My Brother


I published this poem at least 20 years ago.

Whispering to Each Other in the the Darkness

I turn off the car radio and sit
with my brother in the darkness
of a Pennsylvania winter. He is crying
and I am looking at the moon. He asks

me to stay, he begs to come with me.
Across the stiff grass is tin shed
that protects him from sudden beatings.
I have been the one to find him, his knees

tucked beneath his chin, dark hair swept
over his forehead, legs that won’t stop
shaking. I have led him inside, my arms
hung around his shoulders like a shawl.

Now, we sit without speaking, and I
am thinking of the warmth of milk
tested against my wrist, the brushes
he pulled through my hair, dolls caps

I placed on his head. “You are my real
mother,” he says. Fingers of streetlight
briefly touch our wet faces,
shadows clasped tight in our arms.

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Excerpt from Saint John the Divine in Iowa


Image

I was telling someone that the piece of writing of my own that I love the most is a sermon that’s part of a play & screenplay.  The character is Reverend Alex, and I got to play her.  I was saying that while I LOVE acting, like big passionate love, often, in performance, it ends up a little disappointing–like I’m not ultimately present, or I’m not connecting as well as I’d hoped with my scene partner, or the laughs don’t come the way they did the night before.  Of course you roll with that, but when it comes to this monologue, it was different.  Just getting up and saying these lines, that are my manifesto,  to say them as a woman committed to a spiritual life in community, to a life of integrity and love, so that the words became bigger than me or my life, meant more to me than any other artistic moment I have ever experienced.  I got to do it 14 times.  Here are the words.

(Frances exits.  Reverend Alex walks forward and addresses the congregation.)

 

Reverend Alex

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world:

Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world:

Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world:

Grant us peace.

Reverend Alex

In the Gnostic Gospels Jesus says, “If you bring forth what is inside you, it will save you.  If you don’t bring forth what inside you, it will destroy you.”

Most of the time, when we think of bringing forth what is inside us, we think of the gift of who we are that comes from God. Our ability to love, the truth of our self-expression, the naming of what we want in life, the claiming of our own strength.

But sometimes what is in our hearts is dark. Sometimes we find fear, or jealousy, or weakness, our deepest flaws, the ones that hurt the people we love. Jesus knew about this. In the garden of Gethsemane, he said, “Father, let this cup pass away from me.” He knew what it was to be faced with something he might not be strong enough to accomplish.

I imagine Him alone in that garden, with darkness falling, with the soldiers on their way, and I think of what He did not tell his disciples, of what He must have felt He had to suffer alone. I think of His return from that death, when He could finally say, this is what I understand to be my Father’s will, this is what I have seen that I can now share with you.

Be part of me. Touch my hurt. See how I am wounded and redeemed at the same time.

Jesus knew about wanting the cup to pass and having to drink anyhow. We can turn to Him for this. But we do not have to be alone in Gethsemane. We can learn to turn to each other. When we bring out the dark side of our own hearts, we say, “I am weak here. Help me with this.” We heal in the humility of acknowledging the human condition we all share. We confess our weaknesses, knowing we are already forgiven. We are all, one way or another, in need of the Light that comes when we bring forth what is inside us.

(Slowly, the light fades on Reverend Alex.  As it does, Jesus appears, the lights shift. 

They look at each other, and this time, she does see Him.)

 

Reverend Alex

Everyone wants to be known.  Everyone.

 

Jesus

(Softly.)

Thank you.

(Lights go to black.  End of scene.)

Endings


I often wish I weren’t so aware of the temporal nature of things.  Since I am also aware that my announcing to random people that we’re all going to die soon (some of us sooner than others) doesn’t exactly nominate me for life of the party, it seems I have to…what?

We are all going to die soon, some of us sooner than others.

Maybe it’s just that every ending is a kind of death, and in me lives a desire to hold on, to make everything last, to say, as Galway Kinnell says in The Book of Nightmares, “…to let nothing of you go, ever.”

This week my Tuesday night Beginning Meisner class ended (a particularly great class), then my Co-Directing at Stoneham Theatre ended on Thursday (though I just returned from seeing a performance I didn’t direct), and tonight yoga teacher training ended.

I want to hold onto gold, and nothing gold can stay.

Galway Kinnell holds the preciousness of his children up against mortality, and sighs his love with images from the bible, from nightmares…and the ultimate nightmare is death, looming up out of the future, or often, in my case, out of the past.

I fought with myself on the mat in yoga teacher training, and I loved the philosophy sessions, and I learned, and I got better, and without my noticing it, this peace I have been cultivating deepened.  Yes, I still love to sound off, tongue in cheek, but I am serious about peace, and about learning what it might mean to die consciously, to let go, to get a grip in the face of what we all fear, to find courage.

Every ending is a reminder of all the endings that I am still trying to finish, to be done with, to grieve.  So that I may shed the chaff, and lean into peace, even when it looks like pain, or grief, or loss itself.  That I may lean in, and not away, my heart open, willing to be hurt, willing to feel it, the bittersweet, the loving so much, the knowing of the temporal, which is life.

I wish the cast of Prom metta, wherever they go, every day, every hour, whenever they can find it, and wherever they can’t.

I wish the new yoga teachers the yoga they know now, and the yoga they don’t, the finding of purusa, of samadhi.

And I hope my Meisner students return, soon, because I am not done with them, and I hope they are not done with me.

And Don.  The powerlessness.  And the knowing…that he’s here. I can feel the kindness of him as I write this.  I know it isn’t too deep for him, even though he’d probably say, “Wow.”  Then he’d pause, and tell me about his brother, some of the same story he’d told me before, but with something new, and deeper.  May I never forget, may I feel him, in me, in memory, in everything he’s left behind.

Opening my heart to 3 endings in one week, and this death, this year.

Metta for me.  May I be at peace with what is.  May I stay alive, cultivating peace and opening, opening, opening.  To the truth of the world, not as I want it to be, ending after ending, but to what it is, itself, sometimes slightly knowable, after all.

Yoga, Yoga, Yoga and the Truth about Yoga


Well, first of all, yoga is a way of life.  It’s part of the Hindu religion, and the Sutras spell out a path to nirvana and peace (since the Sutras were written about 500 years after the Buddha lived, some scholars claim they would not have been possible without Buddhism and are heavily influenced by Buddhist philosophy as well as the atheistic Hindu system of dualism).

Of course, here in the West, yoga’s rep for sweaty hot rooms and twisty bendy postures has caused us to forget that it’s part of Hinduism at all.

And face it, I love the twisty bendy everything.  I have recently fallen in love with the investigation of the philosophy (just as I fell in love with Buddhism last year), but the twisty bend everything still claims me, tests me, makes me face so many things.  And not the ones you would expect–not aging, stiffness, the limits of my body.  But who I truly am.

I go to the mat.  And wherever I go, there I am.

I’ve written that my worst case scenario was to have an eruption of back pain while doing yoga teacher training, and that, of course, the worst case scenario happened.  And here’s the thing–I get kind of sick of turning worst case scenarios into AFGO’s (another f&*#ing growth opportunity), but what else is a girl to do?  I’m not allowed to lie down, wail and writhe in yoga teacher training.  So, AFGO.

I might add that the AFGO keeps honking its horn because I’ve had flare ups in three separate weekends.  I went back to the lovely Dr. Martinez to re-charge my John Sarno-I-am-insanely-homicidal-and-don’t-want-to-know-it approach to back pain.  I went to Thai massage and shiatsu, even though what I’m really supposed to do is examine my unconscious rage (and other feelings).

And I’ve returned to the mat.  If I wasn’t in teacher training, I might not have.  Weight lifting significantly changes the pain equation (when paired with examination of homicidal tendencies) in a way yoga does not.

Anyway, so I’m on the mat this Saturday, sweating my brains out after 2+ hours of incredibly strenuous yoga.  And satya (truth, a yoga yama): I’m getting angry.  I’m starting to have intense inner conflict, because even though I can continue to do the asanas (postures), I know from the other weekends that when I do, I reach over-exertion, my mind fogs out, I get triggered and unhappy and overwhelmed and I really just want to cry.  I mean, past two hours it’s just not fun at all.

At the same time, I have my lovely conditioning from my Irish father, a stellar athlete who was offered football scholarships to a million colleges and played halfback for Notre Dame.  We played sports all the time growing up, and he admired only fight, only never giving up, only trying no matter how much it hurt.  So I’m on the friggin’ yoga mat, knowing that yoga is a way of life and starts with ahimsa (non-violence, with self as well as everyone else), with this never-say-die tape running in my head, and the really great teacher, who I genuinely like, giving us instructions and assists, and it’s like a pressure cooker, because I’m totally overwhelmed and I really, really, really want to just stop.

On top of that, Saturday was an introduction to inversions, so I was excited to do headstand, handstand and stand on the forearms because they are really fun.

I didn’t stop.  And by the time we got to the inversions, I was in a black mood, and unable to concentrate, knowing if I did go upside down I’d likely have back pain because the point in every training where the back pain descends is just then–the overwhelmed, over-exerted point.  The point of intense inner conflict.

Though I didn’t do much with the inversions–I went up in handstand once, knew it was enough, and stopped.  But then I got triggered and tried again…and the back pain descended with FEROCITY.

I lay in savasana (corpse pose) crying a little, because I was so frustrated and disappointed.  I mean, I am often a 5 year old and not getting to go upside down was a big let down.  I decided, while lying there, that when everyone else went to lunch, I’d just hang upside down on the rope wall in 3 or 4 different ways to make myself feel better.  Which I did.  And it kind of worked.  The black mood lightened a lot.

Then, AH-HAH!  The light bulb, the explosion, the-I-did-notice-but-was-too-embarrassed-to-admit-it moment.  The back pain descends when I’m overwhelmed.  When I have internal conflict.

Earlier Saturday morning, I’d been struggling with wanting to go to Pride.  I’d been talking about it with my partner all week–our 25th anniversary on Pride weekend, Obama coming out for gay marriage (I’m back in love with him, which he no doubt intended)–I mean, it was too much to miss.  But a make-up for a day of yoga training is like $200-$300.  And I’m not teaching.  So, INTERNAL CONFLICT.  I woke up with back pain, and then did my Sarno writing (and some meditation) and decided to do one Pride event–not the parade, which I’d have preferred–on Saturday.  And the pain went….whoosh!  Gone.

Of course it came back at the overwhelm point in the training.  But I’m starting to get that these intense moments of internal conflict can be addressed or avoided and then NO BACK PAIN.  It’s more than my lovely homicidality (give me a break, anyone who meditates gets to find out they resent everything).  It’s when I go to war with myself and my conditioning and the pressure builds and I don’t know how to resolve it that I get back pain.

Yesterday, (Sunday) more intense yoga.  I sat out for part of it.  I didn’t get overwhelmed.  Though I’d walked in to class with a ton of pain, I was down to minor twinges after an hour.  AND, I went up in both handstand and headstand (I’ve always been able to do shoulder stand with no problem).

The truth about yoga is wherever I go, there I am.  And meditation teaches me to focus on myself.  It doesn’t matter whether anyone else is overwhelmed.  What matters is that I am, and managing my internal world in a kind and skillful way brings me peace.  I get to decide how much physical yoga is too much–that is something I have the power to do.

On the mat, it’s not about back pain.  Back pain is the teacher.  It’s about admitting I get overwhelmed, that lots of instruction can be hard for me to process, that whether the over-exertion is physical or mental (holding concentration for so long), doesn’t matter.  I get to say die.  I get to just stop.  And be with what is.  Until being with what is becomes peace.

Once a woman I had trained on a job I used to have told me the first time she saw me, she immediately felt intense resentment.  She said I seemed so confident, and she thought, “Nothing bad has ever happened to that woman in her life.”

Then she became my poetry editor.  So she read about my family.  She actually apologized for completely misjudging me.

Satya is finding a way to honor the poetry.  The truth and the beauty, the dirge and the psalm.  And really, who wouldn’t want to do that?

Right Now, Today, It’s All about WRITING


I thought of doing a 7 day stint in which I did not allow myself to talk about therapy.  But we’re seeing the Sheepdog on Monday, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stick to it.

But in the meantime…

I’ve spent some of the last few days writing and rewriting plays.  I wrote FEMALE GERIATRIC ZOMBIES UNITE and then played with it some, I revised THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD, PART 1, and I also did some work on VESSEL OF GLASS.

Of course this means nothing to you, dear reader, but to me…well, I wrote a comedy about an insane director and her equally insane assistant director as they cast a play for a demographic they don’t…well, enjoy.  Then I revised an expressionist movement piece about grief and awakening.  I know that the Buddha didn’t come to his awakening through grief–it was compassion that led him to explore his own mind to find an end to suffering.  But I have awoken through grief, as most of us do (if we awaken), so I wrote a Buddhist piece about grief.  In it, a child is tortured by her own mind, the equivalent, for us contemporary people, of Mara (who tortured the Buddha).  I always think that if you’re going to write about human suffering, you have to balance the content with form and language that is utterly beautiful.  Maybe I’m strange, but I think sorrow can be beautiful.  Think of the arias sung by Maria Callas, or the tragedies of Shakespeare.  Darkness is more about refusing to suffer when that is what life happens to serve up.  Refusal is addiction, is acting out, is sadism, is going unconscious about who we are and how we go about getting what we want.  So yes, accepting suffering without self-pity is beautiful.

Finally, I worked on a rewrite of Vessel of Glass.  I have more work to do since a couple years ago I had a staged reading at the Nora Theatre, and there were lots of suggestions (most of which I disagreed with, but not all) that I need to incorporate without ruining the poetry of the language.  Yes, perfectionism again.  I want every word in everything I write to be rhythmically correct.  No weird sounds, no odd repetitions–it’s like all writing is poetry and every word, every sound, every consonant and vowel…counts.  Or you lose the song in the language.

When I write, the world disappears and it isn’t that I’m all lost in story, it’s that I’m lost in the concentration of making meaning clearer and beauty…just making beauty.  It’s miraculous, to enter this place, to get to feel the expression of what is inside me.  In Vessel of Glass, three women try to love each other, and the obstacles to the love are difficult.  The first and youngest woman has been abused, the second is a closeted lesbian nun and the third is a menopausal mother superior who had no idea she could want a child or that this particular child would show up on her doorstep.

Writing about nuns forced me into dealing with the sacred.  I was at Brandeis University on a scholarship in playwriting, and my workshop leader said, “If you have a character who is a nun, you must deal with the question of faith and God.”  I was like, “Shit.  How did I get myself into this one?”

He was right.  I am so grateful, and I am glad to be in it.  Religion, which I often hate, is nevertheless always about people trying to be better and find meaning, no matter how misguided they are.  It’s to easy to create beauty when people are trying to be better, even when they fail–no, especially when they fail and realize it (remember, sorrow accepted is beauty).

You know, all my life I have wanted to be a bird.  I wanted to grow wings, I wanted to soar like Icarus, I wanted the lift and heave in my muscles, in my body–when I do yoga, I love half moon, or handstand…any asana that takes me up and away from gravity.  Writing lifts me like that.  Not just any writing.  It has to be creative, it has to be art, it has to have poetry.

There’s a Pablo Neruda poem called POETRY that talks about this.  Here’s a part of it:

I wrote the first faint line,

faint, without substance, pure

nonsense,

pure wisdom

of someone who knows nothing,

and suddenly I saw

the heavens

unfastened

and open,

planets,

palpitating plantations,

shadow perforated,

riddled

with arrows, fire and flowers,

the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,

drunk with the great starry

void,

likeness, image of

mystery,

felt myself a pure part

of the abyss,

I wheeled with the stars,

my heart broke loose on the wind.

This is why we write, late at night, early in the morning, whenever we can.  Nevermind the bill collectors, the houses we could have owned earlier, the trips we might have taken, children we might have had.  Nevermind the food we couldn’t buy in one year or another.  Nevermind the relationship troubles as we try to serve this god of beauty, of terrible truth.   Nevermind.  I am soaring, falling, I am lifted up, I am a bird, I have escaped the cage of daily life and nothing can ever be the same; I will never go back to being grounded in any permanent way, I will never forget, never give this up…I will stay in the wind, alive, awake and so….

I write.  I lift a pen.  I say a word.

Let there be Light.

Create.

And we are one.

Metta for everyone who loves beauty, who picks up a pen, who says a word, who dances, sings…whether in public or private.  The one extending gesture…I do this because I believe in the world still, in spite of every darkness, in spite of every flaw.

I believe.  That our beauty may save us.  One of these days.