Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Poetry with Senior Citizens

How's that for soothing? The steam from my coffee cup literally swirling up and out and can't you smell those peaches and the pears are buttery and the sun, always the sun. The calm certainly belies the simmering rage I feel, especially tonight after seeing the POSPOTUS give one of his inimitable rally speeches, this time in the great state of Mississippi, where he mocked Dr. Ford. The backdrop was a bunch of hooting and hollering white men and women who, I suppose, are his base and never was there a better word to describe them.

We need to turn this thing around.

Here's something else to soothe our souls. I'm teaching a couple of creative writing classes to senior citizens. They are lovely men and mostly women in a couple of assisted living homes here in Los Angeles, and I got the job by applying through one of those newfangled job search engines. I won't be putting either of my two boys through college or putting in an adapted bathroom for Sophie with my pay, but I already really like doing it. The group that I've seen twice is particularly fragile -- both physically and cognitively -- but they can be inspired to tell the most vivid stories. I am always the first, one woman began, her words unfurling to describe her early childhood days in the cotton fields of Texas, plowing and picking. Another woman opens one eye and glares at me. I've got NOTHING to tell you, she says and closes her eye. She's so hostile that I sort of love her. She also told me at the end of the class (she contributed nothing) that's a pretty dress, and I said thank you. I recited Joy Harjo and played a Native American water song. A man in a Dodgers cap whose chin lay on his chest while he gently snored through the entire first class was lively in the second one. When prompted to write about someone in your life who is important he chose his son and said He always does the right thing and organized this whole thing when there was all this darkness and trouble. 

The stories. Everyone has a story.

Except for that POS that is running ruining our country. I know I'm not supposed to wish harm on any living being but damn. And the people who support him? The word scratch. The word eye. The word out.


Here's a poem.

All the Difficult Hours and Minutes

All the difficult hours and minutes 
are like salted plums in a jar. 
Wrinkled, turn steeply into themselves, 
they mutter something the color of  sharkfins to the glass. 
Just so, calamity turns toward calmness. 
First the jar holds the umeboshi, then the rice does.

Jane Hirshfield


  1. Your new job reminds me of the book "Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows". And yes, we all have a story and we all need to be heard.

  2. I absolutely love the way you write about your new gig. So many stories there. Lives lived, survivors. They are lucky to have you and you them.

  3. When you mentioned the hooting and hollering men and women in Mississippi, my mind re-played the haunting images of hooting and hollering citizens of the American South in the 1960s. Who could imagine that a U.S. president would side with them? Who could imagine that their numbers would grow instead of shrink throughout the U.S. and the world? What's going on?

    My hope is in the perceptive young people who are watching this disaster unfold and in that they will be voting for many years to come for something entirely new, something that the U.S. has not experienced before, something that acknowledges the shadowy history of the U.S. and is willing to look at that long shadow and make way for true change, rather than a swing of the pendulum. I believe in the impossible. Why not? I'm thinking of the three evils that Martin Luther KIng, Jr., spoke of that must be addressed and changed or else nothing will change -- racism, war, poverty. I am sure that, were he alive today, he would add to his list the evil of sexism.

    Good to know that you have taken that job! A dear friend I have know since the 1970s has been taking a class like the one you are teaching. The class she takes is through our local senior center. Although her cognitive deficits are increasing due to a stroke several years ago, she continues to write something every week and engage with life in a way that inspires me. My friend is at the end of being able to live independently and is on a waiting list for a room in an assisted living facility.

    She is a tapestry weaver and the author of this book:


  4. Ah- who will learn more in this class? Your students or you? I think all of you will learn a lot.
    And I love you for loving that fierce old lady. I bet you anything that she has the most stories to tell of all. I wonder if you will hear any of them.
    Scratch their eyes out. Yeah.

  5. Wow. Good work. I love this post and the idea of that class.

  6. I can tell you are loving the new work and the class sounds like they probably have colorful stories they could tell. As for the base of 45, it just makes me sadly realize that there are too many I could never relate to in their way of Being.

  7. I am embarking on some ridiculously long training so I can work with seniors. I will be a young senior myself before I am done. I have been volunteering at some adult day centres to gain experience. I find it depressing but also incredibly touching. Like you say, the stories.

  8. That sounds like a perfect gig for you! When I am old I don't want to be in assisted living, but I do want to take a poetry class from someone like you.

  9. Re: people in Mississippi laughing at Dr. Ford: they used to have lynching picnics and parties. Let us never forget. There is evil in the world. We must do everything in our power to shine bright lights on the evil. And to nurture ourselves with food, hot coffee, poetry and people we love.

  10. I stumbled upon your blog and enjoyed it immensely. Yes, I hope this gets fixed, too. As to the poem, lovely.

  11. Trump isn't even merely the patriarchy. He's his own special form of malignancy. The creative writing classes sound great! Will we get to see some of your students' work?

  12. We all have a story to tell. We all are story-tellers. Natural ones. :-)

    Greetings from London.


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