Facing Finalities

I am going to Maine with two friends next week. While there, I am going to put to rest what remains of the guilt and sorrow and regret regarding my relationship with my mother.

The other day I went and spent some time with a good friend, and who is also a healer of souls carrying burdens of regret and guilt. Ed Tick began as my therapist and over these 30 years, that relationship blossomed into a friendship. I still reach out to him when I am troubled, and I visited him earlier this week in his new home not far from where I now live.

The result is that, next week, in Maine, as part of solidifying this new phase of my life on which I have embarked, I will do a ritual to let go of stuff that needs to be freed. I will build a fire, read this last missive to my mom, and then burn the paper. And then burn the triptych with her images — sending her history as a woman to soar with the gulls.

In preparation, I have set up a little altar to honor the good parts of my relationship with my mother, who died five years ago. I have her wedding ring that I put on a chain, and beads from the old red coral necklace (that has been a part of my matriarchal lineage for several generations) that I made into another necklace. I will wear these during the ritual, but, for now, they are a part of the altar. One of the few things I have left of hers is her old statue of Saint Anthony, the heretic converter. I’m sure that she prayed to him all of the time to convert this heretic. It didn’t work, but this icon,one of her favorites, has become mine. Maybe I like him because he holds a lily. And a child. And an open book. In my poetic heresy, I can interpret that any way I like.


So, here is what I will read. And what I will burn. In place of prayer, I write. Here and wherever. Because I can.

If we become the mother
we wanted, our children
grow the roots and wings
of our lost early yearnings,
Our daughters become
the women we wish we were,
our sons the men we dreamed.
But too often we succumb
to the echo of her voice,
caught in the tangle
of a cord never cut.
There is no burying our mothers,
though we lay them deep.
They live in us one way or other,
whether we heed or not.

I am sorry, Mom, that I was not the daughter you wanted. I’m sorry that you were not the mother I wanted. I know that you tried your best to be the best kind of mother that you knew how to be – the kind your mother was. And I did my best to break away from that kind of suffocating tradition.

Yet, despite how I disappointed you over and over, you were always there for me when I needed you. Because that is what the mothers in our family do, And that is how the best parts of you still live on in me – in the kind of mother I have finally become.

I’m sorry that your last years were filled with such turmoil. I wish I had made better choices about how to give you the care you needed. I guess it was my turn to try my best. That was all either of us could ever do.

I’m sorry that your last days were not what you had always hoped they would be – to die at home, in your own bed, with family around you. I did the best I could, Mom. I tried to make sure that you didn’t suffer. Instead, I suffered for you, and that was OK because it meant that in those last days I kept you safe from enduring some unnecessary familial narcissistic tyranny.

There were good times and bad times during the last of the years that we lived together. I like remembering the time we had then to talk and laugh, to dance the polka, to sing all of the old songs, to share our memories of times that were good for us both. I liked that I was finally able to do things for you that you really appreciated, that made you feel good. Because I know there were many other times before that when I made you feel bad.

All of those years as I struggled to grow up, I never really saw you the way that others did. You would have been glad to hear what cousin Cristine wrote to me about you after you died. She said:

I remember the enigmatic smile she always wore, like the one in The Portrait. I never remember her upset or angry. She was always dressed impeccably and I remember her love for Ferragamo shoes. Odd what we remember from our past — the strange minute things that become permanent strong memories and the important things that fade away. I always remember the bathroom at your house on Nepperhan — the l-o-n-g narrow pink bathroom with a door at each end (how cool!) and how it always smelled of green Palmolive soap. I remember your mom cooking and running back and forth to the kitchen and not sitting down and enjoying her own meal.

Someday, I will write a poem about that “enigmatic smile,” which I now think was a biting back of your disappointment and frustration for the parts of your life that you were never allowed to make your own — but I was too wrapped up in my own selfish agendas to realize that.

I don’t know if you were aware of much during your last days, but there was a sea gull who spent most of each day screeching from and pacing on the roof outside the window of your hospital room. This is what I found out about sea gulls:
Sea Gulls are messengers from the gods, especially ancient Celtic deities. They bridge the gap between the living world and the spirit world. Opening yourself to their energy enables you to communicate with the other side. Sea Gull can also give you the ability to soar above your problems and see things from above. Seeing all the different viewpoints.

So tonight I am here at the ocean, communing with the messenger seagulls, sending this message into the wind, into the endless sky: I miss you, mom, I’m glad we had some good last days together, and I wish we had been able to be closer, sooner. I release what is not worth carrying, and I cherish what is left: the comfort that, at the end, we knew how much we loved each other.

The Gypsy Coat Tale

I gave my writing circle the prompt “the coat was shabby.” And I gave them a challenge to use strong verbs and specific nouns. As I began to write my response to that prompt, I decided to put it someplace in history and do a little research for details. This is my result, my first ever try at historical fiction:


The Gypsy Coat Tale

The coat was shabby, but its aspect still spoke of nights thrown over a naked shoulder at a smokey Montparnasse cafe, or tossed onto the back of a scarlet sofa at a late night Paris salon. Its stained fabric revealed a careless pattern of absinthe, bathtub gin, and the mascaraed tears of its most passionate devotees.

They say it once belonged to Nina Hamnett, self-proclaimed and notorious “Queen of Bohemia,” who wore its gold satin lining next to her skin while she danced shimmering lights into the weave of the rich silk brocade. On those nights, the coat created its own melody, a mesmerizing harmony of color, texture, and pattern, the timeless echo of a Siren’s song.

Legend has it that the coat was created by the two Japanese weavers and the Gypsy woman whom Hamnett befriended during her brief stay in Paris before the war started, before everyone folded themselves into enclaves of creative ferment or else fled to the safer shores of England and America.

And that, they say is how the coat finally wound up in the window of the Fifth Avenue Parisian boutique on the afternoon that Zelda Fitzgerald walked out of New York City’s Palais Royale Hotel in search of the perfect evening dress.

She did find the perfect dress: a long black beaded silk with a sheer back that dipped down to her tailbone. But is was the coat that took her breath away – the coat and the legend and the fantasy.

The multicolored floral brocade boasted gleaming gold threads that reflected the bright city sunlight. Elaborate scrolls etched its lush black velvet cuffs and ankle-skimming border. A face-framing swath of black fox, added as an afterthought, brought the coat to the level of a work of art.

By the time I rescued the coat from the empty corner of my spinster aunt’s nursing home closet, its shabbiness was well-earned, having been Zelda’s constant companion through her bi-polar adventures played out over two continents and two decades, until both she and the coat began to unravel.

My aunt had been a nurse at the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where Zelda spent her final years capturing on canvas the remaining bright colors of her memories and telling my aunt the elaborate coat-tales that fed her lonely dreams of prodigal nights ablaze in the heart of a drowning Jazz Age.

Just days before the hospital fire that took her life, Zelda gave my aunt the coat to wear to a costume party.

And so the Gypsy Coat was retired to the back of my aunt’s closet, although she always took it with her whenever she moved, unable to dispose of its vibrant history. The Gypsy Coat is mine, now, to ponder on the relic that it is – a remnant of legendary lives lived with creative abandon, dazzling artistry, and deadly excess.


The day after I wrote this, as I was watching a “Friends” rerun with the family, Phoebe appeared wearing the coat I had described the day before.

gypsy coatbI love it when stuff like that happens.

I know a young woman

Well, I say I know her, but she’s really a friend of a Facebook friend. Well, I say that she’s young; she’s really my daughter’s age — just over 50. It’s all a matter of personal perspective.

Anyway, this young woman is very ill with a disease of the blood and will only get worse. She is very smart and creative and well-known and respected in the technical information/education publication world. That is not a world I know. I only know about her. And I only know about her because there is something in her brightness and bravery that moved me and made me want to learn more about her.

I needed/wanted to do something for her — because I can’t fix any of the things wrong with this world, with my country, with all of those folks hurting and trying and dying. Because I am a maker of things and because I wish — how much I wish — I could make magic.

And so I got on Google and downloaded images from her Facebook page and from her book covers on Amazon. I figured out how to do a simple world cloud using words from her various posts.

shirtfront I printed out the images on washable fabric. I appliqued the images onto the front of a t-shirt.

Then, I appliqued a healing mandala on the back of the shirt.back

And then I looked up her address on 411.com and put it in the mail.

And I included this note:

If Magic were something I could make,
I would spin you a spell of healing,

thread it with the strength and energy
of all of your best moments, color it
blue like water teeming with life,
the burgundy of blood, the red and white
of cells induced to dance again,
of a thousand loving thoughts
warming the fabric of hope.

Then you could wear it like armor
a curative cloak, medicinal mantle,
that primitive sympathetic magic
powerful in intent as any prayer

I did it as much for me as for her. We are both powerless against the arbitrary surges of fate that drag us into those dark places where we would not choose to go and then leave us, spent, to find a way out. Only she has no way out of this one.

Mag #227

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt

Go here to read the pieces about the image that others have written.

tintype 1850s

tintype 1850s


He was the one (she whispers,
her gaze time-shifting from the photo
caressed by fingers trembling
with fearless age and old desires).

I saw him by the shrine at the crossroads,
where he sprawled beneath the ancient willow
offering newly weaned kittens
to passersby by, like me,

strolling home from morning mass,
smelling of incense and warnings
against the lure of strangers offering
mysteries beyond our simple path.

His dark eyes burned, even through
the dark glasses he wore, turning my skin
liquid, my hands yearning for the silk
of his shirt, the brocade of his waistcoat,

his lips hinting of arrogance and sweet
submission. Instead, I took a kitten,
smelling of some other incense,
redolent of mythic midnight fires.

That was not the last of him in my life.
We were each other’s secret, and we shared
each other as we shared the cat, who loved
us both in her dark feline freedom.

I wrote this poem about him back then,
before he left to seek another destiny,
following the call of his blood
and the hypnotic drift of the Danube.

River Man

There are others I have wanted,
but you flow like the river
through my out-stretched hands.
I would not catch you if I could.
Instead, I ride the edges of your tide
and let the strength of your windswell
wash the stones from my hair.

Mag #218

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Mag 218. (Go there to read what others have written in response to this prompt.)

chair-with-the-wings-of-a-vulture 1960 salvador dali

(Chair With the Wings of a Vulture
1960, Salvador Dali)

Let’s hear it for our deities–
winged or haloed,
hanged or throned.
We want them to watch,
care, punish, save —
need them to blame
when tsunamis rise
and when bread doesn’t.

Sit, Walk, Write

According to Natalie Goldberg, writer and teacher, the order should be “Sit, Walk, Write,” but, as is my nature, I fudge things to fit my nature. Following directions is not one of my strong suits. I improvise.

When the temperature hit 50 degrees today, I went out for a stroll (again, my nature) under a clear and sunny sky. The cool breeze brought the non-scent. of a waning winter. There is still snow on the ground. Vague puddles cross my path.

I can barely hear my footfalls, although that can be more the effect of my diminished hearing rather than the soft tread of my measured heel-to-toe pace. I doesn’t matter.

Cracks in the asphalt form telling mandalas, and I wish I had brought my camera to capture the symmetries of these unexpected partnerships between man and nature.

A young woman jogs past me and turns up a hill that I always find too strenuous for my strolls. I am not going anywhere. Have no place I have to be. It is that time of my life when strolling is the way to go. (Unless, of course the Amtrak Writers Residency project picks me to “sit, ride, write.”)

The same young woman passes me again, this time going the other way. I wait for her to pass me yet again, because three is a magical number, but she doesn’t. Is there meaning in that?

A young boy, about seven years old, walks past me on the other side of the street. He is pushing what looks like a doll’s carriage; it’s too small for a baby. When he walks toward me later, coming the other way (it seems like everyone is coming and going, but I just keep going), I stop and look through the mesh into the stroller. It’s a big orange cat. He says the cat’s name is Oliver. I look down at the logo on the stroller. It’s a pet carrier. Why not.

When I sit, it’s on the sunny front steps with my daughter and grandson. We sip our teas and chat. I need that kind of company/togetherness, and they provide it. I feel lucky.

In a moment of silence, I wonder how my son’s goats are doing. It is the year of the goat. And of goat therapy. Sometimes magic happens.

The clouds finally drift in from the west, and the breeze picks up.

Now it’s time to write. And I am.

I never found my niche

I enjoy reading mystery novels. Even more if the main character is a female. Even more if the plot involves some kind of “headology” — that intriguing mish-mash of psychology and shamanism, magic and wishing. (Granny Weatherwax is what I consider to be the model for practicing headology, but I’ve posted about her before and that’s off the topic of this post.)

I am thinking about niches and headology (two rarely connected topics) because I just finished the novel Night Angel, which applies various kinds of headologies to the process solving a murder mystery that involves a group of former 1960 Haight-Ashbury roommates.

I never lived that hippie life except in occasional free-flowing fantasies that I knew would probably not be as satisfying if played out in reality. But that didn’t stop me from fantasizing.

In the 1960s, I was married with children and living in a rural suburbia; I believed that had I not been living the responsible life, I might have been on some Magical Mystery Tour of my own, taking the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. But I never even had a puff of pot back then. (Oh wait, yes, once, when a cousin who was married to a prison guard gave me a joint to try. Never having even learned how to smoke a cigarette, it was a failed secret experiment for me.)

If housewifery was not my niche, neither was hippiedom. Decades went by without the feeling that I had finally found where I was supposed to be in the world. I simply made the best of wherever I found myself. I guess that I am still doing that.

I look back and see myself as sort of a wife, sort of a mother, sort of a poet, sort of an activist, sort of a bureaucrat, sort of a dancer …. so many sorts, but no real niche, no place of grounding.

Maybe I found this Night Angel novel intriguing because each character seemed to have his or her own consistent niche.

My late once-husband had a very definite niche: He was a writer. He once said to me that everything else was just sawdust. He lived to write. He had found his niche.

Alongside my new La-Z-boy recliner is a box with 700+ pages of a typewritten novel of his that our son is self-publishing for him posthumously. It will be available soon to the public.

I want to read it because he often wrote with a strong sense of the power of headology, and his female characters were always forces of nature. But at the moment there is something in me that is envious of his niche — resentful, even. His niche has manifested into legacies that will go on without him.

You need a niche to leave a legacy.

I never found my niche.

Unless it’s late night blogging.

inspired by Wonder Woman and Wonder Women

I discovered Wonder Woman when I was about 7 years old in 1947, and I have blogged about her several times, including this:

We females need Wonder Woman as the awesome myth she originally was intended to be — connected to other mythic females on Paradise Island more than she is to the mundane human world in which she has to find a place. Her struggle is to fulfill her destiny while still finding a way to make and enjoy her place in the everyday world.

Because isn’t that what so many of us still feel is our psychological destiny — to feel the power of our mythic history and to use that power to make the world a better place for others and for ourselves?

So, when I found out about plans to make this movie, I got inspired.

WONDER WOMEN! THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUPERHEROINES traces the fascinating evolution and legacy of Wonder Woman. From the birth of the comic book superheroine in the 1940s to the blockbusters of today, WONDER WOMEN! looks at how popular representations of powerful women often reflect society’s anxieties about women’s liberation.

The movie is being shown around the world at various film festival, but as one of the early Kickstarter supporters, I was sent a free DVD copy.

Today I finished making what I decided to make when I first heard about the movie. I don’t make art; I make “stuff” — stuff to wear or use somehow (and I’ve blogged about that before as well).

And here it is: a tote/purse pieced with fabric and downloaded old Wonder Woman comic images that I printed out on special fabric. The two sides are different, as I played with the images and the fabric. The inside has a separate zippered middle compartment so that I can actually us it as a purse.

Well, OK. Walking around with a purse in honor of that 1940s superheroine is not going to make the world better for women, especially these days, when superheroines in comics are portrayed by their male creators so very differently than my idol was. Now they seem to be all boobs and butts and oddly proportioned and posed.

Happily, there are women in the comics industry who keep battling the misogyny that permeates today’s comic world — the fantasy world that informs so much of the attitudes of pubescent males toward females (and also the attitudes of those males who seem to be stuck in that phase of their lives). I can’t help wondering if that’s where all of those idiot GOPers got their ideas about what “rape” is.

It’s a syndrome, all right, and comic creator Gail Simone began to lay it all out more than a dozen years ago when she coined “Women in Refrigerators.”

If you’re at all interested in how strong women heroes are portrayed in our culture, check out “Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors.”

And in the meanwhile, I’m going to have fun explaining to people why I’m walking around with a Wonder Woman purse.

celebrating the power of myth
at Christmas

While my Catholic upbringing did not manage to keep my faith alive, it did, however, instill in me a connection to the power of myth. Well, in truth, Joseph Campbell was a bigger influence in that arena, but the point is that I am enamored of myths of all kinds. Hence, this little altar that I have always set up in one form or another.

This one features a porcelain statue of Our Lady of Lourdes that originated in Lourdes, France, sometime in the 1920s and was passed down from my grandmother, to my mother, to me; my mother’s statue of St. Anthony that I keep around to focus on when I can’t find something I know I put somewhere but can’t find; a reproduction of the ancient Venus of Willendorf statue; a traveling Buddha given to me by my former/late husband; and a miniature Kwan Yin cameo. Off to the right, hanging on the wall is a representation of African goddess Acua’ba given to me one Christmas by my son.

Each of these icons has a personal meaning for me, and, while I do not make sacrifices on this “altar,” (as the definition indicates it is used for), I do on occasion stop in front of it and let those deep memories and meanings move through me. It’s the closest to prayer that I come, being an atheist.

Each year about this time, I seem inclined to post something somewhere that refers to the ancient pagan origins of Christmas. Inevitably, someone from my Catholic past feels inclined to take issue with my insistence on the difference between fact and myth.

Like Carl Sagan, I can feel awe without having any kind of faith. Like Joseph Campbell, I can feel empowered by myth without needing to believe. I guess that’s hard for some people to understand.

Contrary to what I have been called, I am not a “hater;” I am tolerant of all faiths that have humane values. I just don’t subscribe to any faith-based system myself.

And, at this time of year, I am reminded of the myths surrounding the birth of Jesus, in addition to always being surprised at how little critical thought “believers” give to what they believe.

But I guess that’s what “faith” is: belief without factual evidence.

And so I remain faithless but awed and empowered nevertheless.

there’s a woodchuck in my chakra

My woodchuck totem is a metaphor, a symbol, a visual representation some part of me that is “woodchuck-like.” (See earlier post.) She arrived as my totem animal for my third chakra, offering to be my metaphorical guide along my current meandering path. Whether the woodchuck chose me or I chose the woodchuck is irrelevant to how the metaphor might empower my thinking and feeling. That’s how these things work.

The third chakra

is located in the region of the navel, and is represented by the element of fire . The form is ….. triangular, the seed syllable is ram. It is a ten-petaled lotus. This is the chakra of digestion[emphasis mine], manifestation and power. The ego can manifest itself for good or harm through the power of the navel chakra. It is the one that gives us the sense of generosity, complete satisfaction and contentment.

Whether such a chakra physiologically exists or not is irrelevant, although….

Regardless of whether you believe in chakras, and whether you’re convinced by the ideas in the pages that follow, the journey offers its own reward, introducing a perspective sometimes lacking in our collective conversation.

Since the dawn of the 20th century, science has expanded in startling and important new directions. Chaos theory, quantum mechanics, genetics, cosmology, emergence, consciousness studies… All these disciplines have moved science forward, but they also hearken back to concepts and principles from the earliest days of recorded history.

The i-Ching’s 64 hexagrams correspond to the 64 informational sequences encoded into human DNA.iii The significance of this correspondence is subjective, but its existence is not. Spiral structures are embedded in the universe of physics, but they are also omnipresent in spiritual art and sacred geometry.iv Chaos theory provides a scientific framework for how everything is interconnected, a recurring theme in Eastern spiritual systems. The Eternal Tao is now considered relevant to everything from physics to corporate management… even Winnie the Pooh.v

You can vigorously debate the importance of these correspondences. You can endlessly argue about how specific principles play out in the real world, or how they don’t. But regardless of your world view, these parallel structures are important because they demonstrate that both sides of the divide are concerned with the same mysteries.

The article from which the above quote was taken is part of an unfinished book but is worth reading to get some idea of the connections between science and old spiritualities, between what we know as fact and how various spiritual traditions echo these facts in myth and metaphor.

For purposes of my current journey to get off generic Nexium and stabilize my digestive system, the third chakra becomes the mythic landscape though which I will metaphorically travel toward physical health, with my metaphorical woodchuck as my guide.

Thus is the mind/body connection. At least for someone like me for whom poetry and symbolism and metaphor and meditations have been known to work psychological magic.

An interesting aside I found out about charkras (on the site linked above) is about “The Void.”

Surrounding the second and the third chakra is the Void which stands for the principle of mastery (guru principle) within us. In many spiritual traditions, this area is the “ocean of illusions” that needs to be crossed with the help of a spiritual guide. When the Kundalini is awakened and passes through the Void, this principle of mastery is established within us. Thus, you become your own guru, your own spiritual guide since you can feel on your fingertips all your subtle problems and have the power to cure them using your own Kundalini. Moreover, establishing this center helps us get rid of all our habits, laziness, gross attachments, and everything that enslaves us in a way or another: we become our own master. Following false “gurus” who are more interested in power tricks or your purse can damage very much the Void area.

Finally, as I was searching aroundthe interwebs for information on woodchucks, googling for “woodchuck dance,” I found this post that is just delightful! (Makes me wonder what meaning that woodchuck metaphor might have had for that guy.)