Wednesday, June 25, 2008

POEM: Off To Peru

That dot, that black spackle against wild chicory blue sky
Is nothing alien, just the start of another story -
It is not me flying off to some past Inca glory -
I fly toward vertiginous height
One that is more than just Peru.
This speck in the south, this pinprick of light,
A pinched hole by which the soul
Of the unknown comes back with and into me
And thus, comes back and into you too.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Kate's Graduation Letter

June 2, 2008

Dear Katherine,

So you are graduating high school and your Mom and I are trying to fathom just what a day will look like when you are not here!

It’s not just that we will miss you – of course this is true. I have been preparing myself for this day for years: for when we will have to soldier on knowing that you will be orbiting some other planetary pulls and gravitational forces. But it is not just that we will miss you. I have learned over the years that things are far more ephemeral than they appear to the eye. All things pass: the good things, all too soon it seems, but also the hard times pass as well. You should always find some comfort in that, scary and sad as that is.

For now, I must come to terms with the fact that one of my very favorite people in the whole world will not be here for me to talk with, to discuss etymology at dinner with, to discuss philosophy with. Hardly seems right that as a parent, if I am doing my job right, your leaving should hurt this much, but it does. Rest assured though that this is the kind of hurt growing older offers in return for other things: like getting a beautiful, poised, intelligent and loving daughter in you. I will take the hit for that any day.

I think we have told you this before, but it bears repeating and in writing: did you know that we imagined you long before we were married? I often tell people that we named you “Katherine” after Katherine Anne Porter, one of my favorite short story writers. That sounds so impressive, doesn’t it? The fact is, your Mom and I were at The Bottom Line in NY City once long before we were married watching folksinger Tom Paxton. It was a snowy evening.

Before your Mom and I had the discussion that many couples have about whether or not to have kids, long before you were even an abstraction in our mind’s eye, you came to us that night from of all things, the lyrics of a folk song.

Paxton had announced to the audience that he just had a little girl whom he named “Kate” and he proceeded to sing these words:
Oh, I have a little daughter, and my daughter's name is Kate.
And she's every bit mischievous as a kitten on a skate.
Take an angel with the devil in the twinkling of her eye,
And that's my Katy, little lady, and I love her.

You might have heard me sing this a few million times in your life.
Fact is though, I would jump the moon for you; I would swim the sea. There is nothing that Mom or I would not do for you. I believe now that he was singing to us about you.

When the song was done, I remember looking over to your Mom and she to me, and it was as if the same idea struck us each simultaneously, independently – two discreet souls being touched by the single stroke of God at that instant – and we knew, we KNEW that you had to be Katie.

To be fair, there was never a thing about you that was mischievous as the song indicates. When I tell you that you have been a joy as a child, I do not say such a thing as parents might from time to time because, well, that is what parents are supposed to say about their kids. I say it from my heart because it was and still is true. You have been air to our stifled lungs, certitude to our moments of doubt, a road sign that our steering might not have been so cockeyed after all.

So what do I want you to know that we haven’t already taught you as you head off to college?

You have everything you need to succeed, however you define that term, and remember, that defining “success” is really the tricky part of living an adult life.

Remember what Blaise Paschal wrote: that many human problems can be traced to the fact that people have a hard time sitting quietly, alone in a room.

There is only one absolute in the universe that I know simply by intuition: that love is the power that rules it. Never forget that, though it may seem hard to believe at times.

People will literally throw themselves at you trying to get you to hate them and you may or may not love them in return. No matter what people do or say to you, no matter how hard they try to make you hate them, how mean they are to you, how badly they behave towards you –you will always have the capacity to love them. This, mi hija, is infinite in you and is as boundless as space.

It is always, always, always your choice to love, to forgive, and no one can ever take that away, or diminish your capacity to love even more fully.

Finding meaning in life is easy, but discerning how to love more fully, ah, that, as brother Shakespeare wrote, “there is the rub.”

Your Mom and I have raised you Catholic. It is a tradition that we believe, despite its flaws as an institution, is a pretty good way to experience this love of which I write, God’s love for you and all. But keep in mind this is not the only way to find God’s love. All the great faiths of this world point to the same sacred source of life for their strength. I pray in time you will recognize this more and more and in turn, realize your kinship with the whole world. May you expand all your worship experiences and find God in each breath of every living being on this planet. May you find God in the whispering winds, as Ezekiel did.
Embrace the mysticism of your faith, Katherine, and never be ashamed to proclaim that your greatest faith is often in things that are not explainable at all, except in the quiet whispers of your own heart.

Take time at college to cultivate a habit of solitude, for it will serve you well in this culture that thrives on distraction and noise. It will bring you peace and perspective.

Pray constantly and learn that prayer is not just uttering words, but can be the act of listening: to a friend in need, to yourself. Be forgiving to yourself first and foremost. It will be easier to forgive others. You have a pure heart and no amount of wrong-doing will ever change that.

I am so grateful for many things, but your gentleness, your intellect, your sweet, sensitive personality are right at the top of my list. Your work ethic is impressive and I even admire your somewhat “nerdish” tendencies.

You should know that you have taught Mom and me so much more than we have ever taught you. When you have kids, you will understand that last sentence. It seems odd, but it is true, nevertheless.

Remember always that you were a child of a vision; that you came to us as a lyric in a song, so of course you were destined to always make our hearts dance. This is your heritage; this then becomes your destiny – it is yours to fulfill.

Have fun. Make lots of mistakes. Admit when you are wrong. Never be afraid to laugh at yourself. Know that even the hurtful times that will come are important too, and you should not avoid them, just because they hurt. (You will learn the most about yourself!)

We have loved you for so very long, long before you were even dreamed of, sweetheart. In this way, you are magical.
God Bless always and thank you for gracing our lives with your beautiful being.

Mommy and Daddy

POEM: Leap

You are afraid of leaving him because who you are has been defined for so long by the inconvenience of not being there one day. Truth be told, despite your acuity with the Twelve Steps, change and how to initiate change, is not covered by any of them.

From so long ago you believed the stories that the men in your life have told you that every woman needs a man to take care of her. When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Do you see the woman they told you to see?

It’s not about love at all.
It’s never about love – love has nothing to do with it. You love him and weren’t we told that love would find a way? You never stop loving him, even during the bitter arguments; even during the most hateful moments, you love him, the history of the good times, piled like his dirty laundry of oversized and rough construction worker clothes that sits by the washer in the basement.

I often wonder what becomes of those good times in a divorce? Where do they go? Did they not actually happen in the first place? Are they just photographs in an album somewhere and does his image become a ghost, wearing that look of someone who has passed on to the next life, how they wear that look in pictures of being unaware that they soon would become a vapor to you?

You can hire a lawyer to divide up your assets, but what do you do with the emotional assets of those true and legitimate happy moments? Who divides those up? Where do they get stashed? Did they ever happen at all?

But knowing that you still love this guy doesn’t help does it? It just makes it worse – sadder really. You both sit with your finger on the red button: you, about to annihilate the “Soviet Union” of him, while he points his emotional ICBMs at you – each never once believing the other would push the button. This “mutually assured destruction” theory of marriage has gripped you like the long, cold New England winters for so long, you almost forget the definition of “happiness”.

You believe that he is sick. You ask me how you can leave a man who is ill? What sort of woman does this? What if this were cancer? Or Lou Gerhig’s disease? What stories would be told about a woman who left a man in his condition? You believe you are abandoning this poor lost soul whom you still cherish and would live out the rest of your life with in this static hell if he only would seek treatment. Or you see yourself as judge and jury, ultimately condemning this man to wallow in the mess that is himself.

But do you remember that day when you showed me the Mary Oliver poem:

…there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

You know how this works. You deal with addicts and alchies every day of your life. You hear the stories that break lives into a million shards of tiny, irreparable glass; ones that ruin the very fabric of a person’s humanity. But you have also seen the healing.

You ought to know that you have nothing less than a whole army of people to support you no matter what you do. I promise you only that you will heal, in time, and if you want to and if you work at it.

So look deeply into yourself for the courage you need to be content – not ecstatic, not zealously joyful – just content to be where you are. Can you imagine contentment, my dear? For nothing ever becomes real that is not first imagined. What is it you imagine for yourself?

Can you imagine rewriting your own story so that you, at long last, are the protagonist of your story?

Take the lesson of the nail which is powerless but is given the power to hold heavy boards together only after the relentless hammering. The difficult part – that step off the ledge – will feel like a hammer to you. But from this you will have the strength and staying power of the nail. You will rebuild your life from the lumber of your confidence.

So gather up all of your gifts and your talents. You will need them all. Wrap them up in the threadbare remains of the dreams of what you thought being a grown up woman was going to be like when you were just a little girl. Eat hearty for the journey is treacherous and you will need your strength.

I will be here all the time on your path to Golgotha. I will be your Veronica wiping your face. Your Simon to help you carry your tree part of the way. It is not love you seek or love I offer – that always abounds. It is survival. It is a meaningful life that we are trying to wring from the murky waters of a marriage that is long overdue to have its bucket emptied and refilled with clean, fresh soapy waters.

And when it is all over you will sit over a quiet, aromatic cup of coffee and realize that this was the biggest thing that you have ever done. We will go find church bells to ring and proclaim a year of favor, proclaim liberation, proclaim a new and insistent spring like no other you have ever encountered.

Life will ebb and flow and it will continue to bring its normal share of aches and pains – because this is what life does – but you will even be able to enjoy the bad times that will come just a little more.

Then when you drop to your knees before bedtime at night and offer up your prayers, even God will smile a generous smile, for you - His most beloved sheep - has finally come home. At long, long last, His sheep has come home.

POEM: The Combustability of Things

In Holyoke, the paper mills are burning down.
With warped and lacquered floors,
Shredded dust upon the ground,
Scraped raw by cat tongues of ghostly flames
That gulps the air around it in a giant sucking sound,
It chars the wood, the steel, its frame,
Till the dizzy structure wobbles and then goes lame.
It swells and contracts, finally at once to heave
Like struggling lungs, collapse like laundry and leaves
A blackened soul like crumbs of toast.

And around me, lives are burning down –
Incendiary ones – like rice paper,
Ones that ignite as simple as an addict’s craving -
With want that is cold and raving.
Anger, the accelerant, like napalm clings,
Proclaims its faith in the combustibility of things.
But it just turns a charcoal black
As sleepless, sunken, slack-jawed eyes,
As gaunt as a homeless face,
Thin as house studs left erect –
Up from the rubble – this monument, stiff and correct.
White ash floats off to clearing skies -
This is a petition for extinquishment.
This column of gently curling smoke
This solemn snake-like smolder,
Dry as parched lips, rising drunkenly upward to
The red ever-quiet morning question –

Love, we. Cry, we. Send in rescue teams, we -
Try with all our might we
Expend every last one of our dreams, we do.
Until finally fire is quashed and
We mark ourselves in the sooty ash,
We make a promise to every sister and every brother,
Father to son, and daughter to Mother
Each to ourselves and each to the other -

We promise to honor that which is true:
What is mine in me and what is yours in you.

POEM: Burn

Stars never shine as bright in the milky light of day
As they do when pressed firm into the soil of the night,
They burn their passion incandescent,
They burn limitless, unashamed,
They burn fearlessly, and measure nothing in between.

So burn
And light the way.
Right where you live,
Where you work and where you play.
I will follow you into what is unseen.
Bring beauty into the dark -
For it is still beauty -
And that - that is enough.