Monday, April 13, 2015

For Suzanne

passed away suddenly - March 2015
There you were

With basket filled  - a loaf of bread, a candle and wine
A feast for friends
The real treasures though?
The sustenance of your smile, your light, your joy
I still see you on the beach that night
The moon rising over the incoming tide
Trying to light tin lanterns against the wind
When it was you who were the gift, the light and warmth
in the dark and cold.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Worry Doll

         Finn took the one-inch square, rainbow-striped bag from his shelf, pulled open the drawstring and turned it over. Six matchstick, painted wooden figures fell into his small hand. I watched him delicately pick up one at a time to look at.  “What are those?” I asked, reaching for the little scroll that fell out with them. 
“They’re worry dolls, Nonna!” Finn said in a tone suggesting that I should have known exactly what they were. I read out loud from the paper scroll. According to legend, Guatemalan children tell their worries to the dolls, place them under their pillows at night, and all worries are gone by morning.  
Give me a few dozen, I thought, but said only, “I didn’t know that. Shall we put some under our pillows tonight?  
“Of course we should!”
When it was time for bed, Finn picked out three of the tiny figures for himself and gave me three. Grandmother and grandchild each whispered our worries to the dolls and placed them under our pillows. Then I opened the evening story book and read until Finn’s eyes began to close.  
I should have been tired enough to sleep too. But, as was my habit before sleep (if sleep comes at all) all the things there were to worry about crowded my mind: my husband’s progressing disease; my best friend’s terminal illness; my regrets about all the things I might have done, or done differently, or not done at all! I started to think about the random violence, pain and suffering that was happening right then all over the world--in war zones, in cities and towns while lay in a warm, safe and comfortable bed   As if that weren’t enough to keep me awake I began to  turn to focus on the way my body felt with the effects of aging, increasingly aware of the inevitability of my own death. As always, I had reprimand herself, Why do I do this?  What were the three worries I had whispered to the dolls? I didn’t remember.  wondered if more people than I might imagine were also worrying at this moment, or did I alone have such a negative state of mind by nature? 
The senses of body and sharpness of mind fading and dulling, and with more life behind me than in front, I tried to come to terms with the losses: of friends, family, youth, beauty and energy. Motivation for looking ahead and welcoming each challenge with strength is weaker. The progression of my husband’s Parkinson’s is quickly diminishing his health and former self. Then there is the sad sense of slowing down, taking more time to do things that had once been done without a thought, and with facility and speed.   Also, my forgetting a word here, a name there. Geez, I hope those are not the first symptoms of the dreaded “A” word disease.
I recalled how my father used to go out with his shirt inside out, and how he once got into his car to drive to the donut shop, and found himself in the back seat. About the same time I noticed how slowly my mother was walking, with an obvious sense of caution and uncertainty, and her admirable attempts to “keep up.” Now they are gone too. Although I myself continue to do all the things I have always done, it is with an increasing awareness of the effort, not only to accomplish them, but also to appear as though nothing is different.  I, for instance, try now, as her mother once did when walking, to keep up with younger people. Am I more discomforted if my family notices and asks if I need help with things, or if no one notices?
In a recurring dream I am standing at the top of a long stairway I have to descend.  It's open on both sides with each individual stair impossibly steep, like an Alice in Wonderland image--with no way down or out. 
When I get to the point where my thoughts wind themselves into self-perpetuating loops, I prompt myself to initiate another evening ritual: counting my blessings. It is a noble effort to displace the worries with all the things be grateful for, which, in reality, are very many.  After 45 years of marriage, (or shear madness as we sometimes call it) my husband and I are still together, support, respect and love each other. We still are creative and laugh a lot (about eating and drinking ourselves to death in retirement), and live comfortably within our means. Both of our sons have also found creative work (without our having to pay for a college education--their choice). They love their work, and make living at it.  I still have my dear friend whose enthusiasm for life, even as she prepare for death, is an inspiration. I am grateful that I still have interests, plans and projects which keep me from from boredom and despair. And our grandchildren are beautiful, happy and healthy. They are the greatest joy to me.
I so look forward to and loved being with my family. When I visit, I am welcomed, feel useful and valued for the love and warmth I both gave and receive.  Worries are pushed, at those times, to the periphery. Also Finn’s joy and interest in everything lifts life above the ordinary into another realm, and he pleased to have me near him. “I love you, Nonna,” he says, sometimes with his eyes closed, ready to drift off into that angelic state of sleep so visible on a child’s face. 
At bedtime the night after we placed the worry dolls under our pillows, Fiinn called to me, “Oh, Nonna, look!  The worry dolls--we forgot.  He reached under the pillows to gather them. Then, with wide eyes, “Hey, but I still have my worries; they didn’t go away.  He told me of his fears of having bad dreams and of his house burning down.  I felt that twinge of compassion one feels for children when they begin to realize that there is no magic. Then remarkably he observed, “Well, it did say it was a legend, didn’t it Nonna?”
“Yes, yes it did,” I agreed, with the sense that I was the child and he the adult, “and a worry does not mean the thing we worry about is going to happen." The thing was, I didn’t entirely believe that myself. I know people whose worst fears have been realized, and bear a sorrow can only imagine.
Finn and I, nevertheless, decided that we would tell the dolls you worries and try again that. “Nonna, I am afraid to go to sleep of bad dreams. Dreams, dreams go away.” Finn said earnestly with his eyes tightly closed.
“Well, we know what we will have to do for that?”
“Go to the other side of day, right Nonna?” 
After stories and songs, if Finn still feels uneasy, we sit up on the bed and I begin an incantation. Finn gets into the cross-legged position.  “Close your eyes and let your body melt, like a stick of butter in a pan. Now, let’s go to the other side of day. Take three deep breaths. Slowly, in and out, in and out, in and out. Then I chant a Latin prayer learned in chi childhood “Agnus dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,” * to lend an air of mystery and magic. The words are accompanied by hand gestures that Finn imitates, pushing day away in seven directions, ending with our hands crossed over our hearts. 
“I feel better, Nonna.”
    I looked at him with tears in my eyes, “Nonna has to leave tomorrow, and I’m very sad. I won’t see you for a while, and I’ll miss you so terribly.” 
“You’re leaving tomorrow, Nonna?” 
“Yes, sweetie” 
With his innocent, wide and wise blue eyes, he looked straight into mine, “Well, Nonna, it’s not tomorrow now! 
I felt my heart would stop.
Then we lay down holding hands and listened to the quiet. After a few minutes, Finn was asleep. It’s not tomorrow now, indeed. Why did I place my worry and sadness on him, as though he were my very own little worry doll? Yet, instead of his taking on my worry, he nullified it with the wisdom, clarity and truth of innocence.
  No, it’s not tomorrow now, and it's not yesterday.  There is only the present where time touches eternity," and that is heaven on earth. Then, as I fell asleep whispering the rest of the Latin prayer: dona nobis pacem.**

*  Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world 
** grant us peace.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


“If there had been only one Buddhist in the woodpile” 
That cynical idealist, realist poet of the people once pondered
Substitute Waco, Texas with any or all senseless, complicated, absurdity of violence
Before then, until now and way beyond tomorrow. 

If Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess, protector of all, had been in the woodpile in Iraq
Would the children have been saved--the Christians, Yazidi, Sunni,
four young men whose own mothers could not save them? 
Barbarians took her name in vain and perverted her purpose

Could any power have prevented mass murders, carnage, brutality? 
It didn’t, it hasn’t, it couldn’t
Only consciousness can
Not Bodhisattva- or saint-like consciousness
But the tiniest bit of wonder before the infinite universe
A modest intimation of the human spirit
One glimpse of beauty and goodness of life and love,
a capacity of compassion for the other--
Her fear and suffering, his sorrow and joy
For just a moment.

That glimmer of consciousness might have asked: 
"With my life, here and now, what will I do? 
What do I wish to bring into being, to experience? 

Supreme power over everything and everyone?
Shedding blood of innocents with the arrogance of zeal?"

Their answer was, “yes.” The men of war have ever said thus: 
“I will assert and secure my power over the weak and helpless
Through terror, torture, rape and murder
Wearing black masks to cover our mocking faces of defiance
Speaking only threats with hearts of stone."

Such is the history of the world--a "nightmare from which we are trying to awaken"
And what will the warriors rule over--these modern hoards at the gates of civilization--
Chaos and devastation?
Keeping watch, lest the same thing befall them
Born of the pain and malice they engendered in others

And nations’ military deus ex machina descend upon them
While the Buddhist and we wait and meditate--

Clapping one hand

Monday, September 1, 2014


Parts of me are missing
I don’t know what they are or where to look for them
I only sense sometimes--the gaps, the spaces that keep me from wholeness
standing under the stars last night, the tide coming in, the wind blowing, restless
preferring the familiarity of my small room
where I am not reminded of parts I cannot name in the dark mystery of the infinite. Why?
I fold the laundry, wash out the green glass, sweep the leaves from my doorway, put everything in its place
except the fragments of myself--out there somewhere, or in here
so near, but deeper than I can see or go.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

For Boo

Mary "Boo" Budash - Crossed the Threshold in May 2014

You, poised at the bank of the Seine, alone
like a country girl innocent in blue 
Madone de la rivière you seemed
full of grace

We did not know you then
but sensed in the friend and poet you became
the beauty and goodness emanating from you--in that image.

Your inward gaze, the water's serenity
flowing from and to
that moment you left us
all that transpired and transformed along the way
visible to us now

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Dreaming light and waking in the dark - We
Perpetually relive the Fall
Eternally recreate Creation 
Receive revelation
both asleep and awake - all

Lost in the belly of a whale
Riding a bull over ocean swells
Lying in rushes under the weight and white of a swan
Traveling the arduous path to the underworld
Emerging into starlight.

Amid polarities hope and despair
shame and pride have we trod the earth--an armed race

With fire to illuminate or incinerate.

It’s all true for you and me (and everyone we know)

Look, and see if is not so.
Forever, deep within
We have carried images and experience
of paradise, of exile and a longing to return

Isn’t this why we became human in the first place?

Monday, June 16, 2014

On This Ground

      It comforted Nora to think that, on the very ground he took his last breath, Indians had once danced. She didn’t find that out until later, after the burial, after staying inside all summer and fall, wondering if she had somehow imagined it all.  She had slept on the sofa since that rainy evening, waiting for him to call, to see him walk past the front window, to open the door for him when he came home.
When she arrived at the accident scene that night, she saw the chalked outline of his body on the street.  She reached for the grey sweatshirt among his personal effects given to her just an hour before at the hospital, where she had identified her son: car keys, a cigarette lighter, a wallet, an iPod, some change, and an arrowhead he always carried with him. She pulled the sweatshirt over her head, holding the hood to her face and inhaled.  Then she lay down on the wet, leaf-strewn road and sobbed.
     Did he suffer? Did he think of her, call out, pray in the last moments, or was he already unconscious when he hit the pavement?  Did he know he would die, hope he would live?  Nora lived with those questions, spoke them in the middle of the night, wrote them down over and over. Then one morning in late December she awoke to that grey stillness before snow remembering that now, after the winter solstice, there were longer days ahead. Then, it came to her so clearly: today she must go to that place again, where the chalk outline had long faded and no trace of metal shards or shattered glass remained. 
     Only burning grief remained, which still surprised her whenever she awoke--morning or night, but this morning she would be moved. It would be a long walk, but she would go.  This morning she had to give over to time and reason.  He will not call; he will not walk up the front path. He will not come home, no matter how long I lie waiting on the sofa.  She went to pull the shades down on the front windows and locked the door.  
      When her daughter called, Nora said, “I am taking a walk this morning.”
     It was a revelation to Addie. She was partly elated that her mother was doing anything other than what she had done for the past months, and partly concerned at this sudden change. “That’s great, Mom.  How about if I come over and we can walk together like we used to?  It's really cold and windy today, and snowing off and on already. Maybe we should wait until tomorrow”
      “I know, I know, but It'll be fine. I have to go today. I'm leaving now for Three Island Cove.”
      “Mom, wait! I'll be right over, really. Don’t go without me. I should be with you,” 
      “No, don’t worry. You’ve been telling me to do something different, and now I am.” She hung up the phone before her daughter had finished.
      “I want to go with you.”
      Nora was sorry she had even told her daughter where she was going and hoped she would not just show up.  She wanted to be alone. She knew it had been hard for Addie too, but grief was a private affair to protect and not share with anyone, not even her own daughter, “her favorite,” as Andrew would say. 
     She went into his room, where all remained as it had been the night he left and never returned: curtains drawn, clothes on the unmade bed, shoes on the floor, CDs; empty cigarette packs, matches and batteries on the table beside his bed.  Laundry she had folded for him was still on the dresser. The job applications and resumes on his desk reminded her that, in his slow, deliberate way, Andrew had been ready to make a change in his life.  
     Every morning since his death, she would open his door whisper in a good morning, and every evening a good night, but not today.  She went straight for the box she had placed in one corner of the room. Taking out the grey sweatshirt, she held it close to her once again, lifted it to her lips for a moment, then slipped it on. She hurried to the hall closet to grab a coat, hat and gloves and stepped out into the cold.
     She felt she was emerging into a new world, but looking around thought, it’s really just the old world I don’t recognize, where people have been living their lives, going places and doing things as usual. For her, there was no “usual,” no place to go, and no life either to live.  Grief was her world--deep and vast, with no exit. With her head down, against the wind, she watched the snow flakes sparkle a moment on the sidewalk then disappear. Icy branches moving in the wind, and her quickening breath were the only sounds. As her stride widened, she became aware of her pounding heart and her breath frosting into mist in front of her. Everything is so quiet, so white, so pure.   
     Disoriented by the openness of this forgotten environment, she had a sense of her changing inner landscape--unwanted and unwelcome. As she began the ascent up the steep hill, there seemed to be a thread being cast backwards in time, attaching itself to images, people, events, places--connecting her with her son.  She wanted to turn around and run back to her safe, familiar place of stasis. But the intensity of her experience was compelling, with intimations of truths, both light and dark. Somehow, she knew that only by physically moving forward, could the past be revealed and lead her to the present, and maybe beyond.  What was that feeling of expanding and contracting at the same time? It was as if the long days and nights of sameness, the ritualized sorrow had prepared the ground for all that came out of her now.  
     Something was shifting--what, to where or how, she couldn't tell. Though her grief was still palpable, underlying everything, there was also a distraction from it.  No longer did it overflow, gushing in torrents so that she felt each moment she was about to go under, breathless and suffocating.  Her focus went to each new strand of thought, feeling, and memory, all weaving together, without the power to stop it, had she wished to.
     In the quiet, deserted street, passing the houses and trees still lit with holiday lights, she was remembering her lost child had been unwanted at first, coming many years after Addie, whose arrival had justified all manner of pain. It was a redemption of her past transgressions--nothing else was needed. 
     I don’t know why, but when Addie came, it made me feel normal and whole again. She brought me down to earth, put things into perspective. But, Andrew, more than anyone or anything else, forced me to reach down in myself.  I had to build up things I didn’t even know I had.  Addie was a beautiful gift. She took away the darkness and made everything light and bearable.  The joy she gave me took away my burden of guilt and shame, or displaced it. Or did I just trade one myth of sorrow for another of redemption.
There I go again, making things too dark or too light. Matt told me that, and I knew it was true, though I didn't let him know that he knew me that well.
     The widening circumference of memory touched many truths, exposed illusions, brought things into focus.  Andrew had was a contented baby, but was less responsive to affection.  He didn't like to be held.  He was dreamy, independent, willful and often irritable, which tried her patience.  More than that, though, as he grew, it’s was as if he were asking her to change herself in order to see who he was, to find what he needed, which was hard--maybe impossible. 
     I failed Andrew in every way. With Addie, I felt I’d always known who she was and what she needed. It was easy.  But I took on Andrew as “my task,” which his father took no part in initiating or directing.  He wasn’t interested in my one-woman show. I excluded Matt--everyone and everything else.
     Andrew, who began to show early on that, while he may not have been “awake,” as she felt, he had extraordinary insights about the essence and purpose of things, knew more than she did in some ways. He was a puzzle and paradox.  His intuitive, sensitive nature engendered in her a love as deep and wide as the love she had for Addie, but an uneasy love. Something was asked in exchange.  She was convinced his inherent wisdom was meant to guide her, and his father to--something, maybe self-knowledge, which she thought they both lacked. His father did not allow it, but Nora thought she had.
     Of course, Andrew was also a gift, but he forced me to look into the darkness, own it, and find some light in it. She   had attempted to set things right and took up her task, which left Matt out. She had been unable to admit her regret at having  left him, convincing herself that she had to concentrate on her life’s work. At the steepest stretch of the hill, it came to her that she did not have to leave and she missed him terribly. 
     That's me! creating my own Greek tragedy.  I thought Matt stood in the way. I put Andrew above all things.  I thought Addie had lifted my burden, but I just placed it on Andrew who carried it to his death. I tried to put it on Matt too, but he refused it.  It wasn't his, so why shouldn't he? And Andrew bore it all--my hovering, his father’s leaving, our move away from the only home he had ever known. He resented me for all of it, and couldn't forgave me. 
     "Can you forgive me now?" she whispered into the wind.
     By the time she reached the place she both dreaded and longed to be, a perfect imagination had been formed--perfect, in that it was whole, woven in reverse from moments in time, expanding outward to encompass the lives of mother and son--and a family. When she came to rest, she noticed a sign on the side of the road, one of those placards noting some bit of history. How had it eluded her notice until now? She had driven past it many times, but seldom walked the hill in the year they had lived in town.
     In an instant, she felt herself engulfed in love, small but integral within her creation, which held everything that was and is and would be.  She both saw and became the bare trees, the grey sky, the snow flakes around her and this ground--where Andrew was lost.  
     She read: "SAMUEL DE CHAMPLAIN. Due east from here on July 16,1605, the Sieurde Monts sent Samuel de Champlain ashore to parley with some Indians. They danced for him and traced an outline map of Massachusetts Bay."
     Nora stood for some time looking up at the sign. She bent down to touch the ground.  Something extraordinary had taken place here long ago--an exchange, a sharing, a trust, a true meeting.  In this place, strangers had arrived, met other souls who danced to welcome them on a foreign shore. They shared their knowledge of the land, which also lived inside of them. It was right here also that another soul, one whom she had striven to know and become more like. He had joined the others who had lived long ago. Time, just another illusion. We are all here. It is then, and now and tomorrow.
How long she stood in this reverie of her own creation, in the light of the knowledge the placard had shed, who knows?  She turned, glanced back once, as a few snow flakes floated down like feathers.  Feeling the cold more than before, even though the wind had subsided, she began to walk quickly downhill.  She saw Addie coming toward her smiling and waving, making her way amid the lights twinkling from the trees and houses along the still, quiet street.