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Grief, Guest Posts, healing, poetry

On The Anniversary Of My Father’s Death.

February 25, 2014

By Stacey Brown-Downham

This piece is written in honor of Stacey Brown-Downham’s father, Peter Brown–photographer, carpenter and jack-of-all-trades (with a special finesse for the art of cursing)– who passed away three years ago today at 60 years old, but maintained his sense of humor through years of illness (e.g. After one of his many heart attacks, a nurse says to his wife, “He’s had a very bad heart attack.” His response from the other room, “It must not have been that bad. I’m still here.”) 

BREAK HERE. AND HERE. AND HERE.

It should break us all–to feel so much, to love so hard, to hold on so so tightly only to let go willingly (or not).  Maybe it does break us all in different ways only to put us back together better, at least different.

As children and perhaps parents we are made of each other, of our nasty and glorious insides and outs. I had (and still have, in some ways) no idea the ways that I could be broken, and then healed–all the things nobody talks about. Scar tissue in unmentionable places. Scenes etched in cerebral sharpie.

Scene 1: I dropped my son down the stairs, and listened to him roll down all twelve wooden steps in his three-and-a-half-month old body. We drove ourselves to the hospital in a dream. I ran into the emergency room, pleading for someone to help us, not knowing if he was okay. Somehow he was–the hairline fractures in his tiny skull healed long before I could shudder the memory away. It held onto me or I it, or both. I can only write about it now, five years later, and almost not hear it or see it happen in front of me.

We have since carpeted the stairs, but they are still wooden underneath. We have not fallen again, so carefully now we tread.

Scene 2: When my father passed away two years later, after years of illness, at the young age of sixty, we drove through the night to Canada from New Jersey, to sit by his side as he went wherever it is we all must go. I sang in his ear, watched him stare intently up at the corner of the room, and nod in communion with some unseen friend, pull his gaze back down with all his might to search for my mother, then with her permission, allow his soul to slip out and to leave his body still and quiet at last. I sang again at his memorial, ate far too much maple coffee cake and promptly returned back to work, suggesting to all who asked that it would be an adjustment.  An adjustment? You could call that term a gross understatement and perhaps it was at the time, but what else can any of these earth-shaking moments require of us than wholesale adjustments of the body and soul?

Scene 3: I tried to be okay–I was strong, right?– but my body revolted. I became unbearable to be around. I liked no one and nothing. My husband braced himself when I opened my mouth to speak–what accusation, what complaint might issue forth?  So I had to adjust, alright, or risk breaking it all.

Scene 4: At exactly the right time and place (a Saturday afternoon, Spring 2011, at Dhyana Yoga in Haddonfield, New Jersey) I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor in Jennifer Pastiloff’s Manifestation yoga workshop and she told us to partner up and sit directly across from each other. I was odd woman out so I was paired with her. Our job was to stare into each others’ eyes for two minutes straight–into a stranger’s eyes for two minutes straight. I don’t think I’d looked into anyone’s eyes for that long, ever. My eyes welled up–no big deal. I can hold it together. But then she smiled, nodded and gave a little wink, just simple gestures of kindness. It was like she knew, knew that I had had no one to whom to bare this grief, no one whom I thought could bear it. But she smiled permission and so I gave it up, all that grief to a sister-like stranger and I did not break.

She set me on my way back. From there I talked, I breathed, I took strange supplements and new age tests, I stopped eating wheat, I moved my body and I wrote.  I was sick for months, maybe years, and then I was better.

These things should break us, and they seem to for a time, but they don’t. For here we are. We are here. And that’s the nasty and glorious truth of it all, at least for now.

Stacey and her father.

Stacey and her father.

But if you want it in other words:

“Resolution”

Each year at this time as
The earth revolves
Around the closest star
It slows just long enough
For us to stop and take
One last sweaty look at summer
Then reluctantly face forward
With immense resolve
To begin the year anew
(I keep a students’ calendar
If the sun does not)

In its recent circles
It has turned us askew
All the big things, you see,
It has let us see
The greatest of loves
Joined and divided and divided again
Two times made mother
Once the wife
And the grieving daughter
And the one who slipped
And watched him tumble down the stairs
Over and over and over
As the world spun too

It shone in their eyes
While we made humble promises
And donned rings
Outside it waited
While in those windowless rooms
We were first and then again made mother and father
It rose as we drove
Glinted off snowy banks in the
Hospital parking lot as we arrived
And was traveling westward too
As he took flight
And we walked out into the cold evening with and without him

No matter how far we go
We end up right back here
Parts the same but
Wholly different.

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Stacey Brown-Downham is these things (in no particular order):  Canadian ex-pat/recently baptized American citizen, the mother of two ceaselessly charming (charming and ceaseless?) boys, wife to an equally charming American gentle-man, high school English and Special Education teacher, singer-songwriter under the moniker of The Classic Brown, soul-student of Jennifer Pastiloff and when windows of time permit, an amateur writer of prose and poetry. 

Jennifer Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up:  SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. Join a retreat by emailing barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com.

Next workshop is London July 6!


Guest Posts, Inspiration, poetry

Being A Fan by Naomi Shihab Nye.

January 16, 2014

**Note from Jen: It’s a huge honor to have one of my favorite poets in the world guest post on my site today…

Being a Fan by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Maybe we could pay more attention to this subject. We’re so full of ourselves, but it’s much more fun to be full of others. Who do we deeply appreciate and how does this help us when the going gets rough? Or, if we’re feeling a little dim or faded, who’s someone new we could love?

At age 20 I stepped into a falafel joint in Austin, Texas and heard Tom Waits singing from a speaker behind the counter for the first time.  Who is that? I asked the Arab guy who looked like my cousin. That’s Tom Waits, he said. And he handed me my hot wrapped sandwich.

I went straight to a record store and bought 2 Tom Waits albums. I basked in them, listening over and over, playing them

for all prospective new friends, watching their reactions. If they responded strongly to Tom’s songs, I was more interested in being friends with them.

Over the years, the songs of Tom Waits have circulated in my cars and rooms more than the work of any other artist and I continue to love his music in all of its phases.  Every song, every album – even the clankier songs on “Frank’s Wild Years,” for example, have grown on me as I got clankier myself – he and later his wife Kathleen Brennan alongside him have written music to live by and I feel deeply companioned, comforted, whenever his voice is present, and especially at top volume, and even when a song has just been played 50 times in succession. His songs are homes to live inside.

Who would I have been without these homes? I have no idea. Someone lonelier, for sure. I urge you to watch the videos for Tom Waits’ songs, “Hold On” and “Hell Broke Luce” –- both made by the visionary Matt Mahurin, if you have a chance.

Attending only one Tom Waits concert in my life, in a weird overly warm “standing only venue” concert hall in Dallas, the Palladium Ballroom, I consulted with the guy next to me who had also arrived 2 hours early. Somehow I attempted to establish the fact that I was a bigger fan than this guy was. In fact, who were all these other people? They had no right to stand in front of us.

The guy casually said he had been to Houston the previous night to hear Tom’s concert there.  “They had seats,” he said. “It was a nice hall.” I was thunderstruck. All the Deadheads of the world might be surprised to hear how shocking it was to me to realize I could have followed Tom around Texas and attended even the concert in El Paso, for goodness’ sake. I had made a big mistake. One concert only. But, it would certainly be the best musical night of my life and by the time Tom ended his encore, repeating, “And it’s time, time, time” as in – time to go home, maybe – I was mesmerized, rhapsodized, utterly confirmed in my fandom.

Out in the parking lot (a grassy field behind the ballroom), I stood a long time by my car to be the last person to leave. That seemed important. I phoned my son and husband back home in San Antonio to describe in detail how great the concert had been. Though it was past midnight, they were kind enough to listen to this.

The next day I was so disgusted with the Dallas Morning News reviewer’s word  “demented” in the concert review headline – okay, so it appeared alongside another agreeable word like brilliant – that I wrote a letter to the editor, which was never published.

Tom, Tom, Tom. Time, Time, Time. To be a fan is a lucky thing.

(I know a 22 year old writer named Vincent who has been to 40 Dar Williams concerts since he was 12.)

Right before Thanksgiving, I went back to Dallas, and read a Dallas Observer review of someone who had played a concert in a giant arena the night I arrived – someone named “Macklemore” along with his pal “Ryan Lewis”  – there was a picture of these two fellows, both wearing black, the main man staring off to the side. The reviewer said something like, “If anyone had ever told me I would be writing a wildly positive review of a rapper, I would have been shocked,” then went on to say what a captivating concert it had been. He mentioned a song called “Thrift Shop” and some others. Hello, YouTube.

Why did Macklemore in those blue footie pajamas even singing the M-F word which many people my age do not feel comfortable with send me to the moon?

Since that first viewing, I have watched all his other videos, repeatedly, his Tiny Desk Concert for NPR, his radio interviews, the interview in which he takes us on a tour of some of his thrift shop clothes and big coats on a rack in his living room, etc. When he turned up on the stage at Times Square on New Year’s Eve, I was stunned. Is this the most in touch with popular culture I’ve ever been? Probably.

Thanks, Ben Haggerty aka Macklemore, for reminding me how great it is to be a fan. It’s invigorating. I get in my car and there’s Tom Waits at full blast. But when the day sags (between 4 and 5 p.m. usually) I turn on Thrift Shop and do a little dance to it. The world is bright again. ~Naomi Shihab Nye

*Naomi Shihab Nye says “I am a fan of Jennifer Pastiloff and her blog!”

naomi-shihab-nye

Kindness

Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Biography of Naomi Shihab Nye 

Naomi is a poet, songwriter, and novelist. She was born to a Palestinian father and American mother. Although she regards herself as a “wandering poet”, she refers to San Antonio as her home.

Her first collection of poems, Different Ways to Pray, explored the theme of similarities and differences between cultures, which would become one of her lifelong areas of focus. Her other books include poetry collections 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, A Maze Me, Red Suitcase, Field Trip and Fuel; a collection of essays entitled Never in a Hurry; a young-adult novel called Habibi (the semi-autobiographical story of an Arab-American teenager who moves to Jerusalem in the 1990s) and picture book Lullaby Raft, which is also the title of one of her two albums of music. (The other is called Rutabaga-Roo; both were limited-edition.) Nye has edited many anthologies of poems, for audiences both young and old. One of the best-known is This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the World, which contains translated work by 129 poets from 69 different countries. Her most recent anthology is called Is This Forever, Or What?: Poems & Paintings from Texas. 

She has won many awards and fellowships, among them four Pushcart Prizes, the Jane Addams Children’s Book award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and many notable book and best book citations from the American Library Association, and a 2000 Witter Bynner Fellowship. In June 2009, Nye was named as one of PeaceByPeace.com’s first peace heroes.

beauty, healing, loss, poetry, writing

It Comes Down To This.

December 8, 2013

By Jen Pastiloff.

It comes down to this: there are fathers everywhere.

Look. There’s one. And another. You just missed one! Right there, there’s one. And here. They’re everywhere really, the fathers.

And they always will be everywhere.

Here’s one- proudly thanking everyone for coming to his daughter’s baby shower, first grandchild, so proud. Maybe there’s one sitting in a jail cell, picking his fingers, his feet. One’s holding the hand of his little boy, Watch out, it’s crowded here, hold tight. Herds of them driving down the highway in the rain, never coming back, not while it still matters, anyway. And it’ll always be that way. The everywhereness of them all.

You will look up and the world will be a sky of fathers, men puffing cigars will fill the air, men in droves, men with daughters. Everyone will be a father pulling out a picture of his first grandchild to show the world Would you look at that? Would you just look at that?

You will look up and notice, and you may be the only one who notices, that the sky has been replaced with these fathers, and also the banks and the streets. There will be nothing else.

It will be all you see at times.

It comes down to this: whatever you are missing will suddenly appear to be back in the world, its own cardiovascular system of pain, forgotten until you realize that as much as it’s back in the world, it will always be just beyond your reach.

You will notice it everywhere like when you start to notice pregnant women everywhere or how many blue cars are on the road (They are everywhere! Would you look at that? Would you look at that?) Your heart, once again a closed fist. A hand open, flat and rough, its lines suggesting “long life and contentment with love life”. But the heart line is missing.

The hand curls and touches the heart and they meet but do not understand what the meeting means and why it feels like a part of each is missing.

It comes down to this: your pain in waves, it turns, leaches on to things. Years of your life, for example. Your pain wraps itself around whole years like a tentacle and won’t let go until you understand that it is the organ of touch, so you reach out and touch it and then, only then, it slithers off, as if all it needed was to be noticed.

*

I was at a baby shower not too long ago where the girl was having her first baby. Her father stood up to make a speech and looked over at her big belly with a swell of the chest, a Look at my little girl. Look at us.

I was thrilled for her and yet tears, (where are these coming from?) Tears in my egg whites and arugula with the chicken picked out of it. I will never have that as I pour salt on the eggs. Why whites? Why no yolk? I need more yellow here and all of a sudden fathers everywhere showing off their pregnant daughters. No women are even in the room anymore. The eggs, in fact, have turned into little fathers. Would you look at that? Would you just look at that?

The pain comes in waves. The initial shock of loss. The teenage years angst. The reduction of it all to poetry.

Then, the loss of what is yet to come. The mourning of something that hasn’t even occurred yet.

It comes down to this: we recognize when possibility has been eliminated.

When there is never a chance of this or that, we know it, and our hearts mourn something that doesn’t even have a name yet. I’ll never have that and yet I am sad. I am devastated. I can’t go on. I am ruined.

More salt on eggs. Presents being opened. Fathers all over the world, clapping.

*

It comes down to this: you find cracks in the pain and slip into them. You can live there, at least for a while, from that place down low, the place of I am untouched by loss until you get to a baby shower and you notice that the crack has sealed up, the cement has pushed you up and out in the world again and you are in the middle of it all, fin-footed as a seal, unable to move, so you too clap.

Would you look that that? Would you just look at that?

Somebody loves us all, says Elizabeth Bishop in her poem Filling Station.

Oh, but it is dirty!

–this little filling station,

oil-soaked, oil-permeated

to a disturbing, over-all

black translucency.

Be careful with that match!

 

Father wears a dirty,

oil-soaked monkey suit

that cuts him under the arms,

and several quick and saucy

and greasy sons assist him

(it’s a family filling station),

all quite thoroughly dirty.

 

*

Oh, but it is dirty! This pain, you think, is dirty. How dilapidated, how old! How worn-out, how broken down, how enough is enough of it all. How dirty my pain is, how me-centric, how grimy. How many poems I have written of it, how many eggs, how many cracks in the sidewalk.

I remember one of my own father poems, one of the many (hundreds) I’d written when I was 19 years old at Bucknell University where I had a poetry fellowship.

                                               TO MY FATHER, AFTER HIS DEATH 

I knew that you weren’t really dead.

That if I kept looking, kept driving,

I’d find you.  

Didn’t think it would be here though,

that you’d be pumping gas

in Kansas.

 

You still smoke.

I can tell.

The way your shoulders hunch over

gives you away.

When you push nozzles into canals,

into the backs of cars,

you heave, your shoulders roll.

Your stomach reaches closer to your back,

toward smooth pink scars.

You look smaller,

shirking into yourself like that.

 

Silently pumping gas, coughing occasionally,

scratching your sunburned bald spot.

 

I watch you from the shoulder of I-70

through dead bugs on my windshield.

There is a small convenience store

attached to the gas station.

You enter it,

and when you emerge

I see the bulge in your pants.

You’ve bought Kools: your brand of cigarettes.

Stashed them in your front hip pocket,

next to an Almond Joy.

 

I see you still

squint, smoke,

have bad posture,

eat Almond Joys.

 

Quiet as ash,

you in the Kansas of Colorado,

one foot almost in each state.

 

The moment you noticed me

must have been when

you straightened your back up,

crushed your half smoked cigarette

and smiled.

 

But you know I can’t come any closer.

 

I can’t pull into the station,

roll down my window and touch your face.   

*

The facts are what remains: gas stations, baby showers, cigarettes, candy bars- Hell, all of it, will be the things that remind me of my father.

Loss doesn’t occur in a vacuum. These losses exist out in the world and sometimes in a plate of eggs. Sometimes, when you least expect it (and I hope for all of our sakes that we aren’t always expecting the worst) we will crumble at the site of a see-saw, a beard, a Pepsi. I wish it wasn’t a fact. I wish that you and I could go on and pour salt on our eggs and clap with the rest of the people and that we wouldn’t feel a thing. Not even a twang.

But that would be a lie. The things that shape us are where the beauty resides.

 

 

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Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (sold out) as well as Other Voices Querétaro with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp and Rob Roberge. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

 

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

 

Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts, poetry

The Space of Rituals.

October 23, 2013

The Space of Rituals

by Andi Cumbo-Floyd

Every day, I kiss him goodbye at the back door of the farmhouse before pushing the door shut tight behind him.  I make my way across the galley kitchen, through the living room, into my office – a trip of 15 strides or less.

Then, I open the front door, stand behind the glass meant that keeps out storms but not stink bugs, and wait.

Every weekday.

It’s our ritual.

As I wait, I see how the wedding mums have started to fade – the honeymoon’s consequence.

The trees at the bottom of the farmyard illustrate, as if planned by the most creative and enthusiastic of third grade teachers, the stages of fall – just yellow, the orange-yellow of the dogwood, the bare spindle branches of the persimmon.

The chicken coop door stands empty still, waiting for us and Dad to resume now that the wedding work has faded.

I catch glimpses of Lee the tractor as he poses in the lower pasture.

All this in a few moments – a minutes, maybe two.

The gift of ritual – the space it creates to see, to breath, to wait.  The preparation of a moment. The air around time.

Like lighting a candle. Or closing his eyes before turning on the computer screen. Or standing at a storm door waiting to blow her new husband a good-bye kiss.

Click photo to buy Andi's book.

Click photo to buy Andi’s book.

 

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and writing teacher. She blogs regularly at her writing website – andilit.com – and the website for God’s Whisper Farm.  Her book about the principles in place at their small Virginia farm is God’s Whisper Manifesto. She just got married in September, and she plans to blow her husband Philip a kiss every day for the rest of their lives.  

poetry

Mine Is.

August 14, 2013

I haven’t written a poem in years. Years. This morning I did. Rusty, sure. But I wrote. I am writing.

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning. ~Cat Stevens. Morning Has Broken.
Mine Is by Jen Pastiloff

Mine is the father, gone too soon,
spotted in Badlands.
Mine is The Mako Sica.
Mine is the land bad.
Mine is the sky breaking
Rivaled only by the sea,
mine is the sea rising,
Mine is the land empty, mine is the land good.

Mine is the land full
and the faces,

mine are the faces,
searching the sky and the sea and the land
for what is theirs.
Mine is the father in his bed, mine is the heart.
Mine is the heart breaking
Rivaled only by itself.
Mine is the self,
all spires and ridges and inside spikes.
Mine are the spikes that run through the life
Rivaled only by those that run through the heart.
Mine is the heart

Mine is the breaking

Breaking, the offering.
In that, that is is mine.

Mine is the word and the word was made here.
Here is what’s mine, mine the page,
The page is what’s mine.
Rivaled only by time.
Time is what’s mine, bereft and impossible
Sliding on and up, backwards some days.
Time is the eagle and also the hawk
looking over its shoulder, time is the prey.
What’s mine is to pray unnameable things,

death and sorrow, those are also mine.
Mine is a crow, a life, in between.

This is what’s mine:
Nothing, the father, the sky,
The sea and also the page,
The word and the face and the heart
And also the land,

Mine is the self.
Mine is the here.
Rivaled only by time.

~~~

I wrote it this morning after my 7 am class where I played this song xx jen

Little Seal, loss, love, poetry

The Art of Losing.

February 12, 2013

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Jen Pastiloff.

 The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant 

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

 ~Elizabeth Bishop from One Art

I read this poem in my yoga class tonight. It’s been calling me so I went and picked it up.

So many things lost. My friend’s baby is dying and tonight when I asked her what I could do for her she simply said curse the fucking world that would do this to a baby.

I have.

Oh, have you seen it? I have slipped. I have lost my yoga-teachery-ness, my belief in you attract every single thing in your life somewhere between Ronan’s deadly diagnosis and my nephew’s rare genetic disorder. Something has been lost.

Ronan is now on medication through a tube taped to his face, but no fluids. He will die most likely in 3-8 days, and so yes, I am cursing the world and I will spare you the photos of him because, most likely, you will curse the world too. The fucking world that would do this to a baby.

When things like this happen (as if they can be categorized as things like this) we lose the piece of ourselves that speaks in platitudes, that says everything happens for a reason. Because really it doesn’t.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master. Oh Elizabeth Bishop. So wise. 

I’ve mastered it. After Emily loses her son Ronan she will have mastered it. (Hell, she’s a master already.) There are a lot of us masters out here in the world. 

We are a tribe of masters.

I think of my grandfather alone in his old row house in South Philadelphia. The same house my mom and aunts were raised in and the same house he has lived in for 65 years when he wasn’t off in another country. It’s dark and now referred to as the “ghetto” but after my grandmother died a year and a half ago, my mother went there and cleaned it up. She painted and cleaned and hung photos and dusted and took plastic off sofas. It looked nice.

My grandfather spent most of his life in the navy. He loves to talk about it. He has books, yearbooks they remind me of, and he sits down next to his guitar and shows me them. He points to faces and maps.

The first time I went to LA, was on a Greyhound bus in 1942 when we all moved to Hayward, California. That was a long crowded trip from Effingham, Illinois to LA then up to Hayward.

I lived there till I joined the navy in 1943. Worked at Hunts cannery and a place called Gillig Bus Company. They made busses out of truck chassis. I also worked 5 nights and Saturday and Sunday at a skating rink….I was the floor manager and was a really good roller skater then.

We used to cash our paychecks and they would give most of it in real silver dollars then, they would be worth a lot of money now. And when I was stationed in Pearl Harbor  in Hawaii in 1944 we used to get paid with 2 dollar bills with H A W A I I printed across them. That was to show the complaining civilians how much money the military contributed to their economy. It seemed to work.

Do you have any of those?  I interrupt him. 

(I used to have some myself, Pop but I’ve lost them. I used to have loads of silver dollars and $2 dollar bills. I don’t have any now.)

That was when Hawaii was only one of the territories. I was only making about $50 or $60 per month then, so it wasn’t very practical to save the $2 bills. 2 or 3 bucks would pay for a night in Honolulu and sandwich before going back to the tent city in a mosquito infested cane field where we lived. Some fond memories. The mosquitos there were at least as big as humming birds and sounded like model airplanes in flight. I remember one night that 2 mosquitos landed on my bunk and one said “shall we eat him here or take him back with”  the other said “no, we better eat him here because if we take him back, the big ones might take him away from us.”

(Oh Pop, you’re making that up.)

So many things lost, so many memories, so many $2 dollar bills and silver dollars.

I wonder if I can find all the things I have lost. Do they come back or is that it? Just like that, gone.

The answer: gone.

I hope I didn’t make you want to stop reading, but it’s true. My grandmother died and she is lost to my grandfather although I am sure when he fell in the bathtub last month he called out for her. He was alone and sat there naked on the floor of the tub for hours, his head bleeding before he somehow reached the phone and dialed 9-1-1.

But, do you think he called for her?

Damn straight. And when they had to pick broken pieces of tile out of his head I am sure he called for her or at least wished for her even though she drove him crazy with her complaints and crosswords, he called for her because who else do you call for?

Why?

Habit? Yes.

Wishful thinking? Yes.

Love? Yes.

Fear? Yes.

Desperation? Yes.

It’s all I know? Yes.

All of it.

Look, when we lose things and we become masters it’s not like that means we accept it. It doesn’t mean we don’t pound our heads against the tiles and watch the blood drip down into the drain as we shiver and cry. It doesn’t mean that just because we are masters at losing that we like that or that we even know what that means.

You think Emily knows what life will be like post-Ronan? No. She doesn’t. Yet and still, she is a master.

The loss has already entered her and the silver dollars will never be recovered. The mosquitoes have made their way in and gnawed through everything.

There is nothing left but still the loss is insurmountable and unknowable and being a master means nothing.

It means you know how to bury someone or watch them die or get old or not get old but it doesn’t mean you are free. You were once a roller skater, true, but that holds no weight now at this moment in the bathtub with your head bleeding like that.

Like Bishop said: it takes practice. Practice losing father, losing faster. To which I say: No. Enough is enough is enough. I am done losing. So many things lost. So many keys and years and people. Enough. I needn’t any more practice. We may be masters but we are not lost.

This is an art that doesn’t take years to hone. It takes a minute (maybe less), or however long it decides when it takes what it is going to take, but let me tell you this: being a master isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I’d trade it on for the baby’s fat arms, for the silver dollars, for the father lying on the couch in his cutoffs, for the chromosone not to be missing. I’d become all woo-woo for you and yea, everything happens for a reason and you get what you deserve if you’d give the title “Master” to another. But that “another” would always be me. I see that. There is no this or that, me not you, you not me, your kid not mine, my kid not yours. The Masters is no insider exclusive club. There is no discrimination. It is all of us.

We are all the Masters.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

 

 

 
 
Birthday, loss, poetry

Reconciliation.

December 6, 2012

By Jen Pastiloff.

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses? ~ Stanley Kunitz The Layers

I read this poem often to my yoga classes and every time I get to that line I choke up. I remember going to Stanley Kunitz’ birthday party when I was a student at NYU. I think it was his 90th and it was in some kind of New Yorky basement, or maybe it was the NYU Law School. My memory of those years went up in smoke at some point. I had just decided I was a poet (it sounds so pretentious now but I really did wake up one day and decide that.) I went and had my black coffee (all I would eat for the day) and decided that I would focus on poetry, that in fact, I may be a bad poet but that I was a poet nonetheless and I had found my focus, finally. I knew why I was here in New York City. If I didn’t want to be a poet or an actor or some other ridiculous thing that was guaranteed to bring me heartache and no money than why wouldn’t I have gone to Rutgers or somewhere cheaper in New Jersey?

So yes, I would be a poet. 

I went to Stanley’s birthday party and was so touched by all the poets reading his works, except they weren’t reading them, they didn’t have to. They’d had them memorized. They were just reciting them as an act of love, an offering, an honor.

How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?

That was probably the first time I heard that line. Or maybe not. Maybe I had read it and underlined it and memorized it but it was the first time I really heard it, there in that basement or church or NYU Law Library. I was hit by the reality that I’d had a feast of losses already and I was only 19 years old.

What if kept going, I remember thinking. What if every year I lose more people and things and memories? How will I ever reconcile this? How will I survive?

I’ve reconciled some of it, as to be expected at my age.

Why do some people experience such loss, so much mass at once, while others buoy through deaths and years like they are untouchable? When really no one is. They simply haven’t been hit yet by the storm and maybe they never will until they are. And by then they will have prepared greatly. Whereas some people never get to prepare or else they spend their whole lives (or what seems to be that) preparing and yet it doesn’t make a difference. Like my dear friend Emily Rapp, whose son Ronan is dying at any moment of the fatal Tay Sachs. She was hit with no warning and no matter how much preparing and how many lifeboats she throws in his little boat, he will sink. He is un-saveable.

I’ve reconciled some but what of those I haven’t? How does the heart reconcile? Does it?

 

We move on. We get up and go and come home and pour a glass of wine, or not, but we never fully get over things. What does getting over even mean? It sounds like some kind of vengeful expression that they would make a movie out of like Die Hard. Getting Over It Part 7.

I am going to get one over on you. I am getting over. It suggests that there is something underfoot, something to be trampled on and overcome.

My heart does not want to overcome or trample on my losses but rather assimilate them into my life so I can function like a normal adult with responsibilities and schedules.

Right now I stay in pajamas unless I have to work and I worry about having a girl because how do you even braid hair? I worry about having children period.

How do you make a diorama? How do you do algebra? What if I don’t want to watch their soccer practice? 

What is a normal adult?

I know these questions are popping up because I am having a birthday in a few days and my mortality is at stake, and, as you know, my father died at the age I am turning when I was a child but still, I feel like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight. What if I don’t want the Prince?

I don’t know what I want. But this can’t be. I am a woman of a certain age. I am not young. (Yes, yes, in comparison, I am sure some of you reading are rolling your eyes and saying “Girl, you are so so young.”) But I am not. Not in baby-making years, I am not at all. Trust me on this and don’t condescend. I am young at heart and maybe young looking, but when it comes to ovaries and eggs I am meh at best.

Do I need to reconcile all my losses before I bring life into the world? Do I need to do the proverbial getting of my shit together before I make a move? What do I do? Who do I ask?

I have always fantasized about having someone to ask that would give me answers which is why it was especially devastating that my father died so young because although I am sure his answers would be fifty per cent bullshit I would take them as The Word happily and without question. (I would!)

Here I am a teacher to so many and a leader and I am searching for someone to tell me what to do. As I have written about before, the worst is deciding what to eat. Recently, in Bali, I went out to eat with a student, and, as is my way, couldn’t decide what I wanted and hemmed and hawed and changed my order and fretted. She said something to the effect of I have never seen that side of you.

This is one reason I don’t hang out with many people. What side? The pressure I feel to be somebody that always inspires, that always knows what to do and what to order and what to eat.

I don’t even know if I want a fucking baby and I am in my late late thirties.

This side of me.

So yes, there is this side of me. The side of me that doesn’t know. Who has lost a lot. Who has anxiety, still, yes. Who sometimes doesn’t leave her house and who would prefer to write than teach a yoga private and who tends to take things too personally and drinks too much coffee and gets stuck in the past and novels too.

I have reconciled those things for the most part (some I’d like to keep). But the questions are looming. (I am not looking for you to give me answers.)

I am looking to never stop asking the questions. To always look and uncover and dig and smell and retrieve and throw back.

If I stop asking the questions I die.

It may take a while for my body to die but my mind and soul and all other parts of me will wither away if the questions stop. The heart can never reconcile all of it until it stops beating.

I think that is why that line chokes me up. I know the truth behind it.

How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses? It doesn’t.

Some turns to legend, some to fact, some to dust and the rest, well, the rest you bury inside of you and reach for it when you are drowning knowing it will be there. And it will.

 

All Jen Pastiloff’s events and workshops listed here.

 

Jen Pastiloff is part of the faculty this year at Other Voices Querétaro. It is a vibrant, multi-faceted writing program in Querétaro, Mexico. Focusing on both fiction and nonfiction, as well as on the ins and outs of contemporary publishing. Application: We're keeping it simple! Admission forms and letters of recommendation are not required. Please email Gina at ovbooks@gmail.com or click photo above. Also on faculty are authors Emily Rapp, Gina Frangello, Stacy Bierlein and Rob Roberge.

Jen Pastiloff is part of the faculty this year at Other Voices Querétaro. It is a vibrant, multi-faceted writing program in Querétaro, Mexico. Focusing on both fiction and nonfiction, as well as on the ins and outs of contemporary publishing. Application: We’re keeping it simple! Admission forms and letters of recommendation are not required. Please email Gina at ovbooks@gmail.com or click photo above. Also on faculty are authors Emily Rapp, Gina Frangello, Stacy Bierlein and Rob Roberge.

 

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

loss, poetry, Things I Have Lost Along The Way

What Can I Tell You?

November 13, 2012

What can I tell you that you don’t already know?

I don’t know. I don’t know what you know.

I know what I know.

(I also don’t know what I know and know what I don’t know that I know.)

We cannot experience anything other than our own experience, I’ve been told. So, what can I tell you?

I can tell you how when I was 17 I stole a lot of underwear, and a few bras, from Victora’s Secret at the Moorestown Mall in New Jersy where my friend Ameila was working. My friend D and I. We then added up the cost of all the lingerie and realized that we had commited grand theft. I might still have one of the bras. But maybe you know this. I don’t know where you go when you die besides gas stations.

Maybe you can see it all and you shook your head when we did this and lit up a cigarette, alreaydy knowing the outcome. Which was: nothing happened. We didn’t get caught and I don’t know if we even felt bad. D and I worked at a sporting goods store called Modell’s and we would have our friends come up to the register and not ring them up for Umbros and Champion sweatshirts.

I can tell how you when I was 19 I applied to for a fellowship for poets at Bucknell University. For “Younger Poets”. Only ten people in the nation could win and I didn’t see the point in applying, in sending in my poems at all, because I never won anything, only bad things happened to me. Urged on by my mentor at the time, Donna Masini, I sent my poems in and won the fellowship. I won it! I got the sacred fellowship and a retired NFL football player turned poet who was actual quite lovely was our writer-in-residence. I spent a summer starving myself and writing and running through cemeteries in the rain and reading poems in an old church in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Only ten in the nation and I did it. I defied the odds and overturned the ruling that God hated me. But maybe you knew? Maybe you in fact, did that? Maybe you had a hand in that?

I can tell you how I got pulled over once when I had been drinking. The cops called for backup and I went and sat on the side of the freeway and prayed to you: Daddy, if I have ever had to call in a favor now would be the time. Please. Help me. And you did. So, I guess I don’t need to tell you that? But maybe you don’t know this one: after that night you saved me, I swore I would never ever have a sip and drive again. And I did.

I can tell you that. I have had some sips since.

I am not perfect.

I can tell you that but you know that. I am quite sure of this. I wasn’t perfect even when you were here. Remember when you used to quiz me on the names of the hockey teams for each state? I could never get them right.

What can I tell you that you might not know?

Maybe you aren’t really dead.

I always knew that if I kept looking, kept driving, I’d find you. I didn’t think it would be here though, that you’d be pumping gas in Kansas. You still smoke, I can tell. The way your shoulders hunch over gives you away. When you push nozzles into canals, into the backs of cars, you heave, your shoulders roll. Your stomach reaches closer to your back,toward smooth pink scars.

Daddy, you look smaller, shirking into yourself like that.

Silently pumping gas, coughing occasionally, scratching your sunburned bald spot. I watch you from the shoulder of I-7o through dead bugs on my windshield. There is a small convenience store attached to the gas station.

You enter it and when you emerge I see the bulge in your pants. You’ve bought Kools: your brand of cigarettes and stashed them in your front hip pocket, next to an Almond Joy.

I see you still squint, smoke, have bad posture, eat Almond Joys. Quiet as ash, you in the Kansas of Colorado, one foot almost in each state. The moment you noticed me must have been when you straightened your back up, crushed your half smoked cigarette and smiled. You know I can’t come any closer.

I can’t pull into the station, roll down my window and touch your face.

But what can I tell you? I will tell you anything you want to know.

How long it took me to find you? How many years I was lost? How I am about to be the age you were when you left? How I know this isn’t you but how I need it so badly to be and how much it means that you let me believe it is. How your gifts never stop coming through? I can tell you that.

How although you ripped my heart out at 8 years old I have never forgotten and I have used every bit of you up and turned you into art whenever I have had the oppotunity. Though the facts that remain are greying with age, they are no less relevant than they were all those years ago. Nor are you.

I can tell you that I am a better person than I have ever been and that it feels foreign and exhilarating in the way being recognized feels after a lifetime of being invisible.

Some days I love you and some days I hate you and how does that make you any more special than a father that is here on this earth in his chair watching his show with his glasses on his chest? It doesn’t. You are not invisible is what I am saying.

That I can tell you.

poetry

Man Eater.

September 1, 2012

He barely looked up over his newspaper but I felt his willingness

to know the improbable

things in life, the sliding of a phone number under three dollar bills change,

and the walking away with certainty that the improbable just turned probable.

I felt his willingness to know the improbability of a garden

later that afternoon, a bottle of wine on the table, blocking the two people.

The improbability of Can you move that bottle? I can’t see your face.

There, that’s better. There you are.

The improbability of that butterfly landing on the bougainvillea bush and the sun

dropping down for the day so the two faces are lying faces at the moment

when that butterfly lands on the red flower bract

and coddles its wings against the petal, the brilliance of its red blinding

as making love for the first time, that first skin against skin battle,

the loss of sight that accompanies it.

They aren’t telling the same stories they were telling that morning in a restaurant.

The faces are softer now, sunlight has wore them down, and they are smiling.

The two faces are telling beautiful untrue things.

That’s what a lie is: the telling of beautiful untrue things.

The butterfly is improbable,

but as I drop his change I know that we’ve already seen that butterfly.

That nothing can ever be proved,

the mathematics of two bodies coming together, inexplicable and unsolved.

That the only beautiful things are the things that do not concern us.

This is out of our hands, this no longer concerns us.

 

He is bound come sit next to me, to kiss me in a backyard garden

with the words What are the improbable things? heavy objects

knocking about in my chest.

This is no longer improbable but inevitable.

 

Things either last too long or not long enough.

 

This will not last long enough.

 

It is a sad madrigal, this tale.

I said I wanted to go out and screw the world

but that was another lie, another beautiful untrue thing.

I found him where I knew he would be,

poking at his eggs, sipping his coffee

at the exact moment I knew he would be there,

10:18 am, Friday April 23.

and I gave him all I got.

I didn’t want to screw the world.

I wanted the world to love me one man at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

poetry, Self Image, Things I Have Lost Along The Way

An Identity Crisis.

July 23, 2012

An Identity Crisis

We may ask ourselves: Who is this person? while watching the lover pull a hair off their tongue or wiping their upper lip with the back of their hand or eating a bowl of oatmeal on the edge of the bed to catch the news or drinking a dark beer at M’Lady’s in SoHo.

Because sometimes we get lost in the bustle of it all. And these questions might come fast as a sigh of relief and they may vanish as fast as the beer glides down the throat, the hair comes off the tongue, the sweaty upper lip smooth as butter puckers into an

Oh.

We might get in our cars, make faces at ourselves in the rearview mirror, eat our breakfasts in the bathroom to save time and sweat with our lovers and then one Tuesday we realize that the person we once were has changed so many times over, has fallen into the groove, into the pattern of days, is as predictable as the setting sun

so we may ask ourselves: Who is this while watching our lover pull a hair off their tongue or wiping their upper lip with the back of a hand

and it might feel answered, we might think we recognize them.

That we know who we are.

So we go on and make more faces in the mirror, changing the natural shape of our mouths or seeing what our eyes would look by pulling our hair too tight, and we might keep driving,

keep walking

keep drinking,

keep eating,

nothing truly stops, ever,

bury the father,

clock into work,

tell them that you love them if that’s what they want to hear,

clock out,

keep going,

we might feel almost sure we’ve got it,

that we are in control.

Keep going to bed, keep waking up.

Don’t stop, don’t ask,

buy the birthday cards,

celebrate the years,

don’t move from where you are,

trade one relationship for the next

go to bed,

wake up

You’re still there.

Look: you’re still here.

***This piece was written when I was 20 years old 
Eating/Food, poetry

Things That Break Easily. More on Anorexia.

July 22, 2012

I wrote this when I was 19. Clearly I was in the throes of anorexia.

                                    Things That Break Easily

What is Inevitable: The window men having to come and install a new window to replace the shattered one.

They smell of bacon but are kind and helpful. They ask no questions.

They Have Seen It All.

In and out, noiseless as shock.

They cart away broken shards, slinging glass like water ,

Commenting: close those tree branches come close to your window,

good glass like this could scratch easily, even break with wind.

Maybe someone should think about cutting that tree down.

~~~

What can a body achieve?

What limits can we really take it to?

I was a tree!

I stood all night looking in my own room

dipping on, the wind pulling me this way and that.

I watched neighbors drink and knit in my new tree body

as a pile of sticks curled and slept in my bed.

But even this, this is not much.

I couldn’t unearth myself,

I couldn’t slither out of bark

and into the apartment across the way.

I could not become timeless.

Or as heartbreaking as the man hunched over his piano with the random tufts of hair.

Not into my past or anyone else’s present,

I could only slip into the earth.

I could not fit my body in the head of the sewing needle.

Looking out at the world through nothing but a perfect steel slit. 

Perfection is Perspective.

Guest Posts, poetry

The Art of Disappearing.

June 9, 2012

This poem is exactly how I have been feeling lately. My friend sent it to me and said it made her think of me.

Synchronicity.

It’s everywhere.

Read it and feel it. It’s that good.

The Art of Disappearing

When they say Don’t I know you?

say no.

When they invite you to the party

remember what parties are like

before answering.

Someone telling you in a loud voice

they once wrote a poem.

Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.

Then reply.

 

If they say We should get together

say why?

 

It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.

You’re trying to remember something

too important to forget.

Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.

Tell them you have a new project.

It will never be finished.

 

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store

nod briefly and become a cabbage.

When someone you haven’t seen in ten years

appears at the door,

don’t start singing him all your new songs.

You will never catch up.

 

Walk around feeling like a leaf.

Know you could tumble any second.

Then decide what to do with your time.

 

– Naomi Shihab Nye

Inspiration, poetry

Returning.

May 20, 2012

Like reading a book and looking up from the page to face the landscape, that gorgeous canopy: the red maple, the black locust and white ash, the black birch and sugar maple, the white oak- all those trees!

The ribs of gray rock under the dark mantle of matted leafage. And then back to my book again.

Which is real?

What I am looking at now?

What I think I saw?

What I think I know?

The words on the page?

The thing that the words are trying to describe?

I am returning to me, finally, after having been interrupted for so long.

Looking up at that landscape was a moment as fast as a slow wing beat.

I never bothered to lift my eyes from the page, from this same sentence for so many years. I lived inside the same tunnel of words, this tightly wound black and white sentence, these very familiar letters, for so many years.

Until I was willing to look. 

I finally saw that beautiful alternate-leaved dogwood in full bloom, the young forrest with so much to offer, so much new life and old life intertwined-the shagbark hickory chestnut sighing, it’s arms muscling at the sky, it’s scent distinct, somehow masculine.

I lived in this cave of noise for too long.

All around me, so much to see, but with my head down neck bent, eyes half-mast, I missed so much.

I was so unquiet.

We are as capable as raw bone, of becoming anything. The evolution of bone to bead, that astounding transformation of something so seemingly unmalleable into a morsel of beauty.

A chiseled thing, heavy with it’s own personality and structure. It’s intricacies detailed, experiences carved into the body of the bead make it stand out from every other.

Much like us.

I have become as migratory as a blue and white Flycatcher breeding in the summer before heading south for autumn.

Can we ever get our minds around how things go from one thing into something else entirely?

Can we wrap our minds around ideas as big as change? Can we keep expanding into things we never thought we would be? 

Can our own humanness astound us?

With all this unseen beauty in the world.

I see through matter: through skin, through flesh, through tissues and blood cells into the wild.

We still have so much to touch, so many rocks still have to leave their weight in our palms as we rub out the seasons on the stone’s belly and feel what the wind did to it’s skin, what the rain and mud had to say.

The verity of gravel, the sounds of the warblers as they sing their praises and show off for the other birds, the detail of the damp and the way it enters your body and settles like a fog inside of you, a slight coat, just enough to feel alive.

All this unseen beauty. We are as safe as houses.

As long as we keep our eyes open we are as safe as houses still settling into themselves, even after years.

The creaking and adjusting. The resettling.

Tell me: How you ever felt so alive?

 

 

And So It Is, poetry, Self Image

The Intimacy of Bats or When Did You Know Who You Really Were?

May 20, 2012
The Intimacy of Bats
 
It comes down to this:
 
Even at 15 years old I knew who I was.
 
Who I was on my mother’s bed, who I was as I lay startled to see a bat hovering near the ceiling fan as I made out in the way a 15 year old will make out with her 17 year old boyfriend.
 
That proving that a 15 year old can and will move her body like a 17 year old.
 
With my keen understanding that everything is a sign for something else,
I should have understood then that under the graph of thin meshwork, under muscle strips covered by bat skin was a map of my life.
 
A prophet, my future in the fabric of its wings, and  I was blind-sided.
 
I completely missed it.
 
In the Orient, bats are a symbol for good luck.
Here in the West, they’ve suffered a serious image problem.

I appeal to the lost.
 
I appeal to creatures who have to overcome darkness to get what they deserve.
 
What I love about bats: their invisible sound, bouncing off objects, returning as echo. Leaving as one thing, coming back as another.  They’ve mastered the art of taking.
 
Do you think they just give away their noiseless sounds?

They always get them back, and like some exclusive insider’s club: these sounds are too high-pitched for humans to hear.
 
For example, one sound could be I love you and we wouldn’t hear a thing.

What I have in common with bats:
I too have suffered a serious image problem.
I am haunted by myths.
I know the art of taking.
I return as  an echo.

I rely on echolocation, a seeing based on hearing.
 
I am part bat.
 
I listen for signs, I hunt in the dark.
I have been sulfur at the tip of torches, I have leapt to fire
when another flame came close, but finally I have found my way. Finally.
 
So I listen close,  for signs.
I listen as hopefully as blood draws to the surface I listen.
I am looking for that kind of reaction

And as silently as we watched those hairless pale yellow wings become as still as our answer to the moon.

What will we answer the moon?

The artist is what he is because of the time and place where he lives.
Be the artist now, be the artist here, in this time and place.
 
The intimacy of bats has escaped evolutionists but I am sure we could learn from these winged things.

How to listen closely, how to love what at first looks frightening. 

It comes down to this:

People fear most what they understand least.
 
Take love for example, God, death. Take honesty, cruelty, kindness even.
Take bats, those shy creatures, so misunderstood. They love quietly, haunted by myth.

At a very young age we decide who and what we love.
 
Then later, much later, tell it to the moon!
Tell it to the bats, tell it to anyone who will listen,

just who it is that you are, 
 
and why if you hunt here in the dark, if you listen close enough, you can hear your life, the wings a suggestion that you will make it,
 
that you are already there.