In Defense of Joy

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We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Jack Gilbert, from “A Brief for the Defense

The title of this poem is so interesting. How sometimes we feel we must defend our pleasures, our moments of delight, in the face of so much suffering in the world.

Finding the balance between wanting to save the world (as if I could) and wanting to lay all that aside and just savor it while I can, has been a lasting theme in my life.

More and more I’m tending toward the latter.

My favorite treatise on the subject is the tale of the Zen monk being chased over a cliff by a tiger. He grabs hold of a vine to keep from falling, while a hungry alligator snaps at his heels in the river below. Just then, he spies a juicy red strawberry hanging nearby. He reaches out with one hand to pop it into his mouth.

“Oh, so delicious!” he sighs.

As do I.

“Back to the Garden” with Stardust and Irises

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This painting is considered by many as Van Gogh’s finest floral, and one of the only two paintings he chose to exhibit publicly. It was painted after breakfast on the first day at the asylum where he went to heal after mutilating his ear.

The garden has always been a place for healing, and the fact that Van Gogh found some healing comfort in painting these lovely things I find incredibly moving. A poster of these irises has been living with me for years, hanging over a hutch in my dining room in my last home. And now it adds its blue and turquoise dazzle to my pool room bath, decorated in blues and turquoise, shells and candles, and other sea inspired paintings.

The sea too, like the garden, has always been a healing place. Spending time there gives us a sense of coming home, connecting us not only to nature at its finest, but also to some deeper sense of calm and beauty that we recognize instrinsically as part of our primal nature. When we are hurting or out of sorts, seeking that connection brings us home to ourselves and we find healing. Music and art share those healing qualities.

That call for us to come “back to the garden” for healing and renewal is found in an old song from the sixties, one of my favorites, that I listened to recently when doing research on a new novel. The song isn’t actually called “back to the garden” as I’d thought. But a google search of those words brought me to it nonetheless. It was written by Joni Mitchell in 1968. The trio Crosby, Stills, and Nash were the first to sing it, and made it famous, but I like the way Joni sings it better. She named it “Woodstock,” but it’s less about that famous festival than the idea behind it. It captures the spirit of the times, that hope of healing the nation, of turning the turmoil of the times—“the bombers riding shotgun in the sky”—-“into butterflies.”

You may remember the song’s intoxicating refrain:

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

The garden evokes the Garden of Eden, a time before The Fall. And the reference to stardust, of course, reminds us of our even more primal origin, the fact that the stuff of which we are made is the stuff of stars.

Whether we go to the garden for healing, or the sea, what we are really doing is connecting with some primal part of ourselves that includes the whole universe of being. If only we truly knew and understood what that means, turning bombers into butterflies, or a mutilated ear into irises, would be inevitable.

Ding-Dong, The Witch Is Dead!

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How to avoid snakes now that rattlesnake season has arrived in California -  ABC7 San Francisco

Like many living in rural areas, my husband and I enjoy watching the show that nature puts on outside our windows every day. We love watching all the critters parading in the meadow behind our home, the gentle deer traipsing by in their high-heeled hooves, the mighty elk lifting their crowns of horn, the black boars scuttling along through the brush with their young, the wild rooster puffed up in all its finery to dazzle his adoring hens, the skinny coyote trotting by on the hunt, and the comical quail with their clutch of fluff-balls scurrying behind.

But every good show needs its villain to heighten the drama, and ours have been the nest of rattle-snakes that took up residence in our back yard. We’ve killed three in the past two weeks. The first two were young, no more than a foot and a half long. One was found lounging by our pool, another slithering into our garage. Then yesterday my husband caught their mother, or rather she got caught in the black netting we’d hung over the tomato plants to keep out the birds. She was at least 3 feet long and not happy in the least.

He threw her carcuss over the back fence into the meadow where that hungry coyote who makes its daily round might find it.

What surprised us though was how the quail reacted to its demise.

At first they cautiously approached it and then hurriedly backed away. Then slowly they approached again, at least a dozen, surrounding it completely.

It reminded us of that scene from The Wizard of Oz when the Munchkins timidly came out of hiding to gather around the withered feet of the Wicked Witch of the East when Dorothy’s house landed on her.

We imagined the quail viewing the snake with the same sort of surprised and delighted glee. The snake had been caught only a few feet away from the bushes where our families of quail nested. We had been watching three clutches these past few weeks, 15 babies in one, nine in another, but only one little fluffball following its parents in the third. Who knows how long this snake had been terrorizing their homes and gobbling up their children?

So there they all were, gathering around their nemesis, wondering what merciful god had answered their prayers and slain this mighty villain. With heads bobbing and dancing feet, we could almost hear them singing gleefully:

Ding dong, the witch is dead!

Which old witch? The wicked witch!

The wicked witch is dead.

Then the lights dim. The curtain falls. The audience claps. And our cast of critters quietly leave the stage to resume their daily routines.

To Hu-Mor, or Less? That Is the Question

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Last week I was questioning whether my blog had become too serious. To even ask such a question, of course, reveals one’s insecurities—about myself, about my blog, about my own serious take on life. Which is what humor does best. It pokes fun at ourselves, helps us to back away and take a longer view, a lighter view, about whatever is troubling us.

In one of the humorous posts links I shared with you last week, about bears and death, I was poking fun at some very strange, troubling dreams I’d been having lately. By the time I had finished writing the post, that sense of fear and anxiety had ebbed away in laughter. The second link poked fun at the mixed feelings I had when “selling my babies,” short stories I had labored over for so long. Making fun of those anxieties helped me to not take myself or my stories so seriously.

This isn’t the first time I’ve questioned how serious my posts had become and wondered if I should lighten up. In 2014 I humorously dissected the whole Serious VS Humor dilemma. Rereading it recently is helping me again to make peace with myself. So I thought I’d rerun it here for other bloggers who wonder if they should hu-more or less. Enjoy!

Humor, It’s Serious Stuff

Recently I’ve come across several blogs that use humor (the ironic, tongue-in-cheek, tending toward the ludic, the whimsical, the carnivalesque) to great effect. And I’ve been thoroughly enjoying them. But it’s made me realize how serious my blog has come to sound, and to question that.

I’m not sure I want to change it. But perhaps I need to diffuse it now and again. For I fully realize all this seriousness is seriously undercut by the great jest played on all of us: we really don’t know what the hell we’re doing and if any of this (me, you, life, blogging, etc.) matters at all.

Serious is my milieu. I feel more comfortable swimming there. With Serious I joyously jump head first into the deep end. I do backflips from the high dive. With Humor I test the pool with my toe. I find the steps and go down slowly. I keep my head above the water.

Perhaps that’s why people who know me well comment on my “gentle sense of humor”. I used to take that as a compliment, meaning “not unkind” or “unassuming.” Not loud or obvious.

But it could just as well mean “unassertive,” or even just plain “wimpy.”

This could be true. I am shy. I don’t tend to flaunt or assert myself in crowds or public conversations. You would never call me the life of the party. I don’t leave people in stitches or elicit belly laughs. I stand in the shadows. I observe. I take note. And occasionally I let loose a zinger or a well-placed (gentle) barb.

I tease. I poke. I play. At the edges.

It’s the way I diffuse all the seriousness that comes more naturally to me. Playing with things—-people, ideas, words, life.

Humor, after all, is the great diffuser. It reminds us not to take ourselves, or each other, or life itself so seriously all the time. It lightens, softens, disperses, deflects the serious side of life that can, quite literally, crush us under its weight if we’re not careful.

That is humor’s great gift, why it is so needed, and so welcomed. Everyone loves humor. Serious, not so much.

Humor makes you feel good. It lights up your endorphins. It puts a smile on your face and a giggle in your heart. It can even make cancer cells go into remission, or so they say.

Serious is not so warmly welcomed. It’s viewed as suspect and makes you wary. You frown and say things like “Say what?” and “Get outa here.” It gives you heartburn and indigestion. Your head starts spinning, your eyes glaze over. You start looking for the door.

That’s the risky side of Serious. You splay yourself open, heart and soul, for the whole world to view.

Serious is like streaking down your old high school hallways naked. Humor is safer. It wears a helmet and shoulder pads and carries a hockey stick. People back away. They let you pass.

Being Serious is like burying yourself in sand with only your head sticking up. Anyone can ride by with a large stick or sharp sword and lop it off. Humor often carries that sword.

Which brings us to the dark side of humor and its soft underbelly. Humor can be a weapon. And it can hurt.

But more often what humor, the great diffuser, is diffusing or deflecting, is our own insecurities and uncertainties, our fear of the unknown and unanswerable. Humor is a way to keep people at arm length, unsure how to take us, afraid to challenge us. It can help us avoid the serious stuff and make others less likely to talk seriously to us.

Humor also can be a cop-out. It allows us to say, if challenged: But I was only kidding!

If people don’t know whether to take us seriously or not, they might tend to back down, back off, pull their punches, reserve judgment. And they may do so because they want to avoid that zinger or well-placed and not-so-gentle barb we are prone to fling when challenged. They don’t want to become the brunt of our jokes.

The best humor though is serious stuff.

It isn’t used to harm others or to protect ourselves, but to expose ourselves and our society to critical examination.

Humor holds up a mirror so we can see ourselves more clearly, including all our faults and foibles. It makes us laugh at ourselves, our families, our society, our leaders, our politics, our lives, in a way that’s helpful and healing.

It reveals the hypocrisy and vanity, the pettiness and meanness, in a fun way. We feel the sharpness when it strikes too close to home, but we laugh anyway.

And by laughing at our faults, we are more likely, perhaps, to find ways to be and do better. That’s what I love about humor. Being able to laugh at myself. It’s so freeing!

Being buried in the sand up to your ears is no picnic!

I keep thinking about that head-lopping image I used earlier. That poor helpless fool, buried up to her ears in all that serious sand she finds so important, and WOP! There goes her head bouncing down the beach.

That’s me! My head bouncing down that beach, blood squirting everywhere, and I’m thinking, “My God, What did I do? Why did I stick my head out like that? Why the f— did I take myself so seriously?”

But then I have to laugh. Because I realize: This is just a metaphor!

Right about then, another head comes rolling along, the head-lopping Joker’s.

“What happened to you!” I ask.

“Seems I was taking myself way too seriously too!” he replies.

Then we both have a good, serious laugh, rolling down the beach together.

Struggling to Blog

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I’ve been struggling to find something to blog about this week. Actually I spent half a day yesterday working on a poem I wanted to get out. But it just didn’t feel ready yet. It’s tentatively, intriguingly titled “Forgive Me My Whiteness,” or less intriguingly, “A Prayer for Peace and Justice.” About race, I’m sure you’ve guessed. But do any of my readers really want to read a poem about race? By a white woman?

This raises the thorny question, of course: For whom do I blog? You, or me, or a little of both? I’m quite keen on the poem so I’ll probably post it eventually when it’s “done.” So there’s that.

Then I started looking back through my archives for inspiration. Maybe I could find something to tweak and repost. That’s always an easy fix when I’m stuck. But I’ve been doing that quite a bit lately, and if you do it too much, it feels like cheating. So drats to that.

During my search I did find a couple of humorous posts I wrote back in May 2014 that I enjoyed. I don’t do enough humor. I’d like to do more. I think that’s why I’m struggling to blog. Lately it’s all been soooo serious—introspective, philosophical, spiritual. I write where my head is, and that’s where it spends a lot of time these days. It’s not a bad place to hang out, actually. In fact, I rather enjoy it. But then I get to feeling sorry for my readers. Do you really want to read this stuff? All the time?!

So instead of blogging a poem about race, or one about linear and nonlinear ways of thinking that I’m working on, or another I’m keen to write about David Boehm’s theory on the Implicate and Explicate Orders (quantum theory + enlightment, yikes!), I’m going to go easy on you this week.

I’ll just post these links to two fun posts I wrote six years ago. When I was, it appears, a more fun person.

Selling My Babies. Where’s the Joy?

Dreaming about Death—Oops, Bears

The Art of Mothering on Mothers Day

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Margarita Sikorskaia 1968 | St. Petersburg, Russia | TuttArt@ | Pittura * Scultura * Poesia * Musica |

Margarita Sikorskaia 1968, St. Petersburg, Russia

My understanding of what “mothering” is, or could be, was hugely influenced by this passage in the Tao Te Ching (CHXXV). The artwork that follows amplifies it.

There was something complete and nebulous

Which existed before the Heaven and Earth,

Silent, invisible

Unchanging, standing as One,

Unceasing, ever-revolving,

Able to be the Mother of the World.

This Mother of the World, of course, is the Divine Creator, the all-pervading, all embracing, unchanging, and unceasing. It’s the thing that evolves, supports, nurtures, protects, and provides space for its “children,” all individual being.

A tall order for a mere human.

Yet it inspires me to embrace my children in that spirit. To step back and project in some way this more expansive sense of mothering that allows them to feel loved and supported without all the worries and anxieties and criticism and fear that accompany a mere human sense of mothering.

This mothering is not as personal, intense, or myopic. It doesn’t hover, it doesn’t obsess, it doesn’t fret. It frees them “to be,” and is based on an immense sense of trust—in myself, in them, and in the universe at large. In God, or Tao, or some divine presence or higher power that embraces all of us, and gives each of us the capacity to mother each other.

I find this kind of mothering works best when I embrace all around me with the same mothering spirit. Not just my children, but all children, all people, all things—my home, my community, my work—even the individual objects that fill the space around me and the space outside my window.  When I’m able to actually feel and identify with that potential, to “be” the “Mother of the World.”

The images in this post capture some of that universal and spiritual kind of Mothering, not only of love, but of unity and wholeness—two in one, and one in two. Two overlapping, enveloping, and yet distinct identities. “Not-two” is the way a Buddhist or Taoist might put it.

The painting by Sikorskaia at the top of the post shows this beautifully. The mother’s body wraps about her breast-feeding infant and fills the whole space with the solid, four-square wholeness of her presence. Her dark head is bent, attentive, surrounded by a halo of light-colored flesh. Her arms, open hand, and bend back form another circle, encircling the first. Her feet tenderly touch each other, and with the raised and lowered legs form a triangle of unity, the base upon which the mother sits.

She is grounded and centered, while the child is loose in her arms, able to move and to feed freely, but blending with the mother’s flesh, showing how closely knit they are even while separate beings. The dominant lines creating this painting are round, curved, circling each other. Mother and child are one in body and being. Two in one. One in two.

The following image by Barnet is similar. Mother and child completely fill the space and overflow it. They are facing each other, mirror reflections of each other. She sees herself in her child, the child sees itself in the mother. Her hands are wrapped around the child, but open, as is the child’s hand, reaching up toward the mother, toward its other surrounding self.

Will Barnet, Mother and Child,1993-2006, Oil on canvas, 26 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. J. William Meek III. ©2006 Will Barnet

Will Barnet, Mother and Child,1993-2006

The painting by Irwin below also creates the powerful feeling of oneness and unity. Here we see the indistinct features and form of mother and child surrounded by a shadowy, indistinct background. The vertical figure is centered and reaches top to bottom, nearly bisecting the page. Clearly it shows two in one, one in two. The soft, indistinct edges of the form feather into the background, soft and permeable. The Mother and Child are one with each other and one with the surrounding environment. The whole painting is a study of unity and wholeness.Madonna & Child  by Holly Irwin

Madonna & Child by Holly Irwin

Two-ness is more evident in the next paintings.

In the first below by Harmon, mother and child again fill the space. Wholeness, oneness, is still the dominant theme. The mother’s face seems blissful, as if she is drinking up the scent of her child, savoring her closeness. The sea surrounds them, symbolizing the womb, the place of birth, of oneness. But the child’s dangling legs, the soles of her feet, denote her readiness and ability to separate from her mother. The restless waves at their feet foreshadow the coming parting, when the mother puts down her child. We can imagine them walking hand-in-hand down the beach.In The Ocean Air by Johanna Harmon

In The Ocean Air by Johanna Harmon

We see this close unity and foreshadowing of separation in the following image by Sorolla as well.

Here, the sea as backdrop both unites the figures of mother/child and introduces the element of separation in the layered waves and wayward boat. The deep shadows and strong light also denotes two-ness–the pairing of opposites. The towel flung over and around mother and child unite them, but all that takes place behind them foreshadows separation. It seems a beautiful, tender, but fleeting moment in time. Unlike the first three images which seem iconic, timeless and eternal.

.Sorolla - Masterful colorist "Just Out of the Sea" 1915

Sorolla – Masterful colorist “Just Out of the Sea” 1915

This last painting by Larson is probably my favorite among these six–for so many reasons. But first and foremost because it captures that golden glow of late afternoon on the beach, when the strong light casts shadows so deep and dark. The light shimmers around them and through them, uniting them, and revealing a transparency that we see in the figure’s back-lit clothing.

Mother and child are clearly two distinct individuals now. Still, the touching heads and hands form a circle of unity and closeness. Even the shadows at their feet flowing upward through the two figures form a second circle of unity. We still have two-in-one and one-in-two, even while the separate individuals are clearly defined.

There is something nostalgic about this painting. A tender sweetness underscored by the foreshadowing of separation as the two move apart from each other and this singular moment is lost in passing time. We cannot stop passing time, but we can capture it in these sweet moments, and preserve it in our art and our memories."Beach Treasures" by Jeffrey T. Larson (1999)

“Beach Treasures” by Jeffrey T. Larson (1999)

And I suppose that’s why I find all these paintings so powerful and profound. They capture universal and primal experiences we all have shared at one time or another in our journey from one to two and back again.

Mothering, I’ve learned, is a capacity that anyone can embrace: man, woman, child. You don’t have to be a mother, or have children of your own, to mother the world, to feel that oneness, or two-in-one. When we adopt that stance, all things become our children to nurture, cherish, support, love—to help bring to their full potential.

Here’s wishing you all a lovely day of “mothering.”

A New Tenderness Toward This Body

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Francisco Zúñiga (1912-1998)


Crossroads

by Louise Glück

My body, now that we will not be traveling together much longer
I begin to feel a new tenderness toward you, very raw and unfamiliar,
like what I remember of love when I was young —

love that was so often foolish in its objectives
but never in its choices, its intensities
Too much demanded in advance, too much that could not be promised —

My soul has been so fearful, so violent;
forgive its brutality.
As though it were that soul, my hand moves over you cautiously,

not wishing to give offense
but eager, finally, to achieve expression as substance: it is not the earth I will miss,
it is you I will miss.

A New Beginning for Our Ending

I too feel a new tenderness toward this body that holds me so tenderly in return, within its soft, wide confines. That moves me and moves with me wherever I go. That holds within all that I am, memories and emotions that ebb and flow, that mere touch, taste, scent, releases. And even now, after all this time together, when a foot or knee fails, when bones creak and muscles sigh, and the weight of you seems too much to bear, still, still, you gather me in your arms. You hold me near, breathe me in, lift me up, and lay me down. You try so hard to be what I need, to do what needs doing. Too often I have railed against you, dismissed you, disowned you. Let me see you now as friend, as lover, as mother. As dear to me as sky and earth and tree and sea. Let me cherish you as you have cherished me, and when the end comes, let us rest and rise together.

Memoir of a Marriage, Part V – Lasting Love

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They say opposites attract. That was true when my husband and I first met. I found in him everything I felt missing in myself—he was strong and brave, adventurous, self-confident, practical, capable, a man of the world. I was shy, timid, uncertain of myself, a romantic, an idealist, inexperienced. I was a senior in High School. He was a marine returning home from two years in Viet Nam. I thought I had found my soul mate, we seemed to complement each other so well, like two halves of a whole, yin and yang.

The truth is, we were just what we needed at the time. This dark, moody often angry young man who could also be so sweet and loving fulfilled a romantic yearning in me to sooth the savaged soul—Beauty and the Beast, after all, had always been my favorite fairy tale. And he was sorely needing the sweetness and innocence he saw in me, after the things he had witnessed in war. We fit together perfectly in each other’s arms. We still do.

But now I no longer believe in soul mates. I discovered that all the things I was attracted to in him, that seemed to be missing pieces of me, were really undeveloped parts of myself, and a sense of “completion” could not come from outside me but from within. Once I realized that and began to discover that I too was strong and brave, adventurous, self-confident and capable, I no longer yearned for a soul mate. I could stand upright and free even while fully committed to our marriage. We did not need each other, but we chose to be together. We were committed to creating a life that we both could love and enjoy together.

I had always loved what Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet had written about marriage, and came to see the wisdom of his words:

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness. And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart. And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” ― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

I also came to realize what Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift From The Sea” wrote:

“When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.”

And finally, I whole-heartedly embraced what Madeleine L’Engle in “The Irrational Season” wrote:

“To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take . . . . If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation… It takes a lifetime to learn another person… When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling, and which implies such risk that it is often rejected.”

IMG_4093 (4)

My husband and I are celebrating our 50th anniversary today. Here’s what I’ve learned about lasting love:

That marriage is a journey, not a destination, and the way will be hard, and filled with obstacles and challenges and heartache. That real love is not “true love.” It’s not a given. It doesn’t come ready-made. You have to fight for it, you have to work for it, you have to shake it out from time to time, and mend it and keep adding stitch after stitch, row after row, if you want to make it big enough and strong enough to last a lifetime.

Our marriage quilt is a tattered thing, but beautiful in its homeliness, in the places where its obvious rips and tears have been mended over and over again, the places where it’s grown thin and threadbare and had to be reinforced, as well as the places where it’s warm and soft and scented with memories that bring deep pleasure.

Loveliest of all are the stitches we are still sowing day by day, moment by moment, hand in hand, together.

I will end this series of posts on love and marriage with the last love poem I wrote my husband, two years after our marriage had almost ended. And two years before we began our grand adventure of sailing around the world with our kids for 6 1/2 years. But we’d already done some warm-up cruises on bare-boat charters in the Caribbean by then, which this poem mentions.

It is a simple, playful poem, meant to please a man who is not a lover of poetry, but loves the woman who writes it.

To Dale, On Our Twelfth Wedding Anniversary

Sometimes you ask me if I truly love you,
Like the answer’s hid behind a lock and key.
You are my love and all the world must know it
For it’s scattered ‘cross the land and half the sea.

There’re winds and waves much sweetened by our pleasure,
Rocks and sand well smoothed by hips and thighs,
Grass that grows much greener from our nearness,
And trees that rustle still with our sated sighs.

If you climb a certain stream that flows near Big Sur,
You’ll find a rock well made for lying on,
It knew our love before it was made sacred
And longs to feel our lover’s urge again.

While high along the rugged spine of Baja,
Where boney cliffs fall far to find the sea,
We saw the world stripped bare of all but beauty
And we alone like Adam and his Eve.

The moon once tipped the hills beyond Coyote
And laced Conception Bay with fluorescent light,
We swam out naked through silken waters where
You wound me round your hips and held me tight.

And cupped within the palm of Virgin Gorda
Lies an island and a secret, sandy cove, where
We waded from the sea like mating mermen
And stretched upon the sand to prove our love.

The wind once made an early morning visit
As we rolled upon a hook in Carib Bight,
While sweeping down the hatch it caught us naked
And added its cool breath to our delight.

Now wind and sea and rock and tree can tell you
The answer that you say you do not know,
You are my love and all the world’s a witness
For its sung wherever winds and waves do blow.

NOTE: This ends a series of posts celebrating 50 years of marriage, an anatomy of love as it evolves over time, exploring married love in all of its manifestations:  Innocent love, erotic lovedisappointed love, love lost, love renewed, and love that lasts. If you missed any in the series, you can read them by clicking the links above.

Memoir of a Marriage, Part IV – Love Lost & Love Renewed

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Lovers William_Powell_Frith_The_lovers
The Lovers by William Powell Frith

Not long after I decided to leave my husband I met someone new. I was working part-time at a book store and he was a publisher’s rep. We would go for coffee or walks in the park and have long, stimulating conversations. We spent hours on the phone talking about literature, philosophy, the arts, religion—things I loved but my husband had no interest in. I could feel myself falling in love with him, thinking perhaps he was the “soul mate” I’d always longed for. He seemed to feel the same way about me.

I had already asked my husband for a separation, suggesting he move out. He only laughed and said he wasn’t going anywhere. I knew I would have to be the one to go and began planning my escape. Soon, I thought, terrified by what he might do if he knew I was already seeing someone.

Then he found out. When he confronted me, I told him the truth, that I had fallen in love with someone else. I was astounded by his response. It was so unlike anything I had imagined. He said he did not blame me. He had always known that I was “too good” for him, and if this man was better, he’d step out of the way.

But after confronting the man too, after meeting and talking with him, he said the man wasn’t good enough.  He was the better man, and he wanted me to give him another chance. He was sure he could make me fall in love with him again. And while I knew that was impossible, I felt I had no other choice but to let him try. We had been married ten years by then, and I felt I owed him, and our marriage, at least that much. I figured eventually he’d realize it was futile, and then he’d have to let me go.

It was hard at first, to stop seeing the man I felt I had fallen in love with. I felt I had put my real life in limbo, and was living a lie. I mourned my lost love. The life I imagined spending with him was like a shadow that followed me everywhere. I feared it was a life we might never realize together—at least in this life time. That’s when I wrote the following poem.

The Other

It’s amazing how you multiply as time moves
 Everywhere I see your face appear
 It grows more clear the longer we are parted
Like time itself conspires to bring you near.

Sometimes I feel your presence close behind me
Where I could turn to find you standing there
Turn toward arms pressed close about me
As if mere motion was the answer to my prayers.

Sometimes your presence seems to float before me
Upon a sea of bright tranquility
I watch my soul swept out to meet you
And marvel at mind’s sweet complicity.

Sometimes I feel as if I were a twosome
And one of me moves never far from you,
The other is mere exercise in motion
Eclipsing everything in me that’s true.

Someday I pray that we shall sit together
Before a sea resplendent in the sun
We’ll eat a little morning meal together
Before we rise into new life as one.

Eventually this sense of sadness faded. My husband and I began “dating” again. We spent long leisurely weekends together going to concerts and museums and strolls along the beach. We began cultivating a taste for California wines and listening to jazz music together. We chartered sailboats in the Caribbean and renewed our dream to sail around the world together.

Little by little I began falling back in love with him. It began with a deep respect for how he had reacted when I told him I’d fallen for someone else. There was no anger, no accusations, no recriminations. No jealousy or hurt feelings that I could tell. Never did he hold it against me, or try to make me feel I had wronged him. He absolved me of all blame. All he wanted was the opportunity to prove he was the better man, prove he could love me enough to make me want to stay with him. How could I not love that?

I realized I had deeply underestimated him. He revealed a strength of character and depth of love that I hadn’t realized he possessed. A dignity and humility and gentleness I hadn’t seen before. This was the foundation upon which the renewed love I felt for him grew. And it was the stronger and richer for it.

Now looking back, that period in our marriage seems like an aberration, a mirage almost. I barely remember the name of the man I thought I’d loved, and his bitter assessment of the whole affair—that I willed myself to love him to have the courage to leave my husband—may have the ring of truth.

Despite this happy ending to that episode in our marriage, it wasn’t the last time our love was tested and bent near breaking. But never again without the hope that this too would mend in time and make us stronger. And it did.

Love is the hardest thing we can ever do—love for our spouses, our children, our parents, ourselves, each other. Love for the world we live in. Love for that which created all of this. If we think love’s easy or should be easy, that it won’t have radical mood swings, won’t lift us up and throw us down, won’t drift away when we’re not attentive, won’t wither if we’re not feeding it, or spring back, full and fresh, when we water it with patience and kindness, then we don’t know love at all.  And maybe we can’t know it, until we live it, and let it live in us.

(To be continued) In celebration of April as National Poetry Month and our 50th wedding anniversary (yes, I was a child bride), I’ll be reposting a series I published here years ago, an anatomy of love as it evolves over time, exploring married love in all of its manifestations:  Innocent love, erotic love, disappointed love, love lost, love renewed, and love that lasts.

Memoir of a Marriage, Part III – Disappointed Love

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Sweet_Nothings_by_Godward

When I first fell in love, it was a hot thing—urgent, possessive, almost feverish at times. I truly saw love as being two souls in one body. We were opposites that complemented each other. He was my missing half, and I his.

But I wasn’t content with that. In some fervent way I wanted to be him, become him, live inside him, feel my heart beating in his body and his in mine. I wanted to meld with him.

Not surprisingly, I discovered this just wasn’t happening. There were times when our love felt like that, when we seemed so close, but then it would slacken and drift away. And when that happened, he seemed almost like a stranger to me, someone I barely knew, and did not understand at all.

That’s when I wrote the following poem.

 Love’s Duplicity

I look at you and see
Incredibly
A face at once slighted by closeness, yet
Dimmed by the distance I hold you;
A face overlooked and over known, yet
Laced by fingers, fearful to possess you.
And you look from eyes
Half-halting
Wary that you know me.

I look at you and see
Incredibly,
How the lines forming you
Flow not into my own
But lie separately, falling
On planes apart.
Reasoning makes no clearer,
No nearer
That we lie two, not one.

I look at you and see
Incredibly,
How the brown hollow of your eyes
Will ever haunt mine, and
I cry for me, for all whose heart’s desire
Is held ever at half embrace:
Half wanting, half waiting,
Half knowing
What we’ll never know.

I look at you and see
Incredibly,
How these feelings we are one
Or we should be,
How we are strangers
Never touching,
Lie at odds in me.
Is it odd I reap of love
the bittersweet?

Eventually I realized we weren’t soul mates and probably never would be. And while I still yearned for us to become closer, he was content with the way things were.

While I wanted to know everything about him, there were parts of me—important parts—that he simply had no interest in. Like my passion for the arts, literature, philosophy, religion, writing. He knew I wanted to be a writer—that I wrote poetry and short stories and kept a journal—and he liked that about me. But he had no interest in what I was writing, never asked to read anything. Never seemed interested when I offered to share what I wrote. He wasn’t curious at all.

Finally, I let go trying to become closer, and we drifted away from each other. Our marriage became almost sterile, perfunctory. We shared a house, children, a bed. That was all. I realized that I no longer loved him. At times I barely liked him.

A veil of sadness descended over me, a yearning for something I feared I would never have. I felt my soul mate was still out there somewhere, waiting for me. But I realized I may never find him.

The following poem expresses that feeling of waiting for something that may never happen. It was originally published in a college journal.

Hot Hills in Summer Heat

I watch them every summer, the hot hills

Crouched like a lion beside the road,

Tawny skin pulled taut across

Long, lean ribs.

I would take my hand and trace

Round ripples of male muscle,

Feel the hot rise and cool dip

of his body.

I see the arrogance—rocky head held

High against a blazing sky, the patient

Power unmindful of the heat

that holds me.

One day he will rise, stretch his sensuous

Body against the sky with one, low moan.

On silent paws he will pursue me.

And so I wait.

by Deborah J. Brasket

We’d been married ten years by then, but I felt I could no longer live like this. It was time for me to leave.

(To be continued) In celebration of April as National Poetry Month and our 50th wedding anniversary (yes, I was a child bride), I’ll be reposting a series I published here years ago, an anatomy of love as it evolves over time, exploring married love in all of its manifestations:  Innocent love, erotic love, disappointed love, love lost, love renewed, and love that lasts.