Tag Archives: poetry

poems can blossom truth inside our hearts

Stencil of a woman in a dress, dancing, head thrown back, hair hanging down, next to the words

(Poetry is an extreme sport – Miss Tic)

Good morning, good morning.

Outside, it’s traffic and crickets. I’m waiting to hear whether the owl will be back this morning – she was here on Friday, and instead of writing a post I got distracted by her.

Well, by her and some old morning writes. I went looking for what I was saying here–to myself, to you–five years ago, or seven. That’s one thing about regular journaling–getting to look back, see what you were saying before, what you felt like before, what you’re struggling with that’s the same  and what is new — you get to see how far you’ve come.

In my case, I got to look back on a relationship that felt unfixable at the time I was writing, that felt like kudzu or like I was in the ocean at a rising tide stuck in seaweed. I spent so many years trying to communicate with someone who literally could not understand the things I was saying — and, let’s be honest, in the converse, I also couldn’t, it seems, understand the things he was saying. I could never quite understand what he wanted. And  I kept trying, kept getting smaller, tightening myself up until I was knotted into a ball at the bottom of a bookbag, just a sticky thing with dust and hair and old gum wrappers stuck all over me.

And then I got the idea that maybe , that maybe, I didn’t have to stay there. Maybe my job wasn’t to stay in this relationship until the end of my (or his) life. Maybe I didn’t have to walk a hundred miles on my knees, repenting. I only had to let the soft animal of my body love what it loved. And then poetry started to sneak in to the sides and corners and crevices of my skin, my psyche, touched the parched places inside me, the places that told me I had to stay, I had to keep working, I had to keep trying to be the right thing for this person. 

(The chimes sing a little in the early breeze.)

Slowly, so so slowly, it came to me that I didn’t have to keep beating my head against a brick wall. Neither one of us deserved to be this unhappy all the time. He deserved someone who didn’t have to turn herself inside out in order to be right, feel right, be what he said he wanted. He deserved to be with someone who didn’t need to deny fundamental parts of herself in order to stay with him. He deserved to be with someone who didn’t need to swallow her tongue most days, or risk getting into yet another fight.  

There were poems that opened my eyes , the eyes inside my heart, or that turned my eyes back away from looking into a future that felt bleak. There was a Rilke poem that shifted things in me. John O’Donohue. And Mary Oliver, of course, Poems can do things that regular prose can’t. Poems sing in through the side door. They tell all the truth but tell it slant. They don’t hit us straight on, but blossom truth inside our hearts, our bellies, anyway. 

What I’m trying to get to is the fact that something that feels so entrenched, unchangeable, a situation you feel so utterly stuck in — that situation can change. And what’s true, at least for me, is that the first part of changing the situation was changing my mindset, my lenses. I had to allow myself to shift how I was seeing myself, and that relationship. Just very gently, I began to ask myself, What if I’m not wrong or bad or crazy or broken here? And what if he isn’t either? What if we’re just two very different people with very different needs and it’s ok to stop trying — after 8 years, to stop trying — to force ourselves to be something that didn’t fit?

(and then I feel myself wanting to say, hey, out here, if you’re having to tuck important and tender parts of yourself away in order to fit into a relationship, maybe that relationship isn’t the right one for you.)

I look back in those old journals, those old writes in the mornings from San Rafael or Tiburon, and I want to tell that woman, You’re ok. He’s ok. You’re just not ok together. Don’t worry about waking up tomorrow and picking up the threads of the same old fight you’ve been having since you first got together. Just set down those threads, pack your bag, and leave. I urge my hands in her direction, gesturing. Just go. But she won’t go. She’ll stay for another three years, another two. She’ll take small steps as she builds the muscles she needs to be able to leave. She — I — had to build the muscles I needed to be able to trust myself, to trust my own perceptions, my own vision, my own view of the world.

So much old stuff got triggered in that relationship. Old stuff about trusting myself, really — isn’t that at the core of it. Letting my needs be even a fraction as important as the other person’s? At some point you have to set down the old ghosts, step out of the maelstrom of voices yelling selfish, mean, thoughtless — bend your head down, duck underneath, and step out to the other side. It’s like taking off a pair of sunglasses and noticing that the world looks really different than you’d come to be used to. It’s allowing yourself to step outside of somebody else’s narrative and notice, sometimes for the first time, that you don’t fit anymore, that the story they’re telling you about you doesn’t match who you know you are. And that small voice inside you, your instinct, your intuition — becomes something you can hear again, you can attend to, you give some weight to.

The shift for me was allowing myself to imagine a reality outside of my ex’s worldview, he worldview he wanted me to live within. There were poems that helped me look at the world, and myself, anew. And writing practice helped me imagine new ways of being.

(Some animal is rushing around in the woods. At first I thought it was the wind, but the chimes are silent.)

You should never have to make yourself small in order to keep your partner happy (or your boss, or your parents, or…) And though I went into the relationship knowing that was true, intellectually, I still had to learn it in my body.

I still had to learn to trust it, trust myself.

I still had to learn to face a very old fear, one I got from my home as a young person — that If I stand up for myself, I’m going to get in trouble, and then I’m going to get hurt. And I did get in trouble in that relationship, let’s be honest. But I wasn’t a teenager anymore. I could walk away. I could say no to his demand that I see the world in such a way that minimized me, or that left me feeling crazy and literally unable to communicate effectively much of the time. I could step out, take a deep breath, and take off the glasses he said I looked so good in, in order to see the world in a different way.

We get indoctrinated, as children in abusive homes — we get trained into particular ways of seeing and understanding ourselves. So it takes a lot of work, in our adult relationships, to not listen to the old voices, especially when/if our partners say things that echo what our abusers used to say, in some form or another. They may not be intending to do so, they may not be abusive at all, but still those old messages, and those old survival strategies, are triggered within us. and so we just continue the long work of trying to dislodge that old learning, that old way of thinking that said I have to let you define reality for me because if I don’t I’ll get hurt

It took the time it took for me to move through that learning in my second marriage. I’m working to be easier with that woman I was then. The other thing that happens, over time, is that I can read these old notebook entries and not beat myself up, I can feel more compassion for the self I was then, the things I was struggling with, the complaints I kept echoing.

(And I believe, too, there are some relationships we can’t settle into until we have done deep work to heal some of these old wounds. These are mature adult relationships, people we wouldn’t be able to stand up next to until we have done the work to know and trust and like who we are–otherwise how can we love someone else who knows and trusts and likes us? They’re not going to stick around if we just spend all the time telling them how stupid they are for loving us, for liking us, for finding us smart or funny or clever or creative or kind … )

So today I’m grateful — for time, for poems, for writing, for that small quiet voice within that never stops whispering You deserve joy in this lifetime, that small voice that keeps whispering, even through days, months, years, when I can’t hear it singing inside me.

And I am grateful for you, today, too, for all the ways you make room for those around you to grow and change, and the ways you are easy with yourself in your own growing, too. And for your words, of course — I’m always grateful for your words.

Thanks

The birds are already awake this morning before I get to the keyboard. I had a whole plan for last night — celebration at the final meeting of this fall’s Fearless Words group, hustle home, and head out to Brothers & Sisters to dance hard enough to find my gratitude, to sweat out the toxins, to touch and grab hold of my joy. But when I made it home I was just too tired to go back out into the world; several nights of not enough sleep finally caught up with me. And how could I drive through or around the protests in downtown Oakland in order to go dancing of all things. It felt like crossing a picket line. So instead I obsessively updated my twitter feed, trying to follow what was happening, and ended up crashing on the couch. Not exactly the celebratory evening I’d had in mind, but this 42 year old body doesn’t rally the way it did when I was 22, even though I don’t like dancing any less now — it’s still one of the very small handful of healing practices that have kept me going.

Today I am thinking about the complexity of gratitude. All over America, we’re supposed to be grateful today — we have a national holiday set aside to be thankful for all that we have. It’s meant to be a time for gathering with family, connecting with our beloveds — no one is supposed to be alone on family (even if they’d prefer to be). Meanwhile, we are surrounded by advertisements for so-called Black Friday sales, enticing us into believing that we do not have enough, that we need to buy more, proving the lie of this day of gratitude practice, at least culturally. On this day when we’re supposed to be jubilantly grateful for home and hearth, kith and kin, we have a nation rising up in grief and rage. Many, many people will not be safe today with the people who are supposed to be their safest havens — many of us will grieve the families we ought to have had, the safe hands and hearts we ought to have been surrounded by. This is the beginning of the most complicated time of the year for so many of us.

There’s a poem I like to hand out every November — if you’re in a workshop with me, you’ve probably seen it. It’s W.S. Merwin’s “Thanks,” written in 1927, and it goes like this:

Thanks
-W.S. Merwin

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions.

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
looking up from tables we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

This is one of my favorite poems, one I would like to commit to memory someday. I find it to be outrageously hopeful, naming the possibilities and claiming of gratitude even at our most difficult times, even when gratitude seems wildly ridiculous, even laughably hopeless. How can we be grateful when our country is dropping bombs on people around the world? How can we be grateful when we know somewhere in our own neighborhoods a child is being harmed right now? How can we be grateful when our friends our sick, our communities are hungry, our hearts are aching, our own bodies suffer?

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

I read this poem and I think about resilience. I think about the times I sat with my stepfather while he had his hands on me and I made it through his violence. I think about getting out from under his hands when they were on my neck or between my legs. I think about the moments I had alone — walking my dog, doing homework, riding the bus home from school — when I saw something that brought me joy. Maybe it was a flock of pigeons diving and pooling in the skies over Omaha. Maybe it was my dog bouncing after a squirrel that she had no hope of catching. Maybe it was figuring out the answer to an especially difficult calculus or physics problem. And yet, what right did I have to feel joy? How could I possibly have had the capacity to feel joy? What is it in us that allows us to smile at all when we know we are headed right back into the fire?

For that skill — the wonder of our human ability to continue to allow ourselves pleasure when we know what great pain feels like, when we will be mocked or harassed or harmed if someone catches us grinning to ourselves, for exactly that measure of resistance and resilience — today I say thank you.

I love that the first line of the poem is a command, a harkening: Listen — I hear the poet, the voice of the piece, calling us to hear what’s happening underneath the destruction all around us, these quiet, whispered, continual thank yous. We are not alone in this complicated place of grief and gratitude. Listen: there are others who are saying thank you anyway, who are smiling anyway, who are dancing anyway, even as the thefts and the beatings and the losses go on and on and on.

Today I am grateful for the resilience of the women I wrote with for nine weeks in Fearless Words, women risking everything to reach out to one another, women risking ridicule and shame by offering their true voices and stories to one another, women who found a new community of beloveds. It’s a devastating thing, this being grateful for a community of others who have been hurt like you’ve been hurt — it’s not that we want anyone else to have to have gone through what we went through, raped by someone who was supposed to be a friend, or sexually violated by a parent, or the friend of a parent, or a cousin or — we don’t want anyone else to know what this pain is like. And yet, we also do not want to be alone with this pain anymore. We are tired of our loved ones treating us like we’re crazy. We are tired of feeling crazy. So we are grateful to find ourselves in a room with others who get us from the inside out because they have been there, too: we go on saying thank you thank you

Today I am grateful for you and for your words, for the exact struggle of your life, for the fact that you take on that struggle in order to laugh and breathe and weep and make art and hug those you love and make a safer place for someone or something else, I am grateful for the days you walk through the fire and for the days you are immolated by pain and then rise from the ashes. I am grateful that you give yourself time to rest, time to be silly, time to garden or dance or play World of Warcraft (is that even around anymore?) or solitaire or watch endless episodes of True Blood. I am grateful for how you perceive the world: you are the only one who sees things like you do, and I love hearing from you exactly what you see and hear and feel and smell and taste and sense otherwise, with the knowing that lives deep in your liver and gut and heart. I am grateful that you give yourself the possibility of deep desire, that you have worked so hard to reclaim your sex, that you are working hard still.

in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

Today I am in grief and I am grateful anyway. I want better for us and for our children and I am grateful anyway. I am grateful we continue fighting. I am grateful we sometimes give up. I am grateful we resist. I am grateful we are not alone. I am grateful we are no longer alone.

Be easy with yourself today, and tomorrow, and the day after that, too, if you can. Thank you.

A poem for these winds…

Good morning, good morning. The winds have picked up everything and hidden it around the lawn — the planting containers, the seed packets, the gardening gloves, the puppy’s ball. These hot winds always confuse me — I’m still getting accustomed to the Santa Anas.

We are having a sick day today here at Writing Ourselves Whole, but before I tuck myself back onto the couch with a cup of tea, I wanted to offer you a poem:

Catalina Eddies
– Diana García

Dusk to dawn, sleek skunks enjoy
avocados in my yard. I give wide berth.
Before the first jogger leaves her prints
on pavement, tough raccoons appear.
They pretend they don’t hear my keys click
but they peek to make sure it’s me.
Foxes play hide-and-seek,
sometimes on our lawn, other times
across the street, but never after seven;
and brazen squirrels eye me
from the center of the street,
dare me to approach.

Will this be a day for Catalina eddies,
clouds stacked, catching like magnets
in a liquid air swirl?
Or will it blow a fierce Santa Ana,
days of fires in the hills,
smoldering chaparral,
winds so fierce birds do low-crawls?
I cast a spell for Santa Anas
the shallow coast a censer
mixed with black sage, Torrey Pine,
Engelmann oak—precious oils
to fumigate the San Diego skies,
the annual burning pulse.

(Another good one for today is “In Chandler Country,” by Dana Gioia… read, let yourself be inspired, and then let the words come.)

a rain day…

Today’s post got eaten up by a need to be intensely, gloriously domestic today (drive a boy to school for the first time, take a sweetheart to the doctor, run errands, get some plants in the garden, and more) — so, in light of this rain day we’re having in Oakland, I offer you this instead. May it inspire your own soaked and lovely words this weekend…

Rain
– Kazim Ali

With thick strokes of ink the sky fills with rain.
Pretending to run for cover but secretly praying for more rain.

Over the echo of the water, I hear a voice saying my name.
No one in the city moves under the quick sightless rain.

The pages of my notebook soak, then curl. I’ve written:
“Yogis opened their mouths for hours to drink the rain.”

The sky is a bowl of dark water, rinsing your face.
The window trembles; liquid glass could shatter into rain.

I am a dark bowl, waiting to be filled.
If I open my mouth now, I could drown in the rain.

I hurry home as though someone is there waiting for me.
The night collapses into your skin. I am the rain.

Poem for a Friday – “if it’s not a secret”

My hands are covered with dirt, and my laptop is dusted with flour. These are good signs, I think.

A poem I love for this second Friday of WriOursWhoMo. Consider using that last line as a prompt…

Bodyweight
-Matthew Schwartz

My crutches felt heavier than I was.
They landed with a thick thud on the blacktop
each time I took a step. I had to watch how I walked

so I didn’t fall, like the other kids expected.
I liked to leave my crutches half-buried
behind the sandbox, where I couldn’t see them,

and creep up the uneven monkey bars
arced like the upper half of a globe.
I wanted to see the whole playground.

The rungs crowded too close together,
and none of them was shaped the same.
I lifted my feet slowly to keep my braces quiet

against the metal. At the top, I could still hear
the jump rope flying, my friend throwing
handfuls of sand. I slipped. I locked my arms

tighter around whatever bars I could reach, and my leg
tensed and shook and hit the rung too close to me
when I tried going down, and my foot shot

through the gap, and dangled there.
I thought I could maybe slide out.
I thought my body could fit like my foot did,

but I was stuck. Everyone could see me,
everyone could hear me asking myself
What do I do with my body if it’s

not a secret?

Let your body have some joy this weekend. Consider — just consider — letting that joy not be a secret. I’m going to consider it, too.

(still on pause, but I found a great poem)

Another poem today, in honor of National Poetry Month — what do you (or your characters) know about survivor’s guilt? How do you respond to the final line of the piece? Consider using this as a prompt — take twenty minutes, and follow the words wherever they seem to want you to go.

Survivor’s Guilt
-Patricia Kirkpatrick

How I’ve changed may not be apparent.
I limp. Read and write, make tea at the stove
as I practiced in rehab. Sometimes, like fire,
a task overwhelms me. I cry for days, shriek
when the phone rings. Like a page pulled from flame,
I’m singed but intact: I don’t burn down the house.
Later, cleared to drive, I did outpatient rehab. Others
lost legs or clutched withered minds in their hands.
A man who can’t speak recognized me
and held up his finger. I knew he meant
One year since your surgery. Sixteen since his.
Guadalupe wishes daily to be the one before. Nobody
is that. Sometimes, like love, the neurons just cross fire.
You don’t get everything back.

What sort of intersection are you?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davis_Square

(all of the intersections in and around Boston are dangerous!)

Good morning, writers! Outside my window right now, construction workers are jackhammering pavement. The birds have all gone silent, with or some other, more difficult emotion, maybe. The city is all city sounds right now.

How is WriOursWhoMo treating you so far? How are you honoring the intersections within you: the intersections of trauma and song, the intersections of longing and loss, the intersections of aftermath and resilience?

Here is a prompt for this day, to get you thinking about the intersections you inhabit, you manifest, you are:

…One thing is certain: I am

not one of those stop signs you speed through! I am a dangerous
intersection; you should use caution when approaching me!

The jittery hummingbirds of extreme hopefulness shake
their wings right off. My wings have long since shaken off.

(Nate Pritts, from “Dangerous Intersection,” in Big Bright Sun, BlazeVOX, 2010)

What sort of intersection are you? What about your character? Give yourself 10 minutes at least, or 20, and let yourself be inspired by that poem fragment above… what rises in you to be written? Let those words onto the page. Thank you for your words today.

 

 

“May we reveal our abundance without shame.”

Good morning, good morning, writers.

Today I am hectic and rushing around. I want to give you something thoughtful and deep, but the puppy is calling for my attention, and the more I try to type, the more she bumps my elbow trying to get me to get up and take her out into the rain and play ball. So what I have for this second day of WriOursWhoMo is a poem and a prompt:

Prayer
Lisa Colt

May we reveal our abundance without shame.
may we peel back our sleeping wintry layers…
like snakeskins, like the silk chrysalis,
like clothing cast off during love.
May we unravel with abandon like lover’s knots
before knitting ourselves back to the heart.
May we settle into our own rhythms as tides do—
within the borders of the moon’s calling.
May the music of our souls
be accompanied by grand gestures
and the persistent clapping of hummingbirds wings.
May the milky fingers of the moon
reach down nightly to cherish and unveil us.
May we turn our bodies generously in its light
like tranquil fish glinting underwater,
like precious stones.
When we open our mouths to sing
may the seasons pause in their long journey
to listen and applaud.

(From Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women’s Poetry, edited by Marilyn Sewell.)

What abundance in your or in your character is ready to be revealed? What prayers do you or your characters whisper in the dark, or in the light, if any? What would it look like to settle into your own rhythms?

(Set the timers for 10 minutes, open your notebooks, let the words flow out without editing or censorship. Thank you for those good good words today.)

snowflakes and shouting and safe hearts

graffti of a red heart, vaguely realistically drawnGood morning to you, over there. Are you warm enough? Keep that scarf on — don’t catch a chill.

I’m thinking about the people I love who are in the Northeast, who are in the middle of winter already, who have been without power, who are well under this new snow. I’m remembering why I left, and I’m nostalgic for the chill of it, the work of living there, how strong I felt, bundling up against the cold, digging out, stirring the coals in the woodstove and blazing it up each morning when I came down into the kitchen — add paper and kindling, then one log, then three, get it really going. Then I’d pour my coffee, settle at the kitchen table, write into the daybreak. No power meant no electric heat or gas, I don’t think, because those were electric-powered. Maybe the gas heaters would work, but we couldn’t use the fan to spread the warmth around (not that the fans worked all that well, anyway). Not living there anymore, I’m left with the romance of my memory, chapped cheeks, sharp and bright red, coming in to work at Stone Soup or Family Crisis, how I was bundled in a plaid barn jacket and boots, hair shorn, smiling at everyone in our shared burden of cold and ice and snow. I forget the deep depression I fell into every  winter, the seasonal affect business, how the cold got into my bones and wouldn’t leave, how I felt I couldn’t get warm, not ever. That part I don’t miss, I don’t even let myself remember. I miss the deep dark of rural Maine, and, too, the way the night spread itself bright through the woods when the ground was covered with snow, how I stood at my bedroom window on full-moon nights and the backyard was as light as midday with the reflection back up from the sparkling, ice-coated white.

Be safe over there, friends. Send me some snowflakes.

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Today’s day 1 of NaNoWriMo 2011! You can write that novel — are you joining in?

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Two poem-prompts for this morning, maybe to use to kick off your novel writing practice:

Pericardium
by Joanna Klink
Am I not alone, as I thought I was, as I thought
The day was, the hour I walked into, morning
When I felt night fly from my chest where prospect had
Slackened, and close itself off, understanding, as I thought I did,
That the ground would resist my legs and not let them
Break nor let them be released into air as my heart, in its
Muscle, might be released from the body that surrounds it,
Like someone who, placing a hand on a shoulder's
Blade, felt a life move inside an hour and a day
Break from the day the hour meant something more than weakness,
More than fear, and flew forward into the depths of
Prospect, your arms, where you'd been, before me, waiting
For me, the way the body has always been waiting for the heart to sense
It is housed, it is needed, it will not be harmed.

and one more, from Kwame Dawes:

Talk
by Kwame Dawes

            For August Wilson

No one quarrels here, no one has learned
the yell of discontent—instead, here in Sumter
we learn to grow silent, build a stone
of resolve, learn to nod, learn to close
in the flame of shame and anger
in our hearts, learn to petrify it so,
and the more we quiet our ire,
the heavier the stone; this alchemy
of concrete in the vein, the sludge
of affront, until even that will calcify
and the heart, at last, will stop,
unassailable, unmovable, adamant.

Find me a man who will stand
on a blasted hill and shout,
find me a woman who will break
into shouts, who will let loose
a river of lament, find the howl
of the spirit, teach us the tongues
of the angry so that our blood,
my pulse—our hearts flow
with the warm healing of anger.

You, August, have carried in your belly
every song of affront your characters
have spoken, and maybe you waited
too long to howl against the night,
but each evening on some wooden
stage, these men and women,
learn to sing songs lost for centuries,
learn the healing of talk, the calming
of quarrel, the music of contention,
and in this cacophonic chorus,
we find the ritual of living.

I invite you to read these poems aloud. Think about using one or both of these as your writing prompts for today — grab lines or phrases that stay with you, that spark your imagination, like:

waiting
For me, the way the body has always been waiting for the heart to sense
It is housed, it is needed, it will not be harmed.

or

find me a woman who will break
into shouts, who will let loose
a river of lament, find the howl
of the spirit

and begin there. Show me what comes up for you as you read those lines, what voices you hear, what memories arise, what vision or fantasy or story. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go! Take 10 minutes, at least — then give yourself another 10, if you really get in to the writing.

Thank you for the eloquence of your deepest heart-voice, the one that never stops telling the truth. Thank you, always, for your words.

what’s erotic writing good for?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/3922015993/

Good Monday to you (morning or afternoon or evening, depending on where you are!).

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This weekend I heard Jane Hirschfield talking about her latest book of poetry on a local NPR radio program and one thing that stays with me from that program (besides the tremendous power of her poetry) is one of the reasons she gave for the importance of poetry in her life: she said she wanted her life to be more permeable. The interviewer had asked why we should welcome poetry into our lives, and Jane had said, I can’t answer for everyone, but I can say why poetry is important in my life, and she began her answer with a list of ways that poetry opened her and her life, and permeable was just one of those, but it stuck fast in me, and rung true. Yes: permeable. When Emily Dickenson says, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” she is talking about that experience of permeability, how poetry invites, allows, requires that we allow life and possibility to move through us. That’s the deep intimacy of poetry, that vulnerability that is required of us as we read, because the experience of a poem, the tethering of our own ideas into the metaphor of the poem, the way we lace ourselves into the meaning, the reading, the possibilities, suddenly, we are intimately interwoven into the mind and experience of the poet, we are together, there is no separation.

I was grateful for that reminder.

Saturday night I got to hang out with a number of people I admire greatly (Carol Queen, Robert Lawrence, Gina deVries, horehound stillpoint, Marlo Gayle, Allison Moon) at the LitQuake LitCrawl, where we read stories about sex, desire, music, home, lesbian werewolves, occupy wall street, the metaphysics of longing, the power and uses of erotic writing, sex and parenting, so much more in that hour of reading. The room was packed — we had the auditorium at the Women’s Building. I felt so proud to be in that room, proud to get to count myself among the number of the readers, folks who are brave enough to risk writing about sex, talking about sex, putting shit out on the line, saying things we’re not supposed to say, breaking taboos; there’s more — I felt part of something.

There are times when I’m ashamed to be an erotic writer, that’s the truth. I’m ashamed because I know my father’s ashamed, because I know this work makes many people uncomfortable. On Saturday I didn’t feel ashamed — some of the dust and pebbles of that feeling got brushed off me as I listened to the other readers, felt such deep and beaming pride for them, felt, too, so wildly grateful to be one of their number up there in front of a big room full of people wanting space to hear about sex, wanting public space for some honesty about how complicated and gorgeous our desiring is, how messy and fucked up and funny, how necessary.

Here’s the piece I read on Saturday — I cobbled together pieces from workshop writes and from this blog, thinking about the power and uses of erotic writing, my forever topic. I think I want this to be a longer piece, but here it is for now:

I lead erotic writing workshops. My father does not like that I do this work. About a year ago, I got reminded, again, that the queer daughter is the opposite of the ‘good’ daughter. The queer daughter can never be the good girl. Audre Lorde told me that years ago, but I have to keep on learning the lesson.

I’m still thinking about that line I brought as a prompt to the Femme Conference workshop, from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”: You do not have to be good.

What would you write if you did not have to be good?

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Here’s an writing prompt: public sex. Create a list of places where something dirty could go down (or, even better, where you could never imagine something salacious erupting), and then let one of those sites choose you, and write what happened there.

Here’s something I wrote in response to that prompt at a workshop earlier this year:

It’s not like everyone doesn’t know I’ve got a thing for sex in bathrooms — and honestly, the more public the better. The night Jolly got her hands wedged there down beneath my slatted skirt we were at the dyke bar on the far side of an odd town. The place was broke down and gorgeous, flocked with the preened and disheveled, smelled like CK One and beer and hairspray, and was hotter than that sweet funky spot right between my tits beneath that goddamn corset.

I was far from home, visiting family, untangling myself from history and loss for the night, just looking to get a little bit drunk and a lot surrounded by my own kind, and was well on my way to meeting both those aims when Jolly pushed up behind me on the barstool and introduced me to a third.

Never seen you here before, ze said, leaning into me enough ze kinda destabilized my equilibrium –or was it just that little fat strong hand ze held up to get the bartender’s attention?

Never been here before, I said, forced to lean back against hir so I wouldn’t fall off the damn stool. Ze smelled like Marlboros, whiskey, sex and suddenly I was clutching my fishnetted thighs together. The bartender was flirting with some fauhawked argyle-wearer at the other end of the bar, and Jolly, who stood a good coupla inches over me, tilted hir greaser-slicked dark head down and flashed me the rinsewater grey clouds that hid in hir eyes, and said, Know where the john is?

Not yet, I choked.

Ze had my hand in hirs, urged me down off the barstool, just as someone threw a dollar in the jukebox for “Cherry Bomb.” Jolly was all tight black t-shirt, engineer boots, torn denim, and me with the aforementioned corset and tight-assed pencil skirt that flared into pincers and foam at the hem, which fell just mid-thigh. We didn’t need to introduce ourselves, our bodies had done that for us, and as ze closed the door to the stained and band-stickered single stall back by the pool tables, I leaned back against the wall and put one boot on the toilet. Jolly pursed hir lips, slid hir tongue down to make that kind of wet suckling sound someone lets loose with when they’re contemplating something very interesting or stupid or dangerous— I guess I was all of the above.

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What’s erotic writing good for? This is what my father wants to know.

Ok, for me, what it’s good for is getting my body back up off the floor, pulling me back out of cobwebbed corners, delving into the interstices and sewing, with the sweat of a pen, all my pieces back together again. Porn is good for reminders, it’s good for training fantasies into friendships, good for naming your own devices.

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Another response to a prompt: this one was, describe something you’ve forgotten.

Who taught him how to walk in high heels? His mother certainly never put a line of tape down on the hard wood floor of their dusty living room and presented her boy with that information: Put high heel pumps on this way, hold the bottom  in your one hand and press the shoe onto the opposite foot, or with platforms, if they have a buckle, press your legs together and lean your knees to one side, swishing your skirt or the bell bottoms of your jeans out of the way so you can see to do up the strap. Then stand tall, see, shift your center of gravity some, lean back onto them — like that — good! And now it’s one foot in front of the other, directly in front, honey, and let your hips go — good, just let your hips go.

He wonders if even girls got that kind of instruction—it was the 70s, after all, and his mother was more cork-soled comfort than platform boots by the time he started marveling through her closet after school, the days he got home so far before her, the days his name was Latch Key. He doesn’t remember how he learned this precious thing, this thing that separates the men from the flamboyance, this thing that sail-sells his faggot flag high and free. He had no Queens to teach him and he doesn’t remember especially examining how the rich, trashy ladies on Dallas shifted their bodies when their feet were pitched forward in stilettos. Somehow, the knowledge got in, like somehow he got himself inside a fine leather bustier and little denim hotpants, like he got himself inside words like Darlin and Mary, like he got himself inside another boy’s drawers.

He knows not all the fairy boys, the girly men, like to put their weight inside sequins and femininity, but he does— and he doesn’t remember when it landed clear as a furled fake eyelash that this made him no less of a man, but he carries that knowing in his bones like he carries the knowing how to let his hips shift easy like balls of butter in their sockets when he’s wielding a pair of high heels through a room full of wringing wet men, and this knowing his momma doesn’t know she gave him is what will save his life.

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Why does erotic writing matter? Why does it matter whether or not you’re in your body? Why does it matter whether or not you’re in your honest self, your heat and desire? We want more than to be trapped into the holes that our perpetrators drove us into. We want more than the body of loss that we became.  We want more than for our bodies to be the landscape of our terror. We want our bodies also to encompass joy — and this writing, it can be one path to our (re)embodying that joy, even before we try it on off the page.

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I have learned a tremendous thing to do with the not-good-daughter, the bad girl living in me.  I have made her into an alter ego. My father doesn’t know about her, which is all right with all three of us.

(here’s one more response to a writing exercise — the prompt was, if I listened to my body…)

If I’d listened to my body, I would have gotten up about a quarter of the way into the fucking, gently but firmly encouraged the butch off of me, maybe even unbuckled the strap-on while I was disengaging myself from that young one’s musty flannel sheets.

As it was, I stayed. Why? Because I was hopeful. And horny. I stayed, spread-eagled and doing my damndest to hump myself into some kind of urgency while the baby butch had used the dildo like a pneumatic drill after approximately 17 seconds of so-called foreplay — apparently the kid had been working out, ’cause she was super proud of her biceps and kept flexing them while she sweated and pounded over me. Had I not been so clogged with wishes for a good lay, I would have put my girl teacher high femme hard hat back on and moved to climb out from the jackhammer pit about 8 minutes in.

Can you imagine? I was imagining, ’cause it was helping me get off. I’d lean up, put a hand on the butch’s sweaty chest (what was the unfuckable’s name again? Oh yes: Commando. Seriously.) and said, Hold up. Excuse m, e. I gotta go.

No tension, no raised voices, no drama. Yes, my cunt would still be aching and hopeful and clutching at Command’s commando like maybe it could learn to do something different, a maneuver,, a trick, in spite of Commando’s obvious unfamiliarity with its possibilities.

Here’s how it was going inside my head: Commando would have frozen at the expression on my mussed face, one of all raised eyebrows and creased cheek to one side, lips pursed like Really? and so, I would’ve been able to slide myself (not really wetly enough) off the still cock, reach my nimble fingers to Commando’s hips and unbuckle the harness quick like butter would not be melting in this bed and yet before the stunned stud could respond. I’d push again between that thin butch’s small breasts, lean in for a long and too-urgent kiss (an indication, let me tell you, of my still pressing throb between the legs) and lean Commando down onto her broad back while I managed to install Commando’s contraption around my own wide and wanting hips.

Wha–? Commando might’ve said, from between my flush and swollen lips (the upper ones, since she hadn’t managed to find  my lower ones with her own).

Hold still, honey, I’d’ve said. I’m doing something here. And then I’d start to nudge the fat and not quite realistic head just to the other woman’s lower lips, nudge, too, the backside of the dildo rough against my own clit. That’s it, now. And just how much better it could have gone from there—

Take any of those prompt for your own writing today — and keep going with your work, knowing it keeps you permeable, open to the elements, alive and vulnerable, tough and meaty like the stuff of every heart.

Thank you for your words today.