Thursday, January 24, 2008

POEM - Living Christmas

Then, it happened, that she realized she was living Christmas.
She was grateful for her colored ribbon life,
For the candle-light brightness of her children’s lives,
For the manger her friends and family made for the infant
Love that was born alone in her, announced by a star.
She negotiated the day-to-day things
Illuminated by her children’s dreams,
She spoke the language of Chocolate,
And in everything she touched, sweetness bloomed -
Even in the deadest part of winter.

In the end, she knew how to live Christmas because she was Christmas.
In the end, she found the baby she sought nestled amid her hurt
Deep, deep, deep within herself,
Where the Messiah lay all this time,
Waiting for discovery.

POEM - To A Young Girl With AIDS

Too young to know any better,
you told me how getting Aids was a blessing, how it purified you.
You,who are held ransom by these streets you mistake as family
reared on abuse and addiction,
You now tell me how privileged you are to be touched to by this disease
by a God swollen with retribution for all your sins.

You welcome the endless drug cocktails,
the dizzying schedules with doctors,

You've grown adept at the flirtatious dance with pneumonia .
You are grateful for it all.

What could I say?

I could tell you there is no cosmic ledger waiting
to record graces and failures like debits and credits.
I could tell you that when we cross over, there will be no bank note due;
no repo-man, no bill collector harvesting I.O.U.s.

I could tell you all of this, but I don't

Instead, I just listen,
Instead, I hear the joy in your voice,
as if you had won the lottery.

Which would be easier for me to say:
“You, my dear child, are a misguided loon”,
or “Go – your faith has made you whole”?

It is as if the angel Shushienae descended:
and taken up residence in you.

Secretly, I wanted you to lay hands upon me
and issue the benediction:

“As it is: not as we wish it to be,
As it is: not as we work for it to be.”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

POEM - Absence

Your absence is this unopened gift!

It slants the day for me, knocks time and
Light sideways, angling it so obtuse.

My senses play tricks on me like an
Amputee missing his upalong limb.

Ghost-like- so much so that you are the
Phantom-heart that haunts my own chest, two

Sinus rhythms, the thumps, an echoe in
Tandem, cradled by my ribcage home.

My eyes fill in the empty space of you,
My ears hear what you would be saying

If you were here, speaking. Then like a
Medium, I would call back all the

Departed bits of you, piece by piece:
Have I not written on your body

That there is not one molecule of
You that I do not love?

Have I not memorized every mole
On your body, noting latitude and

Longitude by my fingers across
Your skin like a navigator’s divider?

There is not one fold of your skin that I
Have not spelunked , not one of your breaths

That I have not inspired as my own.
There is not one part of you that is not

Fully here, right now, before me, in
Spite of your glorious absence.

So much of you is revealed to me as
I miss you, all generously granted

By the plenitude of your absence.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Considered While Waiting In Day Surgery For a Friend

I know that I could easily deposit you at the hospital day surgery and that you would be in good hands.

I know “real” people do this sort of thing all the time.

I know that my sitting here, reading, checking email, playing with my Blackberry is not the most efficient use of my time. Despite my proclivity for magical thinking, I really do know that my presence in this room while you undergo a minor surgery will not affect how well the surgeon cuts, or how attentive the nurses are, or how quickly or easily you will levitate above all the anesthesia they will pump into your body.

Here is what is scratching at me:

I don’t believe that we are supposed to deposit people at hospitals and then go off to do our business. These are not grocery stores or the movies. The way that health care is not just a business, and that while the free market can maybe deliver effective health care, it cannot deliver compassionate health care.

One needs to be claimed in places like hospitals. One needs a connection to the normal world, the one where life and death is less compressed. Someone needs to be there to claim you when you return, when you are wheeled out. Otherwise, it is like the sadness of luggage going around and around on those carousels at airports. Something needs to pull you off and say “You are part of me!”

This is a stake in the ground that holds you fast when everything else is flies at you in millions of pieces.

I also believe this is true of Airports and meetings with one’s oncologists.

There are places in our lives that try to claim our souls, that try to turn us into coins that we pump into vending machines and the prospect of no one waiting, no unbridled joy at the return is too much for me to bear.

Everything hangs on a thread in this life and fortunes really do turn on a dime.
When I choose to error, I always want to be on the side of presence over absence.

How about you?

Friday, January 11, 2008

POEM - yule (ebb) tide

toss away the wreath (its evergreen is out of place anyhow)
untangle the wires with a twinkly knuckled light
wash the cookie tins and let them air dry to secular music
wrap the baby jesus in limp newsprint
let the vacuum suck up needle confetti and exhale mountain air
wrestle the tree with bear hug intent out the door
roll up the stockings once cherry and festive now anorexic and sad
peel the christmas cards from the wall and let the voices of loved ones
return to our silent longing memory
the christmas gifts that sit in celebratory piles - just the way they were opened –
seem a bit duller

let exhaustion come and do its work
let us return to our dreams of rest
let us worship in the faith of not doing
let us reacquaint ourselves with the beauty of stillness
with sleep and
with boredom’s gentle grace.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

REVIEW - Juno: The Case For Common Ground

Juno, set in suburban Minnesota, is ultimately about family in the same way that other quirky hits like “LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE” or even “THE BIRD CAGE” was. These were movies that dealt with off beat topics, even taboo topics but were ensconced in the cloak of family to give them big laughs and great pathos. Given the subject matter of Juno, however, (a 16 year old – Juno - becomes pregnant and must decide what to do with the baby) I was pleasantly surprised that it is above all else a feminist film. It might not seem like this would be the case given that Juno (Ellen Page) decides to have the baby and give him up in a closed adoption to a yuppie Minnesotan couple (Jason Bateman as Mark and Jennifer Garner as Vanessa).

The film has received raves for its smart dialog and odd asocial characters, but this I think works against the film’s real depth and heart which is, of course, Juno’s discovery that adulthood means making painful decisions and then sticking by them, even when most adults don’t behave this way.

It is thoroughly refreshing to see her supportive family (played brilliantly with the right mix of humor, cynicism and “I-know-better-than-you-because-I-have-lived-longer-than-you” wisdom provided by J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) who when being told of her pregnancy by Juno originally suspect the worst: failing in school, or stealing a car, never considering for a moment that their little girl could be pregnant. I am not sure there are many families whose parents would have responded as supportively as Juno’s does, but that’s okay. I like this about this movie. Personally, I think it’s high time that our culture portrays families as supportive institutions and not just the source of all the dysfunction therapists everywhere are exposed to. As parents, we don’t have to approve their actions, but we do have to love and support them and this movie provides that sort of safe haven feeling that is family.

Where the movie fails for me is that the dialogue is smart- very smart, in fact, too smart. It is easy to see why the teenagers and twenty somethings love this movie. I was in a theater where the crowd was predominantly the Facebook/MySpace group and the points in the movie where they laughed confirmed for me who the target audience was. Teens and twenty somethings are all about the quick snip, appearing smart rather than being smart; appearing counter-cultural all the while being absorbed into the MTV/corporatized version of what being “counter-cultural” means. The banter was too acerbic, too quick witted for my taste, but the kids in the theater I was in loved it. Subtlety is not a teen-ager’s long suit so the dialogue may seem a bit juvenile for adult tastes. But while the humor may be puerile, the heart of this movie is as subtle as a Minnesota snowflake and that should appeal to the most cold hearted of adults.

The decision Juno makes at the end of the movie is heartrending and should provide ample evidence for those looking for a moral that getting pregnant at 16 is just not a good idea (don’t try this at home kids!) Some people look for that sort of lesson in order to redeem the somewhat controversial subject matter. Juno provides this without being preachy or overbearing. For those who like to revel in the humanity of such dilemmas that make us human, this movie provides that as well. The relationship between Juno and her friend Bleeker (Michael Cera) is froth with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the age. (Cera is brilliant at doing this both in works like SUPERBAD and his work on the TV series ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. ) There is no overt passion in the act they do that gets Juno pregnant, it is adolescent experimentation brought on by boredom and curiosity. Throughout the movie, Bleeker struggles within himself to do the adult thing and step up, but he can’t. He learns that while he is physically ready to father a child, he is not emotionally ready.

Bleeker’s estrangement from his own manhood tears at his sensitive relationship with Juno, evoking feelings for her that he has to hide for fear of being rejected. (And what adolescent hasn’t done that, I ask you.) Ironically, we see the adolescent Bleeker finally come to terms with his own masculinity, and supports Juno, while the only other non-parental male in the movie – Mark (Jason Bateman) flees his responsibility to grow up, to love something outside of himself and his own dreams of glory as a former rock’n’roller. Bleeker respect Juno’s decision, acknowledges that he really does love her – and she, finally, him - and supports her after her delivery when she gives the baby up. (A man supporting a woman’s right to have the baby – when have we ever seen this? Isn’t it usually the guys badgering the woman to “get rid of the thing”, if they are even involved at all?)

This is the reason I say this movie is one of the few truly feminist films of the era. It respects Juno’s choice to have the baby, and to give him away, as hard as that is. It bypasses the danger of romanticizing another single pregnant teen, raising a baby by herself. Another woman’s choice might have been different. But Juno’s choice is one she comes to on her own.

Vanessa learns that Mark really doesn’t want a baby and by the end of the movie Vanessa and Juno find common ground: both become single mothers as Mark and Vanessa divorce. Juno’s choice is to affirm the strength of women to raise children alone, even though she is not capable of such a thing. The movie deftly avoids the abortion polemic by satirizing both pro-life and pro-choice factions. Juno’s Korean friend stands outside the abortion clinic alone holding a sign chanting: “All babies want to be borned”. When Juno gets inside the clinic, she is greeted by a cavalier, face pierced, gum-snapping receptionist who smugly offers her flavored condoms. Juno flees the clinic, repulsed by the callus atmosphere.

In the end, she has the baby because of the realization that it has “fingernails”. On the surface, this appears part of a pro-life agenda point, but feminism has always been about a woman’s right to decide for herself. We are all free moral agents and as such we should be free to make our own mistakes or successes. In this way, the feminist struggle is akin to the fight to abolish slavery in the middle of the 19th century. If all teenage girls are “supposed” to have abortions where is the choice in that? How is that supporting a woman’s right to choose? A culture that respects women ultimately respects the very personal choice to have a baby, to get pregnant in the first place. In this way, Juno should provide common ground for both pro-life and pro-choice factions. There are no men in this movie pressuring Juno into having an abortion.

The movie works for adolescents because it brings the smarm that marks their generation (okay, the same smarm that worked for my generation and I suspect all adolescents since recorded history.)

But the movie is sweet, and heartfelt too. It provides an affirming message to women of all ages. It gives us a model of how parents are supposed to act with their wayward kids. It treats young pre-adult kids with an adult sense of respect, all the while engaging in the travails and triumphs of growing up. It is a coming of age movie that poses some very hard questions about what we value and why.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

POEM - Tree Bodies (Haiku)

limbs aloft like meaty arms;
bones, replete with snow
as flesh: blanched, muscular woods.