Poem of the Week: Pass On by Michael Lee

Pass On, by Michael Lee

When searching for the lost remember 8 things.

1.
We are vessels. We are circuit boards
swallowing the electricity of life upon birth.
It wheels through us creating every moment,
the pulse of a story, the soft hums of labor and love.
In our last moment it will come rushing
from our chests and be given back to the wind.
When we die. We go everywhere.

2.
Newton said energy is neither created nor destroyed.
In the halls of my middle school I can still hear
my friend Stephen singing his favorite song.
In the gymnasium I can still hear
the way he dribbled that basketball like it was a mallet
and the earth was a xylophone.
With an ear to the Atlantic I can hear
the Titanic’s band playing her to sleep,
Music. Wind. Music. Wind.

3.
The day my grandfather passed away there was the strongest wind,
I could feel his gentle hands blowing away from me.
I knew then they were off to find someone
who needed them more than I did.
On average 1.8 people on earth die every second.
There is always a gust of wind somewhere.

4.
The day Stephen was murdered
everything that made us love him rushed from his knife wounds
as though his chest were an auditorium
his life an audience leaving single file.
Every ounce of him has been
wrapping around this world in a windstorm
I have been looking for him for 9 years.

5.
Our bodies are nothing more than hosts to a collection of brilliant things.
When someone dies I do not weep over polaroids or belongings,
I begin to look for the lightning that has left them,
I feel out the strongest breeze and take off running.

6.
After 9 years I found Stephen.
I passed a basketball court in Boston
the point guard dribbled like he had a stadium roaring in his palms
Wilt Chamberlain pumping in his feet,
his hands flashing like x-rays,
a cross-over, a wrap-around
rewinding, turn-tables cracking open,
camera-men turn flash bulbs to fireworks.
Seven games and he never missed a shot,
his hands were luminous.
Pulsing. Pulsing.
I asked him how long he’d been playing,
he said nine 9 years

7.
The theory of six degrees of separation
was never meant to show how many people we can find,
it was a set of directions for how to find the people we have lost.
I found your voice Stephen,
found it in a young boy in Michigan who was always singing,
his lungs flapping like sails
I found your smile in Australia,
a young girl’s teeth shining like the opera house in your neck,
I saw your one true love come to life on the asphalt of Boston.

8.
We are not created or destroyed,
we are constantly transferred, shifted and renewed.
Everything we are is given to us.
Death does not come when a body is too exhausted to live
Death comes, because the brilliance inside us can only be contained for so long.
We do not die. We pass on, pass on the lightning burning through our throats.
when you leave me I will not cry for you
I will run into the strongest wind I can find
and welcome you home.

Thanks to Alison McGhee for curating this beautiful poems.

For more information about Michael Lee, please click here.

 

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Poem of the Week: Gate A-4, by Naomi Shihab Nye via Alison McGhee

 

Gate A-4, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
“If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately.”

Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,”
said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
“Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to 
her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just 
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I 
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—
by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

For more information on Naomi Shihab Nye, please click here.

Thanks always to Alison for curating these lovely poems.

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Delicious Vegetarian Pho!

Hey Veg Heads! It seemed very sad to me that I couldn’t eat pho because of its porky broth. Well, guess what? There is a fantastic pho recipe that I made recently. It caught my eye on Vegetarian Times and it’s as good as gold.

Here it is!

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Ingredients:

Broth
6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (I used regular veggie broth)
3 large shallots, sliced (1 cup)
½ cup dried shiitake mushrooms
10 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce (I used Braggs)
12 ¼-inch-thick coins fresh ginger
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1 Tbs. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise (I doubled this)
5-6 fresh basil stems, leaves reserved for soup
5-6 cilantro stems, leaves reserved for soup
Pho
1 8-oz. pkg. rice noodles
1 8-oz. pkg. Asian-flavor baked tofu, thinly sliced
2 cups soybean sprouts
2 cups watercress
4 green onions, sliced (½ cup)
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 lime, cut into wedges

Instructions:

1. To make Broth: Place all ingredients in large pot with 8 cups water. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, 1 hour. Strain broth, and return to pot. Discard solids.

2. To make Pho: Cook rice noodles according to package directions. Drain, and rinse under cold water. Divide among 6 large soup bowls. Ladle Broth over noodles, and top with tofu, sprouts, watercress, and green onions. Serve cilantro, basil, and lime wedges on the side to be stirred into soup.

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Poem of the Week: Listening to Paul Simon via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

Listening to Paul Simon
     – Dorianne Laux

Such a brave generation.
We marched onto the streets
in our T-shirts and jeans, holding
the hand of the stranger next to us
with a trust I can’t summon now,
our voices raised in song.
Our rooms were lit by candlelight,
wax dripping onto the table, then
onto the floor, leaving dusty
starbursts we would pop off
with the edge of a butter knife
when it was time to move.
But before we packed and drove
into the middle of our lives
we watched the leaves outside
the window shift in the wind
and listened to Paul Simon,
his cindery voice, then fell back
into our solitude, leveled our eyes
on the American horizon
that promised us everything
and knew it was never true:
smoke and blinders, insubstantial
as fingerprints on glass.
It isn’t easy to give up hope,
to escape a dream. We shed
our clothes and cut our hair,
our former beauty piled at our feet.
And still the music lived inside us,
whole worlds unmaking us
in the dark, so that sleeping and waking
we heard the train’s distant whistle,
steel trestles shivering
across the land that was still ours
in our bones and hearts, its lone headlamp
searching the weedy stockyards,
the damp, gray rags of fog.

 

For more information on Dorianne Laux, please click here.
Thank you to Alison for finding and sharing these gems.

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Random Musing 2016: My Grateful Life

 

2016 has not been the best year, not really. Even though I have a theory that the world has always been crazy and always will be crazy…this year felt like a special kind of crazy like we’re all tilting towards a precipice and we’re all going over the edge no matter what.

My sister and I have a theory that 2016 went haywire because for the first time in her life she had no game plan for her birthday. THAT’s the cause of all this mayhem.  The lady who lives life big didn’t plan her annual monumental February birthday bash and now everything is gone to shit. EVERYWHERE. Not just here. EVERYWHERE. Now there’s no bright light, no guiding star to get us through this darkness. People, can we please start over and tilt the world backwards, the right way this time. Come on. Let’s just strike this set.

Still I can’t help but ask myself if everything is lost. I am a person who fights for elephants to have the right to walk on this planet unchained and unviolated. That seems like a pretty hopeless situation to me but somehow I keep going although some days I’m not sure why. I just know that if I stop, and everyone stops then there’s no chance whatsoever. So I guess somewhere in there I must be hopeful. I can thank my mother for that.  It looks like she tossed  her half glass full set of genes over to me. Or maybe I’m like a compulsive craftswoman weaving life’s terrible and breathtaking offerings into a big carpet of life. These are all the things I am going to remember. These are all the things I’m going to feel, these are all the things I will carry with me moving forward into this uncertain future. . This is my grand reduction.

I will not ever forget the extraordinary ordinariness  of a phone call that brought me to a hospital to find out that my sister has brain cancer.

I am in awe of extraordinary courage. Because you never really know how you’ll deal with this kind of thing.  And the girl who lives large, brings her extraordinary gifts to bear in dealing with the issues that confront her.   She lives big no matter what.

I will never forget how beautiful it is to laugh in spite of every fucking blow that is being dealt her way. That we still laugh. Everyday.

I will never forget that it’s okay to say nothing because sometimes there are no words. And the ladies who like to live large can sit in silence, something they never imagined before.

I will never forget trying to climb a big scary wall after being convinced to do Tough Mudder by my sister.  That if you don’t think of the big picture, if you just consider the first small step, and then the next small step, if you trust in the people around you, that you can and will make it over the top. Step by step. That feels like hope to me.

I will never forget the moments in between. Those moments when Dave sits me down and introduces me to music and shows me the extraordinary in the ordinary. Or leading me to John Mavin who led me to myself and my creative mind and desire to build castles with words.

And the moments in between of  doing nothing. The beauty of nothingness. Just being.

2016 feels like a knock down and then get back up and fight kind of year. I’m not sure the road feels clear. Sometimes I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But I often think of that wall and I know that step by step you can climb enormous walls. Don’t look down, don’t look up. Keep focussed. Be full of hope. Full of joy. And step by step I think we can get there. I’m happy to say my sister has filled the entire month of February with birthday festivities. I think this means the world will be okay.

 

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Do I Really Want a Dog? Things to Consider Before Taking the Plunge

dsc_1384Years ago I adopted a dog on the fly. I went with a friend who was adopting a dog at a ‘farm’ and in a moment of irrational craziness I came home with the sibling of the dog my friend adopted. They were named Reuben and Loo-is before we even left the barn.

I had never been a parent to a dog and I had no idea what I was doing. Neither had I given any thought to where I was living (a studio apartment with no dogs allowed) or how I would cope (I was single at the time and working full time with an energetic sporting schedule). Everything felt poised for disaster and in the intervening days I felt something close to panic.

I have always been a believer in jumping off cliffs…taking big leaps and seeing where I land. In this case, however, I had a puppy in tow and for the first time I felt the burden of real responsibility. Reuben would look up at me with these beautiful dark eyes and from the get go would follow me around no matter where I went…a habit he kept for the 11 years he was with me.

It would be an understatement to say he changed my life. I ended up changing everything about my life in order to give him a life I thought he deserved…even though I wasn’t even sure what that was yet.

It turns out I really love animals and slowly but surely I figured out what I needed to do. But there was a steep learning curve along the way. So here are a few things to think about for anyone thinking of bringing a dog into their life:

  • Breed – I had no idea what kind of breed Reuben was. It turns out he was a black lab something…the something part made him gigantic possessed with an old soul. It turns out that was perfect for me. What wouldn’t have been perfect would have been a super aggressive dog, or a dog that would be dominant over me. In retrospect, doing some research over the type of dog that best suits your personality or family needs is an important thing to consider.
  • Lodging – As mentioned I adopted Reuben when I lived in a studio apartment. In the eleven years we had him he lived in a house that had a backyard, as well as in a condo. Some people say you can’t have a dog in a condo which I disagree with. You can have a big dog or any kind of dog in a condo. The key is exercise.  Wherever you live, in a house or a condo, your dog needs to be walked. Once in the morning, again in the afternoon and again in the evening. Most dogs need a good hour (or more) of exercise a day. If you can’t commit to this, then don’t get a dog. Owning a house is not a good excuse for never taking your dog out.  Most dogs won’t walk themselves in the back yard.
  •  Backyard dogs – People who get dogs who only want to keep them in the yard shouldn’t bother getting a dog.  If you have a yard where you can let your dog rip around for a bit every day that’s great. A yard is not a home.  A porch is not a home. A dog is a social, loving animal who wants to be a part of the family. They need to be walked and loved. That means having them be a full fledged member of the family inside the home.
  • Exercise – I mentioned this above but it bears mentioning again. Dogs, all dogs, big and small, need exercise. They need to be exercised every day, outside their yard. My guess is that a lot of behaviour issues could be solved by fulfilling this basic need. This means giving them exercise, every day rain or shine. Just going on shine days doesn’t work. You have to ask yourself if you’re the type of person willing to do this. If for whatever reason you can’t do this, there is a dog walker and they provide an essential service.  When I got Reuben I was armed with two big problems. One I was hugely fearful of all other dogs, and two I worked full time and needed to get him walked.  I dug into my entertainment budget, the one where I used to go out for dinner and drink vast quantities of wine and I re-directed it to his walking fund. It helped socialize him and he was given a much needed break during the day and I lost weight. Yes, dog walkers are expensive but it’s worth it.
  • Training your dog –  As mentioned Reub came into the world an old soul and really didn’t require a huge amount of training. He didn’t bark if I left him alone, he followed me everywhere so he always came when called, I could walk him off-leash due to his following me everywhere…so I had it easy and I admit that. He was an ABNORMAL puppy. But I have seen a lot of dogs who are a bit wilder or simply need to be trained to be good canine citizens. You want your dog to get along with other animals and to be reliable with people and to be manageable in all situations. It’s good for you and its imperative for them. This means spending time in the first year training your dog.  If you don’t have the time to spend doing this then I would think twice about getting a dog. So many animals end up in the shelter or being re-homed because they can’t be managed and the responsibility for this failure belongs entirely  to the dog parent.
  • Dogs are forever –Dogs are highly emotional, intelligent and loving sentient beings. They form strong attachments to people and families. Giving them up because you’re moving, you had children and now it’s too much, or worse they’re too old, isn’t good enough.  You need to see this through and that means a 10 to 15 year investment. Can you commit for that amount of time?
  • Families and Dogs – We had two sets of neighbours. Each was a young couple. Couple one had a dog before children…and then the children came along. This couple spent time training their dog before they had children and then spent time socializing their dog with their children. Every day you saw them out walking their dog with their kids. It worked. Couple two had a dog who I used to walk. I walked the dog because they never walked the dog. When they had children things went from bad to worse because now they didn’t have time for the dog, which they barely had before they had kids. Then guess what?  They couldn’t take the time to train their kids how to be with the dog and vice versa. Before long the dog was confined to a small space within the condo where I could hear her barking all day long. That’s when I started walking her every day (while my dog went with a dog walker). This is an example of a dog being given a good shift sideways by the family.
  • Cost – I found out quickly that dogs are expensive. My pup was sick from the get go and I spent the first year at the vet with ongoing problems throughout his life. Get insurance, it helps. Food adds up. I don’t like to cheap out so we buy good food and cook half of all of his (now her) meals. Shots, vets, food,….all these things cost money. Do you have the budget or can you make room in your budget for a canine family member?
  • Emotions: Dogs are emotional. Like people they come wired in different ways. Unlike people dogs are dogs and sometimes their behaviour means something different than you think.  What is universal is that dogs want and need to belong. They need to be loved, cared for, they need consistency and most of all they need people to follow through with their commitment to giving them a meaningful and safe life.
  • Sticks – Don’t ever let them eat sticks. We let Reuben do it and it almost killed him when he was five. We also spent close to a downpayment on a house to keep him alive. Seriously, if you can’t eat something, your dog shouldn’t be eating it either.
  •  Dogs don’t lie. Dogs don’t lie. If they’re behaving oddly them more than likely something is going on. They’re in pain, something hurts, or something happened. Take it seriously and go to the vet.

Dogs are work. They are a commitment.But the effort, the time and money spent are all well worth it. You won’t ever have the kind of unconditional love that this beautiful animal has to offer.

 

 

 

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Random Musing: Sisterly Laughcapades

 

My sister and I do this thing every morning. At exactly 8:00 am we phone each other. If I’m late calling she answers by saying “YOU ARE LATE. WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?”  Same goes for her. If I phone and she doesn’t pick up I say  “HOW DARE YOU NOT BE THERE?”

Saying goodbye is equally as perilous as not being there to pick up the phone. You always want to be the first one to exit. Those are the rules.Sometimes we trick each other into saying goodbye. I’ll lull her into a false sense of security by pretending to start another conversation and just at the right moment I say “GOTTA GO. I LUB YOU.” You have to hang up immediately after that or you lose.I suspect she has fast twitch muscles because she is like a pixie sprite and can be very fast, very determined little devil.

My sister can’t handle a lot of screaming but she seems to have a high tolerance for my loudness. I recently found myself talking in a circle of friends. But really I was screaming. In fact I was screaming so loudly my friend Christopher said my voice was reverberating in the valley of mountains. And when I paused I heard it so I know he wasn’t exaggerating.

It must be genetic which is most likely why my sister can stand me screaming in our daily calls. She screams too and I think we burn more calories talking to each other than most people do in an entire day of living. We are not half measure ladies.

Lately we have both been stressed.Her because she was diagnosed with brain cancer and me because she was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Recently she recommended the CALM app which truthfully has been a gift. Getting ready for sleep lately has involved a bottle of melatonin in one hand and a shot of vodka in the other. When I discovered the CALM app I was able to let go of both. Now I just have Tamara in the Calm App instructing me to breath in a beautiful calm voice and telling me I’m okay no matter what.

The Calm app is changing our lives. For example, today my sister said the session talking about being broken made her cry. By chance I listened to the same one and I was CALMLY able to say, you’re not broken, we’re perfect as we are. And she said  “Ya that’s right we are. ” And we are.

Then I told her that we have to be kind to ourselves because Tamara told us so. Then I told her that I had monkey brain this morning. My thoughts were everywhere and I was struggling to get through the meditation and all I wanted to do was check my facebook page to see if anyone had liked my elephant movie. So my monkey mind made me check my page. “SISTER she said  that is the ultimate crime!” But I was quickly able to say no I am accepting myself for all my imperfections and so are you. “TELL ME YOU LUB ME!” “I LUB YOU.”

Sisterhood has changed for me. While it has always been infused with love and friendship, cancer has made me want to draw a tight circle around us. Our circle is a rowboat. We have no idea where we’re going but we  fill this boat with a million laughs every day. “My stomach hurts.” she screams as we both laugh ourselves silly in the midst of this serious life. Sometimes she says she has only so many words for a day. I’m thrilled that I have so many of those words. I feel like the words we share are building a beautiful story of our lives, in this moment, in this serious and funny life.

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