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April 25, 2011

The Darkness and the Light

This poem by Steve Glazebrook offers the reader the yin and yang of the experience of loss / life. So often, the light we need comes from others.  Are we open to receiving it?  And, just as important, are we open to giving it when we see another who is in need of that light? 

Steve says that this poem not only reflects what he experienced, but also that the very act of writing it helped him to move through the loss and keep moving into his own future.
He has worked in the music industry and his sage advice to us is:
"Immerse yourself in the arts, for within lies the soul of mankind."

The Darkness and the Light

The Darkness

I'm lying here upon this bed, my heart feels numb, my soul feels dead.
I've tried so hard to quiet my mind, to close the doors and sanctuary find.
I cannot seem to slay my fears, but just find anger pain and tears.
The pain I feel inside, so deep--at times all too much--and I just want to weep.
The pain of my loss won't leave me alone, so I lock it away, as you unplug the phone.
So where is the light that I need to live?
I've struggled so hard and have no more to give.

The Light

Then along came the time that they sent me to you,
and it all seemed to change, as you knew what to do.
You welcomed me with open arms, to help me find the way.
To face my fears, and shed the tears, to take the pain away.
You gave me strength to make me strong.
You gave me hope to move along.
But most of all you gave me faith to help me in my fight.
To heal the wounds that life had left and help me see the light.
So to all of you that met me and helped me on my way.
Thank you, and may God keep you safe, both this and every day.

Steve Glazebrook

April 19, 2011

Tributes for Our Tributaries

 In 2009 and 2010, I created poetry posters to celebrate National Poetry Month (April in the U.S.). Although I had wonderful assistance on pre-press production from designer Jeff O'Dell, my posters were solitary productions. They included my poems, my photos, my designs.  This year's poster was different. Although I took the photo on the poster, it is of a dear friend's artwork.  Although I wrote the poem in English, my friend and colleague Patricia Melgar in Argentina re-created it beautifully in Spanish in a way I could not have done.  Jeff once again helped me with technical details. And another author colleague gave me meaningful input at different stages of the poster's creation.  It was a thoroughly satisfying experience, one of collaboration and cooperation.

My friend, artist Scottie Parsons died this year in January at age 85. A child of the depression, she grew up in a large family in Oklahoma.  She knew hardship--and she knew a love of the land as few people know it now.  She was not 5 feet tall and painted enormous canvases that towered above her on her custom-made easel. She said, "My paintings are my conversations with God."

Scottie was most definitely a tributary in the river of my life. Each visit to her studio was a source of joy, peace, and fellowship for me. And when someone pointed out to me that the poetry poster was also a wonderful tribute to Scottie (who was a lover of poetry and had a gift for writing, as well), it made me feel warm inside. I felt that in some way I had given something to someone who had given me a great deal during her lifetime.

If you would like to receive one of my posters, in English, Spanish, or both, or have one sent to a friend or family member anywhere in the world, please email me or leave a comment with your address.  (Comments  come to me before publication, so your address information will not be public.) So far, I have posters going to Texas, Florida, California, Nevada, Minnesota, Maryland, Spain, Argentina, Italy, Scotland, and Germany. 

In the meantime, think about those people who have been or are tributaries in the river of your life. If they are still with you, let them know what they mean to you in some way, even if it is just an e-note telling them how much they are appreciated.  If they are not still with you on this earthly plane, think of what you might do to pay tribute to them....a memorial donation, a letter to one of their family members, a candle lit in their memory, a day trip to a place that was special to them.  Or--a simple prayer, of gratitude, to the divine source of all tributaries.

April 18, 2011

Managing Anniversaries

As Lamar Hankins' poem reminds us, leaving does occur more than once. Sometimes this happens prior to death, as a person goes through progressive stages of an illness that worsens, and their loved ones go through successive stages of grief as the illness progresses.  These are hard times for all, but it is worth noting that when a loved one dies suddenly, the shock of suddenness can take as great a toll as moving through deepening stages of sadness and loss. 

In any loss of a loved one, though, there are leavings that occur after the physical one. One way this happens is through anniversaries. Sneaky, sneaky anniversaries. They come up behind you like a cat and pounce without warning. It is best, I believe, to know about them in advance. 

The "anniversaries" that come after the loss of a loved one can be many and varied.  It is not uncommon immediately after someone dies for us to have bad days on the same day of the week in which they passed on, or on which they were buried.  These anniversaries do not tend to last more than a month to three months, in my experience. But, if you have recently lost a loved one and you notice that on Wednesdays, you cry a lot, feel bad emotionally or physically, and your loved one died on or was buried or cremated on a Wednesday, this is not abnormal.  Make a note of it. And for those first few months, try to under-schedule yourself on those days, and if possible, do not commit to meetings or parties or other activities that require a high degree of socialization.  It can also happen that if someone dies on the 10th of the month, then for the next several months, you may "feel" that anniversary date in some way.

Other anniversaries include "firsts:"  the first birthday, holiday, wedding anniversary, and even the first spring, autumn, summer or winter in the first year after the death of a loved one.

It's good to think about these in advance and try not to have social commitments or major work deadlines on these days. This may be unavoidable, yes, but even in that case, it's good to realize in advance that you may not be at your best and adjust the day's activities in any way you can.

One problem with "event" anniversaries is that they represent days on which we did things, celebrated occasions, went places--were active in some way.  One way to guide our grief through the anniversaries is to do something.  It's a good time to visit a gravesite and place flowers, if you're up for that. A good time to make a memorial contribution in honor of your loved one. A good day to look through old photos and remind yourself of what you had--not only what you have lost. It can also be a good time to phone or email family members or friends who share your loss.

One simple thing I do on anniversaries is this:  I buy a candle that in some way reminds me of my loved one. In the case of my sister, I chose a candle with various shades of blue and turquoise, wrapped with a string that has a turquoise stone hanging from it. At Christmas, I placed a photo of her next to the candle. She always wore a Santa's elf cap on Christmas, so I chose a photo of her "decked out" as the family elf.

When her birthday came along, it was one of those sneaky anniversaries.  I thought about it ahead of time, and yet it pounced on me anyway. I went to lunch with a friend.  I ordered espresso and fried calamari. Somehow, in that moment, it worked.  Then I cried.  We left the restaurant and drove, just drove. By chance, we stopped in a small town much like the one my sister lived in and explored it a while. I called my brother from there, and the most important thing we said to each other was, "I know, I know." At the end of the day, I came home to my beautiful sister's beautiful candle. Lighting it, watching its flame stretch tall and straight through the darkness that surrounded it, I reminded myself that we are all candles--for a while--but we are flames forever.

April 14, 2011

The Leavings: Reflections on Death and Alzheimer's

Fresh out of college, I worked as a social worker at a gerontological facility. The first time I heard the word, Alzheimer's was during a phone call from a staff member at the National Institutes of Health. She was flying to Texas to follow the care of a patient recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's, a disease that in 1974 was thought to be extremely rare. I was to assist with finding care resources for this lovely elderly woman, who lived in a high rise apartment, decorated with antique Chinese furniture. It was difficult to see exactly how the disease in its early stages affected her. She was elegant, poised, and kind. I could not have imagined the difficult end of life that this sneaky disease would bring to this delicate grandmother. Nor could I ever have imagined that Alzheimer's would become a household word in my lifetime and affect more than 18 million people worldwide; that it would bring a kind of death that, as my friend Lamar Hankins describes in his poem, involves so many different kinds of leaving for the patient and the family who suffer the symptoms and the consequences of this assault on the brain, the mind, the body. 

Lamar's father was ill for an extended time, as is so often the case with Alzheimer's. He died on February 20, 2011.  Lamar is a Texas attorney (and a fine one!) with a finely tuned social conscience and a gift for making life better for others.  His poem weaves many influences together, from Picasso and Emily Dickinson, to the post oak trees in Dew, Texas, in the Eastern part of that state. I especially like the way he weaves the natural landscape into the nature of human life.

The Leavings: 
Reflections on Death and Alzheimer's
by Lamar Hankins

When he left, I’m not sure.
We knew that short-term memory leaves first,
that newer experiences don’t register.
Knowing is important, but does not make the leavings easier.

The personality did not leave as quickly as the memory;
Flashes of humor bumped up against what we knew of the disease and who he had been.
Knowing helps to measure the progress of the leavings,
but it doesn’t help us know what to do ... or not to do.

Leavings are everywhere:
They come by stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, cancer
They come by Picasso’s longing fixation late in life
They come by breaking of bones, by loss of
cartilage and muscle and skin.

Once, the leavings were isolated,
singular, and unconnected in a young mind.
Later, the leavings accumulate, leaving an impression
much like the one a body makes in an old mattress,
distorting our  world as they leave dents in our lives and, sometimes, holes.

A very old post oak tree at the gate at Dew was young when he was young.
It now seems dead, but the trunk still stands 25 feet tall—
a remarkable sight– the silver tree with stubby limbs.
Before it started dying, it was 50, 60 feet tall, strong and proud,
but it no longer offers canopy for shade and will soon fall, as will we all.
We take much for granted when we are young:
our bodies, our lovers, our parents, our relatives and friends.
The leavings don’t seem so significant then;
they may be important, even shocking,
but their significance doesn’t penetrate.

As the leavings accumulate, they take their toll.
Sometimes there is a numbing,
focusing on the everyday keeps emotions at a distance,
but eventually emotions catch up with reality,
and we understand better our fate and the fate of all.
In the end, his waking hours made little sense.
Who knows what happened in his dreams?
Emily wrote: it is knowing that this life will never
come again that makes it so sweet.
He knew the bitterness, but also the sweetness, of life.

Copyright Lamar Hankins, All rights reserved.

April 11, 2011

A Letter to Cancer by Christine Burke

The following poem is by Christine Burke, written in memory of
Edward Joseph John Burke (August 8, 1933-September 30, 2009)
When I was growing up, I knew of only one person in our circle of family and friends who had cancer.
Now, however, I know almost no one whose life has not been affected by this sneaky and powerful disease.
I wonder how our changes to the environment may play a large role in the increase of cancer cases.
And while much progress has been made with regard to medications and treatment that lead to remission,
I find it difficult to swallow the fact that the American Cancer Society now calls itself the "Official Sponsor of Birthdays."
That slogan tells us that they are not thinking of people like Christine and many, many others
for whom cancer is the grand thief of birthdays. 

Christine's poem is honest, beautiful, and in spite of her loss, a poem of deep affirmation.
It inspired me, as I hope it will you.

Dear Cancer,

You took my love, my friend, my soul
You broke them down till they weren’t whole
You pushed and pulled and tore them up
You wouldn’t stop
You would not give up

You made them fight, right to the line
You made them show their strength in impossible times
You may have taken their bodies away
But you haven’t won, and you will see that one-day

You took my love, my friend, my soul
But you cannot touch an angel, I’m told

One day, and one day soon
With the help of our angels, we will beat you
On behalf of all who are fighting,
and in honor of those whom we've lost 

Poem, Copyright 2011, Christine Burke, All rights reserved.

April 7, 2011

The Craft of Expression

One of the delights of language is how words hold multiple meanings within and how the connections among those meanings create a meaning in themselves. Take the word, craft.  This one word embodies an art form or skill to  practice and a vessel to set sail in.

When my sister died, more than one person instructed me to think of a ship sailing into the horizon. Just because you can no longer see it, they said, does not mean that it does not continue its journey.  So, too, must those of us our loved ones "leave behind" continue our journeys.  And, as we make our way through the unfamiliar territory shaped by absence, one of our refuges is, indeed, a craft.

April is National Poetry Month in the United States, and during the month of April, you are invited to send a poem that you have crafted, regarding the loss of a loved one, or a situation of loss, such as war, disasters, etc.  (Some days all you need to do to feel invaded by a sense of loss is watch 15 minutes of the news.)

To bridge us from East to West, I will begin our month of poems with the Haiku series I wrote after my father died. An excerpt from the series was published in The Distillery.


Ysabel de la Rosa

The room’s emptiness
chokes me with its thick silence.
Motionless the air

The blue shirt folded,
the briefcase by the side door.
When will you be home?

This world makes no sense.
The old refrigerator
has outlasted you

Love is the decree
that entitles me to say
you left too early

The ancestral shrine
has grown another portrait.
More deeply, I bow

And remain until
I, too, become a gone world
with you somewhere, There


Photo by Robert W. Jackson

April 6, 2011

Helping Japan--With and Without Money

My sincerest thanks to everyone who contributed Haiku poems as we meditated on the Loss of Home...the Loss of One's World, both of which have occurred on a colossal scale in Japan. 

There are many funds to which one can contribute to help Japan. One of my favorite fund sources is Unicef.  This organization is the "Grandfather" of the rest, and its ability to rush to disaster areas and  put resources in place for children is nothing short of amazing. Any donation to Unicef will be very well-used indeed. Also, consider receiving their catalogue with their unique cards, calendars, and gifts. All purchases help fund Unicef's efforts, and the products are exceptional and aesthetically satisfying. (You can also shop online.)

We often forget, however, that not all help is financial or even physical. Dr. Emoto is a Japanese scientist who has done phenomenal studies with water and words.  Read about his work here.  For now, I will share just one example. Dr. Emoto asked a group of people to speak words of love and gratitude over containers of water. He asked a second group to speak words of hate over other containers of water.  Then he froze the water samples and photographed them with a dark field microscope.  The "loved" water revealed a crystalline structure that was beautiful. The "hated" water's crystal-structure, on the other hand, was deformed, discolored, and ugly.

This is what Dr. Emoto has asked citizens of the world to do now for his country: 

To All People Around the World,

Please send your prayers of love and gratitude to water at the nuclear plants in Fukushima, Japan! Human wisdom has not been able to do much to solve the problem, but we are only trying to cool down the anger of radioactive materials in the reactors by discharging water to them. Is there really nothing else to do?

I think there is. During over twenty years of  research of hado-measuring and water-crystal photographic technology, I have witnessed that water can turn positive when it receives pure vibrations of human prayer, no matter how far away it is.

I would like to ask all people around the world to please help us to find a way out the crisis of this planet! Please say the following phrase: “The water of Fukushima Nuclear Plant, we are sorry to make you suffer. Please forgive us. We thank you and we love you.”

Please say it aloud or in your mind. Repeat it three times as you put your hands together in a prayer position. Please offer your sincere prayer. Thank you very much from my heart.

With love and gratitude,
Masaru Emoto, Messenger of Water


Dr. Emoto's message makes me realize that I have been thinking of the radioactive water as a "thing."  Water is actually more Being that Thing. The water is the symptom. The cause is human greed and carelessness (The plant should not have been built on a faultline and needed to be closed many years ago). I have had no sympathy at all for the water, which is losing its basic, natural identity. It, too, suffers.

This reminds me yet again to practice compassion--with others, with nature, with myself. Loss is much harder when we judge ourselves or others, when we look at life and loss as simple events, rather than long, organic processes.  As we continue to "get along with grief," may we turn more often to compassion and its inherent wisdom.

This closes our contributions for Japan. The next post will start a new chapter to help us all keep "getting along."

April 4, 2011

Paraíso / Paradise

Paradise is a term that has quite a history and has much in common with how we often use the words "heaven" and "the hereafter".  This poem by Alejandra López reminds us of what is truly lasting--and where to find it.

El paraíso es una palabra que tiene su propia historia durante muchos siglos. En la manera en la que usamos, tiene mucho en común con las palabras "el cielo" y "el más allá". Este poema de Alejandra López nos hace recordar lo que realmente perdura--y en donde encontrarlo.


Si no ha encontrado el paraíso
en el centro de su alma
no tiene la menor probabilidad
de llegar a entrar en el

Alejandra López


If you have not found paradise
in the center of your soul,
you have no chance
of finding your way there

April 2, 2011

Tsunami, A poem of strength and hope

This beautiful poem arrived as a comment, but it deserves a space all its own.


The sea underneath
Ate my Island, but
Like the Phoenix,
We will rise
As we have risen before.

by Mpanand

April 1, 2011

Haiku for Japan, IV

Charlene Fondrevay is a woman of many talents, from teaching English to riding horseback to world travel.
This is her first Haiku poem--and expresses what I believe is a universal desire we all have after any destruction, natural or man-made.  May the new grow once again, even from that which is broken.