"The river of joy flows down..."

Water collects in the lowest places. I learned that pretty early on, growing up in the Susquehanna Valley which featured (surprise!) a river. When you need to drink, you don't climb to the mountain tops and draw near to the clouds whence comes the rain. You go far from them, as far as you can, down into the valley.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow..."

Valleys don't have an optimistic history in symbolism. Oh, they have their moments. But as soon as Wesley and Buttercup go tumbling down that hill in The Princess Bride, you can basically guarantee that the shit hath hitteth the fan because fencing Spaniards, wrestling giants, and outwitting crazy Sicilians ain't got nothin' on the Fire Swamp. Maybe if Prince Humperdinck hadn't come along, they could have climbed back up the hill and fled into Guilder, it's true. But once you're in the valley, it will take a hell of a lot to get out, so you might as well start walking toward your doom and pray to whatever god you will that the other side might someday appear.

Something there is that does not love to receive. Maybe it's the remnant of stubbornness left over from when we were kids, and we could tie our own shoes, dammit. We avert our eyes in the grocery store if someone should use food stamps and later fight to pay for a friend's coffee, because God forbid that they should get the bill. And if they do? Solemn and sacred internal vows are made to remember this next time and to repay the debt thus incurred. How dare someone give me something without any desire for remuneration?

It sounds silly, but I do it all the time. I feel like I'm somehow confirming my own power when I can pay for dinner out with my sisters or when I can appear serene and impassive in the face of all of life's cares while other people sob on my comfortable, sturdy shoulder. I like being Miss High-Falutin'-Independent.

It's a facade that doesn't last very long.

Today was my second-to-last tutoring session with Nicole. This is her third go at the introductory algebra class at college, and she has surpassed any expectation she ever had for herself. From wrestling through the first chapters when she had trouble with some fairly basic addition and subtraction to getting her first ever Bs on math tests involving factoring in standard form, this has been such an amazing semester. I can't take credit for the transformation because I know how much work she has put into this, both at home and in class, but it has been a privilege to work with her. And on some level, it made me feel good. We like to give, and that's not a bad thing. But can I receive?

When she gave me two cards (one for my "graduation," which is how she regards my transfer to a BA program) and a gift bag today, I was brought up short, indignant. What kind of ridiculous nonsense is this? I don't require gratitude. I volunteered to help. I like teaching. It's a gift in itself. How dare she think that I should want anything in return?

Humility. To receive from someone who doesn't have much to give, but who gives what she has. It hurts a little bit to fall from the mountaintop- am I too proud to allow her the honor?

This is my choice: to fall gracelessly, like a sack of potatoes thumping down the hillside, or to embrace delight and roll down the hill like a child, giddily allowing gravity to have its way in delivering us to the lowest place where we may find, at last, that the river of joy flows down.


Front Porch Sittin'

Life is a giant mudfight, and ain't nobody gonna get out clean.



New Years Eve, God alone knows how long ago. Maria had taken pity on my introverted loner self and invited me along to Karyn's for what turned into one of my few all-nighters. It was still early in the evening, and we were playing Scattergories with the letter C.

"Ways to get from here to there: catapult"

Funnily enough, another guy there had the same answer, so I didn't get a point for it, but it was the perfect connection, the kind of word fun that still tickles me to think of.

Sometimes, like in Whitman's "Song of Myself," part 46, life is a walk. Sometimes, it's a sprint. Sometimes, it's a marathon. And sometimes, we skip the bit where we use our legs, and we hop onto a catapult that sends us places we weren't prepared to be.

Breathless, confused, uncertain, and trying to cover it all up with an aura of confidence. I can handle this. Can I? Most things take time. Even if we shortcut the process and take flying leaps to get from point A to point B, we have to stop and let ourselves catch up. So the reality is that even if I have landed safely, even if I seem to have everything secure, it's like I'm crumbling to pieces with every step and just trying to hold all of me together. To what end? Not sure. But I guess that's just part of the adventure.


Unveiled Faces

The cool hope stone weighed on my palm
Like a kiss that lingers past its expiration date.
You stuck with me.
It's more than a word or a sentiment;
It's the way all my clothes smell of coffee,
Scent burrs of roast clinging to fibers, glued to skin.
The world isn't falling apart.
Nobody tells me this explicitly, but
I know.
And I will not let go.


I followed the trail of tears and found:
at journey's end, there is death.
There can be no reprieve
in the land of sorrows
where the shadows lie.
But the river of tears, they flow down,
collecting, year by year,
into a midnight lake;
And sometimes, in the blackest hours,
I see the light of home
reflected on the water.


Alien Birthing Techniques

In the midst of chilly winter months, the rare moment of warmth and sunlight cannot go ignored. It was in that line of thought that I wandered out to Ridley Creek one day a few months ago. Few people were on the trails since it was early afternoon on a weekday, so I had plenty of time to dawdle and delay at every beautiful thing that came my way. Somewhere along the line, I was reminded of an idea of Chesterton's, that of the wild and wonderful orthodoxy. All around me were trees slumbering as if dead. We take for granted this annual little passing away, when they shed their greenery and stand naked in unlovely, weather-beaten browns against a bleak gray sky, because we know from experience that springtime will come and this is not the end. But what if we did not remember all of our previous springs? What if all we knew was the present and all we saw were the hordes of spiky creatures seemingly slain by some virulent epidemic? Would we not think that the world had ended?

And yet this denuding must happen. Though the resurrection seems like the product of demented delirium, a fevered response to the most radical of disappointments, any botanist could tell you that a precedent was set in nature long before any woman ever declared to disconsolate disciples that Rabboni had arisen.

This is the way of things, that death clears the way for new life.

More recently, I was walking down those same paths, and I saw a lot of these:

Some leaves had survived the cold winter, clinging to their branches for dear life. But as their color suggests, whatever life they might have is a pale forgery of the real thing. As long as they remain, they prevent the new growth from bursting forth, and they hold back the tree from attaining to a fuller existence.

Sometimes the old things don't like to die. They crawl up, zombie-like, from the graves that we bury them in. And like zombies, they gnaw at our brains, taking up valuable head space with thoughts that no longer deserve to consume our time. Much of human growth is teaching yesterday's loves, though good in their time, how to stay dead.

Like most things, there is a point where we can take that too far though. What we focus on affects our actions and the directions we are going. When I went to the new student orientation at DCCC last August, I met a girl who had spent her summer working as a secretary at a funeral parlor. She said that it was a good-paying job and that it hadn't been too hard to find, but for understandable reasons: she was surrounded by a perpetual atmosphere of death. Recently, I have spent so much time digging graves in my stubborn fight against my own ghosts that I have forgotten how to live. Even as I suffocate my yesterdays, I have to teach myself how to breathe again. And how sweet the air is, when we open up our lungs to the cold, clear air of the morning:

O for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country-green,
Dance, and Provencal-song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker of the warm South!
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth...

*Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale"



"There are cracks on the surface of the moon,"
she said, and,
"I thought you should know."
It wasn't that long ago that the rains fell in Paradise,
but I hear that all is cyclical:
the infinite loopsnake biting his tail.
I guess that makes this the dry season.
If we squint against the sun to the horizon,
will we go blind?
Or will we smell hope
as the thunderheads roll in?

My God, is that a mutant?!

It seemed like a catchy title, but as usual, you would have to try very hard to make it suit the subject matter.

Here's the thing about writing: there are a lot of different ways to go about doing the same thing. Even simple actions, like those of a waitress pouring coffee into a your mug at the diner, can be done with sufficient flair to transform them. Nuances make or break a moment, a conversation, a holiday meal with family.

Depending on the day, the hour, or the assignment, how I write and why I write can totally change. For instance, lately I have been writing a lot of poetry because it frames emotions easily, and poetry is like a bite-sized punch or like getting sprayed by a skunk: it's potent stuff. Earlier today, I really, really wanted to write so that I could organize all of the questions and possibilities that floated like surprisingly active pond scum on the surface of my mental swamp. Conversations about future retrospection do that to me.

The guts and the glory of the matter is that writing is an outlet. In the closed space of my mind, there are only two ways to air it out: the incoming vents and the outgoing vents. Writing is an outgoing vent, a way of letting some of the murky vapors escape from my inner chemistry experiments and pretentious mental pipe smoking. But the thing is, sometimes I need stuff to stay inside. Pressure can be painful, but it can also be a means of focus. All too often, when I write it out, I lose some of its significance and let it pass to the wayside, whereas when I'm too busy to scribble, I tend to keep chewing at the thought, desperate not to lose it until I can save its essence on paper. Weird, how, with the intention of saving an idea, I externalize it and thereby make it all the easier to forget.

Ideas should transform us. They should motivate us to action, focus our behaviors, and alter our interactions with others. But often it seems like the greatest work is done in silence, half-hidden away from our eyes. Who am I and where have I come from/am I going to? These are questions that I think I know the answers to until a glance back in time reminds me that my vision is so limited because I only look at the surface and never bother with the depths. And tangentially, just in case future me is reading over this post again, remember what I told you today: there are also many moments of joy, even if your head is too fogged up to find them.

So, two shots of espresso and an iced tea later, I'm not sure where this is going. My idea apparently did not come to a sharp point, but it has cleared the clouds from the horizon, so I think shall end by gazing upon a sunset and saying goodnight.


Parchment Thin Skin

I burned the ground between us,
Set the whole forest ablaze:
And all it took was matches.
Matches and dry wood.
Matches, dry wood, and sweaty tooth grit.
You thought it was easy?
Think again.
I do nothing lightly, but
I've lit up our world.
By fire's glow
We both look like skeletons.
They tell me that's what happens when you die.