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Song of Myself

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I was teaching Song Of Myself to my students and I asked them to write their own song, and promised them I would write mine too.  Here it is..

Song  of myself

I’m tired

I’m always tired

I’m mother AND father

I’m teacher AND student

Cook, mechanic, housekeeper

Cattle-herder, grocery shopper

Nurse, teacher, zoo-keeper

EVERY DAY

…in my free time.

I’m tired.

And excited.

I climb 108 stairs everyday

To see 120 sixth-graders.

When I walk in the room,

I hope they love poetry

As much as I do.

I have energy in the classroom

(I drink a lot of coffee)

I lose energy on the stairs.

When I get home,

I collapse on the couch,

Because I’m tired.

 

Sometimes, I forget I’m in China.

Sometimes, I feel like gravity doesn’t hold me

On this side of the world,

And I’ll fall off if I’m not paying attention.

 

Sometimes, I miss Cleveland.

I miss Lake Erie and pierogis.

Indians games and LeBron James.

Trees, parks, fresh air

and quiet.

I miss American Chinese food

Real Apples, and fresh sweet corn.

 

I miss driving.

I miss going to work

On the shoreway

Along the lake

Through downtown

Down Martin Luther King Blvd.

Between all of the International gardens

Gandhi waves at me

Past the columns of Greece

And the statues of Italy.

I don’t miss an empty refrigerator.

I don’t miss not having money

To fix my car.

I don’t miss not being able to buy

Shoes or Christmas presents for my babies.

I’m still struggling

But there is food in the fridge,

We all have new shoes 

–even me.

And I took them to Disneyland

–Which I couldn’t have dreamed of,

5 years ago.

It’s good to know

I’m in the right place

At the right time.

Even if I’m tired.

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Bloodlines

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Quick History lesson

101

The Civil War.

The South lost.

The Confederates were not Americans.

They left America and fought REAL Americans

As traitors..

And they lost.

More than sixty years later,

Many cities started erecting statues to the Confederate “heroes.

Why?

Why sixty to a hundred years later?

The KKK and Jim Crow.

We might be the only country who erected statues to the losers.

(Thank the Daughters of the Confederation).

You don’t see Hitler’s statue in Germany.

In fact, you see nothing of the Nazis.

Does that mean they were erased and we can forget all about them?

We all know that if we forget our history, we are doomed to repeat it.

It means they are embarrassed that they let it happen,

And they will never glorify evil again.

You don’t see statues of Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden or Benedict Arnold.

We don’t glorify people on the wrong side of history.

And you have to wonder why Nazis are protesting this.

What do they have in common?

Because even the relatives of these confederates, want the statues to come down.

And we have to stay away from the rhetoric of “whataboutism”

It’s a weak and immature argument

That has no place in this conversation.

If you want statues to remember history, make a statue of

Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, or Henry David Thoreau.

Glorify the heroes.

I have a hobby…genealogy.

I can spend hours researching,

And it’s fascinating to me, because it reminds me

that my history is our history.

I found out that my great, great, great, great, great grandfather

On my maternal  grandfather’s side

Was a Patriot of the American Revolution,

And although he could not fight, he provided food, including beef for

General Washington’s Army.

Later, President Washington recognized him as a patriot,

and there are statues and parks named after him.

His great-grandson Robert, in Fredericksburg,

fought in the Civil War,

As a confederate.

He was captured by the Union, and released when the war was over.

He paid $10,000 to the American government for an official pardon

For fighting on the wrong side of history.

He later became a minister and wrote books about spiritualism.

And he was related by marriage to Robert E. Lee,

and they both pledged their allegiance to the Union.

120 years later,

after my dad served in the Air Force in Viet Nam,

And my brother served in the Navy in Bosnia,

I served in Peace Corps,

Because, that’s who I am.

I know all stories have two sides,

But rarely do they have two “right” sides.

When you think about these things,

Decide what side of history you want to be on.

How will you be remembered in a few hundred years?

Cubist eye

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Glancing behind me
There’s a blurry Monet
Sweet smelling summer sunshine
followed by the
dark, dense, details of Rembrandt
and the disturbing over-tones of Gougin.
I’m searching for peace
somewhere between Rodin and O’Keefe,
but I’m stuck in the puzzle of Picasso.
Pieces of life
sectioned off
and divided by
those dividing moments:
joining Peace Corps,
realizing I was pregnant,
the day he walked away,
getting cancer…
And everything changes.
I mean EVERYTHING changes.
Divides into moments
of before and after.
Each and every cell
recreates itself
with the pieces twisted
like some unfinished Rubic’s cube
until the person I used to be
can no longer
recognize the face in the mirror.

Vicious Circles

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Some days I get a bad case of the “poor me”s.
I can list every problem
Every little thing I wish was better
Every frustration
Every worry
It’s so over-whelming that I want to scream or cry
And the list seems to grow
And even get worse.
Sometimes I do cry.
More often, I scream.
Sometimes I feel so inadequate
And I wonder What the hell am I doing here?
Or even just, What the hell am I doing?
Period.
Sometimes I think I’m doing a disservice to my daughters
Sometimes I think I try too hard.
Sometimes I over-compensate for all that I think they are missing.
Sometimes, maybe, I set my expectations too high.
Sometimes I think I’m doing what’s best,
And it turns into something horrible
Or I trust too much or too easily
And it’s sometimes the wrong people
Who take what little I have
And crush my spirit into a tailspin of disbelief.
Sometimes, I think too much.
Sometimes I look at my daughters swimming in a pool
Yelling, “Watch me, Mommy!”
And I’m proud.
Oh yeah, those two adorable, very good swimmers are mine.
I made them.
I get to keep them forever.
I see them in the park, running and happy,
And I see Rumi’s bad foot.
But it doesn’t stop her.
And I don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner.
I see Raine learning to write
And her eyes light up when I show her new ways
That make more sense to her.
I walk to work over the white, stone-carved bridges
Watching men fishing on the banks of the rivers
Lined with weeping willows and colorful flowers.
A man might be standing on a flat boat
pushing it quietly along the river with a long pole.
I get to my desk, and create new projects and lessons
With helpful co-workers for enthusiastic students.
I have free time to be quiet and creative,
and money in my pocket for a good lunch.
Then I get a phone call,
“We had such a good day today, mama!
We went to the playground and played with our friends.
The nanny made delicious food.
And now I’m doing the writing pages you made me.
Raine is doing her math.
And you won’t believe this! When we went to the store,
We got to feed some rabbits.
Did you know rabbits love carrots and lettuce?”
Then I walk home with my co-workers
Across the stone-carved bridges,
And I walk in the door to, “Mommy! Mommy!”
I’m tired.
I want to sleep.
I wish I had more energy and
I feel inadequate
Like I’m not good enough…

Walk a mile…

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She said, “Girl,

you need to break out of your comfort zone.”

I was confused.

Comfort zone?
I have NO comfort zone.

She was saying this
in response to my

previous confused look
as she rattled off directions,

in Chinese, of the good store
to buy clothes for my daughter

who is suddenly growing like a weed.

I had only been living in Shanghai a couple of months.

And then I started thinking…

About the first time I went camping around

the state of Arizona,

and then backpacking alone
in Alaska
without a plan,

going to an ashram in the Adirondack Mountains

without a penny in my pocket,

my two years in Peace Corps

sleeping on the floor
in a house I shared

with a 7-foot snake and 2 tarantulas

that didn’t pay rent.

Living with an abusive husband,
and going through chemo, radiation,

no voice, feeding tube,
and not even able to drink a drop of water;

I am a single mother, living in Shanghai

with my two preschool daughters

and this might be the most comfortable time of our lives,

But I wondered how a person’s perception could be so skewed.

And then I thought about Charlie

this guy I met in the ice cream aisle of the store.

We were both buying vanilla ice cream

because we both were recovering from throat cancer

and that was exactly ALL that we had in common.

He said, “I am really good judge of character,”

and then proceeded to tell me how he completely understood

“how I am building walls,”

“How I am cutting myself off from people.”
and “How I am turning away my friends.”

He got the same confused look.

–from me.

I had never been so surrounded by friends.

I had friends paying my insurance bills,

paying my rent,

taking care of my girls,

bringing food and money,

cleaning my house,

and checking up on me

all day, everyday.

George Bailey had nothing on me.

But this man Charlie,
had told the same bad joke 3 times
to 3 different people

and was so negative and off-putting

that I just didn’t want to talk to HIM.

I understand projection.

I understand perspective.

My Mohican friend, Mike, gave me

my third-stage Native name

of “Standing Wave.”

He said it’s that place in the river

where it looks calm as glass on the surface

but below there’s a rapid undertow.  

He always saw me so clearly.

Aside

Random

When my doctor told me I had cancer,

He cried.

He had to have said this lots of times.

Why did he cry?

He knew I was a vegetarian for 18 years.

He knew I was a vegan, for most of that.

He knew I was a yoga/qi gong instructor.

He knew I had two toddlers at home.

He knew I was a teacher.

He knew I never smoked,

didn’t drink,

Never even like to take a Tylenol.

“I don’t know why this happens

To people like you.” He said.

“It’s so random.”

I just remember feeling hot and blurry

Peeling off my jacket, my sweatshirt, my socks…

Just a thin t-shirt and jeans,

And I wondered

why did I try so hard

To be healthy.

It didn’t matter.

I could have eaten processed food:

Campbell’s soup and Kool-Aid–

Just like everyone else.

It didn’t matter.

But I didn’t blame God

Like everyone said I would.

I thanked him.

I thanked him that it was me

Because I could have NEVER

Survived watching one of my little girls

go through what I did.

I knew I could handle it.

I could handle anything

Except

Seeing my little girls go through

the torture

the retching pain

the sickness

their curls falling out…

The only “why?” I asked was

Why did he want me silent?

Barely able to bang on walls

For attention.

Why my throat?

I never liked my breasts.

Cut ‘em off!

My ovaries are no longer useful.

Take ‘em.

But my tonsils?

My voice?

Interesting choice.

But thank God it was me.

Random

Turning the Corner

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Just one street away

are the biggest,

most expensive,

most extravagant

houses in the city.

 

Just one street away

every house has at least two cars,

every refrigerator is filled with food,

every bed has soft sheets,

every closet has clothes bought for and by

the person who wears them.

 

Just one street away,

couples are out to dinner,

children are at soccer practice or dance class,

teenagers are buying trendy trivialities

because it’s their past time.

 

Just one street away,

yards are filled with toys and climbers

that could put a city park to shame,

but you never see the children on them,

because they are at their soccer practices or dance classes.

 

Just one street away,

families are coming home from vacation,

families are going on vacation;

no one worries if they have enough gas

to get to the grocery store.

 

Just one street away,

someone has a doctor’s appointment,

someone has a dentist’s appointment,

and everyone has perfect teeth.

 

Just one street away,

a mother goes to a cafe for a little “me time”

because she has enough money in her pocket

for a cup of coffee.

 

 

On my street,

a father gets laid-off

while his wife is pregnant with their second child

because all of the factories

are stopping their second and third shifts.

The mother will get no ice-cream in the middle of the night,

no flowers in the hospital

or even the chance to buy an outfit or a toy for the new baby

–to which everyone comforts her by saying,

“It’s ok, the baby won’t notice or understand.”

 

On my street,

Dinner table discussions revolve around

how to make a box of cereal, some milk, three eggs, two potatoes

and a zucchini last four more days until the food stamps kick in again,

or what they should spend their last seven dollars on

since they need dish soap, toilet paper, gas for the car and shampoo

–don’t even think about light bulbs or batteries for the smoke detector until payday.

 

On my street,

the utility companies come around and turn off

everyone who’s even a little late,

because if they have to come out for one or two,

it’s just more efficient that way;

and then many go without electricity for days

until they can pay twice the bill (on payday)

to get it turned back on,

in the meantime trying to salvage food in a cooler,

and taking the kids to the library

because it’s either air-conditioned or heated

—depending on the season

–and it’s free.

 

On my street, many people have degrees,

but they have to dumb-down their resumes

because they are often over-qualified for available jobs,

and they have learned to lie about already having insurance,

because employers don’t want to pay for that,

but even if they do have insurance,

they can’t afford to use it.

 

On my street, mothers walk their children

in second-hand strollers,

wearing second hand clothes,

suffering from a broken tooth they can’t fix

because the check engine light has been on in the car

for three months,

and they don’t have the money to get it fixed,

and they watch the other mothers

sipping lattes in the cafes

remembering when that was them once,

and holding on to the hope

that maybe one day

they can have the money in their pocket again

for a cup of coffee.