Monday, May 14, 2018

Carried by Great Winds

There I am with what I called 2/3rds of the circus that I run. The work of my heart. Mother's Day came and went. The College Boy is home for the summer. The Brothers are back at it. Sophie had a rough weekend but is better today. I'm going through loads of paperwork and hustling for freelance jobs. I'm baking cakes. I'm answering calls and emails and appeals for help regarding medical cannabis. I'm working on an exciting caregiver project that I'll tell ya'll about soon. I'm reading novels and excited to start watching the Patrick Melrose mini-series. I read those brutal and beautiful books years ago and so look forward to seeing Benedict Cumberbatch playing the lead.

Here's a poem that my friend Noan sent me the day before Mother's Day. It's by Alison Luterman, and I think it's perfect:

Invisible Work

Because no one could ever praise me enough,
because I don't mean these poems only
but the unseen
unbelievable effort it takes to live
the life that goes on between them,
I think all the time about invisible work.
About the young mother on Welfare
I interviewed years ago,
who said, "It's hard.
You bring him to the park,
run rings around yourself keeping him safe,
cut hot dogs into bite-sized pieces fro dinner,
and there's no one
to say what a good job you're doing,
how you were patient and loving
for the thousandth time even though you had a headache."
And I, who am used to feeling sorry for myself
because I am lonely,
when all the while,
as the Chippewa poem says, I am being carried
by great winds across the sky,
thought of the invisible work that stitches up the world day and night,
the slow, unglamorous work of healing,
the way worms in the garden
tunnel ceaselessly so the earth can breathe
and bees ransack this world into being,
while owls and poets stalk shadows,
our loneliest labors under the moon.

There are mothers
for everything, and the sea
is a mother too,
whispering and whispering to us
long after we have stopped listening.
I stopped and let myself lean
a moment, against the blue
shoulder of the air. The work
of my heart
is the work of the world's heart.
There is no other art. 

Allison Luterman

A long time ago one of my relatives, from whom I am now estranged, wrote a caustic comment on this blog, imploring me to get my head out of my ass and quit reciting poetry. Something like that. It stung then because there was a bit of truth in my head being up my ass. I felt a bit of the old shame and embarrassment at being bookish, having my head in the clouds, being book smart as opposed to street smart, pretentious instead of easy-going. 

Whatevs, as they say. The thing about being more than half a century old combined with living in the Trump era, is that you can shed all that shame and run for the hills with your poetry, bringing anyone willing along with you.

What else? I went to see an incredible interpretive theater thing called the theater is a blank page by Ann Hamilton and Siti Company at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus this past Saturday. I might as well have been raptured up right there, as it was a wild interactive theater performance of Virginia Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse, hands-down probably my favorite novel ever.* I don't even know how to describe the experience that my friend Tanya, Chris and I had attending this show, but it was restorative and mesmerizing, and we all left feeling -- again -- like we'd been raptured into a writer/reader/lover of words heaven. Check it out if it comes to your town. Here's a video that I found on the internets of part of the performance in another city:

Also, if you're not one of the more than 115 MILLION people who've already watched Childish Gambino's incredible performance piece This is America, you should. I've said it before, but in these messed-up, clusterfuckery times, art and corporeal politics can save us.

* My Top Ten Favorite Novels

  1. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  2. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  3. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
  4. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  5. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
  6. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  7. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
  8. Love in the Name of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  9. Machine Dreams by Jayne Ann Phillips
  10. Possession by A.S. Byatt
Who am I kidding? I didn't even list the children's books that should rank up there. It's virtually impossible for me to narrow down my favorite novels to ten, but those are the ones that come immediately to mind. What are yours, Reader?


  1. What a lovely poem. I'm not much for poems but you remind me that poems do speak to people, including myself, and I thank you for that.

  2. I'm with you! Beautiful poem.
    Poisonwood Bible
    Elegance of the Hedgehog

  3. I could never make a list with my top ten favorite novels. I simply could not do it. And if I did- it would be so much less literary than yours. Ah well.
    That poem is luscious and I should read it every day of my life. I wish I'd had it to read about forty years ago.

  4. I've read seven of those ten -- for what it's worth! We had a project here at school a few years ago where we all picked ten favorite books, and it was surprisingly hard.

    Glad Henry is home and you're enjoying the beginning of summer!

    Re. that relative of yours, it's hard for me to imagine a circumstance where I'd feel entitled to say that to someone. Good grief!

  5. I love Alison Luterman's poetry. Every one of her books are jewels. Here's a favorite poem of mine. (I own almost 600 books of poetry!) You sound perfectly same to me! I'm a bookaholic, too. xo

    Advice to Myself
    By Louise Erdrich

    Leave the dishes.
    Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
    and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
    Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
    Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
    Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
    Don't even sew on a button.
    Let the wind have its way, then the earth
    that invades as dust and then the dead
    foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
    Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
    Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
    or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
    who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
    matches, at all.
    Except one word to another. Or a thought.
    Pursue the authentic-decide first
    what is authentic,
    then go after it with all your heart.
    Your heart, that place
    you don't even think of cleaning out.
    That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
    Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
    or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
    again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
    or weep over anything at all that breaks.
    Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
    in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
    and talk to the dead
    who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
    patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
    Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
    except what destroys
    the insulation between yourself and your experience
    or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
    this ruse you call necessity.

    ~From: "Original Fire: New and Selected Poems", page 149

    1. Thank you for this. It reflects exactly where I am right now.

    2. Thank You for Sharing this...

  6. I love that poem you shared. I tried to read To The Lighthouse years ago, but I don't think I was ready to read it. I think I'll try again. I have a soft spot for Kerouac's novels because when I discovered them in high school it opened up a whole new world for me. If I had to name a favorite novel that I have read many times it's The Color Purple.

  7. I am so happy to see Let the Great World Spin on any list. And I'm also so happy when I read your blog. Happy seems a highly inappropriate word, especially for this time, but I am.

  8. I want to run to the hills with you and your poetry!! As always, thank you for writing. I would not be able to come up with a list with my favorite novels, but one of the books I really enjoyed in the last year or so was Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of all Things. Currently reading Arundhati Roy's Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and enjoying that, too.

  9. I will run to the hills with you!

  10. I used to feel slightly sorry for people who found poetry a waste of time, I thought that maybe I should not act so superior etc. but nowadays, these people frighten me.

    Here is the soundtrack to Alison Luterman's poem:

    "Le vents nous portera" (by Noir Desir) - the Sophie Hunger version

    This was/is big in Europe, you probably never heard of any of the artists.

    My top ten novels must include Tracks by Louise Erdrich and well, I am delighted with Marion's comment above.

  11. Elizabeth - I appreciate your truth in its grittiness each time you post. And for sharing a link to This Is America I thank you - I had not seen it and it's ripped me open. Would that I could subscribe to magical thinking and pretend things will be all right but I just cannot.

    Books that moved me - Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, and 11/22/63 by Stephen King.


  12. I love the Invisible Work poem- it is so healing for me today. And the Advice to Myself poem in the comments too! Phooey to the relative who frowned on poetry. I'm a poet and used to think most everyone thought poetry was useless and lame, but I'm finding more and more people who find poems so nourishing and life-giving.

    Here's a recent favorite poem, by Ada Limon from her book Bright Dead Things:

    How to Triumph Like a Girl

    I like the lady horses best,
    how they make it all look easy,
    like running 40 miles per hour
    is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
    I like their lady horse swagger,
    after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
    But mainly, let's be honest, I like
    that they're ladies. As if this big
    dangerous animal is also a part of me,
    that somewhere inside the delicate
    skin of my body, there pumps
    an 8-pound female horse heart,
    giant with power, heavy with blood.
    Don't you want to believe it?
    Don't you want to lift my shirt and see
    the huge beating genius machine
    that thinks, no, it knows,
    it's going to come in first.



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