Blink

The first milestone that seemed so far away into the future that hover boards would surely have come and gone by then was 1999, the year my middle brother was slated to graduate college and my baby brother would be bar mitzvahed. I remember giggling along with my parents in 1988 or 89 at the unimaginable idea of Jason in a cap and gown, and baby Josh, who was then still in diapers, grown up enough to not only talk, but sing Torah troupe in front of an audience of kippah-wearing spectators.

As I don’t have to tell you, 1999 has come and gone in the proverbial blink of my hazel green eyes and no hover boards. (Robert Zemeckis was ill-advised, I guess. Or just a hopeful dreamer.)

Jason’s cap has long ago been thrown high into the air and his gown recycled. He’s a successful professional now, married with children. And Baby Josh led the entire morning Shabbat service, squeaky voice and all, and 15 years later is now a freshly-minted lawyer, and recently engaged.

And me?

As much as I sometimes still see myself in my mind’s eye as the girl swiveling in a chair at the kitchen table and laughing in the face of the future, I am somehow here (or there. Whichever one is the future.)

I am a married woman and not only are my own three children all able to ride bikes, dive into the deep end of the pool, and tie their own shoes, but I sent my youngest off today on the bus to her first day of real school.

Annabel_Tekes_Sept2014

It’s a serendipitous junction I’ve arrived at: I just turned 40 last month. This week, I will celebrate the bar mitzvah year of my marriage. And today, all three of my children have officially made it to elementary school.

I blinked, I guess. Again.

Or else this day was so very far away into the future, I never got the chance to imagine it.

After 39

Carl Jung may or may not have said “Life begins at 40,” but a great many people on the internet want to know if it’s true.
I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Just tell me something first: How will I know?
Where shall I look?
What color is a beginning?

Does it smell like Thin Mints?
Does it taste like the Mobil Station near the Woodcrest Shopping Center?

Can I buy two for one and carry them both wrapped up in a paper napkin and stuffed at the bottom of my yellow handbag?

Tell me something.

What makes you think life didn’t begin on the 5th floor of Thurston Hall or on the corner of Prince and Mott or behind the mess hall at Camp Comet?

What makes you think life didn’t begin when you tried on your first bra or learned the meaning of the word lesbian?

It’s possible life really began — if we’re being serious for a moment — the day you understood life on Earth has been destroyed by an asteroid at least four times and will certainly be destroyed by an asteroid again.

It’s entirely possible life began when Stephanie died or when Jodie died or even before them when you were a little girl afraid of the dark and Bruce died and then visited you in your bedroom sometimes at night.

Life begins sometimes in a bowl of fruit. It begins in a pile of leaves left behind last Fall. It begins in a creek bed hidden by shade.

It begins
It begins
It begins

And so, tomorrow, I’ll tell you if life begins at 40,
but only if you tell me first how I will know.

I admit it. I am a bibliophile.

Is our melancholic love of books in the digital age just another reinterpretation of our nostalgia for home?

Today, I opened up a 1983 edition of  Madeline L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet (the third book in the A Wrinkle In Time trilogy) and almost tilted over myself.

Okay — that is a tiny exaggeration.  But I wasn’t even able to move past the Table of Contents before I was overcome by a whoosh of emotion rushing through my chest and up into my throat.

“In this fateful hour…”

My pulse turned rapid.

“All Heaven with its power …”

The way I used to feel when a boy I liked was just about to kiss me.

“The sun with its brightness…”

Held my breath. Tried to steady myself.

“The snow with its whiteness…”

Leaned in. Closed my …

The fire with all the strength it hath…”

And took a picture of it on instagram to share with all of you.

 

 

SwiftlyTiltingPlanet

bib·lio·phile   noun \  ˈbi-blē-ə-ˌfī(-ə)l\
: a person who loves or collects books
: me

Approaching Autumn

“How do you call ‘stav” in English, again, mommy?” he asks, as we make our way up the hill.

“Fall,” the bigger one says quickly.

“Or Autumn,” I say.

“Autumn,” he repeats. “Right.”

“Autumn is the fancier version,” says the bigger one.

“Yes, there’s something delicate about the word, Autumn,” I say.

Also, something composed and at ease, I think, and an ache passes through me. I decide to share it.

“You know,” I say, “sometimes you use the word ‘autumn’ when describing a time of your life. As in, ‘the autumn of her life.’  Spring is the beginning. Summer, the season of joy and play. Then Autumn. I think I might be approaching Autumn.”

“No, mom,” says the bigger one. “You’re still in Summer.”

“Really?” I ask. And I mean it.

Tell me, I want to say to him. Tell me how I’m still in Summer.

And he does, without my asking.

“You’re still healthy. You’re still young.” His brother nods.

I don’t correct them. Not out loud. I yearn to, though. To warn them. To make them see.

“You’re definitely not in Autumn yet,” he continues. “Autumn is like 50. At least 50.”

Later, we see an old man cautiously taking on a series of stone steps. He approaches each rise from the right, first with the rubber bottom of his cane; then lifting one leg; then the second.

As we pass this man on the stairs — we going down — I understand that if asked, this man might place me at the crossroads where Spring meets Summer. And I could see how he could see me there. How he’d laugh at me if I asked him “which season,” and respond with something like “youth is wasted on the young.”

My young one looks at me and says in a whisper, “That man is in Winter.” And then louder asks, “What season am I, mommy?”

I look at him and I laugh.

 

 

Hidden Pictures

 

Hidden Pictures

At Jennifer’s First Birthday, 1975

birthday0001

In this big picture, find the locket, the John Lennon spectacles, blue eyeshadow, bangs trimmed straight, August, yellow #5, a red balloon (not to be confused with The Red Balloon), a tray wiped clean, a downward glance, an elephant, love, another elephant, motherhood, hints of a Bubbi in a baby’s breath, a candle blown, “she looks like you Mom,” uncertainty, a glassy iris, love, the end of an exhale, one year, 26, 11 in between days, a hidden picture, gingham.

In this big picture, find

 

 

* * * * **
Happy birthday, Mom.
Hidden Pictures is a trademark of Highlights Kids magazine
.

 

What appeals to me about found poetry

One of the reasons why I love to experiment with “found poetry” is that it allows me to make an artful experience last longer.

I just finished reading Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” for instance, and was struck often throughout by meaningful gems I wish I could spend more time contemplating.

In the absence of a classroom full of fellow philosophers or a literature professor, I turn to found poetry, otherwise known as “erasure poetry” or “blackout poetry.”

There is no correct way of digging in, but this is how I’ve been doing it with books. (You can also find poetry in songs or in newspaper articles. Why not?)

Instructions for finding poetry:

1. Xerox copy the page of the book or the document that stopped you in your tracks.

kundera metaphors are dangerous

2. Read it over a few times. Perhaps, out loud.

3. Listen.

4. Circle with pencil the words calling out to you.

When you’re certain (or certain enough) you’ve dug out something new or relevant or useful from the beauty or wisdom already expressed by the author, smudge out the words around those in paint or black ink or, like Mary Ruefle, with white out.

5. There. You’ve found something. A poem, perhaps, or an idea or a pathway.

Something.

Like most creative writing, a first draft of a found poem might only be a writing prompt for something more significant.

At the very least, you got to spend more time with beauty or wisdom … and upcycled it into your own life.

 

 

When all else fails, shave your legs

<FOUND POETRY>

Ultra Sensitive
Ultra Sensible
Contents under pressure.

You don’t have to sacrifice
comfort or
closeness.

We recommend       shave gel
like my dad on Saturday
over wet skin
like Bernie at Atlas Paints

You don’t have to sacrifice
comfort or
closeness.

We recommend       shave gel
like the neck of a hairy bear
almost man
who promises the Blair Witch Project
isn’t real

Do not place near
sources of            puncture.

like my husband on Saturday

Keep out of reach

like a chilled river running over a boulder
and I am that boulder with my head bowed down
and 

Glide.

 

 

The story within the story

Reporters will tell you there are two, maybe three narratives in the Middle East. They’ll split the stories into perspectives and call them Palestinian and Israeli or East and West or Arab and Jew. But that’s like saying Moby Dick is about a whale and a man. I don’t know what Moby Dick is about — I still haven’t read it. But hundreds of thousands of people have and I can’t believe it’s because it’s a story about a whale and a man.

So it is with the Middle East.

There are so many stories. People. Lives.

READ THE FULL POST (in the Times of Israel).

 

Makes me wanna keep going

I’ll be honest: I’m still not done reading Rachel Zucker’s The Pedestrians.

I have about 5 or 6 more poems to go before the end. The book is sitting on my nightstand in my bedroom; next to which is my middle son who just slipped off to sleep.   My other two children are on two different IPADs watching two different age appropriate American television programs. (Go ahead: rate my parenting.)

I could finish The Pedestrians right now. I could snuggle up to the middle son in his sweat lodge and read.

But, I had a thought just now I couldn’t suppress:

Rachel Zucker makes me want to read more poetry.

But more important, she makes me want to write more poetry.

And I couldn’t just keep that to myself.

I had just finished one of the selections in the book titled “paris dream.” It’s one of 13 dream-like poems (others are titled “brooklyn dream,” “egg dream,” “daycare dream.”) Each time I read one of her “dream” poems I notice how I am simultaneously drawn into the poetry and into the dream itself; into the conscious and subconscious levels of the language. I find myself savoring Zucker’s dream in the way I sometimes delight in my own in the minutes just after I wake. I felt the urge to analyze it and was pleased.

I could keep reading Rachel Zucker’s dreams, I thought.

And while I am generally attracted to poems that are “dream-like” (Mark Strand’s work is a good example), Zucker’s dream poems compel me to dig into my own dream journal — the one I started keeping again last week after a two-year hiatus — to fashion gems out of the scribbles there. I’m trying already, but Zucker inspires me to try harder.

I fell for Zucker after reading Museum of Accidents, the themes of which are marriage, parenting children, the writing life, and a brand of existential anxiety found only in the modern first-world. The collection is a brave confessional told through the eyes of a deeply sensitive and somewhat over-thinking (some might say over-brooding) creative woman.  I connected to both the content of her poems and the way in which she expressed herself.

I found myself giggling at her often brutally honest depiction of her husband, her marriage, and their sex life; giggles reminiscent of those that spurted out when my college roommate sat on my bed Freshman year and started talking about masturbation. Translated, both set of giggles meant, “You do that, too? AND we’re allowed to talk about it?”

It was through my reading of Zucker, along with poets Eula Biss and Maggie Nelson, that I really started finding my own brave voice in my poetry; and weaving into my prose darker and more daring language and themes.

Pedestrians is just as honest as Museum of Accidents, but I find it less brutal. I don’t know if it’s me that’s changed or Zucker or both of us. In her poems in this collection, I hear a kind of acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness in her life.  Take, for instance, the way she unearths and confesses “we still love each other” in “real poem (gay men don’t snore)”

Pedestrians by Rachel Zucker

Or the tenderness and compassion she offers herself in the first sentence of “real poem (personal statement)”:

“I skim sadness like fat off the surface
of cooling soup.”

If we’re to assume the narrator is Zucker herself (and it’s difficult not to since she refers to her husband by name in this collection); I sense that it’s not that Zucker’s sorrow and longing have been replaced with gratitude; but it’s that Zucker has stumbled upon the space in which they may exist together.

And that, perhaps, along with the intimacy she invites in the dream poems, appeals to me.  Moreso, as I said above: it makes me want to read and write more poetry. And not for the sake of being heard, or for the sake of future publication or celebrity.

But because poetry is where I go about discovering the goodness in my own life,  in my own loves. It’s where I best display tenderness, compassion, and devotion, even when I am being brutally honest.

 

 

I know what I know if you know what I mean

I am a reformed know-it-all.

I used to roll around in knowledge like a warm Dunkin Donut munchkin in powdered sugar. I wanted to be covered in it and then I wanted you to lick me.

Because I knew something. And if I knew it, you should know it, too. Then all our lives would be better.

My knowing has always been a well-intentioned sort.

It didn’t matter what the knowing was: At some points in my life, the knowing was boys. At others, it was Judaism or organized religion. At another junction, it was true love. And at yet another, it was friendship.

I knew what I knew and knowing it made me right. Being right made me feel safe. Not just on-the-surface safe — not the kind of safe we feel when we double-lock our doors or put on seat belts. No, a kind of subconscious, impregnable bubble of well-being that convinced me I knew people and I knew the world and I knew what should be done to make things right or better or good.

Then, something happened. Someone convinced me that there were things I didn’t know. Not only that, someone convinced me there were things I could never know — like what it was like to live during the French Revolution or what it felt like to be in the 2004 tsunami — no matter how much studying I did; no matter how much learning; no matter, even, how much listening. Some things are just unknowable because they are unique experiences. Even if, God forbid, I one day faced a tsunami, it would never be the 2004 tsunami. No matter how many videos on YouTube I watch, I am still an observer.  No matter how many poignant blogs I read, I am still only a participant in my own experience. And so therefore, there is a distinction to be made between what I know and what I know.

Once I knew this — once I knew this — I looked at life very differently. My experience of life and people changed when I understood “I know what I know” and when I accepted “I know there are things I will never know.”

There are things I cannot possibly know no matter how loving, how compassionate, how empathetic, how caring, how interested, how hungry I am. And this matters because it impacts my point of view, it affects how I see the world, people, opportunities, challenges, and risks.

My life changed because I stepped out towards life then as a curious observer; the kind of curious observer we are all born as and remain until life teaches us over and over again to be afraid.

Afraid of being out of control.

Afraid of being in danger.

Afraid of looking stupid.

Afraid of being stupid.

Afraid of being unloved.

Afraid of being unloveable.

You know the list … it’s longer than this.

This isn’t to say I am always acting as the curious observer. Today, for instance, as a man walked out into the street directly in front of my moving car, I thought immediately, “idiot!” But the curious observer now sits in the passenger seat and says, “maybe he had a belly ache and was rushing to the bathroom.” What she doesn’t say, but I know is, “Remember when you did that once?”

The thing is: the frightened know-it-all is constantly whispering from the passenger seat. Remnants of her will float up from deep inside me as ego-scented vibrational waves. Usually this happens when I am on social media or in heated conversations with my husband or my mother. The frightened know-it-all is sensitive to emotions, especially rejection and accusation. She is reactive, especially when under duress. She is only, after all, trying to keep me safe.

But she no longer can hang out there ruling like a queen bee on the playground of my life, one that is indeed filled with mines, but probably less dangerous than I perceive. The curious observer is there, too, asking questions; waiting for answers before stepping out.

 

Head Shaking Madness

This war    this war    this war    this war

This  world    This world    This world    This world

My kid’s food allergies.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

Cancer. The bad kind.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

The boogeyman’s make believe.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

My husband on a plane somewhere.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

I can’t throw up like that again.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

Miss you.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

Money in the way.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

I killed the cat. That was       THE CAT.     FUCK.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

Gotta make it before the siren.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

How many miles til Hadera?

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

She’s going to die. She’s dying.

This world.

 

This war    this war    this war    this war

This world    This world    This world     This world

These people      These pronouns

These words            These words

This world.

A list of things I’d rather be doing than frowning

Wiping the dust off an antique mirror inside a shop in Nogales
Kissing my baby on the underside of his left ear
Smelling the crusty old spit-up there
Listening to Van Morrison on the tape deck of the blue BMW

Opening that teeny tiny folded up love note with the lift-the-flaps
Chewing Hubba Bubba with one of the Adams
Asking Suzanne to fix my bra strap in gym class
Fun fun fun til her daddy takes the t-bird away

Sipping cider right through a straw
Licking powdered sugar off my fingers
Baking chocolate chip cookies for a sundae
Memorizing the lyrics to Don’t Stop Believing

Watching the third season of Lost
Braiding hair, anyone’s hair, but mostly my mother’s
Lying on my right side while my back is tickled, by anyone, but mostly by my mother
When they’d play I’d sing along, it made me smile.

Riding my bicycle down Queen Anne
Jumping off the high dive at Woodcrest Swim Club
Reading Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret
That time Scott dedicated Love Bites

Lying on my back on the rooftop at sunrise at Nimrod
Someone’s basement, an old couch, Good Morning Vietnam
Odd’s or GG Flipps, whichever
Something by Blues Traveler

Swimming from the beach to the floating deck
Choosing Biff or Malibu for my birthday kiss
A wella wella wella uh tell me more
I Will.

Stepping off the bus on Old Route 16
We’ll set the air reverberating with a mighty cheer
Pretending I am psychic
Dreaming the good ones, even if I forget them.

The Situation

I don’t write about it because

writing about it

would be like the abortive attempt I made

in my spiral bound notebook –

the one with the mandala –

to describe the scene

with the wedding gown,

in the ground floor shop

of my dream last night.

The one with Winona Ryder who

donned a 1920s inspired

off-white sleeveless gown

(really, they were cap sleeves).

I opened the curtain of

the dressing room to find her

half-naked due to the

deep and dramatic V

reaching down her abdomen

revealing the

underscoop of her breasts

and half of one nipple.

“It’s beautiful,” I told her.

“But you’ll need to have it altered.

I’m worried they won’t be able

to maintain the look

once it’s fitted to your frame.”

She didn’t listen.

She told the seamstress to

press on and then, of course,

the dream shifted to the scene

in the ice cream shop

where the chiropractor I used

to know was offering me pills –

rat poison packaged as RU486 flavored

jelly beans.

They were red, with the taste of cherry,

and they made me gag as I chewed them.

So you see why

I can’t write about it.

There is beauty

and there is darkness

and they blend together at times

in a way that’s describable

but only to the point of

surreal not to the point

of understanding.

Not to the point

at which you know

you have  navigated

directly into my thoughts.

 

I’ve lost something. I’m not sure what it is.

Conjugate the word “find” any way you want –

To find.       To be found.      Finding.

and you will discover my obsession. Maybe you’ll become enchanted, too.

To know what I am talking about, listen to the long “i” in find and compare it with the “ow” inside found. There is, in those two words, a dance between longing and receiving; between the imagined and the concrete.

*    *    *

I can’t say it any better than this. Not yet.  I apologize if I am being vague. I am not used to being vague. I blame poetry.

*    *    *

A snapshot of a page inside my copy of  Adrienne Rich's Your Native Land, Your Life

A snapshot of a page inside my copy of Adrienne Rich’s Your Native Land, Your Life

Perhaps the anecdote behind this book (the one opened in the picture above)  will help.

I found it in the giveaway pile near the recycling bins a few months ago.  I was in the middle of a semester studying poetry and while I had heard of Adrienne Rich, I didn’t know much of her work. So I brought the book home, read the collection once, and it sat with me so-so, which is to say I didn’t find anything particularly meaningful to me just then.

But the other day I pulled the book out from the shelf and did what I do sometimes — opened up to any page and see what wisdom or guidance I am offered. My finger landed on this poem.

The wisdom  — and perhaps, a more concrete explanation of my obsession with finding — comes in the sixth stanza, beginning with “I’m trying for exactitude.” Because this, in some way, is the essence of my obsession  — a lifelong “trying for exactitude,” a lifelong desire for certainty, accuracy and control; a lifelong attempt to get it right; as if there is truly a way to find my way to found.

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

What Was, Is:
What Might Have Been, Might Be

by Adrienne Rich

What’s kept.    What’s lost.   A snap decision.
Burn the archives.   Let them rot.
Begin by going ten years back.

A woman walks downstairs in a brownstone
in Brooklyn.    Late that night, some other night
snow crystals swarm in her hair
at the place we say, So long.

I’ve lost something.   I’m not sure what it is.
I’m going through my files.

Jewel-weed flashing
blue fire against an iron fence
Her head bent to a mailbox
long fingers ringed in gold   in red-eyed
golden serpents

the autumn sun
burns like a beak off the cars
parked along Riverside    we so deep in talk
in burnt September grass

I’m trying for exactitude
in the files I handle worn and faded labels
And how she drove, and danced, and fought, and worked
and loved, and sang, and hated
dashed into the record store    then out
with the Stevie Wonder    back in the car
flew on

Worn and faded labels . . . This was
our glamor for each other
underlined in bravado

Could it have been another way:
could we have been respectful comrades
parallel warriors    none of that
fast-falling

could we have kept a clean
and decent slate