Browsing Tag

elizabeth bishop

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.

 

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!

 

 

 
 
And So It Is, Mindwebs, my book

Every So Often The World is Bound To Shake.

December 28, 2012

Elizabeth Bishop knew it.

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,

and that every so often the world is bound to shake. 

I know it.

I know how sometimes you walk along and the pavement lifts up, right from under your feet, how it flips you in the air and you land on your head, your pockets empty, your hands cut from bracing the fall. I know how sometimes you walk along on the shore and it just reaches out and swallows you up, just like that. A mess of foam and salt and saliva and spit and you never even know what happened until you cough up sea and sand as you lay facing the blue blue sky in a land that all of a sudden feels unsafe and unknowable. I know how sometimes you walk along the dirty road  and the earth simply cracks in half, taking you with it and how it is dark and wet, and, until you come back up, and even then, you are unsure what happened. How the shaking even started.

You’ve been told the world is bound to shake but until it did you didn’t believe it, you simply strolled along as if you were unscathed.

You were never unscathed.

How can you defend yourself against this shaking? you might wonder.

You can’t. What you can do is armor yourself good. Stockpile your life with people who make you feel fantastic and lovable and books and favorite memories, even those memories you’ve changed and bettered with time. And all those disappointments you’ve suffered? Well, those aren’t armor. Not exactly. Those disappointments were shaking that’s already happened, the world shook for you during those moments and whether or not you realize it: you’ve already had practice.

If you are reading this, at one point in your life, you have lost someone, you have had your heart broken, you have not gotten something you’ve wanted, someone’s died, someone you love, most likely. If none of these things have happened yet, they will. Not a morbid thought. Not trying to scare you. Just telling you what Elizabeth Bishop told you in 1965 in Sandpiper:

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,

and that every so often the world is bound to shake. 

The world is bound to shake. It is. It cannot stay still. So, you’ve experienced some shaking already and maybe or maybe not it ill shake again. Armor yourself good. Buy extra paper towels and canned beans and flashlights and don’t get stuck in the hole. Crawl your way out with the flashlight and the friends who make you feel fantastic.

I was in 8th grade. We had moved back to New Jersey after living 4 years in California. My mom had left her second husband (whom I had hated and then grown to love, as is expected from any young girl who had lost her father and seen another man step in, faking it.) My mom had left him and we’d moved back to New Jersey and I wanted to kill myself. I hated the idea of New Jersey more than I hated New Jersey. It was cold and lame and stupid (hey, I was in 8th grade!) One day, my friend Jen from California (cool, awesome California!) called to tell me that my mom’s soon to be ex-husband (the stepfather I had finally grown to love and then left) had killed someone. Someone we knew. In self-defense.

The earth spilt in half and I fell in.

It couldn’t be possible. Someone I knew and had begrudgingly loved had taken a gun and shot someone in a door jamb. This can’t be I whimpered, swimming in mud and roots down in the rabbit hole. It would be. It did happen and I came out of the rabbit hole with braces (clear on top, metal on bottom) and begrudgingly started to like (maybe even love, just a little bit) New Jersey. The I did it in self-defense second husband of my mother really did do it in self-defense and eventually got out of prison. On good behavior. We wrote letters while he’d been there. I looked at them while I sat on the toilet, a teenager with braces and an ex-stepfather in jail. He got out and then a few years later, the sea came up and took me out again. The world shook another time when I got the call (me, again me, I get the news delivered to me yet again!) that the ex-stepfather died in his sleep. Quietly and without noise, he’d let his body slip somewhere else and for a moment when the sea swept me up, when the earth shook, I saw him. I saw him and asked him Why Why Why Why and he just hugged me and said You’ll find your way.

I cried and cried when he died, unlike my own father’s death ten years prior when I could barely mutter I don’t care for fear that if I did, the world would never stop shaking.

So I cried and cried and eventually the hole sealed up and the wave spit me back out and the dirt bloomed some flowers and I made my way back into the world, armored with all of it and none of it at the same time.

A feather on the ground. Pick it up. Put it in your pocket. Let it armor you good. Go ahead. You will find your way.

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