What Heals Us?

Most of us are searching for what can heal our brokenness. We hurt. We cry out in pain. We ache with sorrow and grief and doubt. So we ply ourselves with medication, hoping to stitch back together our wounds. We seek advice, believing the professionals have the answers. We sit in our chosen houses of worship, praying for guidance.

Often, though, it is others we see suffering. We want to help, to reach out, to relieve some of their burdens. We offer words. We wrap them in hugs. We send out prayers. We deliver cakes and pies and chicken soup. How do we heal those we love?

A few years ago I found a scrumptious children’s book called This Is a Poem that Heals Fish. I had given it to a sweet, special girl, but then decided I also required the healing powers of this fable.

The story begins with Arthur thinking his fish Leon is dying of boredom. His mother tells him to give him a poem, but Arthur doesn’t understand. Wanting to heal his fish, Arthur goes on a journey, asking friends and family, “What is a poem?”

Arthur first stops at Lolo’s bike shop. Lolo “laughs all the time, and is always in love.”

He visits a bakery where his friend Mrs. Round tells him,

Still confused, Arthur asks his neighbor Mahmoud.

Worried about Leon’s heart, Arthur rushes home. He questions his bird Aristophanes.

Arthur’s grandmother comes to the house with jars of jam and her dog. When asked about a poem, she thinks.

She then tells him to ask his grandfather.

Arthur is still worried about Leon.

Leon hears Arthur’s words. He speaks for the first time and tells Arthur, “Then I am a poet.”

Through his journey, Arthur had discovered that both he and Leon were poets. The words were inside them all along.

All my life words have helped heal me. When I was a young girl, I escaped to my books full of brave children and wondrous adventures. I wrote my own words, filling dozens of notebooks. Later I taught stories to adolescents, hoping to share the beauty beating within the pages. Even now I seek solace in authors, often pausing at a gorgeous phrase, wondering at its opulence.

Most of us want to help. We search for answers. We want to take away our pain and the pain of those we love. Can we all be healed by a poem? But what really is a poem? It is a heartbeat. It is love. It is the sky. It is words. It is silence. It is warm bread. Life is poetry, and it can heal us if we begin to hear our own verses and then carefully, patiently, and thoughtfully begin to share them with others.

This Is a Poem That Heals Fish, text by Jean-Pierre Simeon, illustrations by Olivier Tallec, translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick, published 2005 Rue du Monde, translated version 2007 Enchanted Lion Books, bought on Amazon $16.95.

Language is Life: Drunk on Words

“A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” 

W.H. Auden

Third grade brought big changes to my young life. Our family had moved across town the previous summer to a bigger house, leaving behind our friends and a school I knew. My baby brother was born that winter, adding another member to our growing family. So I began third grade at Dennis School with a new teacher, Mrs. Plambeck. My second grade teacher at Parsons Elementary was young and wore flowery dresses, but Mrs. Plambeck was a sensible, no-nonsense woman. Clad in comfortable shoes, cat-eyed glasses, and drab, shapeless dresses, she ran her classroom in a strict manner. No funny business. Everything was serious, even when we sang from the classroom songbooks. I don’t remember anyone ever acting out or even questioning her techniques. We were children of the sixties. We listened quietly and did what we were told.

Mrs. Plambeck required we memorize poems and then present to the class. It was terrifying. Here I was, this shy, new girl with little confidence, forced to recite poetry in front of the entire room. If we missed a word or forgot a stanza, Mrs. Plambeck would correct us, and often she requested we start the poem over. I have a vague memory of her sitting off to left with pursed lips as I stumbled through verses. Most of the lines were immediately forgotten the moment I hastily returned to my desk.

The only poem that stuck was “Nancy Hanks,” written by Rosemary Benet about the musings of Abraham Lincoln’s dead mother. It was short and fairly easy to memorize. Years later, I still remember most of the first stanza. Students in Illinois learn much about Abraham Lincoln. He is revered, and when I recited the poem to the class, I felt the sadness in his mother’s words. Lincoln was only nine when he lost his mother (my age in third grade), and his life was thrown into despair. His grieving father soon found another woman to wed, Sarah Bush Johnston, who took young Abe into her heart and continued his mother’s quest to educate the boy who would later become the 16th president. The poem, though, was his dead mother wondering about her boy. “Did he grow tall?” “Did he learn to read?” “Did he get on?” As I spoke the lines, I knew the answers to her questions, but I also felt her loss, her longing, her pain.

What I have come to appreciate is Mrs. Plambeck’s poetry lessons, even though the memorization and recitation was scary, gifted me understanding and respect for the tremendous potential words possess. These poems we learned conveyed sorrow and truth, pretty deep stuff for third-graders. Throughout my life, because of Mrs. Plambeck and other dedicated teachers, I am drawn to how language can make me feel. Even now when I read something powerful, I pause, catch my breath, and say a small prayer to the writer gods for giving me this moment, whether it is joyful, devastating, or melancholy. Language is life, and I am forever grateful to my third grade teacher for introducing me to all it offers.

Nancy Hanks

by Rosemary Benet (with husband, Stephen Vincent Benet) – 1933

If Nancy Hanks

Came back as a ghost,

Seeking news

Of what she loved most,

She’d ask first “Where’s my son?

What’s happened to Abe?

What’s he done?”

“Poor little Abe,

Left all alone

Except for Tom,

Who’s a rolling stone;

He was only nine

The year I died.

I remember still

How hard he cried.”

“Scraping along

In a little shack,

With hardly a shirt

To cover his back,

And a prairie wind

To blow him down,

Or pinching times

If he went to town.”

“You wouldn’t know

About my son?

Did he grow tall?

Did he have fun?

Did he learn to read?

Did he get to town?

Do you know his name?

Did he get on?”

 photo: findagrave.com
photo: findagrave.com

“Watch, now, how I start the day”

Why I Wake Up Early

Hello, sun in my face.

Hello, you who make the morning

and spread it over the fields 

and into the faces of tulips

and the nodding morning glories,

and into the windows of, even, the

miserable, the crotchety-

best preacher that ever was,

dear star, that just happens

to be where you are in the universe

to keep us from ever-darkness,

to ease us with warm touching,

to hold us in the great hands of light-

good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day

in happiness, in kindness.

-Mary Oliver

Recently a group of friends and I were discussing morning routines. Most of us are now retired, and we lamented how we sometimes miss our morning work routines, how our coffee, newspaper, and the morning news gave our days purpose. 

My own morning routines have evolved over the years. The quiet of of my single days, the chaos of the demanding needs of babies, and the raucousness of life with boys dramatically changed when I retired four years ago. Suddenly I had no where to go, no bells to announce the start of my day. That first summer I dove deep into my writing, sitting at my desk almost every morning pounding out whatever random ideas floated through my head. I loved this new life. Producing almost three to four blog posts a week, I felt productive. I was a finally a writer. I continued this routine for over a year, inspiration sprouting like wild flowers from my crazy retired brain.

As the months went by, though, I began to slow down. Doubt, fear, and regret crept into my psyche. When my confidence withered, so did my morning writing routine. Then life threw us a few major bombs, including a new job for my husband, which required a move from our hometown to a city in a neighboring state. This restarted my writing, where I gathered inspiration from selling our stuff to downsizing to adjusting to this different life. 

Once we settled in, my writing suffered…again. We have been here almost two years, and I have never really found a good morning writing routine. I’ve moved my desk around to various corners of my office, tried to write in libraries or coffeehouses, and even moved the laptop to the porch on nice days. Nothing seemed to stick. Yet…I missed those mornings when I sat at my teal green desk, tapping the keyboard of my pink Mac. They gave my life design. 

And now I want that back, yet I realize I can’t recreate the past. Now is different than yesterday. Routines are meant to evolve, and now I see an opportunity to create something new. These mornings free from expectations and duty are a gift. My teal desk and pink laptop are calling me back, allowing me to set my own schedule, my own routine. I will embrace the mornings, and remember Mary Oliver’s words, “Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.”

(Another thing I have missed are morning walks. Today I wandered among the remnants of spring. Joy.)

Rediscovering Drunk on Love

Drunk on Love in the Kitchen. My blog. The place that holds my words, my heart, my joys, my sorrows, my worries, my random thoughts.

When I first began to write, I did just that: I wrote. I wrote from the depths of my soul. I loved to sit down at my laptop every morning in my sunny office, pounding out words. Everything flowed back then. I had no fear. This is what I was meant to do after retirement. Averaging three to four blog posts a week, I also attended a writer’s workshop and wrote a few articles for a local magazine. I was a writer!

I soon realized, though, that some of my words hurt others. Never meaning angst, my fingers backed away from the keyboard. My ideas began to stagnate. How could I continue to seek joy from my writing if I was constantly worrying about stomping on loved ones’ hearts? Could it be possible to find myself again through my writing? Where would I even begin?

When I skim through posts from the last four years, I ache with longing of what it used to be. How easily the words came to me. My ego full blown. Now I’m timid, scared. Have I used up all my ideas? What’s left inside? The same drivel? I need to find something to bust through the doubt. I want to regain my fierceness, my drive, my fearlessness. 

April is National Poetry Month. Back when I was teaching sophomore English, April soared for me. I introduced all types of poems, had the students write their own pieces, and I even scraped together a few ragged pieces of my own. We shared our work at the end of the month at a Poetry Coffeehouse. I brought cookies, coffee, and juice, and once pulled together a poetry slam that was loud and raucous. I’m not sure if my students got anything from the month, but I enjoyed sharing my favorite poems with them, telling them that poetry is everywhere…in song lyrics, nature, rap music, and even in their daily existence. Poetry gives us life. It delivers meaning through meter and rhyme scheme and stanzas.

My writing is prose, not poetry. Oh, I’ve tried, yet I have no style, no talent, no sense of what it takes to create such beauty and angst. But I love to read poems. I subscribe to The Academy of American Poets on Facebook. They post poems every day, some classics like “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer and others by new poets. Each gives me a dose of adrenaline; the words course through me. They help me attempt to understand and cope with my own struggles, these poet saints.

I have decided my April writing inspiration will be the world of poetry. I’ll find different poems that invigorate my soul. Words that present themselves with beauty, danger, dissonance, and tears. Today I’m just contemplating it. Later this week, I will compose. 

I will invite poetry back into my April and give it life. I’m grateful for the poets, the men and women who weave words into intricate tapestry. I am also hoping these poets will help me with my own writing, and allow me to rediscover what I have seemed to have lost.

I have also decided to change the title of my blog…slightly. It is now Drunk on Love with the tag line In the Kitchen (and Beyond). My writing has traveled far beyond my love of baking pies. I’m on a quest for love and joy and contentment and answers, damnit. I want to be drunk on love, yet the world keeps stepping on my feeble attempts. I’m learning, though, especially through my writing, to live in grace.

I hope you join me on this journey. (If you have a favorite poem, shoot me a message. I’d love to read it.

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.

— Carl Sandburg

As a direct line to human feeling, empathic experience, genuine language and detail, poetry is everything that headline news is not. It takes us inside situations, helps us imagine life from more than one perspective, honors imagery and metaphor – those great tools of thought – and deepens our confidence in a meaningful world.

— Naomi Shihab Nye

“Joy is not meant to be a crumb.”

I have been off this week. It’s been rough, full of physical pain and losses. 

My fibromyalgia has reared its ornery self, and I’m in the midst of a major flare-up. All of my nerves are at the surface, screaming “Arggggg!!!!!”

The world is in chaos. Nobody sane seems to be in charge.

Luke Perry died. Dylan McKay, gone. Damn. 

Alex Trebek revealed he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

The “leader” of this country is still spreading Twitter lies and blaming everyone and everything else for the gigantic messes he has created. 

I’m tired of winter. I hate my coat, my mittens, and especially socks. I’m sick of socks. 

I’ve been on a constant verge of tears. Anything can set me off. This morning it happened at the coffee house when they were out of my favorite coffee.

My hair dryer stopped working.

And then…

I read Mary Oliver’s “Don’t Hesitate.”

I took a breath. 

Sudden and unexpected joy.

I am choosing to lean into it, fighting back against the sludge. The world is shitty, yes, but, damn, there is joy.

It was at the neighboring table at the coffeehouse where a group of women were discussing love and religion.

It’s in a warm bowl of oatmeal, dolloped with brown sugar and cream.

Joy is the knowledge spring is only fourteen days away.

It is funny, heartfelt texts from dear friends.

Joy is the smell of cherry pie baking in the oven. It’s flaky, gooey joy.

It’s acknowledging Dad’s birthday. Missing his jokes, yet knowing he lives in my boys.

It’s seeing my husband come through the door.

Joy is when my favorite Train song comes on the radio, and I automatically smile.

It’s snuggling up in my cozy blanket in the mornings with journal in my hand and kitty at my feet.

Joy is a fabulous glass of wine, a good book, the sun after weeks of dreariness, the feel of clothes straight out of the dryer, yoga, spotting a congregation of eagles on the river, and a perfect alfresco dinner at dusk.

Joy gives us snippets of hope. Even in the midst of misery, joy surrounds us. It’s everywhere. So take a moment.

Smell its wonder.

Taste its solace.

Feel its indulgence.

See its splendor.

Hear its merriment.

Don’t carelessly wipe it off the table.

“Joy is not meant to be a crumb.” ~Mary Oliver

No Advice Here

When I was a new mother I was often besieged with unsolicited advice. “You should breastfeed.” “You should bottle-feed.” “Let him cry.” “Don’t let him cry.” “You should be feeding him cereal by now.” “No solid foods until six months.” “Get him on a schedule.” “Let him decide his schedule.” “He should be sleeping in his own bed by now.” “He should be taking a nap.” “Get him potty-trained by two years old.” “Let him decide when he is ready to use the potty.” Most of this counsel came from other older mothers who truly felt their way of raising children was correct. I listened, nodded, and then went on to do what I felt was right for my boys. I may not have always followed the traditional route, and I’m sure I made colossal mistakes, but I can swear on a pile of child-rearing books that my children were well-fed and clothed and loved with every single neuron coursing throughout my body.

Young parents today are still bombarded with “should’s” and “should not’s” from well-meaning family and friends. Amazon has over 3,000 book suggestions on child rearing. The internet is awash with mommy bloggers who brag about their perfect children eating homemade vegan lunches or how they were able to potty train little Dakota at twelve months old. There are staged and filtered Instagram posts of Johnny sweetly helping Mommy in the garden, Martha stirring cookie dough in her designer dress, and three-week old Harry peacefully sleeping through the night. You may look at these and think, “What the heck? How come my house is a disaster? Every time I let the kids help in the kitchen, all hell breaks loose. My kid eats dirt… and likes it. The only food he will eat now is hot dogs, mac and cheese from the box, and strawberry GoGurt. Vegan? Sure, that would work. Shoot, I’m lucky if he naps for ten minutes in the car.”

I don’t know much about the latest parenting trends. When I Googled it, I found “grit-style parenting,” “the minimalist parent,” and “post-gender parenting.” Wow. Even I, who is twenty-something years out from raising babies, began to hyperventilate when I gazed over these terms. Some appear to be wise; others border on obnoxious. The only truly honest child-rearing advice that I can give you is this: go with your gut. If something feels right, go with it. If something feels wrong, walk away from it. Really really listen to your instinct, because it is usually right. And remember, your gut may be telling you something different from your friend’s or your sister’s or your co-worker’s gut. That is okay. Your gut is yours. Nurture it. Love it. Listen to it.

And…now that I have your attention, my young parent friends, I’d like to list a few other things that worked for me and my kids. I am not a parenting expert, just a mom who has been there. Here goes… 

  1. Read. Read. Read. Read out loud. Give them books to read themselves. Take them to the library and let them check out books. Ask for books for birthdays and holidays. Set aside reading time. Let your kids see you read. As my boys got older, they loved audio books. They would spend hours together playing with Legos as they listened to dramatic actors narrate their favorite stories.
  2. Sit down to dinner together. It may be simple, but meal time is sacred. Cherish and honor dinner. Even if you are rushing to activities, go into McDonald’s and sit down. Ask about their day. Talk to each other.
  3. Bedtime routines. After baths and pj’s, we would snuggle in their bedrooms, and I would sing songs and tell stories and then kiss them goodnight. They demanded this routine for years, and I still miss it.
  4. Make sure when you are taking pictures of your children that you are in some of the shots. Your children will appreciate it later, I promise. I love the photos I have of my mom with us. They are moments captured. You don’t have to be Instata perfect, just their mom. 
  5. Be consistent. Don’t threaten something and not follow through. Consistent parenting is your strongest tool.
  6. Let go of guilt. Your way is your way. It may not be everyone’s way, but it is yours. Claim it. Own it. Celebrate it. 
  7. Have fun with your kids. Remember time moves at warp speed. Today you are rocking your first born to sleep, and tomorrow he is living halfway across the country with a career of his own, a cute little dog, and a fabulous wife who adores him. See each moment and be grateful for every bit of chaos. Laugh at their bad jokes. Don’t worry about the mess. Sing loudly in the car. Dance in the living room. Hug them every chance you get.

That’s all I have, but if you think you need a little extra help with your two-year old, I did see this title on Amazon:

 This is not a book recommendation. I haven’t read it, but I do love the title.
This is not a book recommendation. I haven’t read it, but I do love the title.

Party on, Spring

Yesterday was one of those perfect “oh wow” spring days. After enduring months of frigid temperatures and wet, hazardous conditions, this morning presented me with a 80 degree clear blue sky gift.

I humbly accepted this present with a long walk around a nearby lake. I had only been to this park a few times, and ended up stumbling upon a set of cement stairs that seemed to rise to the sky. Well, of course, I had to climb them to see what was at the the top. They rose up the side of that hill, veering both left and right. When I finally made it to the top, breathing heavily I might add, I discovered a playground and what looked like a pavilion with picnic tables. I took a few cleansing breaths, snapped a photo of the view, and began my descent, which was much easier that the ascent. About halfway down I encountered a tiny garter snake making its way across the steps, one that had probably just rose up from its winter slumber. I said my hellos and continued my walk along the water. During the rest of the hike I saw a small turtle crossing the path, and spied a siege of white herons in one of the ponds ( Yes, I looked up what a group of herons is called: a siege. Don’t you love it?) I noticed a few insects buzzing around my head. Green buds were appearing on the trees and bushes. The wildest animals I saw yesterday, though, were humans. On this gorgeous spring morning I crossed paths with all types: serious bikers, casual dog walkers, chatty pairs of women, dedicated trainers, and gaggles of young mothers herding strollers and scooters. These humans, like the little snake, had ventured out of their own hibernation, blinking up at the bright sun while lacing up their athletic shoes. They took to the pavement with a sense of purpose. All appeared to be saying,” I will delight in the sparkle of this April morning.”

Coming upon this little snake on the steps reminded me of another spring story. When I was a young single mother, my boys and I lived in a duplex on a shady street. On one late April afternoon right as the trees were blooming in the yard, I went to unlock our back door. I glanced down at the patch of dirt next to the concerte steps, and at first I thought one of the boys may have been kicked a ball against the house, but then I noticed the ball was moving. On closer inspection, though, I realized it was a blob of gyrating snakes. I screamed, grabbed the boys as I pushed them in the house, and slammed the door. “What was that little piece of hell I just witnessed?” I asked myself. After a little research, I discovered that this is how garter snakes mate after they emerge from winter hibernation. Yes, they make new babies through snake orgies. You can look it up, but I warn you, the visuals will burn into the deep recesses of your brain. Even now I can see that mass of writhing snakes and shiver. Now, I know snakes, especially garter snakes are good for the environment, eating insects and all. I respect their place. That house and the next one I bought were havens for these little (and sometimes big!) reptiles. Some mornings before I reached for the paper, I would often find one sunbathing on the front porch. Other days I would hear a rustle as I weeded the garden, and know one or more were near. I came to accept their existence, but I never really got used to them.

I believe this is the message of spring. Spring reminds us to breathe in the joy, but watch our step. Spring may be rapturous in its abundance of pale pinks and deep purples, yet we’ve learned over the years to respect its cruel streak. Storms lie in wait. Destruction in the form of tornadoes or fierce storms often cross the dark horizon. Beneath the flowering dogwood may lurk a mass of garter snakes. But what we learn to do is breathe in the fragrance, see the beauty, and just step aside and let those snakes have their fun, or as Robin Williams once said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying ‘Let’s Party!’” Party on, you crazy garter snakes. Party on.

 This little guy was probably on his way to the party.
This little guy was probably on his way to the party.