Tag: poem

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

― Dan Albergotti

(thank you to Matthew Ogle’s Pome tinyletter for this poem)

***

The days roll and mash together. Like the dough for sourdough bread under certain hands. My fingers tap tap at the keyboard and I watch E. make a different kind of dough every day: Dumpling dough. Autumn maple rye dough. Lemon peel blueberry scone dough. Buttermilk biscuit dough. My twin sister, a physician, is being retrained to work in the ICU.

We watch Elton John’s living room benefit concert. We put on musicals in the living room. J. makes a Tik Tok video. We eat cake for breakfast. Every day I have this particular brand of “survivor’s guilt” – what can I do as a knowledge worker who has the privilege of working in the safety of my home? How can I help? I collect ways to help. It doesn’t feel like enough. I know there are people everywhere who need help. I practice my Mandarin to help answer a hotline for the elderly who need assistance. It doesn’t feel like enough.

Nature doesn’t notice, it moves forward anyway: the cherry blossoms burst into song. The rain falls from infinite blue skies. From my window, I can see the red-breasted robins dance together. I watch the flowers grow. My eyelashes fall out. I don’t finish any books, I read a few pages and can’t go on. There is currently no feeling of future except more sickness, more death, so I’m relieved that the same people text me every day. We text about groceries, the rain, the garlic scapes, dating over FaceTime. It is comforting to develop a pattern again. A. reminds me of the three words of intention I set at the beginning of this year: stillness. creativity. abundance.

Here, in the belly of the whale: all of this time, abundant time. Here, in the belly of the whale: all of this stillness, abundant stillness. Here, in the belly of the whale: all of this bread, abundant bread. Out there, people are dying. There will be more soup, E. tells me when I try not to finish the soup. I don’t believe him that there will be more, so I don’t finish the soup.

He makes more soup.

let it be absolutely winter

In February, it is too cold to meander: leisure takes a backseat to power walking through gallery openings. The wind rips through my hat but I try to find the beauty too, like the coziness of being outside looking into a window lit with warm light, watching other people drink cheap champagne and discuss art. There is a German word for this feeling, I am sure of it. The art-goers are nibbling on Chex Mix and in any other setting, the Chex Mix would be cheap but against the backdrop of nocturnal art and winter, it looks like the best damn snack in the world.

I frequent basement jazz clubs more often in the winter. Our coats strain against the random hooks scattered across the walls. This coats-on-hooks thing is uniquely wintry, something I had never experienced before in Texas. The constant scramble to make sure you have all the accessories at the end of the night: Scarf? Hat? Gloves? Multiple sweaters? I’m still not used to it. The orange-brown hue of Old Fashioned drinks illuminated by candles that blow out every few minutes from the opening door. The way the saxophone wraps itself around you like a purring animal – all of this, this can’t be replicated in the heat.

A few months ago, E. texted me that he was out buying a snow blower with his brother-in-law. I responded, “Wow, that’s New England AF.” E.’s response: “…Rose, we don’t live in New England.” (“She’s smart, I swear,” I heard him whisper later. I did deserve that.) Living most of my life in the very southern part of the country insulated me from having to know where “New England” really is, or definitively what the demarcation is. Not that if you had asked me to think about it I really would have made the mistake, but it was an honest snap retort that made us laugh later. I just think of New England as The Place Where There Is Cold Winter. And The Need For Snow Blowers.

It doesn’t ever get easier. Not this season, not these feelings, not this cold. But the light changes, yes. Or, how we see the light. Or how we use it, sometimes even to our delight.

AK asks me if I’ve been writing, and it’s hard to answer that sometimes life moves too quickly for writing. It moves at the pace of note-taking, frantic scraps. Fragments I scribble even when my fingers are freezing in the tunnels of wind. Poems I write down to think about later.

Speaking of the winter and New England, I can’t stop thinking about this:

Part of Me Wanting Everything to Live

This New England kind of love reminds me
of the potted chrysanthemum my husband
gave me. I cared for it faithfully,
turning the pot a quarter turn each day
as it sat by the window. Until the blossoms
hung with broken necks on the dry stems.
Cut off the dead parts and watched
green leaves begin, new buds open.
Thinking the chrysanthemum would not die
unless I forced it to. The new flowers
were smaller and smaller, resembling
little eyes awake and alone in the dark.
I was offended by the lessening,
by the cheap renewal. By a going on
that gradually left the important behind.
But now it’s different. I want the large
and near, and endings more final. If it must
be winter, let it be absolutely winter.

― Linda Gregg

impermanence

I fell asleep one night in the middle of reading a paragraph I didn’t want to let go of. I wrote down mono no aware, so that I’d remember it the next day. The Japanese phrase (an empathy towards the inevitable passing of all things), reminds us to maintain awareness of impermanence: the first rule of life is that nothing lasts forever. The power of spring and autumn lies in their transience. I’ve been writing letters to my body, thanking it for being my home. Life isn’t easy on the body, but here it is still, steadfast. Still providing me a home. Knees are amazing.

***

We plan to meet at the farmer’s market. It’ll be… pretty early, he tries to warn me. I am relieved when I reach the top of the stairs coming out of the subway station: blue skies.

He teaches me about selecting oyster mushrooms, gives me leaves of sweet spinach to taste even as I glance at the vendor, wondering if it’s okay to just walk around tasting things.

“Don’t worry so much. Just put it in your mouth,” his eyes crinkle knowingly. Even in my thirties, I still haven’t gotten over double entendres. I vow that I never will. Apples, potatoes — Yukon gold. He balances the sourdough on the top of my head, and I laugh. It’s just warm enough that I don’t mind being outside, but still cold enough for him to ask me if I want apple cider. Of course I want apple cider.

When he chops vegetables, it sounds like that time he improvised on the djembe. I tell him I’m in a meeting, but I watch him out of the corner of my eye as he slices through the apple and tastes it. The Q train rumbles underneath us so that it feels like we’re suspended in the sky or in a secret cellar underground; one of the two. I write scattered notes about it. I don’t want to forget.

Some things that I tasted, I forget. I can’t remember the name of the apple, and I have never been able to find the same kind since. But other things I tasted, I can’t forget if I tried.

After we slather homemade jam on the sourdough and eat all the apple mash, his brown eyes grow soft. We’re sort of dancing around a subject, and to pass the time he talks about how much he admires the work I’ve done.

“What about you? Look what you can do with an apple.” I put more jam in my mouth.

“Well. It’s just food,” he says, his tone bordering on something between discontent and hunger.

For the sake of avoiding other topics, we debate the importance of technology versus food for a while, and he gets up to give me a cookbook from his shelf. His hand is tracing circles on my hand, and I close my eyes. I take the stance that a chef would be more coveted than a technical project manager in the event of an apocalypse, but in the end there is a larger point I am making about the importance of food.

Mono no aware,” I mutter at some point.

“What?” he asks.

“It’s nothing, I’ll tell you later.”

Ferran Adrià said, “Painting, music, movies, sculpture, theater, everything — we can survive without it. You have to eat, or else you die. Food is the only obligatory emotion.”

***

Poetry books are stacked across my desk because I’m recording poems for friends. This evening I recorded and sent this one to M., who requested something about reclaiming power. It’s by Ada Limón.

Instructions on Not Giving Up

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

***

That aphorism they say about April showers: now that I live somewhere with seasons, I can finally confirm that it’s true. The blooms fall all around me whenever I walk in the rain. I am already contemplating this year’s roaming battles: both emotional and physical. I am contemplating last year’s abundance, the tenderness, the growth from the tender places, the stagnancy, the struggle. The clouds that passed overhead and then cleared up. It’s not organized, it’s never been. I tidy and tidy, like Marie Kondo tells me to, but somehow it still feels so messy. How do I embrace all this uncertainty? Is it ok to be so affected? Are havens meant to be temporary? Aren’t our bodies, also? I’m lazy on the grass, staring up at the blossoming trees. The light from the sunset spreads so quickly, and leaves so steadfastly. C. writes, “Bad things, like all things, are just a type of light.” Well, then. I’ll take it, with open palms. I’ll take it all.