On Technology, Mobility, and Relinquishing Control

Techno Turbulence, with Mobility Hiatus Ahead

The daylight came,
an everyday miracle
and I rose to it
with pure intentions.

My poet’s heart drummed
insistent rhythm,
and I sang along
with equanimity.

Thing one:
A stack of forms to be filled
and filed on behalf of a dear one.
Make it yesterday, please,
An email implored.
Do it now do it now do it now.

Missing information,
more forms, phone calls,
passwords unknown,
log-ins shunned,
more than an hour of this,
and still my heart tapped,
and I could imagine poems
conceiving themselves in the space
between the beats.

Thing two:
An email announcing
Warning: Make this change.
Current system will become obsolete,
do it now do it now do it now.

There was a snag, and then
another, as snags often inbreed,
multiplying with unreasonable speed.
Four phone calls, information relay,
You’ll need to use your mobile now
and your debit card.
Give us the numbers.

I don’t want to give you my cell phone.
I don’t use debit cards.

No, Ma’am, you are not allowed
to be living without one. A mobile device,
and a card that sucks at your bank account
with no paper in between. No,
it is not possible to make this essential upgrade
without those conduits.

It was a weak song dribbling
from the flower in my chest, my lotus,
my center, my home.
It was a song nonetheless.

Thing three:
The upcoming surgery
will render you housebound,
one-legged, near useless
in the Ways of the Running of Things,
and well and truly deficient
in the Caregiving Department.

That’s just my primary occupation,
ensuring the health, safety, happiness,
comfort and continuity
for the two-leggeds,
one with special needs, one without,
and for the five furry four-legged ones.

It’ll only be some weeks,
six or seven or eight,
and then you’ll be among the mobile again,
walking on two feet ,
showering and trotting up and down stairs,
driving, even.

Beneath my ribs I sensed a hum,
weak yet audible,
and if it were a worded thing,
lyrical, elucidating,
it may have sung

Long night ahead, love.
Tuck yourself in tight,
prepare to lose control.
Dream deep and know:
daylight will come again.

-Melinda Coppola

From the First of November, 2017

Because sometimes it takes a whole month to write it down.

I type with hands that are redolent with garlic, onion, and freshly grated ginger. Today contains a chunk of time for cooking, with hearty stew for him, and Indian spinach rice, spicy, for her.

I walk and sit and rest and work with a heavy heart, weighted near equally with sadness over my cousin Philip’s sudden passing and with the aftermath of a terror attack in NYC. From both those stews, I pull the same saturated question: Is this the new normal, then? Will my peers, other cousins, friends, siblings, begin the dying times now? Is terror on the streets a new given in these not-so-united States?

This is not the self-portrait I want to create. This is the real and Wednesday me, though, as I slosh through to-dos with a heart that is stretched out from carrying big sacks of sad.

And yet, and yet. Perhaps my jiggly, overstretched atriums and ventricles have ever more room for loving, and accepting. Compassion for all beings, or as many as I can find my way towards/ forgiving and embracing and

that Voice, the one that doesn’t belong to me, the one I know I am a part of, soothes low and smooth with notes of

It will be OK. This, too, shall pass.

There is much work to be done here. Tikkun Olam, heal the world you got, baby, and it is good and honest work of heart to hands, heart to words

written
and spoken
and sung.

–Melinda Coppola

The Man in the Grocery Line

Certain special needs are invisible, or really hard to spot. This can include Autism, in some people. That isn’t Bink’s reality, though. Anyone of the neurotypical persuasion who takes more than a minute to observe my adult daughter will understand that something’s up. The way she carries herself, her frequent self-talk and singing, her hands reaching for my hair and announcing frequently, to nobody in particular, “ Brown girl. Mommy is a girl. Brown girl hair” these things are among the give-aways.

When Bink and I go out in public, people’s reactions to her difference tend to fall into three categories:
1. People are nice, they glance a few times, and then look away, feigning indifference, because staring is not what a well-mannered person does.
2. People are nice, with a curiosity that sometimes crinkles the corners of their lips upward and radiates from their eyes.
3. People are caught up in their own affairs and genuinely do not notice.

In the course of twenty five years, I can count on one hand the number of times that strangers have said or done something truly unkind in reaction to Bink’s other-ness. I attribute this to growing and widespread awareness of Autism and other special needs. I’m also a rather understanding sort. In the face of possibly mean or ignorant behavior, I prefer to assume the other person has a headache, has had a really bad day, or has to pee and has been holding it too long.

Now that you’ve got all that background, let me set the scene for what happened last Sunday. Bink and I went to the market, as we often do. We work on several things there. She looks for items from our list, puts them in the cart, and scans them at the self-checkout. I’m selective about how much she takes on in any given visit, depending on time constraints, and her mood, and mine.

We’d set out with a pretty small list that day, but we ended up with about forty things, because our four felines like their stinky food in individual little cans. We found everything successfully and we headed to one of six self-check registers. Things were going well: she was happy, I was happy, there were no lines. I prompted her through the initial steps. Choose English as the preferred Ms Register voice. Let’s type in our phone number for those valuable gas points. Then I asked her to scan, and set myself up at the end of the belt and prepared to bag.

Bink began the process, picking up each item and looking for the funny lines and numbers that make the lady inside the register talk back. One dollar and sixteen cents. Sixty four cents. Savings: ten cents. And so on. The voice is slow and deliberate, and Bink’s actions usually match the pace. If she can’t find the code, she just turns the item in all different directions until Miss Register responds. She was doing a bang-up job this particular day, adding in her own random comments. “Brown giiiirrl. Two sides?” The three of us –Ms. R, Bink, and bagging Mom, were in a nice slow sync. All was well in the world.

From my vantage point as the bagger I noticed that a man had gotten in line behind us. As Bink did her thing, he seemed more and more…ummm..interested. That’s a polite, assume-the-best word to describe his countenance and demeanor. The more items she scanned, the more man-in-line was interested. As we were getting towards the final third of our checkout experience, he began to sigh loudly and move his body in a subtle dance of impatience. A few more minutes, a few more scanned items later, man-in-line leaned way over to his left and ducked slightly around Bink, almost like she was a shopping cart or a magazine display rack. He seemed eager to catch my attention.

I admit, I almost declined to meet his eyes. It sure seemed like he was not a happy man-in-line, and we were almost finished, and things had gone so well. Bink had scanned more items than she’d ever done before, I’m pretty sure. We thrive on these little triumphs. Anyway, I did meet man’s gaze, and it was then he spoke. “Really??” he asked. I detected a really big pinch of sarcasm.

Really?

Did I mention that there were not big lines at the SIX self-checkout lanes? That means man-in-line had five other places he could have gone to ring himself out.

There were so many things I could have said. In retrospect, the possibilities were tantalizing. I was taken off guard, though, by this man’s words. I’m also, as I think I mentioned, a rather kind sort. Most of the time. To most people. So here’s what I did. Here’s what I said. I stood up a little taller, put a big, genuine smile on my face, and said, “ Yes, she’s doing a GREAT job, isn’t she? “

Man-in-line kind of screwed up his face a little. He paused, and then he muttered, to the floor,” Yeah. Yeah.” Bink completed her scanning, I put our bagged items in the cart, and we left. Two happy women, out the door and home.

Is it possible, dear reader, that man-in-line, who appeared very typical in every way, had one of those less visible special needs? Maybe he had a whopping headache. Maybe he didn’t win the lottery last night—again. Who knows, and we never really do know, do we?

I wonder if compassion can be taught, or if it is an innate thing that lives in some hearts and not others. I wonder what could change if we all went a little out of our way to notice each other with a bit more kindness, to scrape up a little more patience, and to let those words fall more readily out of our mouths,” Good job. You’re doing a really good job.”

–Melinda Coppola

Inner Child Remembers

young melinda coppola

Before The Tax

that adolescence imposes on body, mind, and spirit, probably in that order, there were hearty chunks of time that were some sort of unencumbered.

Inner Child remembers

discovering the fairies living well in tall flowers near the sandbox. How I loved to honor them, grabbing kid-sized chubby handfuls of sand and running through the tall stalks flinging the tiny granules. Oh, the sounds that Fairy Dust made! Songs in my ears and in my half-fairy heart. The magic-making kind.

The woods, the woods, the woods, acres of them, full of Brownies and Fairies and adventure. Long and free and wild days spent roaming the neighborhood, without fear or consequence.

On the first of May, I’d gather flowers from the garden and form them into weedy little bouquets. Carrying the wilting lovelies in my hands, I’d traipse ‘round to the neighbors. I’d stand on tiptoe to ring the doorbell, then place a bunch on the front steps, and dash out of sight.

One Christmas there was a little rubber duck, yellow. One of my older brothers had “wrapped” this for me by putting it into a huge box which he taped up. Made me wonder every minute until I got to open it. I loved that little duck so much, I’m quite sure it was my favorite gift that season.

Playing dress-up in the odd eaves above the stairs: I’d search the large steamer trunk housing big old velvet dresses, shapeless, and shawls. Layering myself in their heavy elegance, screwing rhinestones into my tender earlobes, shoving my small feet into pointy-toed high heels. I knew I was beautiful because nobody told me otherwise.

There was chocolate, sweet and smooth, melting in my hands, on my lips. There was the utter abandon of living well in my skin, loving having a body. No shame in me, yet. The eating for pleasure, until full, no thought of waist size or the “virtues” of making less of oneself.

Singing! Fancying myself an opera star, I’d belt out song after song, my 7 year old soprano notes echoing down the hall of that old childhood home.

After we moved from the big old white house with the gardens that housed fairies, I bonded with the small stream that ran through the new land. How I loved the deep mysterious smells of it, and the way it grew crayfish and little minnow things, and rotting leaves and mosses hugging stones.

There was the dreaming of horses, seeing myself riding them bareback and poised and strong.

Inner Child also remembers

watching poems write themselves, my hand dancing as the words flowed onto a notebook at my desk at the window.

There were the family trips to Cape Cod beaches in summer. My three siblings, my parents and I would cram into the wood-sided station wagon along with coolers and fishing poles, towels and beach toys. I rode in the way back, no such thing as seat belts then. At the end of the day, returning home, the tail lights of the other cars were Martian space ships. In fact, I was inevitably kidnapped by them, and they were forever whisking me away to an even better life.
—Melinda Coppola

Autographing Autumn

I was walking, first field–
verdant, moist , glorious
carpet of greens,

and the woods edged closer,
with a beckoning trail,
and then the floor was pine needles,
punctuated with wily
old roots in no
pattern whatsoever.

Sky was rarified blue, bluer,
an artist’s glad canvas,
background perfection to

the leaves! Yellow and orange,
rusty brown, green,
pure gold, shimmering
against that ocean of sky.

A gradual descent
along the acceptably
man-made path ,
and then a turn revealed
more signs of us:

piles of stones and bits
of writing paper, a charm,
all left like an offering
atop a stump.

How interesting, humankind.

That we feel a need to sign everything,
as if
he, she, they, we
were in any way contributing artists,

as if we are desperate
to make ourselves known,
to say, in some small or grander way,
I am here.
I was here.

How is it that the leaves of oak and maple,
the chipmunks, the needles of pine,
are so willing to be here and then go,
in their time,

but we
who fancy ourselves smarter, more capable,
have so much difficulty
letting go?

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

BRIDGES

We are pausing on a bridge
over the dwindling stream
that crawls through our large,
local dollop of green, Bird Park,

because we always pause, she and I,
on every little bridge
that spans any river anywhere,

so she can look down
from first one side,
then the other,
at that liquid light
which is water in the daytime,

one of many rituals
that string our days and months
together
like a prayer flag.

I watch her watching water,
wondering if she notices
how much thinner the stream
than just last week,

and my ear goes towards the toddler
just arrived and
tumbling in the grass nearby,
which calls my gaze there, too.

The child laughs and spins
as her female loving presence-
Mother, Nanny—tosses a little pink ball.

Too quickly to stop,
ball is rolling into stream.
Just as fast,
the child’s laughter turns to wails,
improbably huge, garish sounds
from such a small body,

and my gaze shifts back to daughter,
who is now squinting,
now covering her ears,
turning away from bridge and water
and back towards the safety of the path
leading away from wailing child.

Now daughter is tense,
and each person, each dog we pass
might be a reason to become undone,
an insult to the tightly wound
system of nerves and cellular memories
ticking in linear, illogical time

and I think of all of us,
everywhere,
living with and without Autism,
carrying years of triggers,
a hundred reasons to become undone,

and how we are each,
at any given hour, maybe
a few breaths away from meltdown,

and the marvel is
how we hold it together,
or pretend to,
in a time when mass shootings
are just a few more storms
punctuating the news cycle,
and everything seems cracked,
precarious.

We find the safety of the car,
she and I,
and an hour later she is
singing in the market,
luscious bluesy notes
in perfect pitch,

and my own triggers recede,
and I think yes,
yes, this is how we go on.

This is how we’ll go on.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

The Art of Being Present

art by my friend Marina Powdermaker. Find more of her work at https://www.etsy.com/shop/MarinaPowdermaker

PAST

where I am rereading the same testimonies from the same perspective: accused, accuser, over and over the details wearing deep grooves into the ledger in my mind. It must be truth, Mind says then, because I can’t erase the lines.

FUTURE

has to be better than the here and now. I can make it better. I must! Ghosts from presents past are riding my shoulders, clinging to my beltless loops as I try to be light, unencumbered, different than before. Not just different, but better! It must be, I must be.

PRESENT

is like painting with my hands, in watercolors. Moments melt into hours into whole days like huge blank walls with no rules allowed. Some lovely velvet jazz meanders through my consciousness. Here I learn to stop discerning boundaries, all that versus of mind/ body/ spirit settling into patterns, now shifting again and again, the leveling sand between layers. It’s like finally falling awake this day to the bright understanding that life is papier mache, layers of transparent color cleaving to a whole. We gotta be in it to see it.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

Perhaps you’re an island, but you’re still in the world.

Mass Deception

There’s no wonder here.
No wonder we are so
tight tense irritable. Sick more often.
No surprise, no wonderful
to see you,
no more
pleasantries masking indifference
or contempt.

We have been stripped,
no more luxury of pretty
gauzy layers.
Gone are the rote
smiles and murmurings of
sorry I’m sorry excuse me
if we brush against
each other in line,
at work, on the sidewalk.

We are laid almost bare,
our held hates and assorted isms
sloganing en masse
across the country, red
rivers and blue, across
T-shirts and hats
being made in China or the Philippines
by seven year old girls,

and lest we claim
Not I, Not us,
as we proudly flaunt our own
anti-slogans, anti-isms,
sprawled across those same
sweatshop shirts and hats
and on our Facebook pages,
and plumping up our poems and podcasts,
lest we even try to hold
an innocence,

the omnipotent voice,
that which cannot be controlled,
hums beneath the surface
like a million bees in the hive,
whispers and shouts

“We are all one.”
And
“What you do to the other
you do twicefold to yourself.”

Make no mistake.
The Voice will, eventually,
keep us up at night and
beat us down in the light of day,
refusing to leave us alone,
because we aren’t, after all,
alone, and we never were.

What will you
or I
or we
perpetrate, perpetuate,
manifest and instigate
on this day?

Love isn’t love,
if it’s splintered, factional,
and the sun doesn’t shine brighter
for one country, one race, one belief system.

It seems to me we are like pearls
on an endless looping necklace,
having been hidden in a muted shell,
born of irritation and a need for protection,
our beauty is kept from the larger world.

Such a lustre when, emancipated,
soothed and smoothed by mutual respect,
which is a kind of love, after all,

we come together
to sway and jostle and shine,
and oh! How we shine.

 

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Times Like These: Silver Linings of Caregiving

THANK YOU, TEDIUM

 

In the midst of the interminable news;
all-bad-all-the-time,
chaos and tragedy,
aftermath and predictions,
close ups and sound bites
that feed worry
and starve hope,
invite helplessness,

inside this swirl,
this modern quotidian,
there is something else,
not exactly calm, but steadier ground,

and I, who have recently
allowed my own heart to rent space
to darkness and fear,
I’ve watched myself mistrust
this solid ground,
guessing it to be the eye
of the larger storm
which I’ve been naming
How Things Are Now.

This morning, my daughter’s needs
rose strong and clear,
as they often do,
and I turned my intention
towards her, and them,
felt cool, hard floor beneath my feet,
and there it all was before me
spread out like a map
for my frayed, lost senses:

The morning tea and
the reading of her dream,

the string of reassurances
against her fears of the day,

the mechanics of a smoothie,
first juice then fruit,
now let’s shield our faces from the splash
of berries into liquid,
now earplugs before blender,

morning pills and
pink shirt, yes,
let’s try the pants again,
this time with the tag in the back,
and oops! Your shoes found the wrong feet,
and can we make those laces nice and tight?

Packed lunch, yes,
the soup is salty,
the pickles tart, yes, yes

yes there will be late sleep on Saturday,
yes, Mom is a girl,
yes we will go out this afternoon,
yes you will have a snack,

and in the thick of this,
our rituals,
a slow, slow dance of repetition,
naming all the parts
of the day,

I almost fell to my knees,
silently thanking
God/Goddess/ That-Which-Makes-Stuff-Happen,
for the ordinary work of caregiving,
sweet tedium
tethering me to the here and now,
almost sacred in its simplicity.

Eyes on task at hand,
heart humming
with the love that fuels
this tending,
binding me to that which is real,
and necessary,
and lifesaving
and true.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

CONSORTIUM

Superguy is a very private sort. I am too, in my way. There are times, though, when things need to be said, out loud and in public.
In a time when stress and fear seem like national pastimes, love ought to be celebrated, and shared. Happy Anniversary, Superguy. You make my heart sing.

Consortium

Up before you,
I hear your shuffle
down the morning hall,
the clearing of your throat,

and my head turns
of it’s own accord, trained
by years of practice,

and I’m looking for your face
turned towards mine,
your ruffled silver hair
catching the morning sun,

and that slight nod of your chin,
the quiet grunt
which I know is your
Good morning,
I love you,
you mean the world to me.

You’ll head towards the kitchen,
seeking hot tea, which I
will have made for you,

and on the way you’ll
greet a cat
or two, or three,

and then there will be music:
your spoon in the green mug,
the refrigerator creaking open,
the muted pop of the soy milk carton
perhaps the crinkle of wax paper,
the bowl chiming a welcome
to the shredded wheat,

and I may or may not rise
from the couch or the Yoga mat
to hug you,

and I may or may not
give voice to that
which blooms inside my heart
when you enter the day in my sight,

that which, even now,
after years, after miles,
after challenges we couldn’t have foreseen,

sings the sweetest song,
Good morning,
I love you,
You mean the world to me.

 

-Melinda Coppola