ann (#npm15)

ann veronica simonI met Ann Simon at a writing workshop in Berkeley in late 1997.  We were a small band of writing women, and we quickly became a community (which is what usually happens when women write together).

Ann was unlike anyone I’d ever met. A huge smile — and if she wasn’t smiling: big dark eyes that seemed to be taking everything in — probably writing a poem in her head or taking mental notes. She always looked like she’d probably run out of her house in a rush, and I don’t think she ever gave a whit for anything resembling fashion; she usually had paint or some other random stain on her clothes — the remnants of mornings spent playing with the kids she sat for in order to help pay her way through graduate school. Though she was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown, and was getting her doctorate from University of California at Berkeley, and had also won multiple awards for her poetry and prose-poems, she seemed to get the most pleasure out of getting on the floor and playing with kids — sharing giggles and creative play.

And whenever Ann shared her writing in our group, it was like getting a wild and sweet gift; a view into a world long forgotten by all of us grown-ups in the room.

Soon after I moved back east I got a call from Ruth — my writing workshop godmother/friend: Ann had been having recurring headaches and blurry vision, and a trip to the eye doctor revealed a mass behind her eye; later diagnosed as a brain tumor. There were treatments and hope for a while. But then, not. And after about 2 years, Ann died. She was 35.

733868_10151355717403262_1364317303_nTwo years ago, Ruth, Rhoda, Liz and I — four of the regulars from Ruth’s Women Who Run With Words workshop — got together at Ruth’s new home in rural Massachusetts to celebrate Ann’s birthday. We used flamingo swizzle sticks in our drinks; blew soap bubbles; kept a plush-toy of Ann’s beloved “sprit animal” (the hedgehog) in a place of prominence throughout the weekend, and placed a fake mustache on her photo at our party. We all agreed that she would have loved it.

Ann left behind some amazing work in This Layer of Plush — a book of poetry, and in her partially finished book: The Autobiography of my Vocabulary (which i keep hoping will get published one day). Below is a hint of that brilliance — a piece that appeared in Andrei Codrescu‘s Exquisite Corpse, a Journal of Books & Ideas.

Codrescu said of her writing: “Ann Simon owns a certain distance, from which she sees a paradoxical, funny, sometimes endearingly simple world…Exalted, tragic, and bemused, she registers the objects of her gaze in perfect aphorisms…The presence of beauty suffuses her poetry, an elusive beauty that originates in her ‘default melancholy,’ but is, like Ann, easy ‘to cheer up,’ a sweet poetic gift granted to few. Such a funny, wise, and memorable poet!”

Enough blahblahblahing about Ann. I’ll let her give you a sense of the quirky magic that she was in this wonderful prose poem.

An Unauthorized Glossary of my Goddaughter’s Vocabulary

Ann Veronica Simon

attic

Once when my friend Woozle was outdoors burning trash, his daughter Anna pointed to the exact spot where she wanted him to put an “attic.” Then her small body surged with anger and frustration as he tried to explain that attics only come with houses screwed in beneath. Finally, after much discussion, and persistent attempts at reasoning, he figured out that she meant “hammock.”

car pee

“I got car pee on my dress,” Anna said to her parents as they walked through a used car lot after rain. Later, noticing that “car pee” rhymes with “harpy,” I believed I’d stumbled upon material for two-thirds of the perfect limerick.

Coke

Five-year-olds wrestle so earnestly with the rules of literal meaning that riddles seem obscenely funny. Yet when I included a joke for Anna as a postscript in an e-mail for her dad (What did the mermaid named Cinderella wear to the ball? Glass flippers) she was unimpressed. Instead of giggling, she spouted her own instructive catalogue of edgy humor:

Why do they call it Coke? Because you can’t cope with it.
Why do they call it Sprite? Because it bites.
Why do they call it bunny? Because it always goes, “Bunny! Bunny! Bunny!”
Why do they call it TV? Because vampires.

Woozle tried to play along, offering, “Why do they call it teriyaki? Because it’s so yucky.”

“I get it, but it’s not funny,” she said sternly, adding, “No more jokes. No jokes . . . Just poop jokes.

Of course I respect her associative leaps and willingness to tread the waters of internal rhyme. But I love best the lawyerly way she clarified that though dad should shut up (basically), if by chance this was the first moment in the history of time when he felt like making a good poop joke, no need to hold back.

four

As Anna muddled impatiently through her last week of being three, she held tightly to the belief that she’d be able to read any book she opened on her fourth birthday–as if “four” were not a descriptive adjective so much as some sort of license or certification. When the day came she was bewildered as well as disappointed to find that the awkward, uncomprehending feeling of “being three” still stuck to her face and body like a greasy film. 

fragile

“Handle that carefully, maybe you’d better put it down, it’s fragile.” From many such admonitions, Anna deduced that “fragile” means not “delicate, breakable,” but something more like “deserving special attention, fraught with importance.” She called the thigh bone of a cow her father found while digging in the yard “fragile,” as well as the restaurant-sized egg beater she brought to preschool for show-and-tell.

head lice

When Anna’s mom, Livia, said “a case of the bugs” was circulating through preschool, Anna said–in a tone of proverb or admonishment–“If you share other people’s combs and brushes, you might get head lights.” So now I imagine head lights sprouting like antlers from the ears of careless children and can’t stop wondering what the simile “caught like a deer in the head lice” might ever possibly mean. 

inspicable

I don’t know what Anna meant when she said clam shells washed up on the shore were “inspicable.”

Jell-O

When Matt and Woozle and Livia and I unveiled red Jell-O molded in the shape of the entire United States on the Fourth of July, Anna was beside herself with joy and fascination. With hushed politeness she asked to touch it while her parents earnestly pointed out where “on the Jell-O” each of her grandparents lived. Livia carved out Texas to take next door to Mubby, her ailing grandmother, and the Grand Canyon turned up in more or less the right place of its own accord. I had New Mexico. For weeks Anna said “it’s Jell-O!” with fond matter-of-factness every time she saw a weather map on TV.

1980s

Opening a hymnal during a power outage, Anna said “Once upon a time it was the 1980s but then there was a big storm so it moved, and now it’s the 1680s.”

potty nipple

At two, Anna’s word for penis was “potty nipple,” a coinage which brilliantly ignores Freud’s habit of defining female anatomy as the absence or diminution of what would exist if the girl was a boy. 

Sven

Anna’s attachment to a preschool teacher named Sven grew by bounds and squiggles when her dad moved to Wisconsin for nine months to program the guts of fire trucks. A year later, perhaps unrelatedly, she debuted the following joke at a school talent show:

“Knock Knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Sven.”
“Sven who?”

“Tape dis-sven-ser.”

unintentionable

As we parked outside the plant where Woozle worked extracting Y2K compliance from refrigerated trucks, Anna called her mom “unintentionable.” When I asked what this meant, she said, “not allowed in the front door of that building.” When Wooz emerged, we drove to McDonald’s because Anna wanted the teeny Beanie Baby ostrich. (I just wanted to bounce around in the car with all of them for as long as possible.)

 

impetus poem (#npm15)

 

photo copyright deb cooperman www.debcooperman.comI found this poem again in a box of prompts I keep for my writing workshops.

Perfect timing and a wonderful reminder that we can start again at any time. With writing. With relationships. With habits. With anything. Everything. Movement begets movement.

Impetus

Kathleen Lynch

You must change your life. ~ Rilke

Begin anywhere: sleep
on the other side of the bed tonight. 

Tomorrow walk as though your head
is filled with helium & your spine
the string that holds it to the earth. 

Fill a gallery with something
you have not yet made. 
Name your show I Promise.

Buy a large piece of blue
paper. The shade should be vast
and deep and remind you 
of nothing. Roll it carefully
and carry it home on the bus
cradled in your arm.
Try not to pretend 
it is your child.

Don’t cry, but if you must
don’t stop. Tears
are only water and salt. 
You felt this way once before
when you first moved 
from fluid to air. 

It is no one’s fault
you are more than halfway there. 
Surely you know that and are grateful 
to have come so far. Just go. 
Just keep going 

maya’s poem (#npm15)

Maya AngelouI’ve already told the story of when I met Maya Angelou, so if you want to the full scoops, you can read it here. Otherwise, just know that the day this graceful, tenacious, amazing giant of poetry recited the poem I’m sharing today at a small liberal arts college in Ohio, this (then) depressed, confused and nervous college student was graced with hope. And the most magical hug ever.

Always, always, always, thanks to my guardian angel/fairy godmother, Maya.

Phenomenal Woman

Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,   
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.   
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.   
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,   
And the flash of my teeth,   
The swing in my waist,   
And the joy in my feet.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.   
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.   
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,   
The bend of my hair,   
the palm of my hand,   
The need for my care.   
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

rumi poem 2 – #npm15

My favorite Rumi poem. My wish and prayer for the world.Photo by Benjamin Miller FreeStockPhotos.biz

Out Beyond Ideas

Jelaluddin Rumi

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make any sense

mary oliver’s wild geese (#npm15)

If you don’t already know this one…oh, I am SO excited that you’re going to get to read this. I know I say it about a lot of the poems I post, but I really do love this one.

Take a deep breath, sink in and enjoy, friends. (or, watch/listen to mary oliver read it here.)

Wild Geese Benjamin Miller from Freestockphotos.biz

Wild Geese

Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

befriending the soul (yes, another poem – #npm15)

photo copyright Kenyon CollegeI met Ingrid Goff-Maidoff in college. Kenyon is small liberal arts college–a little hamlet in the middle-of-nowhere Ohio–surrounded by farms and fields, and hidden ponds and streams. If you went to Kenyon, you were part of an intimate community…mostly because there wasn’t anywhere else to go. About an hour north-east of Columbus, students lived on campus, walked up and down Middle Path (photo above) to eat in campus dining halls, to study in the library, and socialize. All at this little campus on the hill.

Ingrid was younger than I — two years I think — but we both traveled around in theater circles. I remember a number of sweet conversations that went a little deeper than the average college chats, but in college, those two years difference often feel like a chasm, and though I’d call her friend, I remember thinking of her almost like she was a little sister.

Soon after she graduated, she sent me an invitation to her wedding. I was working in non-profit theater at the time, and I wasn’t making much of a profit so there wasn’t any disposable income to speak of to make the trip (to…was it martha’s vinyard? or somewhere on the cape in massachusetts?). I remember being so touched to be invited, and I was bummed that I couldn’t go.

We lost touch not terribly long after that as people do when lives spin off away from college. From time to time I’d wonder how she was. She had been a wonderful actress, a lovely singer, and a sweet and thoughtful “kid.” I wondered where she wound up. (strangely, i never bothered to look her up through alumni channels, and, when the google thang came into being, i never googled her.) Then, one day, when checking out Jen Louden’s Teach Now program, I saw her face attached to a testimonial on the site. I clicked the link in the testimonial, and…it turns out, she was still living in Massachusetts with her husband–and now: two children. And she’s a poet and artist. Not just any poet either; a modern-day Rumi-like poet if you asked me (and yeah, i know you didn’t, but you’re reading, so, y’know, tough.) :) (but i digress…).

Ingrid has a way of diving in to the mysteries and beauty of the universe and surfacing with soulful understanding and expressions that are nothing short of sacred.

(and no, i’m really not exaggerating.)

As you can tell, I’m a fan.

I think you will be too. Read the poem below, and then check out her website. Be sure to sign up for her email list; trust me, it will be one you’ll definitely look forward to opening.

Befriending the Soul

Ingrid Goff-Maidoff

Befriending the soul, you say,
Come now partner, Buddy up.
Befriending the soul, you say,
Where have you been all my life?
And you begin to remember
How to really listen.

When she comes to you, she brings gifts:
The broken cup of childhood;
The aroma of your grandmother’s kitchen;
A dream you have forgotten;
A wound you have forsworn.
These all belong in the wholeness, she says,
These are all the wonder of you.

Look, she shows you a diamond ~
A diamond with ten thousand sides.
All of these I am polishing, she says,
The beautiful, the betrayed, 
The banished, the un-forgiven.
See, friend, she holds it ~
I accept and attend with love to them all.

She holds a mirror to your face.
Looking into it you see the whole universe:
Forests, mountains, rivers, sky, lakes, gardens,
Villages throbbing with life…
Sun, moon, emptiness, galaxies full of stars…

 

“so?” poem – (#npm15)

copyright deb cooperman debcooperman.comI adore Parker Palmer. His book Let Your Life Speak was a game-changer for me. (i recommend it to so many clients searching for meaning in their too-busy-to-breathe lives). If you don’t know who he is, you might want to find out more (well, after you read today’s offering of course…).

I follow him on social media; he’s a HUGE poetry fan, and I will probably share more than one poem that I discovered because of him.

Today’s poem by the late Leonard Nathan is one of those.

Nathan was a professor of rhetoric at the University of California-Berkeley. My old friend — the poet Ann Veronica Simon (i’ll be sharing one of her poems soon) — died in 2003; she was in the PhD program at Berkeley…in rhetoric. I like to imagine that Nathan may have been one of her professors.

This wonderful poem centers on a question so many of us wrestle with: what can I do? what should I do? if I’m not a big fish in a big pond, how can I make a difference? what will make this fleeting, fragile time on the planet meaningful? for me, and for others?

And so…So?

So?

Leonard Nathan

So you aren’t Tolstoy or St. Francis
or even a well-known singer
of popular songs and will never read Greek
or speak French fluently,
will never see something no one else
has seen before through a lens
or with the naked eye.

You’ve been given just the one life
in this world that matters
and upon which every other life
somehow depends as long as you live,
and also given the costly gifts of hunger,
choice, and pain with which to raise
a modest shrine to meaning.  

 

As Palmer added when he first “gifted” the poem to his social media followers: “I re-read this poem occasionally and ask myself, “Using everything I have—including my own ‘costly gifts of hunger, choice, and pain’—what can I do today to keep raising the ‘modest shrine to meaning’ I’d like to create with my life?” Maybe it’s planting a tree, maybe it’s a random act of kindness to a stranger, maybe it’s offering comfort to someone who’s hurting, maybe it’s writing a thank-you letter to a mentor who saw your potential and drew it out…There’s always something meaningful I can do to honor the gift of life in myself, others, and the world around us. Just do it!”

What he said. :)

rumi – round 1 (#npm15)

If you play along reading all of my posts this month, you’ll likely come upon a few Rumi poems.

Rumi was 13th century Sufi mystic and poet. Even if you don’t know his poems, you might have heard snippets of his wisdom in quotes — his poems are like meditations on a life of the spirit, and his insights into the human condition, though written so very long ago in another part of the world (what is now afghanistan), still ring true today.

I’ve been lucky enough to see Coleman Barks — the most well-known modern-day translator of Rumi — read his poetry at the Dodge Poetry Festival several times. And twice, at the ungodly hour of 5:30 in the morning.

colman_barks_paul_winter

Coleman Barks (red scarf) and Paul Winter (far right) at Early Morning Rumi – Dodge Poetry Festival, 2006

I’m not a morning person (those who know me well are laughing now)…(go ahead…catch your breath; i’ll still be here). Though I actually rise early, it takes me a while — and a couple cups of coffee — to get myself out the door. But one year, after a couple of friends who worked for Dodge kept telling me how amazing this morning session was, I hauled my butt out of bed around 4 am to drive north to a bucolic spot (not far from where i live now) to experience Bark’s popular Early Morning Rumi session. Accompanied by the Paul Winter Consort, Barks read Rumi’s poems for about an hour to a packed house.

The second time I experienced Early Morning Rumi, I wrote that “hearing Barks recite Rumi feels as I imagine church or temple must feel to the true believer. It hits me in a place so soft and deep and primal that crying seems like the absolutely perfect response. When I hear those poems I think: if everyone in the world could experience Coleman Barks reading Rumi while the Paul Winter Consort played, the soul of the world would open up and all the negative energy in the world would melt away.”

I hunted for my favorite poem from one of those sessions on Dodge’s video archives, but was only able to find this one (filmed at dodge, but released through a PBS for ‘poetry everywhere’ series). And while it’s not my favorite Rumi poem (i’ll share that another day), this one’s not too shabby either.

 

Today, Like Every Other Day

Jelaluddin Rumi 

Today, like every other day
we wake up empty

and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and
kiss the ground.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

 

feast on your life (#npm15)

I love reading poetry. When you read a poem to yourself, you can soak it in at your own pace. You can take time simmering over a line; over words and images.

I also love listening to poems. The cadence, the flow; the heartbeat. It’s interesting to experience a poem when read by the poet; it’s different, and also interesting, to hear a poet’s work read by others.

Love After Love by Derek Walcott is like a love letter and invitation from the universe.  Hearing it recited by the enigmatic anonymous reader who goes by the name of Tom O’Bedlam (more on him here, and here – in a piece by the late roger ebert) is like getting a love letter from the universe that’s read out-loud – not as performance – but with soul, by a gravely voice man from England.

Enjoy reading, and listening to this favorite of mine: Love After Love.

Love After Love

by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

eleven

Eleven years. 

Today marks 11 years since my mother died.

Sometimes I’ll forget the name of a song, or the trick she used to get candle wax out of tablecloths, and I’ll reach for the phone.

That’s when it feels like it was just yesterday.

Other times, when I think about how my brother’s oldest barely remembers her…and the twins? She’s a woman holding them in photos, and stories they hear.

And I think about how she never met the hubster; didn’t see me in my old job at the Theatre Alliance, much less finally making a go of this business-dream of mine full-time.

That’s when it feel like it’s way longer than 11 years. (eleven)

I’ve written so many things about her since that day  – some here, some on my old blog; some in the circles with the Writer Babes, some alone and in my journals. And while I kept meaning to write something new for today, it seems that all the writing about Mom is for me now; not necessarily for bloggy consumption.

So, instead, since I didn’t share this video here or on social media after reading it last year for New Jersey’s inaugural production of Listen to Your Mother (not really sure why. i might have to write a while to get to the bottom of that one…)  – 11 years since the world’s axis came unglued for me and my family  – and everyone who ever met/adored my mom (they’re often one and the same)  – here’s my story of what it’s like to walk through the mist of life without the amazing Paulette.

And if I may be so brazen to suggest (as i am, and i will.)…

…please don’t ever hesitate to listen to your gut, show up, and say what you need to say to everyone you love.

Now would be good.

 

(and yes, mom, i know i should have left the tissue on my chair before i got up to do my reading. but, y’know: like mother, like daughter…y’always have to have a tissue nearby just in case.)