Before and after the thunderstorm

IMG_25July16RainBlue walls, red curtains, and gold-framed mirrors that reflect who is up on stage behind the microphone. Clothes damp, shoes soaked, a number of us had gathered to hear the Bennington Writers fiction reading at Cornelia Street Cafe while a thunderstorm raged over New York City.

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When the storm hit earlier in the day, I watched the sky cast charcoal gray from my perch on the eighth floor at the Center for Fiction. I headed out onto the Midtown streets joining the herd of commuters rushing to get underground before the clouds broke open again. I passed a man selling umbrella’s for five dollars and didn’t listen to the voice that said, “buy an umbrella, you may need it.”

At a West 4th street subway exit, slowed down by a line of people reluctant to go out into the torrential rain, I looked for another way out but this was it. As I made my way to the front of the line, a man played a lively guitar that matched the mood.

With ten minutes left to the reading, I surfaced risking a good soak but I found my way to scaffolding and eventually an umbrella as my partner showed up just in time.

During the event, I went first and read an excerpt from my short story, “Exposed.” At a transition in the story, as if on cue, thunder boomed, lightning crackled—I paused to let the storm have its space. Then I continued on reading a flashback about crossed wires and mixed messages.

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After the reading, the sun broke through the clouds. Buildings lit up in a warm, orange glow. We walked a stretch along Bleeker street on to the next destination for the evening.

What did the storm signify? Was it meant to be foreboding and fearsome? In my experiences, rain has often been a blessing. Rain has arrived on days filled with happiness like the day I got married.

The storm last night provided a measure of contrast, a way to be present in the experience of the evening rather than getting caught up in the flow of traffic, pre-event tensions, or tangential thinking. It was a much needed cooling down. It took nervous energy and turned it into awe and a bit of glee.

Contrast

Dream like an octopus

IMGneptuneVirginiaBeachInky the octopus may have dreamed about escaping his tank before he slipped through a six-inch-wide drain about four months ago at the New Zealand National Aquarium. He not only had the ability to squish his football-sized-body through the drain but could also likely open jars, solve puzzles, and apparently got bored.

When I first read about Inky’s escape, I realized how little I know about the Earth’s sea creatures and invertebrates like the octopus. I wondered if Inky had planned his escape. How did he know the ocean was at the end of that drainage pipe? Could he make a distinction between the experience of being in an enclosed secure tank versus the vast, open and dangerous ocean?

I read several articles that stated octopuses have memory and can recall humans as well as respond to their name being called like a dog or cat. A feature written for Discover magazine describes octopuses as mollusks with complex brains that have tactile memory centers. They are also said to sleep.

In the article, a biologist observed, “that octopuses, ordinarily hypervigilant, may sleep deeply. Their eyes glaze over, their breathing turns slow and shallow, they don’t respond to light taps…”

Known for deception and being savvy hunters, an octopus like Inky could have very well been devising strategy in his dreams.

We should all be more like Inky; flexible and ready to jump at the opportunity to go beyond our constraints and explore the unknown.
Dream

Enter stillness to practice listening

IMGtreesBerkshires2On a stretch of highway near Great Barrington, MA, I was called to stop at a dirt road framed by trees (pictured above). On one side a cemetery hid in the shade and on the other a green, grassy lawn stretched into the sunlight. The road felt majestic like the trees were tall knights guarding a secret passage. And the road’s existence itself felt hidden, especially to me as someone who wasn’t from the area but rather enjoying an extended stay one hot July.

Very few people traveled the road. It was quiet. Surrounded by these tall, beautiful trees I felt an invitation to be still, to listen.

When I look at images from my time on this small stretch of road, I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems by David Wagoner, Lost, from Collected Poems 1956-1976, Indiana University Press.

It begins,

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.

Reading the poem alone brings a sense of stillness and calm but above that it captures the knowingness of the trees and what exists in the space of the present moment. 

Read the entire poem on the Writer’s Almanac site.

Pensive

Books that fill the sky with color

IMG_MayaAngelouSky (1)Some books fill the sky with color. Some authors leave a distinct hue, their indelible mark in the space beyond the clouds. When Maya Angelou passed on May 28 in 2014, I watched a gorgeous sky(pictured above) take shape at sunset in Salinas, Ecuador. The clouds stretched across the sky and shades of pink lingered before giving way to gold then yellow then orange.

It was her sky that evening, a majestic tribute in her honor. That evening I began a Maya Angelou reading marathon of sorts. While familiar with her poetry, I hadn’t read her autobiographies. I started with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which opens with a vivid scene of a young Maya in church. She evokes feelings of displacement and not being enough through a description of an ill-fitting, faded lavender dress.

“It was old-lady-long too, but it didn’t hide my skinny legs, which had been greased with Blue Seal Vaseline and powdered with the Arkansas red clay.”

She goes on to compare her skin to the color of mud, the minister’s wife has a long yellow face, and then a green persimmon or a lemon catches her between the legs after she trips on her way to the bathroom. Angelou manages to work every color of the rainbow into her story.

By the time I finished reading all of her autobiographies, she had taken residence in our home on the beach. I felt her presence in the hammock, in the bedroom with the green decor, and at the kitchen table. We had many visitors come and go during that extended stay but the one person I felt most connected to was Angelou.

Her stories were like the clouds in the sky floating in and around me, coming and going. Now each time I think about Salinas, I can’t help but remember her life experiences. For me Salinas belongs to the ocean, the sea lions, the sunsets, and Maya Angelou.
South

Poem selected for publication

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I’m happy to share that my poem, “Anoche,” was selected as the top poem for a National Poetry Month contest held by the Jersey City Independent (JCI) and Jersey City Writers. The poem is one of three that will be featured and published by the JCI during the month of April.

I’ll also have the opportunity to read the poem on April 13, 2016 at a literary reading being held at Barrow Mansion at 7 p.m. The event is being hosted by JCW, JCI, and Art House.

The event will also feature Claudia Cortese whose first full-length book, “Wasp Queen,” will be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2016.

Other poets selected to have their poems read that evening include: Abigail Pillitteri, Rachel Poy, Kevin Singer, Simon Pereira Shorey, Holly Smith, John Trigonis, Beth Bentley, Carol Lester, Joe Del Priore, Aileen Bassis, and Kay Dominguez.

This April marks the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month, which was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996.