a bowlful of milk left.  It’s like they just needed a “dusting” of milk on the cereal in order to eat it.  I wonder why the three of them don’t just eat a dry bowl of cereal and then finish it off with a glassful of milk.  You see, I have a problem with wasting food.

My older son will always leave one last bite on his plate.  For the life of me, I have never been able to figure that one out. Maybe it has to do with avoiding starvation in my own family as we were growing up. 

Yum!  Miss you Grams!
By no means were we poor or in need of rationing food.  My father was a large German/Czech man, brought up in a family that loved to eat and drink copious amounts of food and liquor.  My paternal grandmother was a great cook.  There were homemade spaeztle and rich roasts with loads of thick gravies and butter-laden cakes and her famous kolachky cookies that are a requirement in our house every Christmas.  Grams was a robust woman and her men never left the table hungry.
our fave - Kolacky cookies!

It just so happened that my mother was not fond of eating, didn’t like food and was very cheap.  When you don’t like to eat, you impose it on your family, I suppose.  And she was happier stashing her money away in her favorite hiding places than in feeding her family.

For a while she felt it was more important to feed my father than us.  So he would get the large servings of meat and the rest of us would divvy up a small piece that was cut from dads.  We learned early on that no matter how bad it tasted, this was it for the meal, so you’d better lick your plate clean or go hungry.

She would make some of dad’s favorites so we would get stuck eating liver or fried smelts.  It didn’t matter that we had said time and time again that we hated these foods. 
“Like it or leave it” she would reply.  Unfortunately, as with liver dinners, which anyone who has delighted in this meal knows, it requires loads of sautéed onions and bacon, lots of bacon.

Bacon was a treat, more expensive than the liver, and therefore, had to last a couple of meals.  Mind you there were six in our household.  So she would make dad three pieces of bacon and each of us would get half a strip to go with the liver.  She did not like onions so there were no fried onions along side the bacon.

Imagine trying to match up every piece of liver on the fork with a piece of bacon.  It was more like bacon flavoring.  This is where I learned to apportion so that icky food was matched with tasty food in order to make it palatable.  It was not only icky stuff like liver, sardines or fried smelts that I learned to make palatable.  It was mostly my mother’s cooking.  Since she didn’t care for food, this making her care less about cooking it, she put no effort forth in making sure her meals were palatable.  Therefore, items you couldn’t really mess up (even though she came close), like mashed potatoes or applesauce, were rationed on the plate so each terrible bite was masked with something, anything with flavor.

And since food rationing was practiced in our household (remember, we were not poor, my mother was just cheap), us kids were forced to eat every bit or we would go hungry.  Of course, this practice lasted only long enough for me to learn how to cook.  After that, not one morsel of food cooked by my mother ever touched my lips again.  Even my father learned gourmet cooking in order to satiate his appetite.  Unfortunately, his cooking was wasted on my mother and he soon gave it up.

While there is no need for this practice in our house anymore, as food preparation is an art and flavorful meals are expected and received, you can’t fight those long ago learned survival skills.  My plate is always clean when I finish a meal.  I am an expert in portion management.  There are equal amounts of starches to a meat counterpart or milk to cereal.

So when I watched my husband throw away his “egg juice” this morning, I cringed a bit.  Had he mentioned it a bit earlier, while I still had bread for dipping, I would have appropriated a piece for this “juice.”  It won’t get by me again.  But I still don’t have an answer for the copious amounts of milk left over from my boys’ cereal bowls.  Suggestions are welcome.  As I heard so many years ago, “there are starving children in China, you know….”

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Wisdom of Baubo: She Feeds All of Her Children

The Wisdom of Baubo: She Feeds All of Her Children: The sea, Mother Sea, feeds her children.  The vultures nibbling on crab legs, alongside the seagull, who wasn’t in fear for his life as ...

She Feeds All of Her Children

The sea, Mother Sea, feeds her children.  The vultures nibbling on crab legs, alongside the seagull, who wasn’t in fear for his life as he was still among the living.  The tiny, transparent sand crabs, awakened for the first time this week, out to feast at the table the sea set after the storm.

The sand appeared to be moving, crabs scattering at any threat from beachcombers like myself.  My friendly advances mean nothing to these tiny, fragile creatures.  They stop momentarily, surveying the danger I present and as I step away, I realize I was standing to close to the creature’s burrow in the sand and I watch it scurry in to safety.

The yellow butterflies have appeared this last day of my retreat and thousands take flight today and head northwest over the ocean.

The sea offers up food for minions, an empty pink tampon holder, not something she was happy about, tossed back up high on the beach as if to warn those not to pollute her again lest fear her wrath.

A playful young couple new to her power drop a sandal.  She playfully takes it and tosses it back at them as if she would really play catch!  They scurry to grab it.  I run to grab it as well, chasing it as it bounces back to her.  I stop short of her vacuous suction, knowing I am not a worthy opponent of this strong woman, and watch as she gobbles it up, swallows it into her wide, hungry mouth.

I laugh to myself as I watch the young couple stand at the shore waiting for their shoe to return again.  You weren’t quick enough my friends.  Next time, do not tempt her so soon after the storm she waged the day before on this very shoreline.

Does she know of the tempest that resides within me?  Are we sisters in rage?  Is there a mutual respect of age and wisdom and capabilities to stir up a storm on a whim, with a thought, or provoked by a memory?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Sea Unfolds Her Arms

The sea unfolds her arms, reaching into the sand hills along the shore, offering her strength only for the moment and then retracts if the offer is not accepted.  Only to offer it again and again, a constant tease.  She pulls back; retrieving what she can from shore and greedily drags it out back to her bosom.

I stand at her feet and cry out to God in the clouds as if she really resides there and not beside me in the rocks and the grains of sand at my feet.  I shed years of fear and sadness and ask to be heard. 

I am good, I am loyal, I am faithful with a good heart!  Please hear my appeal for any sign that will help my stuck feet move again.

The sea gathers my shed tears in her long, reaching arms and draws them back to her bosom where they mix and churn within her heart.  She is in conversation with the clouds and sky.  What shall we do?  This soul cries out to us.

She offers her arms back to shore, close to my feet, not quite there, circling around me, not yet touching me and then she pulls me into her arms, picking me off my feet, knocking me to the ground. 

Get up! Move! Walk!  she pleads as she washes me with her foamy tears.  Below my feet she leaves me white shell fingernails, a thumb and index finger and a shard of obsidian, the stone of protection and tool of change, as gifts from her soul.

Up on a hill three brown men craft a sand sarcophagus.  A container for God’s tears perhaps?  Can you build a golden chalice for something that I was just bathed in?  My tears and God’s, mixed by the sea and returned to me as an embrace.  The pharaoh of Egypt could not save his son with all the gold statues and coins.  Only faith and love alone can save and heal.

Faith and love alone.  Write, the sea says.  The sky calls out to me.  Write, write.  So simple.  A word, a touch, tears from heaven.

Friday, October 19, 2012

We are Women, Hear Us Roar

Posting this again as it is very apropos to the political climate we find ourselves in today.  Women are under attack and we find ourselves fighting battles that we won many years ago.  Are women a threat?  Have we become so strong and powerful in our own souls that it has some people shaking in their boots so much that the only option is to erase all the progress women have made?  We are 51% of the population, yet we are treated as a special interest group.  We must stand tall, stand together, stand strong.  It is our God given right.

Women - Becoming Our Own Role Models 
As women embrace the fullness of who they are as individuals, they may find themselves supporting other women, helping others to reach the level of inner comfort and outer freedom that they themselves have found. Among those who are less sure of themselves and their place in the world, it may be more common to criticize other women than to seek their help. 

But there are things that a woman can only learn from another woman, as there are things about being a man that can only be learned from other men. We all recognize that we have much to learn from each other regardless of gender, but sometimes we could use a supportive role model that gives us a more precise example of what and who we can become. 

There was a time where women stood together in a bond of sisterhood, women supporting women. It is only natural that the pendulum swings out of balance for a while so that we may have the experience of what we do not want. It is up to women to bring the pendulum back into balance and bring back the sacred sisterhood we yearn for at our core. If we envision a world where women support each other and help each other find their place in an ever-changing world, then we can become the change we want to see. 

Jealousy, envy, criticism, and judgment are refuges for the insecure. As we help others to become self-assured, we create a world in which all people help each other, regardless of gender. Only women can make the change in how women are seen and understood, not just by other women but by the world at large. The way we speak about each other to other women and to the men in our lives informs everyone to treat us with the respect that all women, and all people, deserve.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Fisherman

I see you under every baseball cap, grinning, beer in hand, suntanned, burned or pale, depending on the season, strong chest, strut like a cock.

You, who took my heart; or I gave it away, doesn't matter; it or part of it is gone.  Retrieving it hasn't been easy.  You hide away in plain sight.  Every cap is yours, every fishing boat along the Pacific where I sun now has you at the bow, reeling in the catch, woman or fish.

How many trophies have you?  Isn't your stock full enough?  Each day you throw out the net, entice the big ones with your bait, your promises, throw out the insignificant ones with barely a thought.  And then after admiring your catch, you gut them, eat the viable parts and toss the scraps back, remnants no one wants.

I've been gathering those scraps you tossed back for years, reassembling them into me or what I thought was me.  Finally, I am complete.  Not the same version of me, though.  I can't be.  Scars are left from the patching up.  Some are thick still.  Some have faded.  All have left a phantom sting that burns when I see every grin under every baseball cap.  The sting that keeps me here, in place, not moving, safe, far from the net.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Guided by Herons and Angels

I was on Salt Creek yesterday for a leisurely canoe ride.  It was my idea.  One last ride before putting the canoe away for the winter.  The water was very low and the river trail had not been kept up as well as other waterways.

It was a very difficult paddle, maneuvering downed trees, large rocks jutting up from the riverbed and marsh overgrowth.  We had to portage the canoe a few times.  The mud was horrible, the water cold; some plant disagreed with my skin as I trudged through weeds to find a suitable place to get back in the canoe.

I was really angry that this final ride of the season was unpleasant.  I forced my husband out of the water as soon as an opportunity arose.  Nature was perfectly fine with me imposing myself on her, but I was not fine with the impositions she laid out for me.  Maybe it was the rough week of caring for a friend in hospice, who is gracefully making her final journey out of this life and into an unknown next.

So now I am embarrassed at my anger at something I cannot control.  Ahead of our canoe all morning was a flock of mallard ducks, peregrine falcons and two herons, as if to lead us through this difficult journey.  The pair of herons split up and one stayed behind, patiently waiting as we slowly made our way downstream, lifting off as we approached and flying ahead as if to guide us in the right direction.  It allowed us closer each time we came upon it, before it lifted its long legs and regal wings to fly it further ahead.  It looked prehistoric, we both noted, as if it had been flying for centuries, charting the path for those who followed.

How apropos that I experienced this difficult journey now.  Now, when everything in my life has stopped calling me to take notice, a lull that is quite uncomfortable and un-relenting.  This lull, this place of nothingness, has forced me to experience and understand me in ways I’ve never approached.  And this lull comes at a time when my dear friend also approaches her transition, her transformation, her de-manifesting from this life in order to manifest elsewhere, somewhere uncharted.

It is quiet now for her as she navigates this new trajectory.  Does she have guides as well?  Are there bumps and detours and perils on this new path?  I believe so as I noticed some pain the other day in her quiet face, a slight rise in her blood pressure.  I don’t believe it was physical pain.

She is journeying though her now passing life at great speed, experiencing the pains and joys of memories which she will take with her, memories that will be lost forever in the now as she finds her new place.  She will carry the residues of those memories that will color her new life and give her insight and intuition at crucial moments.  She will “know” things.  We all “know” things if we allow ourselves the quietude that gives way to these thoughts.  Like the knowing of a person you’ve never met before now or the “I’ve been here before” in a place you’ve never been.

I wonder if falcons and owls and herons guide her path now, alighting a short distance ahead, waiting for her, making sure she navigates the path safely.  The tumultuous path of innocence stolen, selfish partners, dreams lost, dreams found, ideals held tightly and hopes realized; the tree stumps and overgrown marsh blocking the way, forcing her to step around or through the muck one last time before the light lifts her out.

I feel shame for jumping out of the water too early, complaining that this is too hard, when I look into the peaceful face of a difficult and too short life of the angel I now sit beside.  Transitions are always difficult.  The long and winding road is steeped with dangerous curves, hills, rocks and detours.  But within, deep within, once you’ve stepped beyond the muck, a beauty awaits that is unimaginable and this is where dreams are fulfilled.

We are never given any experience that stops us in our tracks for more than the moments it takes us to comprehend and survive and to move our feet forward again, maybe on the same path or maybe a different one.  There are guides along the way if we keep our eyes centered and open.  There is always someone watching out along our path, be it mallards, herons or angels.