Archive for the ‘Family’ Category


letters and fragments from the dead


Writing is a moral act.


Ethics and the psyche are part of every letter that falls from the pen or emerges from a depressed key.


This is how we remember it: the shadow falling over the side of the mountain, the side we couldn’t see, and then the sun fell from view and the moon rose. It was almost the last quarter, the day before—we had looked it up—after the full moon, a Super Moon, the previous Saturday.


We had gone into a bookstore on our street and seen the newly published novel of a woman we knew years ago. There was a cat in the bookstore but we didn’t see her.


It was the first cool day, with heavy, dark clouds but it didn’t rain. We stood on the corner for an hour and a half talking.


The dead speak in words, too. They speak through us and with us. There is this life and, alongside, this death. They are wound together. The air is full of breath and unbreath. One time, there was a whole procession of the dead in front of me—they appeared as they would appear in a photograph, dressed up, wearing hats, dark clothing, and carrying bags and purses. Their eyes shone and they had come to talk to me, about becoming unwound from them, letting go, the ritual of unbinding. They said all they wanted was for me to live a free and happy life. They wanted me to let go of grieving for them and for me to know that my place was exactly where I was, not with them. Living for so many years with the dead, I could see them clearly and heard their words distinctly, as they were spoken. Then I wrote them down, here.


This day, Friday, was a release. I write for the dead who are long gone, and for myself. There are wings of insects inside me, gray in the light that comes in from the mouth, when it opens to speak, and the light in the middle of the forehead when it expands. Light comes in and the wings are translucent. I write for those who can’t speak and for myself, when I can’t speak. Writing out of the silence, of the silence, taking measurements for the words that will be written from one wall to the other, factoring in shadows thrown by figures that have emerged from the boundaries. Writing as a measurement of silence. Writing moves the water outside the window. Writing collects the dust and specimens from the floor and windowsill and chandeliers.


Writing is an act of solace, a movement from isolation to relationship, a knowledge of the world as of the body and nonbody—the corporeal and ghost. We are figures in the emerging dust—sun-day—measuring the tallest building against huts on the beach. Here are my words, and they come from my womb and my bones and my blood, and what I have held and what I hold and what I release. These are measurements as if for a dress or a suit. We know these clothes. We fabricate our stories in the threads and wear them out to important occasions. We have tea. We eat meals with strangers, half-smiling over our forks at half-formed structures behind their heads.


This Friday, this particular day, just was. In the being of the day, I could breathe, for once. Real breath that sustained me. Breath that filled the lungs and allowed me to sleep for the first time in weeks. This is the companionship of those who are always around. I found pieces of paper towel all over the house, on a nail, on a screw, behind the toothbrush holder, after she cleaned. They looked like white moth wings. I picked them up and threw them out, noticing their delicate texture and their beauty. There is wholeness that is found when more and more pieces come to us.


When was the first time we saw the invisible world? We saw its lights twinkle in deep blue, violet, light blue, Saturn red, Spring grass green. No real forms were present until our eyes adjusted to the eternal twilight. Maybe we were at the top of the earth, true North. We were at the place our souls brought us. Our souls, these creatures of the deep, dark terrarium we called consciousness. That which we were not aware of making hand shadows on the walls. Dictionaries of silhouette and semaphor. And upon arriving at our true North, their true shapes emerged.


“We are not shapeshifters in the way you are used to defining shapeshifters. The music is different here.”





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I read a gorgeous article on Art Blart recently about the photography of Walker Evans. In it, he cites an article by Thomas Sleigh about Tomas Tranströmer, Too Much of the Air (see links below).

In it, Sleigh writes:

My first glimpse of Tomas Tranströmer was many years ago in Provincetown, Massachusetts as he ducked his head under the metal lip of a twelve-seater plane’s exit door, then stepped hesitantly down the stairs to firm ground. He seemed a little shaken, his long face blanched, his features reminding me, when I think of it now, of the circus horse in a late Bonnard painting: gentle, wary, potentially sad. “I don’t mind large planes or middle-sized planes (his English was slightly gutteral, his intonations lilting in a mild brogue), but small planes—you feel too much of the air under you.” That remark, direct, plainspoken, but also flirting with the metaphysical, has seemed over the years a keyhole into his work: a void; a sense of hovering above that void; the nerves registering each tremor with precision; the mind fighting back the body’s accelerating fear.

Thomas Sleigh’s article:


Art Blart:


The void always there, hovering—our bodies.

And how, my whole life, I’ve been afraid of things being taken away. This is a pretty natural fear, primal, human, animal—everyone has a survival instinct for both themselves and whom they love. What made the difference in my life was that people told me this would happen. That I would lose everything and everyone. The way this was presented to me was that this was a fact. I was very young when people started telling me this. And as I write this, it sounds like the beginning of a good detective novel or a psychological thriller, exciting, terrifying in the way of terror when you’re lying cozy in your bed, reading or watching TV. But when people you trust tell you that what is happening on the screen will happen to you if you don’t do certain things, that you are patently unsafe because of who you are, who you were born, that instills a habitual terror that never quite leaves you. Or that you spend a lifetime confronting and healing, over and over again.

The body reveals what the conscious mind doesn’t.

My nerves fighting with the air: delicate underbelly, sky’s reaching. I was never certain what was air or ground. These are terrors, fully embodied, but unspoken for many years. And it is raining outside now.

Of course, it is not raining inside.

Get it down on paper. This refuses the chugging blood pressure as the plane soars upward.

The red brick of the brownstones. Rain comes down on snowed-in cars.

When days change you, you give them space, give yourself time and space around that day. I spent the next two days after lying in bed, watching TV and resting. The first day, I wash the dishes. On the second day, I take out the trash, clean out the fridge.

Some days change you. I bought a battery-powered radio with my uncle on Tuesday. I put it on the tray I have on the heater on the side of my bed near the windows. The seated painted-black Buddha is in front of it, along with a red velvet box containing condoms, earbuds for the Roku, and Chapstick, a tarot deck, four remotes, a coaster.

It has been a week of seeing behind the veil of things— one veil, plural things. Got my blood drawn for annual tests on Monday, went through old papers and calendars and maps belonging to my great uncle on Tuesday. Maps of Africa and Poland and Europe and Maine and Peak’s Island, where his son now lives, a lobsterman, and where he and two wives used to summer. We found Xeroxed, stapled papers with a typed family tree, done simply in Times typeface with lines and arrows, and going for maybe five pages, each generation going further into the present as we turned the pages. Along with this very basic family tree were some marriage records from Bialystok, Poland, and three handwritten pages in Polish, in beautiful script. Inscrutable because neither of us know Polish. Lists of things to do, to buy in his late wife’s handwriting, business cards, typewritten lists of her paintings, with name and price, letters from her gallery about sales, the letter from the gallery of two paintings sold at her last show, put on after she died. Letters from about twenty organizations, human rights, animal rights, environmental, asking for money.

The deep, good heart of my great uncle, the way he cares about the world, really made an impression on me. I’ll never forget it. I see my father in him, see where in the bloodline this connection to the world comes from, this faith that ties us all together within the same fate, animals, humans, continents, lands. This knowing I grew up with and never doubted that we are all one and, that if one suffers, all do. This has been in me since before I could articulate it. The week of lost things. Lost things returning. Things we don’t even know are lost. He warmed up coffee from the morning, left on the coffee maker, and turned the machine on to heat it up. It was very good, actually. Tasted strong. What a strange, strange world we live in and our lives, too, are weird because they’re so intense and overwhelming, we fade in and out of them, hallucinate, remember and experience at the same time—memory and history and the present all at the same time—my legs ached after a while, standing at the table we were clearing for hours. At some point, my uncle sat down, exhausted by the standing as much as the weight of history.

We had a beautiful conversation that lasted all day. We talked about insomnia and waking up in the early morning—he said he listens to the radio, BBC News, news from around the world, and it makes him feel connected, even though a lot of the news is sad and sometimes awful, it makes him feel like he’s not giving up on the world. I will remember this for the rest of my life.

As we do, we change. It is inevitable. It is this inevitability that moves us forward towards grasp and branch. The dusk of forefathers and foremothers. Where does it say that the window’s light is not the breath of land? We are the open of the land. We creature permanency. There is no permanent redaction of the past. It holds us, trembling, in its little-bird branches. We are sewn into it. Sunlight picks through the underbranches creating force and catapulting loss into new fields. These fields of light destroy. Packed-in dirt from centuries of war and blood cold now, Addresses of the Wild Permanency, home now. We are not dead. We have lived with the dead for too long now. We let them go into a place we can’t follow. We look after them, as they blend into the surroundings, becoming less and less physical, to abandon all light by becoming part of the light. These creature-fields.

We are torn apart by light. We are torn apart by war.

We taper like candles.

Things have been really intense lately. Coming boom boom boom. Like firecrackers, leaving me deaf and blind for moments after the blasts, seeing rings and stars. Quavering and indulging in solitude. Processing or, more accurately, letting be what life is. Minutes pass gently, in relative silence. The rain helps. Opened all the windows and let in the fresh, clear air. Spring is coming!

Life is changing shape again. Shapeshifting. It does this. And every time, I’m sad, I resist, I feel such a deep sense of loss that I think I’ll fall into it. It’s hard, these changes. A lot is lost. Illusions, relationships, ways of seeing myself and the world. Right now, I’m at the beginning, or maybe the middle, of acceptance. I’m aware and I accept that certain things will never be the same.

Maybe this pain leads me again to where I need to go. Maybe with this mouth—with this dream—expressed without malady.

I’ve lost so much. Sometimes it seems everything is loss. The sky protrudes with it, the belly bloats with it, the speaking crows rebel into flock-dragons in a separating sky—where all separates into light and dark and the divine opens into itself, the huge mouth of destiny. I build and build and long periods of tearing down. I try to build things steady and strong, with brick-and-mortar foundations—all of this is impermanent and breaks my heart over and over again. Flocks of seabirds, city birds. The kiss is fleeting. Lips touch and fade. Bodies come together and break apart. This is what happens. A simple fact. All of this is certain. There will always be loss. But of the times in between that loss, the brightness is almost blinding. Loss and brightness make a whole—sweet as an egg—nest—

Poem or prose, it comes out the same. I’ve realized this, after months of writing against my natural grain—or what I thought was against—in sentences, that sequester lines—the problem is not form, but truth—where truth holds banister and crows—but the windows hold strong, the glass is steady in them, when it rattles, the wind always coming—I still have a house—language.

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What is the language of kindness, the one that has no words but resides inside us like a body within a body?


I am starting to live in this place. The one of kindness, not of fear and worry. I wonder so much about stability and impermanence and what they mean, how they show up in life. Why is it that we can feel stable and can’t build stable structures? That life sometimes feels as if it’s built on quicksand and crumbles regularly? Is this impermanence? Is this the soluble nature of things, that they sustain for the period they are meant to and then dissipate, dissolve, decay and become something else entirely? The becoming something else entailing a shape so alien to what was before that there is no comfort there, the body is still the body, animal, plant, human, breathing, gravity-bound, but the emotional attachment has nowhere to go, floats in space like an ache of itself. This is grieving, this is loss.


In spite of this loss, this amassed loss gathering in the heart, I am starting to live from courage, not fear. Living from fear amounts to not living, living halfway, stuck in a place, half-body. Who wants to live like that? I am finally consumed by what is most important and what has always been most important to me—to love. This has been a conscious goal. Loving is its own thing. It exists in all permutations and even outlives the dead. Because we still love the dead.


Their voices, once remnants, ashes found after everything is burned to the ground and the ground becomes itself again, in previous incarnations of dead ground—the sound of what remains, how it holds presence over us until we find some way of speaking for these ashes. And then it’s like this also—that we give our voices to those who are silenced and have no voice. This is also what it means to witness; to give voice to; to tell the stories of the voiceless.


I take the words of other women as strength. They make me strong. They shelter and they light. I am strong because of all the women before me who were strong. This is lineage and bequeathing and legacy. The mesh of inner worlds leaves ashes in its wake. The secret voices and letters and pains that connect us. The pain we don’t speak of, or maybe we half-speak of, or maybe we tell it all, an egg, cooked to where the shell breaks. We break so openly but sometimes the invisibility of our breaking makes it seem like we’re still whole and we want to believe that so much, we boil water for tea and go on as if nothing is removed or torn from us. We are whole in this place—this place of silence and speech that is our freedom. We make wilderness out of terror and courage—we are Home in the landscape. We prepare for wars but devote most of our tongue to peace. How does this work after a while, after the tunics and flags are stretched so taut, they show the outlines of faces and bodies and ghosts? How does this work, to remain silent when our bodies shudder for want and desire? What is this desire? Where in us does it live? In the shadow between fortresses, between ribs, aching and melancholy in the spine, in our tendons and bones, we reach forward out of not occupying space as partial recompense for drawing breath and having been born, to occupy our bodies and lives as fully as moths and otters and the light and water they seek. We are our own nourishment.


We toil in emptying our heads of ashes. Mothers and fathers fall asleep every night before cooking for their families.


When did these beings become so elusive, Light as fireflies trapped in a body. Fireflies in glass backs. We can see them flying around in there.


More and more, I am surrounded by strong, clear-voiced women, standing in their own bodies and their own power. They have a quiet about them and fire seems to burn off their skins. They are warriors and move with a stillness that can only be the stillness of conscious movement. They are their own counsel but listen deeply and with the utmost openness to others.


When women are ghosts. What refuges are left? Truth sustains us. Occupying our bodies sustains us. Love sustains us. But how do we recognize these? How do we know they are not transmogrifications of pored- through atoms that are so porous, they have ceased to exist? Sometimes the things that have ceased to exist are the most powerful. Death sustains us and gives us the language to use to start expressing ourselves from the bare skeletons of life, from the blood aches that make our hearts beat. Grief sustains us, measuring time in loss and conscience. We feel for one another, we console, we gather empathy as browning flowers from a field, knowing their beauty at every stage, now, when they’re fading away from themselves.


Our mothers taught us to be a strong women. Our fathers taught us to be strong men. We are confused about what “strong” means and are always considering the ways to be “strong.” Does it mean it’s your duty to bear all the hardship around you? Does it mean knowing when it’s not yours to bear and witnessing it but not hauling it around on your back? And how do you tell the difference and, once you tell these different loads and weights apart, how do you maneuver, how do you distinguish and measure, what are our responsibilities as witnesses? How much of life’s horror do we carry around with us?


There is so much we can’t write about, have been forbidden to write about and we honor that prohibition—but it’s like balancing the weight of ghosts that don’t have any weight. This prohibition is a link between us and our family, those whose secrets we have sworn to keep. But it is not easy keeping secrets. They weigh and bow inside, attribute mass in semaphoric patterns–but we love them and keep our promises. It is hard, though, as we reach parts of ourselves, our memories, our desires for the future, and think about and experience harder, deeper and more traumatic subjects and life events and heritage without being allowed to reference the origins. We can open these up with honor and respect and still keep our inner lives.


In this vein, I am wondering how to write about the raw places, reading Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds, about her mother’s blank journals like an extra heartache after a first death. What is voice? What is silence? Feeling sad and not letting the sadness settle because we are sick of this particular sadness, the ache to be with the people we love, with a love as passionate as the earth, where our bodies are the earth, their bodies are the earth—and looking for them as they disappear over and over again. We can go through life restless and frustrated and, mostly, exhausted. Tired of pretending we are upbeat all the time, when some days, we are just knocked down by the longing. We feel an active longing that is searching for those lost to us, doing the work for us, but we lie in bed awake or asleep or walk or rearrange our cupboards or closets, our hunger to be settled—if not in a place, then with those we love—constant because the ground under us shifts and shifts again.


As we find our power as women, as we find our power as men, the people who are our hearts find their way to us. This is the way it has to be. We see them because we have found our place in the world and own our own power and sustain ourselves there. We are our lives and our bodies, and because of this, we learn to love, over and over again.


The people who show up in our lives day by day and are there, the people who go through our lives with us are the people who matter.


They are the living proof of the curtains between worlds, when the windows are open. There is snow and the light is water, becomes water and returns to its remains.


Nothing less than the world.

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            for Olivia


The poet in the field measures distance with a magnet.


A poet at the front. Observe, kneel down.


I chew gum to drown out the maddening hum gathering in the streets. I’ve been reading too much Walter Benjamin. My theory of the world: to bring it closer, as close as I can stand, and run it through thermography. That is, testing its heat. See what’s alive and dead. How much visible illumination does the machine need to see blood or the heart or muscles working in movement?


The dark lights as light gathers.


August 26.


So it will burn—


Back home.


My dream, lived.


Please, don’t become a ghost. The others ghostly are not as apparent in the treehaze, brambly browns and earth encroaching on green shapes. Don’t disappear into the ether, or the earth. Stay with me in this magic that we created in so short a time that the web we wove glistens brightly with its dampdrenched cartographies, sudden attachments and movements of the heart, unmoored,- moor here, with your eyes a boat the mountains, love, moor here.


Café Bustelo coffee in a French press, made in a kitchen where the light burned out. So much white stars. Not white, gold. Not gold, silver. Not silver, sky dominating the visible. East Falls. So much treesun along the Wissahickon.


This idea of home; windswept & angels


So it will burn—


August 25.


What started in sadness emerges from gray, a fog stung by the sparks of phosphorescent insects- peace arises in the body, in the heart; even still with a headache and strong coffee and nostalgia heavy with sorrow; a Plutonian world of the past where so many things happened and could have happened and the trajectory took us somewhere else; a fortified, old brick house with a magic gate; a bronze plaque on a tall metal post announcing the historic man who occupied its dense rooms.


Magical fate is not so much magical or fateful but an orrery of choices made over a lifetime. Still there are these constellations, permutations, responses to circumstances that create where we are now. Then riding through Philadelphia, the stunning string of coincidences that I myself have wrought shines and staggers —




I have finally found my place with you. With all of you in that my intention to spread beauty and be loving and accepting is accepted and appreciated in return. I keep seeing the same house in my mind, beautiful wood floors gleaming in tons of sunlight. Lots of light, windows overlooking a yard, green and lovely, and the mountains. The mountains are the crux of this scene, the center, the heart center. That’s how it comes to me but who knows how it will come in life. Family is here, dense and shadowy and, suddenly, passing a window, drowning in light, white and gold with exposure. It is warm and peaceful and lively, and quiet, too.


Life in the Miraculous Present.


I have found the form. The form is sleep in broad daylight, fastened by the hours, coming into the Holy Time of the year, but all is holy. All is sacred in the dream and in life. We have long forgotten the rupture between Night and Day, Dream and Reality. These notes mean nothing. They don’t exchange one darkness for another. They don’t betray. Calmly, we enter the vestibule. We are forgiven. Charmed clocks and tinker toys. Correspondences with precision. The argument is the absurdity of progress—along a line of questioning that precedes true doubt. To doubt is to love. We doubt the consistency of our lover’s madness for us.


The world is enough. Cutlery and hoard of salmon. There is enough with the wife and son in the yard. We reach into it with progress—to delineate time in a deeper way. Our thoughts mechanize. We are en route to the dream of night. So many things die. I have forgotten the world. I remember the world. The enigma and compactness of depression. The fiery knoll. We are cartographers and : point of matter is where the soul exists. Every day, we are in the New Life. We enter the new day with hope and terror, already anguished from the day before, which we must leave behind to enter, once again, a new realm of experience. The Arcades.


We make light and beauty of it.


There is only ever kindness. When you don’t believe this, look deep into your own heart and see what’s there. Past the hurts and fears, the deeper you go, there’s love and compassion.


One swallow doesn’t make a summer. – says someone in Downton Abbey


There Has To Be Beauty.



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from a prompt by Elizabeth Treadwell





I can honestly say that in my 43rd year, I came alive. This is not a metaphor. In this, my 43rd year on this earth, I lived whereas before I hid inside my skin like an interloper. I was haunted by ghosts, relatives from past generations, taking up in my bones, like a perfume I inhaled constantly but couldn’t place. Scent from the bones is a powerful companion. Always eyeing me, lifting up their noses to the scent of time tangling with objects, knowing they should set me free. But I held them there.


I emerged from the subway at 6:46 pm that Sunday that I started to live. It was the beginning of a new month, August, and it was just starting to rain. I lifted my head and looked upwards, to the trees overhanging the sidewalk, through leaves to a pleated graying sky, grays and whites gathering together. That beautiful smell of rain when it first begins hit my nostrils and I breathed it in. This was when I knew I was alive, a living soul, a human being that was taking up space and time at just this particular moment in history. The sensation of being was that distinct, that I was me, finally unburdened of the past, of the brutality of the olden days, years in which I hadn’t been in this body, living, but felt through ancestral osmosis and the passing on of generations’ secrets in the blood. This blood wisdom, these gifts of their stories, the stories of my grandparents and great-grandparents, were like fireflies in the blood, gas lamps that would flicker on and off, their light trembling in the glass, light inside me that would keep me up at night.



“my sister loves me.”

“I slept last night.”

“She died there.”

I can hear people’s thoughts.


No, I am not.


I can’t quite prepare             or penetrate

thought that I have

it is too singing

too half-milk

too damned

too open

too hide

I am not more open than this

or anyone else’s mind-fountain.


Find a past-train;forced cavern train wreck

non-being string of worlds, like oceans,

like fever, that connect this train wreck to others—

pull open history’s patents—

right, ye, no, but you were talking about lost boats

and ledgers and doubts and fantasies of escape

that don’t end up at the bottom of people’s

drawers or in stew-pots or verdurous



We are enclosed in atomnal-beings

of lesser known species:

Look in the Guide to American Family Life

and you’ll see!

Photos of kitchen tables set with planks;

We are not caged.

We have a thought.

We have a choice.


In how this will end.


We sit with pink pollies on our heads like magic machines divinating. Get our nails done. Prove our mettle.


It isn’t enough to inherit people’s thoughts.

It isn’t enough to decorate kindly with heirlooms.

It isn’t enough to read and know people’s souls.



My grandmother taught me that the only thing that matters is doing what needs to be done. She lost her entire family, one day, the letters from Poland just stopped. Her husband, my grandfather, was sick for the last twenty years of his life, always in bed, the ambulance a regular fixture outside the house, with its flashing lights and the silence that fell over everything.


My mother taught me this too. You just get up and do what you have to do. At first, I resisted, believing that life is so much more than a list of pale tasks that you do and then you just have more to do, so how is this living? But now, I have learned that this really is all there is. And there is such beauty in it, magnificence. What I remember the most vividly from my grandmother’s house is her horribly weak Nescafe instant coffee, her perfectly organized refrigerator, her walk-in, tiny little bathroom that was the size of an outhouse, her narrow paved yard with the strip of garden in front, her tiny porch that she sat on in a chair pulled outside from the dining room, her cheesecake, her smile when she picked us up from the airport, when she still was well enough to come to the airport. Her love is so strong, so permanent, even after her death 17 years ago, it sustains me and strengthens me and makes me know things about myself. I have inherited her strength, her survival instinct, her life force after life took everything from her that she had known, her building skills, building a family, a country, a life after death after death after death.



Because of her one decision, her one action, all of us exist.

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