Archive for the ‘Opening the Heart’ Category

Stacey Harwood shares some Hump Day Highlights at The Best American Poetry blog and links to these amazing essays!





Then, the last week of May, I got an email: “Benedict Wisniewski wants to be friends on Facebook.”  Not the Benedict Wisniewski, I thought, the boy who presented me with a red plastic ring with a white knight on it in first grade and said, “Now we’re just minutes away from marriage”?  Not the Benedict Wisniewski who gave me Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Pictures At An Exhibition” album as we stood with our moms on the steps of St. John of God Church after our last graduation practice on a blue-green early summer evening, and said, “I got it at the best record store in all Chicago — Yardbird Records.  They have the best selection of bootlegs in the area.  And,” he whispered conspiratorially, “they also have head supplies!”

I didn’t know what “bootlegs” or “head supplies” were then, in 1974, but Benedict, a misfit like myself, the butt of classmates’ taunts (he for being fat, me for being skinny, both of us for being “different”), really knew music.   We both loved rock and roll with the passion of outcasts whose loneliness had been redeemed by it.  I needed to find that store.  But I’d forgotten where Ben had said it was, if he had said.  But three years later I finally found it, as my dad drove Georgie and I back from driver’s ed, and from then on I hung out there every weekend.  Then during the week.  Then I dated one of the owners: Arnie, eleven years older than me.  My mother constantly threatened a restraining order, but she needn’t have worried.   We never really dated until I was about to turn eighteen.  Our first “official” date, in fact, was May 6, 1978, a few months before I turned eighteen.  When he picked me up on the corner of 51st and Ashland (I told my mother I was going over by Georgie’s house) the digital clock in his Datsun B210 read 12:34 — our first date had commenced on 12:34, 5/6, ’78.  It would prove auspicious, too, as Arnie introduced me to the tiny but dedicated Chicago punk rock scene, centered on the north side.  He was my ticket out of the south side.  He died in 1979, at 29.  It was because of him that I learned that it was the north side, and then New York City, upon which I should set my sights if I wanted to pursue artistic goals (writer? painter? actress?).  But it was Ben who had pointed me in that direction in the first place.  And now, all these years later, I could thank him.  I wondered what this had to do with my mental state, if anything.  Deep down I knew it was probably everything.

By email we described what our lives had become:  Ben was chief operations officer at a big stock trading firm located in Chicago’s Board of Trade building, with a corner office and a staff.  In other words, he’d made it.  I was embarrassed telling him about my life — I was making less than half of half what he was making.  He’d also opted to stay at home and take care of his mother, and I felt guilty — now — about leaving my parents to go live in New York.  Wanting to connect with this living, breathing link to a past I was so desperately trying to bring back (or at least understand), I asked him if he wanted to talk on the phone.  We started talking regularly on Thursday nights, and our first conversation was about our revenge-through-success fantasies.

“My bête-noir in those days,” he said, “was that guy Johnny Grundy — remember him?  With the rotten teeth and greaser hair?  Greaser hair . . . in the Seventies!  He made fun of me every single day, tried to trip me in the hall, ripped papers out of my folders, put my books in other kid’s desks, put gum on my chair . . . he thought he was cool ’cause he was in a gang, you know?   And so, dig this: it’s years later, I’d just gotten out of college, I’d lost a ton of weight, I was working for the city so I had a damn good paycheck, and I had a date with some girl.  I was all dressed up — designer sport coat and tie, dress pants, the works — and I had my Mustang then, this little candy-apple red Mustang coupe.  Totally hot car.  Guys used to pull over at red lights and ask me about it.  And so I took it to this car wash at 60th and Western, and I pulled in and got out — this was back in the days when they drove it through the cash wash for you — and I’m standing behind the glass, watching the guys work on it, and I’m looking at this one guy and thinkin’, ‘Man, he looks familiar …’ and dammit if it wasn’t that fucking low-life Johnny Grundy!  And when they were done I went over to the car, and he kept looking at me, and I kept looking at him, and I knew he knew who I was, and he was looking at the car I was driving, and looking at how I was dressed — and he was in this raggedy old t-shirt and jeans — and I didn’t say a damn thing to him.  I just drove out of there with a big smile on my face thinking, ‘This is what happens in the real world, you son of a bitch.’  ‘Cause I was the fat boy that nobody wanted around.”

“And I was the skinny girl that nobody wanted around.”

“And now I’m sitting in my office with a view of the lake, behind a $2,000 hand-carved executive desk, with my butt firmly planted in a $500 leather chair, thinking those kids that made fun of me — where are they now?   Wiping down cars, making shit money.  And look at you: traveling around the world, reading your work in foreign countries, getting published, doing what you love … that’s what ya call payback, baby!  Don’t it feel good?”

It didn’t.  Because I wasn’t successful — I’d just forfeited a Fulbright.  I was in the middle of a nervous breakdown, and I was going to have to start my 3-week adjunct summer teaching gig in a week.  I was a mess.  Plus I still hadn’t gotten my revenge-through-success on the clique of girls who’d tormented me.  And now I was in the grip of something that was taking my last chance at even moderate success as a writer away.  I was still a loser.

During one of our conversations, Ben told me about a Facebook page created by two former St. John of God Grammar School alums.  But he said to beware — everyone was discussing the demolition of the church, which had just begun.  I’d been following the final days and closure of the church for years; my mother had sent me newspaper clippings describing the parish’s struggle to keep going despite its dwindling — and then barely existing — congregation, its famous crying Virgin Mary statue, and its final Mass in 1992.   I’d wished I’d been there for that final Mass, to see the priest and altar boys leave the altar for the last time, to have one last look at those four pious kneeling angels, the painting in the dome that had inspired such peace in my soul, and the shafts of colored light pouring in through the stained glass windows at the beginning of three months of summer.  I’d even had a crazy dream of writing a coming-of-age novel so powerful it would revive interest in our historic neighborhood (the first American grass-roots community organization, the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, had been founded there, by activist Saul Alinsky in 1939) and the archdiocese would re-open the church because of overwhelming demand from the influx of new parishioners.  I’d make the local and national news, Oprah would choose my novel for her book club, there’d be an interview with me in front of my old house.  Artists and urban pioneers would flood into the neighborhood because of the cheap rents, yuppies would follow, and newspaper articles would be describe the “new diversity,” never-before-seen on the “white flight” south side of Chicago.  I actually did write the novel — Greetings From Jag-off Land —  but the handful of agents I’d sent it to turned it down, so I shelved it and went back to writing poetry.  About joining the SJG Facebook page, I was uncertain: I didn’t know if I wanted to embellish my despair over the demolition of my life with despair over the demolition of the church.  The idea of that beautiful church with its graceful, lace-like twin spires, its high and airy vault — my childhood sanctuary — being torn apart was just too much to bear.  But curiosity got the best of me, and I joined the “St. John of God Parish and Grammar School” page.

The names of almost-forgotten, now vividly-recalled kids from various grades scrolled before me: Kubicki, Wroblewski, Dombrowski, McGuire, Glow, Walczak, Shedor, Faro.  I could see them, and many others, making their idiosyncratic ways up and down the aisles during Communion at 8 a.m. Mass: the girl who developed early and knew it, and rolled her skirt and left the first three buttons of her blouse open, the one the boys called “Bouncy”; the boy whose mother had died and whose shoes had soles that were half off, and so he dragged his feet, making a shushing sound; the tough gang girl who liked to fight, and shot dirty looks from under her blunt-cut black bangs at other girls in the pews.  The names I didn’t recognize were girls who’d gotten married, I figured, so I clicked on the links to their pages and it became clear who’d they been back then.  Two of my teachers were also there, including Mr. Urbanek, my seventh grade English teacher, my favorite, who’d first encouraged me to be a writer.   The names brought on an internalized feeling of the shape and space of the school: light brick, modern, L-shaped, two floors, long windows, two sets of red double doors along the front, and a white cement Lady of Fatima statue, with three kneeling children and a couple of sheep, on the grass behind an iron stake fence.  Inside, the shiny marble floors of Kindergartens A and B (upon which I’d napped next to Ben on a rag rug) inlaid with the alphabet, numbers, friendly animals, a clock that looked like a sun.  In all the classrooms were high, wide windows that had to be opened with a long pole, and low bookcases containing red Thorndike-Barnhardt Scholastic Dictionaries.  In front of Sister Principal’s office (where I went with Billy Peak in Kindergarten because we fought over who had colored their Thanksgiving turkey drawing more prettier) sat a big, plush German Shepherd, placed there by my classmate Melanie Rybczinski, whose mother was the principal’s secretary.  I could smell the mimeographed paper we used for cursive writing practice in the lower grades, and feel the curvy orange Palmer Penmanship Pen we used later (and also my continual irritation at not being able to make those wheat stacks look the way they were supposed to).

But also there, as I feared, were photos of the church in the process of being taken down.  At first, I couldn’t look at them, but, again, curiosity got the best of me, and there was the mural of Jesus with the children, now with nothing but clear blue sky behind it and raw plaster all around it.   The vestibule was in ruins, and rubble littered the winding staircase that led to the choir loft.  A linked youtube video, called “Goodbye, St. John of God Church,” made by the daughter of a woman who’d graduated the year before me (and whose brother had been in my class), lovingly lingered on the details of whatever remained amidst the rubble and the mold-damaged, peeling walls.  The murals of peaceful, pious, kneeling angels flanking the altar were chipped and fading behind dust and mold, though they still continued to display, to the best of their ability, and for whatever eternity remained to them, the censer, St. Veronica’s veil, the chalice and Host, and the Crown of Thorns.  (Now, I could finally see their faces and tender expressions up close — it made their imminent destruction even more tragic.)  The pews had been removed and an inflatable basketball hoop and backboard put in, and garish blue and yellow protective plastic padding covered the Stations of the Cross paintings.   A cheap digital scoreboard had been added to the wall below the choir loft — the church had been repurposed as a gym for the community center that was our old grammar school — and a sign affixed to the outside of the church read “William J. Yaeger Memorial Gym.”  The lofty white marble and gold main altar had basketball-shaped puncture holes at the bottom, and the alcove where the statue of St. John of God once stood, holding a pomegranate surmounted by a cross in his hand and looking down tenderly, bemusedly, was empty.  Remaining atop the main altar were the two white marble figures, seated, looking down protectively; they now looked down on rubble-strewn floors, and an inexplicable car tire.  The dome painting that I’d loved so much, of St. John of God ministering to the sick man, assisted by an angel holding a vessel of healing liquid and the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus seated on clouds, remained poignantly intact.  Outside, the two slender bell towers, stripped of their exterior bricks, looked like stockyards’ smokestacks.  At the end of the video was a quote: “‘What the heart has once known, it will never forget’ — Author Unknown.”

There were discussions about the church that echoed my own feelings:

— Has anyone gone back to “our” church to see how it looks? I don’t think that I can, I’m afraid my heart would break in a millon peices

— I was looking at the pictures on the site…is that a scoreboard where the choir used to be?? Wasn’t the church blessed at one point?  How can there be basketball games going on in a sacred place?!!!

— All our indestructible memories, amid the ruins . . .

— OH MY GOD!!!!!!! It’s a gym????????????????????? That is horrible!! I can’t believe someone allowed all of this to happen.

— I went past there about two months ago, showed the kids where I grew up and the size of the school compared to where they go. The church is still standing but it just looked deserted. When did they tear down the “old” school? Remember doing the plays there or using it for a lunch room?

— God bless our home.

But there was actually hope.  Reading more recent postings, I learned that St. John of God wasn’t exactly being wantonly demolished.  The beautiful Renaissance Revival facade and some of its exterior were being transported, brick-by-brick, to Old Mill Creek, Illinois, a town on the Wisconsin border, to become part of a new church, St. Raphael the Archangel.  The interior of the new church would come from another closed Chicago church.  This was something that had never been done before, apparently; the Archdiocese of Chicago had an epiphany: a recycling apotheosis.  In a photo of the new church going up, I could see the beginning of the familiar collonade that would shelter the massive front doors.  In a video, the foundation-laying ceremony included putting St. Raphael’s corner store on top of St. John of God’s.  I recognized that cornerstone — the date, in Roman numerals, had been chiseled incorrectly originally, and some smart-ass had written the proper way in underneath, in chalk.  The chalked date had been erased, and now it would apparently remain awkwardly calculated forever — I liked that.  My former fellow schoolmates were just as encouraged:

— Whew!  My childhood memories are just . . . . moving.

— Heard about this move. Sounds like a great idea and a way to continue the beauty of this church in a beautiful church.

— If by moving it it will continue to be of use, I say bravo, Archdiocese of Chicago.

— My sister already contacted the pastor at the new church and the old St John members are invited to attend the “opening ceremonies”. Thought it would be a great way for the old St John family to symbolically hand over the building to the new congregation. Any thoughts out there??

— That sounds like a great idea to attend the opening ceremonies. I would love that. Anyone else?

— Absolutely! I went past the new location recently and took these photos of the limestone bricks of “our” church waiting to be pieced together . . . Although these are waiting to be reconstructed, somehow just being among them, made me feel at home! 🙂

The shape and color of those piles of bricks brought back the palpable and familiar presence of the church.  I could feel myself, so vividly it surprised me, walking up the wide steps, standing at the entrance to the church, under the collonade, with a glance cast to the side, to the trees that surrounded the church, just about to grasp the door handle and enter the vestibule on a mild spring morning.  In the background of the photo the unmown Midwest prairie grasses and tall trees of its new home on the Wisconsin border recalled Sherman Park.  It occurred to me that the church had been moved to the kind of bucolic location that Sherman Park was designed to suggest — it had been moved to a beautiful, peaceful place, away from the violence that had been done to it.  It would never be the same without its original interior (which had been ripped wantonly away — why couldn’t those beautiful murals be saved?), but it had been moved so that it could serve a new purpose for a new community.  Had I wanted it to remain where it had been, serving no purpose except to be a useless symbol of a long-ago time?  There was something to be learned from what was happening to St. John of God: at 50, what was my purpose?  Was I just clinging to a long-ago time that could never serve a real purpose?  And hadn’t I been de-constructed recently, hadn’t my insides been ripped away?

I knew there was something to be learned from that, and that all this was in my life for a reason, but could I emotionally deal with it?  If I started posting on that page, and people responded, what other wounds would be reopened?


Sharon Mesmer’s most recent poetry collections are The Virgin Formica (Hanging Loose 2008) and Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books 2008). Fiction collections are In Ordinary Time and The Empty Quarter (Hanging Loose 2005 and 2000) and Ma Vie à Yonago (Hachette, in French translation 2005). Other poetry collections include Vertigo Seeks Affinities (Belladonna 2006), Half Angel, Half Lunch (Hard Press 1998) and Crossing Second Avenue (ABJ Press, Tokyo 1997). Four poems appear in the newly released Postmodern American Poetry—A Norton Anthology (second edition) Her work has also appeared in Poetry, The Wall Street Journal, New American Writing, The Brooklyn Rail, Women’s Studies Quarterly, West Wind Review, Abraham Lincoln, esque, Poets for Living Waters, and The Scream. An excerpt of her story, “Revenge,” appears in I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing By Women (Les Figues). She teaches at NYU, the New School, and online for the Chicago School of Poetics.

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Opening to vulnerability is hard, there is always resistance and magnetic force towards the center that is vulnerable. Tension is created by these opposing forces. Accepting the risk of impermanence is part of everything we do—vulnerability is power. Accepting that risk of every small death, every emotion that rises and falls, is to be aligned with the core of nature. The other day, I was looking up at that continually running digital clock in Union Square, counting minutes, towards what, I’m not sure. I stood, looking at the big, copper-colored building and all of the buildings surrounding Union Square and everything looked absurd. Instead of buildings, I saw what was there before anyone built anything on that land. Not even a hut. On the subway that morning, as it headed out of the tunnel to its two stops above ground, I felt the same thing, thought the same thing. What have we done, building on top of open fields? All of these solid buildings will fall away at some point, will decay and become part of the cycle.


The thing for water to do is water. The thing for water to be is water.


Emotions and attachments have the same cyclical nature.


Loneliness and loss are active forces, not voids, the way we sometimes experience these aches. Living archives, maybe of bones or fossils— maybe of dead, passed away things, and always moving towards something else, becoming something else. Loneliness and loss are magnetic forces. Being conscious of what is being brought in is important, having discernment and awareness of those elements gravitating towards us. There is never a vacuum, emotion, the heart, the will, the body pull in what we need. There is no void. There is action and stability in that forward motion. Time, at least at this point, cannot go backward.


How sadness bears the truth. How it can bury it. How it resembles a life of moving objects. Set trajectories that are all unlivable and not fated so the course of life itself seems to shift but it’s only the rearranging of molecules to preserve the natural integrity of things— of the way things actually are— not the way they are seen but the way they are penetrated and penetrate us. This involvement and attachment is the opposite of sadness but is also made of it— of all we’ve lost, all we’ve ever had, our homes, buses, scattershot, bruised, tenable with the right map. There are flowers in the field and we pull up stakes in the Spring to let the trees run free. Of their own magnetism— and gravity. The gravity of leaves sets the world on fire.


Sadness builds a city, and then some. Its walls are ether and glass, impenetrable except by light and seeing.


Not knowing is part of the truth. We walk straight into the sun. Half- blind, we keep walking. Yesterday, I walked into a café, gold-black spots dancing in front of my eyes until my sight adjusted to the slightly dimmer inside light, where the young barista was playing Jason Molina, Songs: Ohia, which can instantly turn a busy street into an empty field. Drawn in by his iridescent melancholy, I had a chai latte and enjoyed the falling light in the window and his sadness filling the room. His sadness is so big, it doesn’t turn into joy but it is beautiful in a way that resembles joy and life, a voice from the grave, singing soulfully into the arms of angels. One of the most perfect late fall days, where the light seems to come down from heaven, because it is so bright, human eyes can’t bear it, and it is tinged with the iridescence of a shell’s interior, invisible normally to the naked eye.



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Fever is composed of now, a starlight apocalypse that hasn’t happened yet. It is beautiful and tempting, the way death is. Death stands by the door, with food and love. The afterlife is hidden. It falls under trees and leaves, like so much moonlight. Recovering from death is heartache and prose, summarizing branches into lines of fortune. The stars go blind. The night sky collapses in so much mesmerism. Where facts hold sway and water. There is no tune that carries in this sky. The night is silent.


Instead of focusing on the next year or month, plant energy in the day that surrounds you. The ground holds so much water. The water is today and only today. The flood.


Intention & Magic


Surplus energy makes us feel vulnerable and sometimes lonely and afraid. That emptiness is an illusion of water. There is no emptiness. The fullness of the way time measures itself against one’s openness. How long does it take and how courageous we must be to follow not our habitual patterns but our souls. Needing to fill that space of longing, assuage that restlessness. The restlessness makes us feel so open, these fields of burning wheat and stakes.


Talismans are tools of intention and focus and faith in what might not yet be seen except in glimmers. Magic and intention must be paired with the hard work of making them into concrete entities in the world. These glimmers of faith in what is coming into being are powerful resources. There is no magic without right effort.


A miracle happened last night. It was one of those miracles with and without words, with bodily weight and light. Weightlessness and gravity as centrifugal and freeing forces.


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Like this: we stand at the edge of a field, not going into the field and not stepping out of it. At its edge, everything is possible. We let go of the dreamworld and the way we see what we perceive as the tangible. It is this that allows for presence, what allows the tangible to become clear and real. It is this seeming impossibility of being in no world at all and being in all worlds that allows the people around us to act as they will, speak as they will, be as they will, allows us to be fully ourselves, embodying our will, and seeing (not perceiving) the worlds as they are. This is bare seeing, with the layers of desire and perception gently separated, to reveal the bare eye that sees what is here, without the burden of our desire or withdrawal.


This is what brings the dreamworld into the present. This is intention. Intention is precise, stable, anchored in the physical world, in our present life. It does not exist separately – it is part of it.


At this moment, I see the late summer sky curving over the tree-lined street. The wideblue sky, clouds white and fluffy with gray centers, stoked through by bright early September sunlight. The sky may as well be clear, the blue is so blue and the clouds, although holding their gray, hold it lightly, without rain. Maybe the clouds are pre-rain.


At the café at the southwest corner of the park, I stopped after my session and got a coffee with soy milk and brown sugar. I sat and read my book on one of the outside wooden benches, in a corner of the little enclave, and it smelled like urine. I sat there for a while and read my book anyway.


There are pure moments of consciousness throughout our day. We carry around visions of the relationships we want, homes, jobs, bodies, and these bleed into and color our lives – when we meet someone for lunch or walk down the street, do we see what’s there or what is in the vision? We impose this vision on moments and situations and on all they are or aren’t, and it creates an inflexibility, a blindness.


We don’t have to let go of our visions or aspirations. We can see the separation between the vision and the scene before us. Our circumstances are made of beautiful matter and beautiful vision.  The dreamlike aspect of our reality is part of reality. To see the distinction and divide between the two realms brings them together. The dream enters the present and the present enters the dream. In this separation and coming together exists a gorgeous openness, an open field of gentle vulnerability, where the sweet essence of the heart opens itself to what is happening.




First, we stopped for coffee and some reading. More than an hour after this revelation, the openness is still there. We hold it, this vision we have for our lives, gently, and ground ourselves firmly in our lives as they are now – we have built peaceful lives in which we honor our deepest values – and we allow ourselves to fully feel the longing and grief around our desires.


In this open field, it is imminent that our aspirations are recognized and affirmed. The words, it is all possible, sound in our head.


It’s our decisions and priorities, what we decide firmly and with conviction that we want. We don’t know how or when it comes to us, we don’t know details. Separating ourselves somewhat from these feelings of want, seeing them as part of the whole and not the whole, being where we are now, in the present, where things are happening physically – this bridges the divide between the vision we hold in our hearts, as a sacred part of our hearts, and letting things happen naturally in our physical lives. This is the way we change the narratives we have habitually held on to and allow our lives to be what they are — not according to a pre-written script, but according to the changing nature of life itself.



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Language finds a place in the world. Language finds a place in the body.


One of the best things about working for myself is that sometimes almost everything just stops. There are lulls in the workflow, where regular work comes in but it’s not crazy. The daily to-do list is manageable. There are spaces in the rush of New York. I love being busy and working on a huge project and kicking ass on it and being inspired and energized by deadlines and the great teams I work with. And I also love when it slows down and I wake up to quiet mornings and slowly drinking coffee and reading and answering emails without the pressure of fifteen deadlines ticking through my brain.


I have been working on getting more honest, with myself, in the words that I speak to others, in what I write. I’ve been working with observing what I’m feeling and thinking and asking myself, are these honest thoughts? What am I really feeling? This bareness of observing and awareness to come to a place of truth is a solid path. Awareness itself becomes the stability, is the stability. When the pace of life and work slow down, there is room for this inquiry. And for noticing and listening without agenda or goal. Giving up of goals is difficult in an accomplishment-driven era. But that is the only way to really see your basic nature, hear your heart, allow your soul to express itself in unbidden and unpredictable ways.


So, lately, work has been slow. I finished up two big projects that took up much of my time and energy and mental space about two weeks ago. The silence and slowness have allowed me to get back into the imaginary worlds of my poetry manuscript and novel and spend lengths of solid time there. These are the stories and lines and paragraphs I write and live inside that are distinct imagination and creativity.


Then there are the other stories, the psychological constructs and emotionally driven patterns that are created. The slow pace of days and nights has also allowed me to separate my emotional reactions to events and see where the raw emotion is and where the story that accompanies the emotion starts. We all have memories and past hurts and past joys that connect to present events and we have overarching stories about who we are, what our lives are, what they’re going to be. These stories are based in fear and reaction, not the true presence of what is actually going on in our lives. It’s easier sometimes to create scenarios and outcomes in our minds than to face an uncertain array of futures, the fact that the future and even some things in the present are uncertain.  So we build stories, attributing opinions and actions to the people in our lives that we don’t know are real, but they comfort us, in their known-ness. When we allow ourselves the time to look at these stories honestly, and really break out which of the storylines are ones we have clung to so that our lives make sense, it becomes clear that most of what we think we know is not actually known to us. Then we are left with the honesty of that: that we don’t know what other people think and feel, we don’t know what’s going to happen, we don’t know the outcome of the path we are taking. When we face this, it is easier to stay grounded and make good decisions and choices, based on where we are right now, rather than reacting to a scenario in our heads.


Our concern then is: what can we do now that is true to ourselves and honest? What can we do now that feels right in a grounded way? This is a beautiful thing, this awareness and slowness and quiet. From this aware, slow, and quiet place, we make decisions based not on fear but on that quiet, still space inside of us that is connected to our root, our heart, our soul. Right action for the sole purpose of itself. Not to get anything or get anywhere but simply to be in the right place doing the right thing. The attunement to what feels right becomes steadier and is easier to gauge. This affects every action, from answering an email, to making a salad for lunch, to whether or not to move or take that job or sign that contract.


From this place, we naturally do what is most beneficial in a wholesome sense for ourselves and those around us. Beneficial in promoting peace and understanding and growth.


From this place, writing becomes a measure of silence, of the spaces between lives, where the dead speak and the unknown reaches of time and universal space inhabit themselves. Life, the way it moves, is an uncertain paradox. My connection to the words and the space that words represent becomes deeper and more intimate. Language finds a place in this quiet and quiets me. Quiets my breathing and my mind and my heart. This allows the stretch of language, of writing, to go deeper, to awaken musculature that has been sleeping, to open up the prime numbers of the mathematical equations that underlie grammar. I love the quiet intensity of these times of writing where I feel closer to language itself because it becomes a code through which the world is deciphered, for a minute, then the code breaks in another direction and is as soluble as so many substances in water.

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Between the worlds is a seemingly endless construction of darkness and sparrows.

It takes courage to live the life you have. That is so powerful. Walking back home and now, lying down in my air-conditioned bedroom, I feel lucky and content and happy. I looked at my tree-lined street with its brownstones and its beauty and lush and calm and I said to myself, I live on this street. And walked up my stoop and went inside, like I have a thousand times before, and looked at the entranceway with its peeling paint and old walls and woodwork trim near the ceiling and thought, this is so homey, this feels like such a warm, happy home. The home my loved ones make for me. The home I make for myself.

Being naked in all this – the deer eating my mom’s begonias and the shivering of Souls in summer curtains, and fear.


Acceptance is simple, yet elusive.

What does it mean when I say, I want to live closer to my soul?


So far, Retrograde has been slow. I’ve been slow-moving, sometimes almost at a dead standstill. Everything grinds to a halt, with only little rivulets of work, thank the heavens, and reading a mystery, set in Brooklyn, that I picked up on the street a couple years ago. I’ve been thinking about coffee but feeling like it’s too late in the day and it will keep me up. I’m sleepy, though, and really want to read so a nice jump start would be nice. It’s so nice to be sleepy, though, so I stave off the urge for coffee.


Getting there…this idea of animals, first of all. The way they are who they are, survival instinct, instinct for affection and family, but no psychological anguish about having to change who they are.

That constant doing something and getting somewhere and pushing ourselves. That does more harm than good. Being stressed out 27/7 because time both expands and contracts when you’re permanently stressed out. I’m so done reaching my potential and having to do things on an endless, meaningless loop. Silence and acceptance. Letting go of resistance to what we’re feeling, grief or anger or fear or joy or surprise, bewilderment. So much. To think about the depth of emotion is impossible because it’s unthinkable and immeasurable. We go on.


Presence has no measurable product except positive feelings, feelings of support, intimacy, and happiness. When we stop being busy and productive and switch to just being still and aware, we ourselves will also feel support, intimacy, and happiness, even if no one else is around.  – Tricycle magazine, Jan Chozen Bays

Woke up before 6 am today and the morning wasn’t humid or blazing hot yet, opened all the windows and curtains to let in early morning summer light. Looking out the kitchen window at the gorgeous roof garden the neighbors have started and keep adding to, and the day is so quiet and still, there’s no wind and the tree beyond the window doesn’t move at all, the leaves are still. This is the courage it takes to move through every day as who we are, what we really think, what we really feel, awareness and our thoughts and actions and feelings aligning, not speaking falsely or against ourselves. What are we really feeling in these moments? What are we thinking? What do we say? What actions do we take? In how much of these daily actions and words do we measure our truth and freedom? What freedom really is, not what it means but how it’s made real in our daily lives. Intimacy with that magical force of uncertainty.

Buddhist practices are just that – practices. They have to have bone and blood and muscle. They live in the real world as real actions and real energy, not as abstractions. Mindfulness, awareness, kindness are measured by their practice in the world – thoughts and beliefs are the root, and then the root comes into the air through the earth and the tree or plant or action or human being or animal lives. It lives. Buddhist practices are alive, they have a life, as emotions have a life, as bodies have a life. This is what makes practice powerful and humble and meaningful. Because of its presence, its blood and bone and tongue and hand in the world.


I personally wouldn’t get an abortion. I also don’t drive. So I guess I have the right to tell people they can’t drive. Yeah, that makes sense. I also don’t own a tractor.


Solstice magic. “Golden days of sunlight.” Patterns in sky, thread, lines in the palm, hold together. “All that was missed will come back to you in another form but the same form.” (The same form you yield to.) The stretch of the circle begins, red ribbons of ashes, silk, river. Turnkeys. Heartache and darkness of walls, light of walls. Getting things done even when it hurts. Trusting body. Appreciate connections, bonds, intimacy, those who love you, bring you gifts that are invisible, felt. Hurting isn’t judgment or imbalance. The larger sphere that moves everything, like gravity. Joy weighs as much as pain. Consciousness revelatory, gratitude for all that.


What helps with intensity and revelations (sounds vaguely biblical but there are as yet no arks but there are encounters with the divine and a reorienting of faith towards all walls and windows, in all directions): working out every day, the body is god, it knows everything and can tell you anything you want to know, my loved ones, who are amazing and strong and loyal and kind and are love, reading, hours and hours of quiet, non-speech, non-words and the quiet of words too, the return or reacquaintance of a primal energy, movement of souls and body and faith, the sun, the night, the day, summer light, the wood of the floor, cats, dogs, green, life in full measure close to pulse and magic.

So what do you do when something becomes truth, you find out something so intense that it falls through you like so many nights and gravity itself and weighs in you like a separate solar system that now you must incorporate into your universe?


Maybe it’s the Solstice and moving through some invisible barrier but it feels like the fever of June has broken. There’s the aftershock but it’s gentler. Energy isn’t being sucked outward — life is not a wind tunnel. It feels calm at least for one second, maybe a minute or two and then three. Sitting here with my loved ones. You just move with it all, be as awake as you can, close your eyes and let it all go and sleep then do it all again. And every day is so different even though it seems the same. I think in that difference is the movement, the belief and the awakeness, the awakened, the letting go.


Juen (or June) the awakened self floats in the jar like a semi-suspended orchid I am love I am fuel and atrocity but the mind always.

This has been one of the most emotionally intense months. Looking forward to a weekend of decompressing, processing, but mostly, resting and recharging.  Solstice, where the light makes itself known from every corner of the sky.


Weird days leading up to the Solstice. Maybe the Solstice will even things out. It’s one of those times when new light and new information have come into my life, my sphere of knowing and experience fundamentally changed. It takes a while to integrate this new light that has shattered, to some extent, a held-together picture of what life is – this is both deepening and opening, so I’m trying to focus on that. And also get good nights of rest and sleep and dreams: a wooden sky.


Oh, June, you just keep bringing it. It just makes me stronger, more focused, more passionate. Everything happens in order to make meaning of these broken fields. When truths are revealed, they shock, disassemble and clarify, finally unifying life and patterns of being and soul and time into something blessed, whole. So keep bringing it, and along with it, the blazing sun of summer will burn through to its root, leaving nothing but the essential. You leave nothing but roots scattered.


It’s strange how sounds affect you. There has been infernal banging, sawing, drilling at both sides of my apartment, and I’m here, doing work, and listening to construction sounds: noises, jarring, loud intrusions – and the beautiful, lulling sound of the rain and the rain is so generously beautiful that, although it’s softer than the banging, and the walls don’t threaten to come down around it – the rain drowns out the other noises for small, sacred bits of time.


I am compiling a list of movies to watch on Netflix from a list of Existential Films. And am pulled toward a film about people in a small village, huddling in the winter cold under a big circus tent to view the carcass of a whale. Somehow, this seems, not prophetic, but a reality existing in an actual world of memory, of a past shared in ancestry and blood, a supernal physical presence, because I remember the cold and I remember the dead whale, and the pain that froze, because pain freezes, and then melts, but if we, ourselves and our ghosts, live in a climate that is winter nine months of the year, the winter gives birth to a Spring that is fleeting and hopeful, but doesn’t exist in the grand scheme of things. In other words, three months go by so fast, they don’t leave any lasting impression on the soul or the body. They are time waiting for winter to return. And whether winter returns in a boat or with a turnkey, it always does. And so we must sink into it because it is our life.
The welcome harmonies of pain and suffering are all around us, of course. Every day, we walk through their soldiered fields, seeing instead flowers growing wildly, with blazing color in the blazing sun (the sun is hot these days), and the one thing that separates before and now is my ability to let pain in, to let it just move through me and feel all of it, feel its presence in my throat and in my chest, as it takes up residence (like a residence hotel, so living there, but transient, or moving through rooms and transforming as it goes, ghost to living man, to living woman, to soldier, to ash, to wall, window, glass on a nightstand, because it is in everything and everyone, of course) in the heart, and I feel it there, and hold its hand, as corny as that sounds, as if sitting near a dying man’s bed, looking into the eyes right before death, with death knowing this end of life is coming to enter it, death, like a watch, wound perfectly and telling perfect time, and even more, like a translucent curtain through which only silhouettes are seen but the dying man and the caretaker can make out the shapes of this world passing into the next. Anyway, it seems all of this has released something in me of the truth, of a knowing. I feel it so acutely when something is wrong, or when there are things being hidden, and knowing is better, better than that haunted state of sensing and fear. We are connected through hope and maybe that’s what I feel, that we’re connected. We see beauty in devastating situations and that light is breaking through again. It seems we may have found magic again.

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We Create Our Own Shadows


We are feral children, living in abandoned tunneled concrete underground. The surface = danger. The bits of garbage, our remaindered archaeologies, are precious to us and we arrange them with care, treat them as artifacts. Suddenly, there’s an unmarked van on the surface come to rescue us. Half of us move half of our fractured crockery, our rusted pipes, our cracked plastic up to the surface. The other half will come the next day. At night the tunnels and rooms collapse while we wait. Don’t look back. Don’t look back.

Lee Ann Roripaugh


I had a hard night last night, emotionally, and a difficult conversation with someone I love with all my heart, unconditionally and eternally. A soul mate, someone who has taught me how to love, how to be in the world as myself, living close to my bones, my desires, my truth. Bone, desire, truth are not just words describing these things: bone, desire, truth. They are decoders of the obscure nature of what they denote and create a place and a language that transcend their physicality. They inhabit a place of being to which we both ascend and descend, finding lost things, healing wounds that have been invisible to us, lighting our path. The hard emotions that came up last night put me solidly on my path. Again and again, I return to it.


I woke up with a heavy stone in my chest. Things I used to tolerate are becoming intolerable. There is more, seemingly, to fix, to take care of, to handle. What I realized this morning is that this is a healthy thing, there is energy and power there.


We determine so much of our lives. We can make tragedy for ourselves and compound our misery or we can look steadily at what is happening around us, in our lives, in the world, and use our power to answer those misfortunes and to thoroughly enjoy our moments of peace. The place where demons dwell—one place that is many places in the physical world, and even more worlds in the soul. Tiredness that weaves around the body, stretching into our thoughts and passions, making longings grow deeper. The truth of where we put our focus and our energy determines how we live. This is a hard topic, as fate intertwines with free will and our own consciousness and self-power. It bears thinking about and honing the skill of being in concert with the world but also in answer to it.


Have we entered the poem more deeply than we had imagined? Finding purpose, light and shadow, the crook of a neck, the nape of that same neck, kissing that is like coming home, tragedies that break us open and hold us accountable for our presence.


Primo Levi writes, “…the sea’s only gifts are harsh blows and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong. Now, I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head…”

The sea, its strange shores and incandescent glow of planets low in the sky, close to earth, for hours or minutes, during which we can see them with the naked eye—come together and Opherion, Orpheus, the underworld all become visible. The invisible harnesses we hold ourselves to, the seemingly meaningless things we tolerate on a daily basis, to find, when we become conscious, that they’ve made holes in our shirts, dulled our skin and breath, taken away our breath altogether. This is the point of action, this vulnerability and discomfort. Becoming disenchanted with the illusion of our lives as we would like to see them, letting go of the need to appear perfect or refined or even well-defined, makes us free. Just being with ourselves and our lives the way we are, the way they are lifts a tremendous burden off of us.


It allows us to be who we are, to let others see us and be close to us, creating deeper and more fulfilling connections with everyone and everything. These are the connections we long for, and this intimacy is sustainable, because it is true. That which is true sustains.


Trust the body, the things the body knows before they happen, the body as an echo of the future, premonitory, live, sensitive, all the organs and blood and nerve endings acute readers of signals the soul sends out, the world bowing and swelling to meet these sounds, knowing it’s time. Almost knocks us down, this feeling of it’s time. What does this mean to us, and how do we stay true to it?

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