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poetry

Guest Posts, poetry, Young Voices

Three Attempts at Being Coherent

April 5, 2017
relic

By Sun Rey

referendum.

Was there ever a space where my body was nothing but a placeholder?
That when I wrapped my lips around your tongue, the depth of my flesh was nothing but a barometer: certain pigment, certain
pressure.

Should she do the same, would there be a difference? Is there a difference between two brown queer girls? Or is the space we occupy tied up so tightly by Tiny Minority status that we are fossilized as we are breathing— you can’t tell the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim— I keep hearing you say “oh wow i’ve never met anyone like you!”— you can’t help touching my hair— you spread the baby oil across my bumpy skin with gloves on— i mean—
you saw who i was didn’t you?
you saw who i was you didn’t
just line up the faces i’ve been collecting into neat cornrows:
tall, gay.
brown skin, hairy arms.
arab name, black hair.

Let me pray to my many-fingered God
that you didn’t just mean to choose me as a relic. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry, Race/Racism

Thole–. (a lyric on my American guilt)

November 21, 2015

By Joe Jiminez

 

I watched a video:  men’d hurled bodies onto a freeway.

In front of my television I paused, unthinkingly—

Bodies.  Asphalt.  Sky—.

México.  This is where my mother is from—.

With my eyes, I listened.  For something often comes when we shut down frenzy and instinct and let the body be a body—.

A body is a form, a physique, anatomy, skeleton, a soma.

A body is a torso and hair, main parts, heart and nerves, tendons and toes.

At my computer screen, I paused.  I was watching it again—the bodies in México thrown onto pavement.  The frame, and I gawked at the bodies’ dismal shapes, a geometry all at once unfamiliar and wonted because pixels.

Killed men strewn across a dark road…  Eons ago, the land also suffered so many insufferable deaths.

A living room shrine dedicated to a woman named Rosa Diana Suárez:  white party dress, photographs, wall-painted ivy, a tiger in a tree.  Offerings of chicken and chewing gum, and her father made this in memory of her—.

“impunity is the main motive of the gender[ed] crime…”

Don’t you remember?

Land and specie and dominance—how is this not the same?

Thole—.  That is the syllable for it.

How it means to tolerate, so distinct from allowances.  Or the slim permissions we make to seek some horror and not ourselves be eaten with it.  “to endure something without complaint or resistance;  to be afflicted and to suffer—.”

We thole.  You thole.  I thole.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry

Voices of Our Ancestors.

February 10, 2015

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By Alma Luz Villaneuva.

I began to write my first real poetry on my farm in Sebastopol, California, the early 1970s. My daughter, Antoinette, had turned fifteen, the same age I was when I had her. It felt like a time bomb went off deep inside of me, at thirty. A gathering of words. I was choking with them. An eruption of words. From my womb. A lava of words began to spill from my mouth, eyes, ears, my trembling fingers, pen. I locked myself in the bathroom- the only door with a lock- with pen/paper, sitting on the toilet seat as my kids yelled, “Where’s Mom, do you know where Mom is…” I had three of my own children (my daughter 15, two sons- Ed, 13- Marc, 8) and two ‘stepsons’ (Eric, 8- Jacob, 6). So five children in all at that time, two of them yelling, “Where’s Mom!” Marc began to jump up to the window, trying to look in, his head appearing, disappearing, “Mom, are you in there, Jacob has a dart in his head!” I sighed, but I got my first line down, trembling. One line on the small blank notebook page, but it was mine.

When we first moved onto this beautiful farm on a full acre, a stand of redwoods off to the side of the house, an ancient walnut tree, weeping willow by the creek, peach, pear and apple trees in the back fields- not an orchard but enough for us- two barns across the creek, and the boys would build their forts back there, my older son, Ed, a beautiful tree house, installing a stained glass window he made himself (of a summer sun, a fertile field)…we had a cross burned on our front lawn. Actually, two crosses burned on our front lawn. Friends of ours followed us from the Bay Area- brown, black, white hippies with long hair- they helped us move in, camping for a few days with live music, much singing and dancing too. Hence, the burning cross after everyone left. My daughter screaming at the sight around midnight; there it was, a cross burning on our front lawn. I was shocked, terrified…would they try to lynch us, but I kept it to myself.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts, poetry

Grief Anniversary.

December 17, 2014

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By E.B. Wexler

“anniversary” implies that I do not have grief the other 364 days

I do.

But as the date approaches

I feel, slowly arising

The original grief

The breath sucked out of me when I got the news over the phone.

The early grief

Walking around in a daze, wondering where she went

How things would be now

 

She was 31

She was my “person”

And it was out of the blue.

I have not been the same since. And I don’t want to be…. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, love, poetry

How to Love a Stranger.

November 13, 2014

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By Adina Giannelli.
How about we meet in Chicago, a city neither mine or yours, and see what, if anything, might be found there;
And you will fly in from a small southwestern city, not your own, and I will arrive at O’Hare late, owing to unanticipated flight delays, and I will meet you in the lobby of the Hotel Godfrey, and you will be there, waiting;
And our hotel will be full of Europeans and people looking for a time, a show, a warm body (always a warm body);
And I will talk to you for hours, that night, about unanticipated subjects of all kinds; you ask for a year-by-year recitation of my life, and you ask are you okay? and how are we doing? and does this irritate you, the barrage of questions. Some people find it cloying, you will tell me, but I think it kind;
And we will sleep, strangers in a large cocoon, and your hand will slip quietly over mine;And we will float, curious, upon the muddy waters, in our rapid riverboat, our bodies anchored to metal folding chairs, our necks craning to see the city’s architecture from our watery vantage, the sun shining bright against us, in spite of and through the wind;

 

And the boat will rock and occasionally rise, the tide high or low (but I don’t know), and we will glide in our seats, unsure of what is flowing forth before us, certain only of our bodies, separate and together, moving easily through space and time;

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry, writing

Sojourns.

September 24, 2014

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By Abriana Jette.

Saturday, New Jersey Turnpike, 12:33pm

I had better tell you where I am going and why I am watching smoke sift through the hood of a 1993 green Honda Accord as spritzes of coolant spatter like small kisses onto the windshield. I am with a rap artist named the Deafinition, whom I will call Greg, and we are heading to the Poconos. Just a moment ago I was listening to the brashness of his voice seep through the SONY speakers that cost more than this car. Just a moment before life was working out as planned.

Since I have been near him I can’t help but to touch him. There is a meager patch of skin creviced between his head and neck, where his hair remains prickly, where there sits the redolence of a tender man, a place where my fingers seem to travel to trail the ends of his spine. He is soft to the touch. Wears a size thirteen. Hates tomatoes. Writes.

Except he calls it rapping. Same difference, I say. Within my reach I always keep a notepad or pencil, same as he when he scribbles lines at work or keeps a beat to remember with his fingers on the steering wheel. He writes in rhythms of west-coast rooted torments; here is the best friend’s unexpected death, there, the knowledge he has been forced to accept. He prides himself on his growth. He is 6’3”, has quiet green eyes.

I am trying to keep calm. He storms out of the car; swings open the hood, spouts curses while mumbling under his breath. For the first time I notice he is wearing dark blue jeans that he has rolled once, then cuffed, a pair of black Nike Zooms, a plain Hanes t-shirt (black), and a white Rocawear track jacket, with horizontal red and black stripes. His hair is shaved as if he were a soldier.

 

Ten minutes ago his voice sounded closer on the radio; like I could finally hear him speak. There is a distinct east coast flow in his pronunciation, a syncopated voice that manipulates verbs. A troubled voice permeates through all ten unsigned albums. He is judging, and crude, he lacks the desire to reach out and love, and yet his tone is void of rancor: it is kind, it has listened.

Continue Reading…

Books, Guest Posts, poetry

3 Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye.

August 25, 2014

By Naomi Shihab Nye 

Dear Jen, these 3 little poems all remind me of you in different ways because
you really make the most of your days!!!!  Love, your fan club prez. Naomi (arm-wrestling with 1,000 others who say they are also the Prez. Imposters, all!) xo Naomi Shihab Nye

From A MAZE ME (Poems for girls)

Freshly out in paperback 2014, first published 2005 (Greenwillow Books)

note from Jen: Naomi is one of my favorite people on the planet as well as one of the greatest living poets of our time!

Jen Pastiloff and Naomi Shihab Nye 2014

Jen Pastiloff and Naomi Shihab Nye 2014

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry

Maya, Malcolm X and Me.

June 12, 2014

Maya, Malcolm X and Me. by Leza Lowitz

On Wednesday, May 28th, Maya Angelou died at the age of 86. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, she’d taken the hurt, pain, and fear of her early life and transformed herself into Maya, this larger-than-life (yet exceedingly human) presence who was so many things to so many people–writer, essayist, playwright, singer, dancer, actress, composer, professor and director. Inspiration.

To me, she was an early saviour. Maya Angelou touched my life the way she touched thousands of others. In 1970, I was a fourth grader at Malcolm X Elementary in Berkeley, California when she came to visit our school. She’d published her autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and every kid at my school had read it.

Caged_bird2

It’s a coming-of-age story that follows Marguerite from 3 to 13, tackling issues like racism, trauma, and abandonment in unflinchingly honest and beautiful language.

Her gift didn’t come easily. At the age of eight, Maya was raped. After telling her family, her attacker was beaten to death. Maya stopped speaking for years, turning instead to reading and writing poetry. A teacher introduced her to Shakespeare, whose “The Rape of Lucrece” helped her have the courage to speak again. She studied dance and drama, but dropped out of high school at 14. At 17, around the time she had a son, and went back to complete her degree. A young, single mother, she worked as a stripper to support her family. Over time, she began to sing and dance again, touring in a production of Porgy and Bess and meeting people like Billie Holliday. She renamed herself Maya Angelou. Eventually, she became a poet. Her bestselling memoirs of growing up black and female made her a beloved American storyteller, with her “seemingly boundless optimism in the face of hardship (Bloomberg).”

But back then, in 1970, before she’d read her poetry at Clinton’s inaguration and became a national treasure, she spoke of how the power of her words had frightened her as a child–she’d believed they had the power to take life. Well, they did. Her rapist was killed, presumably by angry family members. She was a truth-teller. And when you’ve been through the fire, your words, your truth, have a power that is unsilenceable.

And what power that woman’s words had to this little awestruck white girl sitting on the floor at Malcolm X School auditorium in Berkeley, 1970.

Unknown

My life could not have been more different than hers. At eight years old, I was scrawny, Jewish, with self-cut bangs and a wandering eye that required an eye patch (No, I did not believe the Moshe Dayan look was cool). But mainly, I was a girl who often got the shit beaten out of me. This I later came to understand was considered “payback” for all the horrors whites had inflicted on blacks for centuries. I know it made me stronger. I know it made me empathise with the suffering of others. But back then, I only knew that it sucked being me.
Until Maya.

She had every reason to be bitter and hardened. But she wasn’t. When she was asked why she never became embittered, she said that she had “always felt loved.” When she came to us at Malcolm X, I knew there had to be a way to live together. She modelled how to turn the straw of your life into gold. She showed us to lift others up with you when you flew.

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Outside our little world, the Vietnam War was raging, and the streets of Berkeley were on fire with protests. Our parents, ever idealistic, wanted us to grow up together in unity–white, black, asian, native. And we did, eventually, though not at first in the ways in which they had hoped. We fought each other. We resisted this voluntary “integration.” With much violence around us, it was easy to be pulled down. But our principal wanted us to rise up, so he invited people to look up to. And they came–people like James Baldwin and Maya, with the colors of the earth–reds, browns, sunsets–radiating from her geometric patterned dress. Tall and regal, her thick booming voice sailed out over her broad-brimmed hat and over the auditorium like a magic scarf, entrancing us with its power.

I don’t even remember what she said. I just remember the way her voice hit the walls of my heart and cracked them right open. I fell in love with Maya Angelou. I fell in love with poetry. And I felt the true ferocious undeniable power of words.

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Because when Maya came to my elementary school and spoke to me, she was doing just that–Speaking Directly To Me. Speaking to that small voice in myself that others would try to silence, that voice which later in life I would also deny myself. That voice in Maya which she had nurtured and watered until it became so powerful and life-affirming that it could only be let out to sing. In my own small way, I wanted to do the same. But back then, my own words were increasingly angry, rebellious, and difficult to subdue. While my parents marriage fell apart, I bore the brunt of that combustion. My mouth was washed out with soap, I was beaten with a belt and grounded for weeks on end. To be sure, these were minor injustices compared to what many women in our world endure, but they burned nonetheless. And yet, on some level, they made me realise that my words must have some kind of power. If not, why would they be attempted to be forced back into silence?

In the end, the words would not be stopped. In my room, enveloped in the silence, I wrote and wrote and wrote in my journal. Not for anyone to see, but for me. To uncage the words. To free my own heart. Because in my own small way, I knew it could be done. Maya had shown us that. I will always remember that tall, majestic woman who graced us with her presence, who entranced with her words. I will always be grateful to that angel for coming down to earth and sharing her wisdom, power and grace.

I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. It that auditorium, listening to her words, we were one.

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Leza Lowitz is a yoga teacher and writer based in Tokyo. She is the author of the #1 amazon best-seller Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By and 17 other books, including Jet Black and the Ninja Wind, a young adult novel about an eco-warrior freedom fighter on a quest to save her tribal lands, which received the APALA Award in Young Adult Literature. Lowitz has contributed to The Huffington Post, The New York Times, Shambhala Sun, Harper’s, Yoga Journal, and Best Buddhist Writing.

When she is not writing, she runs Sun and Moon Yoga in Tokyo, which she founded in 2003. Here Comes the Sun, her memoir of yoga, adoption and mid-life motherhood, is forthcoming in 2015 from Stone Bridge Press. Visit her at www.lezalowitz.com

Yoga Poems

 

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up:  SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Next workshop is in London July 6th.

5 Most Beautiful Things, Jen's Musings, poetry

I Love You… But I’m Shy.

March 11, 2014

For Naomi Shihab Nye, who makes me want to be a better person.

The 5 Most Beautiful Things Project. I sometimes forget to write them down here in the blog but I almost always am on the hunt for them. Here’s the latest:

Poetry. Even the found poems, especially the found ones. As if they were left specifically for us. (Maybe they were?) Like the journal I found in my drawer tonight that someone had left at the restaurant I worked at for years. I’ve kept it all this time. I found it left under a table one night while I was cleaning up after my shift.

Some day I will live in the southe of France, wear espadrilles and a long silk scarf flowing behind me as I ride my bicycle to the beach

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So much time has passed since I found this old journal that I question now if I indeed wrote the words, but the handwriting isn’t mine and there’s these little drawings, which are most definitely not mine (at best I can draw stick figures.) But this gift, this poem(s) as it were, because it is a poem- who can question the image of a long silk scarf flowing behind a girl (who, according to the drawing wears a mask) and how that image will live somewhere inside me so that if I ever visit the south of France, which I have every intention of doing, I will conjure this mask wearing bicycle riding scarf trailing bicycle girl.

The next page:

I love you… but I’m shy.

More bicycles.

One of the riders is only a head. No body. This gift of poetry, which is everywhere if you look.

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Saturday night I went to a reading of Naomi Shihab Nye’s. (She’s actually the number one beautiful thing on this list.) Naomi has become a friend and what I most love about her, and there are many things to love, is her ability to be present and how she looks at the world with a poet’s eye, or rather, with a childlike sense of wonder. She talked about going to the library as a child and how you’d just let yourself wander until you found a book. You’d explore, as you weren’t going there for anything in particular. As adults, she said, we’re so directive. We make a beeline for exactly when what we want. There is a mission and a purpose and very little letting yourself get lost amidst a sea of books. She has that sense of wander and wonder.

Naomi and I

Naomi and I

My first love was poetry. I started writing stories as a child but when I got serious about it at NYU, it was for the love of poetry. C.K. Williams was the first poet I heard read.

I loved C.K. for how his poetry ran on and on. How it felt like he was talking to only me (isn’t that what all good writing does?) singling me out in a room full of shoelace-faced students—whispering into my freezing ears. Out of all the ears he could whisper to on a packed C train and he chose mine! This is what poetry can look like, he said. This is what words can do. And he conversed with me through his poems and taught me what was possible. If it weren’t for him (and a few other poets who crawled into my slowly-going-deaf-ears, right at that particular moment in time, I might still be riding the C train without the knowledge that words could change the world.) They could pummel and destroy and create and fascinate. I didn’t quite realize the capacity they had until those poets (Donna Masini, C.K. Williams, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Sharon Olds, Stanley Kunitz) quietly, without so much as a word of warning, showed up during my 19th year on the planet. They marched in and planted their word-flags and even when they left, their flags remained waving for me so that no matter where I went, I had a place that felt like home.

Naomi Shihab Nye makes me want to scour the world for poems.

I went digging and found the journal in my drawer which is undoubtedly filled with other poem worthy artifacts. I remember when I found the journal at work that Saturday night in 2001, or whenever it was, how I thought I’d hit the jackpot. I peaked in the book and realized it was nothing confessional (I murdered someone or I’m having an affair.) It probably sucked to lose it but I doubt it was earth shattering (Geez, I hope it wasn’t)- most of it was blank, save a few drawings and dreams and clothing sketches.

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I stuck it in the safe at the restaurant. No one claimed it for a whole year so I finally went back and got my loot. Then I stuck it in a drawer for a good ten years. Until today. So that’s one (or more) of my beautiful things. The way art finds us. The way poetry is everywhere. Just like beauty. And bicycles with body-less riders and lists of places to go, well, can’t the mind just go wild on that shit nodding madly yes yes yes.

Opening my own notebook and seeing this list.

2014:

Italy

London. Meet Jimmy again.

Go To Hong Kong.

(I remember now that these were my husband’s wishes and I’d just written them down for him.) We were in San Francisco. We’d just had some pizza. It was December and we were in San Francisco at some over-priced restaurant targeted for tourists. I had a glass of chardonnay and the wine gave me that rush of what was possible so I said to him, What should we do, you know? This year, with my pen poised and my little notebook out. Where do you want to go? So I am looking at this next to this old notebook I found at The Newsroom on my waitressing shift and I’m thinking how the same we are. So many of us. How we dream and dream and want and want and how we write things down in little notebooks and maybe we leave them behind or maybe we take them. Maybe we never go to any of the places we dream of going, but maybe we do. There’s so many of us with so many wishes and places and notebooks that surely there is a varied lot- some who make it to the other side of their dreams, some who make it as far as the ink on the paper and some who never have the courage to write it down. I’m thinking there’s all sorts.

Anyway, funny that I have these two books open and both are lists of places to go.

Oh, the places you’ll go!

I wonder if the girl who lost the notebook at The Newsroom ever went to the places she doodled. Her name is in the front cover. Back then we didn’t have Facebook to look her up but now I suppose I could. But I won’t. It would be awkward. If she reads me (wouldn’t that be a funny thing?) maybe she’ll recognize her drawings and her words. And maybe she will shoot me an email saying, “Yes, I made it. I am here in the south of France on my bicycle with a long scarf flowing behind me.”

The joy of quiet. Something Naomi said last Saturday. She loved my essay I wrote about my hearing loss on The Nervous Breakdown, and it struck me hearing her talk of the joy of quiet, that she, along with myself, must think of bursts of silence as holy things. The moderator, Lisa Napoli, asked Naomi how she finds quiet in the madness of the world. Oh, it’s to be found, she said in so many words. And I thought how the quiet is in itself a found art.

I am so unwilling to let myself get quiet most days and combined with the constant ringing in my ears, it seems as if my head is a carnival of sound. Nonstop chatter. I decided I must excavate quiet, I must unearth it and actively look for it as I do with the 5 Most Beautiful Things Project. Beauty Hunter. Hunter of Quiet. I’ve begun making it a project, seeking quiet wherever I can, because surely we all deserve the joy of quiet.

I have been walking to the beach. I have been meditating. I have been listening. It’s nice.

**

Today, a couple kids were yelping loudly so I said, “What’s the excitement?”

“He’s my cousin!” one shrieks, pointing to another, obviously very proud of this relation.

“She is too!” Pointing to another, younger girl, thrilled to be able to point this out to me. That such excitement about family exists. We are related!

Can you imagine being somewhere and jumping up and down to tell someone This is my mom! This is my brother! This is my Uncle! She’s my sister! It was sweet. And I wondered how long they’d stay close. I am not particularly close to any of my cousins. And just then, one of the kids face planted and havoc ensued.

** 

I sort of lost track since I’m rambling, but I think I am at number 5.

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#5 then, my friend Angela Patel who is a gifted writer and who sent me this book the other day when I was feeling like shit. I had been struggling with depression and anxiety and she sent this wee book in the mail, so small I thought the package was empty. It’s called The Do-It-Yourself Guide To Fighting The Big Motherfuckin’ Sad by Adam Gnade. The timing was impeccable. And this little book, surely there are parts where I feel as if I wrote it (again how similar we are! So many of us walking around trying to fight the big motherfuckin’ sad in our lives.) I mean, have you read my friend Maggie May Ethridge’s piece on my site called Sad Fish? It’s one of my favorites and I have taken to reading it aloud to people like some preacher on a street corner. Hey you! You! Over there! In the red jacket! Listen up.

I think that maybe finding the beauty and the quiet is the poetry. And the things we notice when we are the denizens of such particular states of grace will allow us to harness our joy in such way that every so often we’ll feel as if we are on a bicycle somewhere in the south of France, some scarf trailing behind us and nothing existing but that which is waiting to be found by us and has perhaps been waiting forever.

******

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane and the founder of The Manifest-Station.  She’s leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is NYC in March followed by Dallas, Seattle and London. 

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, poetry

On The Anniversary Of My Father’s Death.

February 25, 2014

By Stacey Brown-Downham

This piece is written in honor of Stacey Brown-Downham’s father, Peter Brown–photographer, carpenter and jack-of-all-trades (with a special finesse for the art of cursing)– who passed away three years ago today at 60 years old, but maintained his sense of humor through years of illness (e.g. After one of his many heart attacks, a nurse says to his wife, “He’s had a very bad heart attack.” His response from the other room, “It must not have been that bad. I’m still here.”) 

BREAK HERE. AND HERE. AND HERE.

It should break us all–to feel so much, to love so hard, to hold on so so tightly only to let go willingly (or not).  Maybe it does break us all in different ways only to put us back together better, at least different.

As children and perhaps parents we are made of each other, of our nasty and glorious insides and outs. I had (and still have, in some ways) no idea the ways that I could be broken, and then healed–all the things nobody talks about. Scar tissue in unmentionable places. Scenes etched in cerebral sharpie.

Scene 1: I dropped my son down the stairs, and listened to him roll down all twelve wooden steps in his three-and-a-half-month old body. We drove ourselves to the hospital in a dream. I ran into the emergency room, pleading for someone to help us, not knowing if he was okay. Somehow he was–the hairline fractures in his tiny skull healed long before I could shudder the memory away. It held onto me or I it, or both. I can only write about it now, five years later, and almost not hear it or see it happen in front of me.

We have since carpeted the stairs, but they are still wooden underneath. We have not fallen again, so carefully now we tread.

Scene 2: When my father passed away two years later, after years of illness, at the young age of sixty, we drove through the night to Canada from New Jersey, to sit by his side as he went wherever it is we all must go. I sang in his ear, watched him stare intently up at the corner of the room, and nod in communion with some unseen friend, pull his gaze back down with all his might to search for my mother, then with her permission, allow his soul to slip out and to leave his body still and quiet at last. I sang again at his memorial, ate far too much maple coffee cake and promptly returned back to work, suggesting to all who asked that it would be an adjustment.  An adjustment? You could call that term a gross understatement and perhaps it was at the time, but what else can any of these earth-shaking moments require of us than wholesale adjustments of the body and soul?

Scene 3: I tried to be okay–I was strong, right?– but my body revolted. I became unbearable to be around. I liked no one and nothing. My husband braced himself when I opened my mouth to speak–what accusation, what complaint might issue forth?  So I had to adjust, alright, or risk breaking it all.

Scene 4: At exactly the right time and place (a Saturday afternoon, Spring 2011, at Dhyana Yoga in Haddonfield, New Jersey) I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor in Jennifer Pastiloff’s Manifestation yoga workshop and she told us to partner up and sit directly across from each other. I was odd woman out so I was paired with her. Our job was to stare into each others’ eyes for two minutes straight–into a stranger’s eyes for two minutes straight. I don’t think I’d looked into anyone’s eyes for that long, ever. My eyes welled up–no big deal. I can hold it together. But then she smiled, nodded and gave a little wink, just simple gestures of kindness. It was like she knew, knew that I had had no one to whom to bare this grief, no one whom I thought could bear it. But she smiled permission and so I gave it up, all that grief to a sister-like stranger and I did not break.

She set me on my way back. From there I talked, I breathed, I took strange supplements and new age tests, I stopped eating wheat, I moved my body and I wrote.  I was sick for months, maybe years, and then I was better.

These things should break us, and they seem to for a time, but they don’t. For here we are. We are here. And that’s the nasty and glorious truth of it all, at least for now.

Stacey and her father.

Stacey and her father.

But if you want it in other words:

“Resolution”

Each year at this time as
The earth revolves
Around the closest star
It slows just long enough
For us to stop and take
One last sweaty look at summer
Then reluctantly face forward
With immense resolve
To begin the year anew
(I keep a students’ calendar
If the sun does not)

In its recent circles
It has turned us askew
All the big things, you see,
It has let us see
The greatest of loves
Joined and divided and divided again
Two times made mother
Once the wife
And the grieving daughter
And the one who slipped
And watched him tumble down the stairs
Over and over and over
As the world spun too

It shone in their eyes
While we made humble promises
And donned rings
Outside it waited
While in those windowless rooms
We were first and then again made mother and father
It rose as we drove
Glinted off snowy banks in the
Hospital parking lot as we arrived
And was traveling westward too
As he took flight
And we walked out into the cold evening with and without him

No matter how far we go
We end up right back here
Parts the same but
Wholly different.

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Stacey Brown-Downham is these things (in no particular order):  Canadian ex-pat/recently baptized American citizen, the mother of two ceaselessly charming (charming and ceaseless?) boys, wife to an equally charming American gentle-man, high school English and Special Education teacher, singer-songwriter under the moniker of The Classic Brown, soul-student of Jennifer Pastiloff and when windows of time permit, an amateur writer of prose and poetry. 

Jennifer Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up:  SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. Join a retreat by emailing barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com.

Next workshop is London July 6!


Guest Posts, Inspiration, poetry

Being A Fan by Naomi Shihab Nye.

January 16, 2014

**Note from Jen: It’s a huge honor to have one of my favorite poets in the world guest post on my site today…

Being a Fan by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Maybe we could pay more attention to this subject. We’re so full of ourselves, but it’s much more fun to be full of others. Who do we deeply appreciate and how does this help us when the going gets rough? Or, if we’re feeling a little dim or faded, who’s someone new we could love?

At age 20 I stepped into a falafel joint in Austin, Texas and heard Tom Waits singing from a speaker behind the counter for the first time.  Who is that? I asked the Arab guy who looked like my cousin. That’s Tom Waits, he said. And he handed me my hot wrapped sandwich.

I went straight to a record store and bought 2 Tom Waits albums. I basked in them, listening over and over, playing them

for all prospective new friends, watching their reactions. If they responded strongly to Tom’s songs, I was more interested in being friends with them.

Over the years, the songs of Tom Waits have circulated in my cars and rooms more than the work of any other artist and I continue to love his music in all of its phases.  Every song, every album – even the clankier songs on “Frank’s Wild Years,” for example, have grown on me as I got clankier myself – he and later his wife Kathleen Brennan alongside him have written music to live by and I feel deeply companioned, comforted, whenever his voice is present, and especially at top volume, and even when a song has just been played 50 times in succession. His songs are homes to live inside.

Who would I have been without these homes? I have no idea. Someone lonelier, for sure. I urge you to watch the videos for Tom Waits’ songs, “Hold On” and “Hell Broke Luce” –- both made by the visionary Matt Mahurin, if you have a chance.

Attending only one Tom Waits concert in my life, in a weird overly warm “standing only venue” concert hall in Dallas, the Palladium Ballroom, I consulted with the guy next to me who had also arrived 2 hours early. Somehow I attempted to establish the fact that I was a bigger fan than this guy was. In fact, who were all these other people? They had no right to stand in front of us.

The guy casually said he had been to Houston the previous night to hear Tom’s concert there.  “They had seats,” he said. “It was a nice hall.” I was thunderstruck. All the Deadheads of the world might be surprised to hear how shocking it was to me to realize I could have followed Tom around Texas and attended even the concert in El Paso, for goodness’ sake. I had made a big mistake. One concert only. But, it would certainly be the best musical night of my life and by the time Tom ended his encore, repeating, “And it’s time, time, time” as in – time to go home, maybe – I was mesmerized, rhapsodized, utterly confirmed in my fandom.

Out in the parking lot (a grassy field behind the ballroom), I stood a long time by my car to be the last person to leave. That seemed important. I phoned my son and husband back home in San Antonio to describe in detail how great the concert had been. Though it was past midnight, they were kind enough to listen to this.

The next day I was so disgusted with the Dallas Morning News reviewer’s word  “demented” in the concert review headline – okay, so it appeared alongside another agreeable word like brilliant – that I wrote a letter to the editor, which was never published.

Tom, Tom, Tom. Time, Time, Time. To be a fan is a lucky thing.

(I know a 22 year old writer named Vincent who has been to 40 Dar Williams concerts since he was 12.)

Right before Thanksgiving, I went back to Dallas, and read a Dallas Observer review of someone who had played a concert in a giant arena the night I arrived – someone named “Macklemore” along with his pal “Ryan Lewis”  – there was a picture of these two fellows, both wearing black, the main man staring off to the side. The reviewer said something like, “If anyone had ever told me I would be writing a wildly positive review of a rapper, I would have been shocked,” then went on to say what a captivating concert it had been. He mentioned a song called “Thrift Shop” and some others. Hello, YouTube.

Why did Macklemore in those blue footie pajamas even singing the M-F word which many people my age do not feel comfortable with send me to the moon?

Since that first viewing, I have watched all his other videos, repeatedly, his Tiny Desk Concert for NPR, his radio interviews, the interview in which he takes us on a tour of some of his thrift shop clothes and big coats on a rack in his living room, etc. When he turned up on the stage at Times Square on New Year’s Eve, I was stunned. Is this the most in touch with popular culture I’ve ever been? Probably.

Thanks, Ben Haggerty aka Macklemore, for reminding me how great it is to be a fan. It’s invigorating. I get in my car and there’s Tom Waits at full blast. But when the day sags (between 4 and 5 p.m. usually) I turn on Thrift Shop and do a little dance to it. The world is bright again. ~Naomi Shihab Nye

*Naomi Shihab Nye says “I am a fan of Jennifer Pastiloff and her blog!”

naomi-shihab-nye

Kindness

Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Biography of Naomi Shihab Nye 

Naomi is a poet, songwriter, and novelist. She was born to a Palestinian father and American mother. Although she regards herself as a “wandering poet”, she refers to San Antonio as her home.

Her first collection of poems, Different Ways to Pray, explored the theme of similarities and differences between cultures, which would become one of her lifelong areas of focus. Her other books include poetry collections 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, A Maze Me, Red Suitcase, Field Trip and Fuel; a collection of essays entitled Never in a Hurry; a young-adult novel called Habibi (the semi-autobiographical story of an Arab-American teenager who moves to Jerusalem in the 1990s) and picture book Lullaby Raft, which is also the title of one of her two albums of music. (The other is called Rutabaga-Roo; both were limited-edition.) Nye has edited many anthologies of poems, for audiences both young and old. One of the best-known is This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the World, which contains translated work by 129 poets from 69 different countries. Her most recent anthology is called Is This Forever, Or What?: Poems & Paintings from Texas. 

She has won many awards and fellowships, among them four Pushcart Prizes, the Jane Addams Children’s Book award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and many notable book and best book citations from the American Library Association, and a 2000 Witter Bynner Fellowship. In June 2009, Nye was named as one of PeaceByPeace.com’s first peace heroes.

beauty, healing, loss, poetry, writing

It Comes Down To This.

December 8, 2013

By Jen Pastiloff.

It comes down to this: there are fathers everywhere.

Look. There’s one. And another. You just missed one! Right there, there’s one. And here. They’re everywhere really, the fathers.

And they always will be everywhere.

Here’s one- proudly thanking everyone for coming to his daughter’s baby shower, first grandchild, so proud. Maybe there’s one sitting in a jail cell, picking his fingers, his feet. One’s holding the hand of his little boy, Watch out, it’s crowded here, hold tight. Herds of them driving down the highway in the rain, never coming back, not while it still matters, anyway. And it’ll always be that way. The everywhereness of them all.

You will look up and the world will be a sky of fathers, men puffing cigars will fill the air, men in droves, men with daughters. Everyone will be a father pulling out a picture of his first grandchild to show the world Would you look at that? Would you just look at that?

You will look up and notice, and you may be the only one who notices, that the sky has been replaced with these fathers, and also the banks and the streets. There will be nothing else.

It will be all you see at times.

It comes down to this: whatever you are missing will suddenly appear to be back in the world, its own cardiovascular system of pain, forgotten until you realize that as much as it’s back in the world, it will always be just beyond your reach.

You will notice it everywhere like when you start to notice pregnant women everywhere or how many blue cars are on the road (They are everywhere! Would you look at that? Would you look at that?) Your heart, once again a closed fist. A hand open, flat and rough, its lines suggesting “long life and contentment with love life”. But the heart line is missing.

The hand curls and touches the heart and they meet but do not understand what the meeting means and why it feels like a part of each is missing.

It comes down to this: your pain in waves, it turns, leaches on to things. Years of your life, for example. Your pain wraps itself around whole years like a tentacle and won’t let go until you understand that it is the organ of touch, so you reach out and touch it and then, only then, it slithers off, as if all it needed was to be noticed.

*

I was at a baby shower not too long ago where the girl was having her first baby. Her father stood up to make a speech and looked over at her big belly with a swell of the chest, a Look at my little girl. Look at us.

I was thrilled for her and yet tears, (where are these coming from?) Tears in my egg whites and arugula with the chicken picked out of it. I will never have that as I pour salt on the eggs. Why whites? Why no yolk? I need more yellow here and all of a sudden fathers everywhere showing off their pregnant daughters. No women are even in the room anymore. The eggs, in fact, have turned into little fathers. Would you look at that? Would you just look at that?

The pain comes in waves. The initial shock of loss. The teenage years angst. The reduction of it all to poetry.

Then, the loss of what is yet to come. The mourning of something that hasn’t even occurred yet.

It comes down to this: we recognize when possibility has been eliminated.

When there is never a chance of this or that, we know it, and our hearts mourn something that doesn’t even have a name yet. I’ll never have that and yet I am sad. I am devastated. I can’t go on. I am ruined.

More salt on eggs. Presents being opened. Fathers all over the world, clapping.

*

It comes down to this: you find cracks in the pain and slip into them. You can live there, at least for a while, from that place down low, the place of I am untouched by loss until you get to a baby shower and you notice that the crack has sealed up, the cement has pushed you up and out in the world again and you are in the middle of it all, fin-footed as a seal, unable to move, so you too clap.

Would you look that that? Would you just look at that?

Somebody loves us all, says Elizabeth Bishop in her poem Filling Station.

Oh, but it is dirty!

–this little filling station,

oil-soaked, oil-permeated

to a disturbing, over-all

black translucency.

Be careful with that match!

 

Father wears a dirty,

oil-soaked monkey suit

that cuts him under the arms,

and several quick and saucy

and greasy sons assist him

(it’s a family filling station),

all quite thoroughly dirty.

 

*

Oh, but it is dirty! This pain, you think, is dirty. How dilapidated, how old! How worn-out, how broken down, how enough is enough of it all. How dirty my pain is, how me-centric, how grimy. How many poems I have written of it, how many eggs, how many cracks in the sidewalk.

I remember one of my own father poems, one of the many (hundreds) I’d written when I was 19 years old at Bucknell University where I had a poetry fellowship.

                                               TO MY FATHER, AFTER HIS DEATH 

I knew that you weren’t really dead.

That if I kept looking, kept driving,

I’d find you.  

Didn’t think it would be here though,

that you’d be pumping gas

in Kansas.

 

You still smoke.

I can tell.

The way your shoulders hunch over

gives you away.

When you push nozzles into canals,

into the backs of cars,

you heave, your shoulders roll.

Your stomach reaches closer to your back,

toward smooth pink scars.

You look smaller,

shirking into yourself like that.

 

Silently pumping gas, coughing occasionally,

scratching your sunburned bald spot.

 

I watch you from the shoulder of I-70

through dead bugs on my windshield.

There is a small convenience store

attached to the gas station.

You enter it,

and when you emerge

I see the bulge in your pants.

You’ve bought Kools: your brand of cigarettes.

Stashed them in your front hip pocket,

next to an Almond Joy.

 

I see you still

squint, smoke,

have bad posture,

eat Almond Joys.

 

Quiet as ash,

you in the Kansas of Colorado,

one foot almost in each state.

 

The moment you noticed me

must have been when

you straightened your back up,

crushed your half smoked cigarette

and smiled.

 

But you know I can’t come any closer.

 

I can’t pull into the station,

roll down my window and touch your face.   

*

The facts are what remains: gas stations, baby showers, cigarettes, candy bars- Hell, all of it, will be the things that remind me of my father.

Loss doesn’t occur in a vacuum. These losses exist out in the world and sometimes in a plate of eggs. Sometimes, when you least expect it (and I hope for all of our sakes that we aren’t always expecting the worst) we will crumble at the site of a see-saw, a beard, a Pepsi. I wish it wasn’t a fact. I wish that you and I could go on and pour salt on our eggs and clap with the rest of the people and that we wouldn’t feel a thing. Not even a twang.

But that would be a lie. The things that shape us are where the beauty resides.

 

 

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Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (sold out) as well as Other Voices Querétaro with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp and Rob Roberge. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

 

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

 

Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts, poetry

The Space of Rituals.

October 23, 2013

The Space of Rituals

by Andi Cumbo-Floyd

Every day, I kiss him goodbye at the back door of the farmhouse before pushing the door shut tight behind him.  I make my way across the galley kitchen, through the living room, into my office – a trip of 15 strides or less.

Then, I open the front door, stand behind the glass meant that keeps out storms but not stink bugs, and wait.

Every weekday.

It’s our ritual.

As I wait, I see how the wedding mums have started to fade – the honeymoon’s consequence.

The trees at the bottom of the farmyard illustrate, as if planned by the most creative and enthusiastic of third grade teachers, the stages of fall – just yellow, the orange-yellow of the dogwood, the bare spindle branches of the persimmon.

The chicken coop door stands empty still, waiting for us and Dad to resume now that the wedding work has faded.

I catch glimpses of Lee the tractor as he poses in the lower pasture.

All this in a few moments – a minutes, maybe two.

The gift of ritual – the space it creates to see, to breath, to wait.  The preparation of a moment. The air around time.

Like lighting a candle. Or closing his eyes before turning on the computer screen. Or standing at a storm door waiting to blow her new husband a good-bye kiss.

Click photo to buy Andi's book.

Click photo to buy Andi’s book.

 

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and writing teacher. She blogs regularly at her writing website – andilit.com – and the website for God’s Whisper Farm.  Her book about the principles in place at their small Virginia farm is God’s Whisper Manifesto. She just got married in September, and she plans to blow her husband Philip a kiss every day for the rest of their lives.  

poetry

Mine Is.

August 14, 2013

I haven’t written a poem in years. Years. This morning I did. Rusty, sure. But I wrote. I am writing.

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning. ~Cat Stevens. Morning Has Broken.
Mine Is by Jen Pastiloff

Mine is the father, gone too soon,
spotted in Badlands.
Mine is The Mako Sica.
Mine is the land bad.
Mine is the sky breaking
Rivaled only by the sea,
mine is the sea rising,
Mine is the land empty, mine is the land good.

Mine is the land full
and the faces,

mine are the faces,
searching the sky and the sea and the land
for what is theirs.
Mine is the father in his bed, mine is the heart.
Mine is the heart breaking
Rivaled only by itself.
Mine is the self,
all spires and ridges and inside spikes.
Mine are the spikes that run through the life
Rivaled only by those that run through the heart.
Mine is the heart

Mine is the breaking

Breaking, the offering.
In that, that is is mine.

Mine is the word and the word was made here.
Here is what’s mine, mine the page,
The page is what’s mine.
Rivaled only by time.
Time is what’s mine, bereft and impossible
Sliding on and up, backwards some days.
Time is the eagle and also the hawk
looking over its shoulder, time is the prey.
What’s mine is to pray unnameable things,

death and sorrow, those are also mine.
Mine is a crow, a life, in between.

This is what’s mine:
Nothing, the father, the sky,
The sea and also the page,
The word and the face and the heart
And also the land,

Mine is the self.
Mine is the here.
Rivaled only by time.

~~~

I wrote it this morning after my 7 am class where I played this song xx jen