Tag Archives: art for recovery

poets can only show us the mystery of light

Yesterday was the last meeting of the Art for Recovery Healing through Writing workshop for this spring session.  One of the prompts I offered was a list of quotes from Alice Walker’s, “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens”:

  • Only justice can stop a curse
  • Creation often needs two hearts
  • Our best poets write poetry full of holes
  • I am so tired of waiting […] for the world to become good

This was my response:

“Our best poets write poetry full of holes,” for our best poets put themselves into their poems, through their vision and lineage, the breath of their metaphor and memory, through the detail they recount and forget — they put themselves in their poems, and they know, the best poets, that we are all full of holes, that that’s where our light sines through and out, that we are imperfect and we need the connection of others to resolve and decorate us, to flush out and fill in what we can’t do ourselves.

Our best poets can only show us the mystery of light, they pull out of morning and find the starlight in dawn, they give us the echo of sparrows on an otherwise silented concrete neighborhood at 5:50am, the rizz of a passing cyclist and one downtrodden neigh borhood dog with unkempt blackbrowngrey fur and the brightest brutish face, they give us cement front lawns filled with buckets of flowers, concrete driveways with multicolored snapdragons for weeds, they show us what possibility feels like when we show up at our once-upon-a-time favorite cafe at 6am and the lights are still down, the doors still lockied, and the city blows its frigid soaking summer breath all over shivering underlayered you —

And so, because you understand about the holes, you let the cold in, you know that all the experience you can suffer or contain can only come out in your art, is all grist for the mill that is you, and you inhale deep the thick fog, you shake with lack of sleep and the drill of being alive, you watch the joggers in their tight brazen architecture, their skin that says I move too fast for the cold to catch me. You watch the streetcleaning machine make its humping wet way doiwn Divisidaro, you let the gossamer sheen of jasmine into your lungs, knowing this is all there is, and being wildly joyful.

Trauma longs for mystery but can only be its angry white self

This is from today’s Healing through Writing workshop, at the Art for Recovery center (a program of Mt. Zion’s Cancer Resource Center). The prompt was a metaphor making exercise: we created a list seven prompts, each of which contained the name of an illness, a common verb, and a noun, creating a sentence like: “trauma cries like a cow” or “breast cancer bleeds like a pen.” Here’s my write:

Trauma jumps like a star, falling over and across the page, across the sky, across through the brother and sister stars—trauma pushes open the places that weren’t supposed to be open, sheds light where before there was only an arc of black sky.

Trauma rends things, tears me, but what’s true is that after – after – I’m more open.

Here’s where I’m always left, in this reconciliation: how can it be that what was so awful could have left me a person I like now, softened, surprisable?  Something I wish never would have happened, would over and over go back in time and change if I could, and still here and now I am grateful for this one life, just as it is and was.

Trauma walks in like a gun and douses like rainbows, sets down its bags and stays awhile, lives like motion and time, names new histories than the ones you thought you were going to have had.  Trauma moves the goal posts and sings off key and drunkenly at the karaoke machine, trauma eats with its fingers and makes a mess on your clean kitchen floor. Trauma unlocks all the echoes and waits for no trains to come, it takes off at a run for the next moving car and then leaps.

Trauma longs for mystery but can only be its angry white self, trauma separates the white from the yolk and then smears everything together on the backs of your eyes, occluding all clear recollection, stopping the distance, the horizon, from coming up on you fast, stopping tomorrow from being visible at all.  Trauma lessens the possibility of memory by feeding you drinks and shouting in your ear then it’s gone and your sweltering in a cool silent room and the curtains billow in the evening shade breeze and you wonder how you got here and what this sticky stuff is on your hands and you don’t understand yet that your angry beating heart will be the one truest friend that you have for years.

All I’ll ever do

Write write write writeThis is from the Art for Recovery/Healing through Writing workshop last Thursday — the prompt was a poem from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, (“Words For It”), and then we started with the phrases, “I wish I could take language and…” or “This is what I want my stories to do…”

This is what I want my stories to do: I want the stories to do the work for me, I want them to go back in time and change what happened, I want us to be able to breathe again.

What I want is for my stories to open me to you — I want you to see what I hide. I want you to look under the metaphors and sentences for the scraps and facts of me. I want you to see what’s left of my childhood behind that poem. I want you to welcome my badness with open arms, the way you welcome the sing-song of my lines.

I want my stories to explain things you didn’t understand about me, to straighten out your confusion and misperceptions, to unlock the doors I hide behind, keeping myself from you. The stories are a false front and yet they are everything — I’m nothing that’s not exposed there, all my facts are there, my neuroses and nurseries. I want you to quit examining me and look in my writing instead for answers, for clarification.

I’m clouded today, and drifting; as much as I want to write for other people, deep and true who I write for is me. That one audience, to explain self to self. How blissful when someone else looks in to this locked cage and seeks out a separate score of answers. We can’t find any history here, no index to this body of words, and I know I’m more than the printing on the page but this scout of expression is all I truly have time for these days.

(This isn’t making sense — I’m just trusting the process, scooping up and laying out what words my consciousness offers me, always and especially when they don’t make sense. Too much attention paid to sense-making, not enough settling the score with nonsense.)

What you don’t want to hear is how I’m not ok, how I want someone else to write this me-story, even though I know it’s only in the process of doing it that I can ever hope to discover who I actually was, and am. “I wish I could take language and” have it do its job, just one time clean and honest, convey to you what I’m really thinking. But we have to keep dancing, you and me, words and Jen. It’s all I’ll ever do.

” At nearly 40, you are finally learning about friendship”

(One of our prompts at the Art for Recovery writing group last week was this: “you wake one morning and you are expecting…” (from “The Crows,” Evelyn Fitzpatrick)

You wake one morning and you are expecting to believe again, to fall into the foreshadowing that the dreams brought into you, or you into. You remember the doves, the way they carried you, and the pelican’s dipping heads, feeding under your feet, and how you walked over the water til you got to the other side of the lake, and to nearly dry land, where you sat back and cried because you were exhausted, desiring, and hadn’t noticed your ability to talk on water while you were doing it, you just needed to get somewhere, and now that you’re there, you know with out trying that the capacity has left your feet.

You poke one toe at the water and it sinks beneath the surface. Minnows startle away like dreams, like longings, like small children—you remember, after waking, the streaks of water down your cheeks and, too, how the surface of the lake undulated with a presence beneath your soles, like no surface you’d ever before encountered    but it felt so normal all the wile you were crossing the lake       what had you needed to get to? Why couldn’t you pay attention?

You think you remember – the way dreams come back unbidden, like childmemory – something having to do with a good friend and a loss, a declaration or a poem you had to deliver       but mostly you just wanted to get to her. She was mourning, and you knew about mourning, how so often it goes and rides through you, us, without words – and how you wanted o sit next to her, and she was, you knew, on the far side of the lake from where you’d begun, and the lake was long, unbearably so, and you’d known, in the dream, it would take too long to go around, something would break in her during the time you were being a good and dutiful; boy or girl citizen and walking barefoot the long way ‘round       and so you rolled up your cuffs just slightly because you didn’t want to be entirely unpresentable when you got to her and you strode out onto the surface of those tidal silty waters. You could have swum, you suppose, but it hadn’t exactly occurred to your dream self to do so       when you get to the other side (not of the lake, but of the dream, after you wake) the day is coolwarm and the dream air around you, back in there, was salty-kelpy, smelled like worms and cormorant feathers and exhaust fumes. When you wake up, you wondered why no one else seemed surprised that you were walking on the water – and that no one joined you. In the dream, you were alone on the other side, you sat down on a rock wall built by laborers fifty years ago to keep the lake’s banks from eroding, and you leaned back onto your hands and you wept with a kind of thick longing. You woke up, still catching the sobs in your sleep-riddled throat, and you brought your waked hands up to your face to feel if it was wet there. It wasn’t, but that didn’t quite convince you you hadn’t been crying –

You knew this dream was something to do with faith and the enormity of friendship, the clotting that friendlove will let you do, how a deep trust in someone who knows you, knows even the things you think you hide, the person with whom you have failed most indelibly and still they hold their arms open to you, the deep trust of settling into letting that love be a part of your life and wanting to return it, makes miracles flow from the tips of your fingers, solidifies even the most liquid thing, makes liquid, too, the rocks and boulders with which you’ve cluttered your heart. All you had meant to do in the dream was get to your friend where you knew she sat alone next to a live oak tree on a greening hillside near the lake and keened for what she had lost, sit your body next to hers and let her keep on howling – just not alone. You wanted to be the hand she could grab onto if she needed one, you wanted to be some ears she could pour story into if she was ready, you wanted only for your body to be there, next to her body, both your fractured human lives embedded into the earth and inextricably into one another’s hearts.

At nearly 40, you are finally learning about friendship, about a kind of love that has not sex at its core but something more substantial, less malleable, something you don’t have words for, something you can’t bribe into or out of place, something you can’t control – and that realization, that without your manipulating it or wheedling it or flirting it, someone loves you in all of your flawed entirety, even still, at your waking time here in your post-good-dream bed, brings you back up to tears, opens you to gratitude, bleeds you toward hope.

What would I tell them?

(This was the prompt…)

“What would you tell young friends who are afraid?” what I want to say is that the night sweats happen and then they are gone, the same nightmare appears for years and then its terrifying physics and grammar begin to transform around the dreaming you: suddenly you can pseak, you can move, you can run, you can say, now, No when before the word could only push from your lips into a screaming wait that woke you and your lover at midnight.

You see from those dreamtime changes that you are healing, your seams are coming together and it’s a slow, it’s an interminable process it will seem like it’s never ending and it ought to. Feel every minute of it, let the loss and terror burn through and be done with you. Someday it will be done with you, because you stayed with It, because you were not thrown by the fire and rage that you yourself contain.

This is a terrible thing that I’m recommending, I know.

Write it all down, all of it, even the stuff you know can’t be testified to in a court of law but that sits still on your tongue to be spoken: better to spit out the lies they fed you onto the page rather than swallow them. Now and again you can flip back through your record, see, read, how you have changed in two weeks, two months, 10 years. Build a bridge to your whole unsullied soul, still locked safe inside you, with those words. Write out all your complications and conflicts, the ways you are always in conflict, the jealousies and inconsistencies and fears. Don’t show it to anybody. These are the places we have.

Be more afraid of finding out what loss looks like from the inside out, be more afraid of losing the ability to write before you have recorded all that you are. This is you creating your own rabbit trail. Hansel and Gretel aren’t throwing down any bread crumbs or stones for us. We write our own Wonder Woman, Batman, Savior – we write ourselves ahead when we say right now what’s true. It’s the only lily-pad-hopping way forward I know. Settle into this skin of confusion with your pen in hand. Stitch away time out of your day just for writing. Let the words be the only think you hold.

And then feed yourself well. Visit the doctor or NP now and again. Call the good friends, the ones who leave you alone when you’re writing, the ones who don’t try to fix it when you cry, and see if they want to go to the beach with you. Put down the pen and pack up a lunch, get on the 5-Fulton without a book and watch through the bus’ grimy windows as the grey concrete of the city give way to the contagious riot of green in the park . Get out at the last stop and walk yourself into a thick salty sea breeze. Feed the tides your bare feet, take your friend’s dry warm hand, hold the seagull’s cries into your newfound ears.

“Now is the time…”

(My own response to a prompt I gave at the Art for Recovery writing workshop a couple of weeks ago — read the Hafiz poem Now is the time):

Now is the time for you to step back into that voice that you thought was forgotten, the voice that was left by the bedside, the missing night table, the history book, that was tucked into the upper corners of old rooms, long since painted over, a mouth wide open and unspeaking. Now is the time for this one loss, this one untenable thing, to unthread through: What if history got named something else besides seeking for revenge or – what’s the word? repercussions, retribution, or, yes, revenge?

What if this one loss weren’t anything but a life, what if that which was stolen becomes the anxious frame I built a life upon what if all the survival is the fragmented foundation what if history meant more than terror and emptiness, I mean what if a life is made up of more than what wasn’t there once upon a time. Now is the time for pleasure to be in history’s creeks and cracks, for memory to flood into the center of loss, for the green cicada throbbing to flesh out the night, the barren mornings.

I’m trying to say that there was more to what we had then than what safety, what innocence was stripped from our palms. Hafiz wants me to come to a lasting truce with god and I am trying to understand how god could have been there in the disheveled places, the times when the body splits, under pressure, into several selves, how to come to a truce with a god that meant loneliness: except, of course, that the same god made use of the blanket of that loneliness to cause some comfort in the swollen and too crowded-places in your mind and so how to make sense of the way a life works. Maybe that’s not my job. Maybe I just keep on moving, finding forever new language and framings for the old stories, the ones about strip-mining a child’s bed, about watching mothers, grandmothers in hospitals… the retold stories that attempt to reframe silencings with color and voice