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Shimmering minnow leaves

AUTISMVILLE

I can’t tell you
it is an unpleasant thing
to live in the quirky neighborhood,
on the far side of the river,
a good ways from the thickest part
of the frantic throng.

Here, we are daily looking up,
fixating and stimming
on green minnow leaves
that shimmer against the waters of the sky.

Here we have our own customs;
the daily waking song,
the recitation of dreams,
the morning questions and videotaped answer
for her to play back over and over,
the reassurances:
Yes, there will be snack. Yes, Mom is a girl.
Yes, there will be girl hair when we leave.

The life we’ve grown into,
first she and I and then he
who married into this confluence
of ordered disorder,
this life has authentic charm.

We go slow, we don’t try to measure up.
Our victories are sweeter
for how long they take to manifest
and mysterious
for how quickly they can disappear.

I can’t say it’s tragic in this virtual village,
this parallel universe
peopled with other singular folk
who understand the need for things
like space and processing time,
patience and velvet compassion,
smooth voices, soft dolls,
sweet routine and
more spice in everything.

We have magic here, I tell you.
Songs that play in color,
voices with texture,
folks who spin and swing and
hum and sing.

And the leaves! The glorious
minnow leaves,
dancing upstream,
between the clouds,
and laughing.

Melinda Coppola

 

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5/24/17

Today I celebrate my incarnation

Fifty six trips around the sun,
carrying a moniker
that took decades to like,
and I continue,
residing more,
or sometimes less,
inside this soft tent of skin
held up by strong bones
that shape this form
we keep agreeing to call me.

So much to marvel at,
a couple tens of thousands
of sleeps, of sunrises,
so many chances
to shake it off and begin again.

If I could line you up–
the ones who noticed,
and the ones who never did,
the ones who took me in,
or under a wing,

and those who laughed at me,
and those who laughed with me,
and those I loved but never told,
and those I didn’t love enough,

and those who knew I could
when I thought I could not,

and those who spoke truth
even when it shattered me,
and those who lied to me,
and those who betrayed me,

and those who were afraid of me,
and those who were afraid with me,
and those who lost hope,
and those who gave faith,
and those who questioned,
and those who accepted,
those who showed up
those who left without leaving a note,

those who explained themselves,
those who never tried,
and those who encouraged,
and those who could not,

if I could gather you all together
I’d go bowing through the crowd,
hands in loving mudra
thanking each of you
with my sentient heart,
for all of it.

As it is,
I ruminate
on how you helped me grow,
and how I hope
perhaps I helped you, too.

I kneel and praise a universe
that does this,
that keeps us
offering ourselves to each other
over and over,
as rough stones,

each encounter smoothing a jagged edge
through pleasure or pain,
returning us as pearls
to a larger sphere in need
of our perpetual adornment.

Melinda Coppola

Self Portrait

” We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” Anais Nin

AS SOUP: I am mostly hearty kitchen-sink vegetable bean. With each tasting I re-season myself; more salt, a dash of lemon juice or vinegar, a pinch of cumin, a snip of fresh mint. On occasion, I am decadence in a bowl; my inner creamy broccoli-cheddar self will show her sly smile, or my smooth and caloric parmesan-green bean let-it-all-hang-out side may bubble up to comfort and delight herself, and you if she’s in the mood.

AS STUFFED ANIMAL: I am a little ivory lamb, tucked away in a bedside drawer to avoid the cats and their greedy, nosy mouths and claws. I always know I’m in there, though, and that alone brings deep and wide delight.

AS BOOK: I am the quirky young heroine of a magical fantasy series set in a vast woodland. The plant spirits whisper and chide in a most amusing way. I slide from one adventure into another. My dear friends, the birds and the squirrels, the deer and the dark-eyed owls, are always nearby. They guide me, and sometimes I rescue them, mother them, sister them. My hair is wild as the tangled roots of the old oaks, my clothing, hand-me-downs from the brownies and fairies and fashionable mushroom elves. I sleep among the mosses and swim in the cheerful brook.

AS WEATHER: I am mercurial New England, Geminian, not content to stay the same too long. I am generous when sunny, and sullen when I rain. I pay no mind to the silly preferences of those that dwell within my borders. Why, if someone doesn’t like one of my mutable seasons, they can wait it out, or curl up in a ball and roll south to the more predictable climes.

AS POEM: I am free verse, unconventional and untethered to form. Black ink on ivory stock, predictable fonts and rectangular pages, these things bore and stifle my words and music, so I refuse to be bound by them. I am not afraid to rhyme/when the Muse tells me it’s time./ though I’ve been known to piss her off/by refusing.

I am mostly undiscovered, a written contradiction; quicksilver, slow on the uptake, a little tentative, rock n’ roll, then shy. I doubt I’ll ever be famous, but if I am an invitation to one soul to see one thing differently, then nothing is for naught.

AS HOUSE: I am old in the bones, wide-porched with the kind of lopsided charm that challenges: restore me, update me, uncover my shiplap, make me a color I’ve never been before but retain every odd angle and don’t f— with my leaded glass. I am not your flip, but oh! how I will serve and protect a family. I’ll open my doors each morning to gently push them out to work, to school, to a day of playing in the meadow. Each evening I’ll warm and welcome with my fieldstone hearth, and guard against nightmares and the cold. I’ll proudly display the children’s heights and dates penciled on the old doorframe in the pantry, and pose patiently for pictures through the lovely, languid years.

-Melinda Coppola

Alone, I am island

Photographer unknown.

I am an unpopulated island
in a teeming quicksilver sea.
I am a sturdy outcropping,
raw, rocky, ravaged
by two thousand years of volcanoes,
seismic shifts.
I am a testimony to the chaos
from which all life begins.

“We’ll smooth, says the ocean, it’s what we do—
soothe and smooth and
flatten your sharp edges, make nice
with all your singular points of upheaval.

Together we’ll make sand.
It will be soft between the toes
and the claws and the webs
of the two and four footed ones
that will someday want to walk your beaches.”

I am an island of resistance
in a placating sea. I will not crumble
under ocean’s incessant coax
towards making more of less,
or less of more.

I am an unpopulated island
in a sea of we-will-change-you.
I live, not to please or appease
a greening
groaning planet,

but to touch the very heavens
with my rocky peaks!
To push the clouds aside,
write my story, cursive
but not cursory,
in pointed stone
across the smooth blue sky.

–Melinda Coppola

Poet’s notes:  I am truly captivated by stories of people like Charles Baird, who lived for a year alone on an essentially unpopulated island off Alaska. I am introvert and dreamer enough to imagine a current of deep and wild joy that could fuel such an endeavor.

The Feather and the Leaf

 

Picture this: it was cold, and I stood among trees. Many, many trees. I looked up, and there they were. A feather and a leaf, floating through the air, not quite up or down but sideways, lifted along by some gusts of coldish wind. Could they be friends, and traveling together? I ruminated on this while formulating interview questions to ask them about their roots and their journeys, specifically this one.

Before I continue, true confession: I know the language of forks and plates and furniture and random other things considered to be not-alive. These so-called inanimates communicate clearly, and I happen to hear them and usually endeavor to fulfill their simple requests, like placement in drawers and cupboards and being allowed a good slant of afternoon sun. It’s the least I can do, given all they do for us. There are many stories there, but they must wait for another time. Stories are good at that, have you noticed?

Anyway….

I was thinking, that day among the trees, that the language of feathers and flying leaves might be beyond my reach. Oh, I feel pretty sure that if I’d studied their languages when I was young, I’d be able to bridge any communication gap now. Like so many things, though, I put away my forest fancies and my birdy songs when I was oh, so young. The bigs told me other things were more. More important, more acceptable, more real. And so, like littles everywhere, I abandoned my whimsy and denied my fairy genes.

There I go again, with the digression thing. It happens all the time; words arise that just must be written and as I honor them I lose sight of—well, in this case, I lost sight of the feather and the leaf. They disappeared around a corner, between a few big trees. Which got me to wondering if I could ask the trees if they’d seen them. Which got me to wondering if I could learn the language of trees. Which brings me here, to this writing, and gets me wondering if the Grammar Police will ticket me for starting multiple sentences with Which.

So much of life is attitude, and so much of attitude is belief, and so, so much of belief is faith. And so I, mid-life and of the flesh, stood rooted in my sturdy shoes that day in the damp woods, feeling just a tickle of breeze tingling my scapula in just those places my wings tried to sprout so long ago. There are scars, I’m pretty sure, on the spots where I ground my little back against the walls of my room, rubbing out the tips of feathers that came once, thrice, six times before they gave up. My thoracic spine is a graveyard, I realized then, and a longing arose to unearth those feathery thwarted things, to sing them back to life and learn finally and just in time how to fly. And (sorry Grammar Police), I chose right then and there to follow this desire as it leads me down a path or up a hill. I decided to let myself rise and feel a gust of coldish wind carry me and my new old wings along to the place where feathers and leaves might be friends, where we would and will play in the wind and commune a bit, and talk of many, many things.

–Melinda Coppola

Welcome, Winter!

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Solstice 2016

On this, the shortest day of the year in my part of the world, I have a confession to make. I’ve been swirling, these darkening days, around and around like a pile of dry autumn leaves. Allowing myself to be picked up by the loudest winds of fear and unrest, carried this way and that, and spun around until I am dizzy. I’ve been letting this happen. And, because I know better, and because I sometimes ask others to know better, it seems appropriate to re-publish something I wrote for my Yoga students a few years back. It goes like this:

How to Welcome Winter

Listening is a dying art and science. Let’s listen to ourselves for starters. We begin to complain about the shortage of light. It is so much harder, we’ll say, to slip in the walk/the run/the gym/the sunrise Yoga, almost impossible, we’ll agree, to Get It All Done. The Holidays, someone will whisper, and you or I will nod gravely and point out the circles beneath our winter eyes. And if we pay attention we’ll hear ourselves repeat the litany of insults that Winter has hurled against us, has slid underneath our skin. It’s so cold, we’ll say to anyone who’ll hear. We’ll find new ways to explain the way the damp chill invades our very bones and how even the car groans when the key inquires about a ride to the market. The market! The lines are long, the fruit is pitiful, the prices prick our sense of decency. Damn the season. You know the one, the one where we are supposed to Joy! and Cheer! and Buy! our way to a healthy economy and happier family and friends.

Stop. Hear yourself. What is it your body needs at this time? Your mind? Your soul? We drown out the true voice within with our very human tendencies to complain and rail against what is. WHAT IS. We know, don’t we, that no amount of protest will raise the temperature, coax the daylight to linger a little longer, or stop the incessant cultural noise that exhorts us to continue on without change as if there wasn’t this season called winter. As if the natural call to slow it down, get a bit more sleep, find refuge in quiet practices….as if there was no wisdom in that.

Winter wisdom doesn’t whisper. When we listen, winter wisdom belts out it’s songs with bold baritone vibrato, sharp and clear in the frigid air. There’s a foot of snow on the ground–stay in! It gets dark earlier; go to bed earlier too! It’s cold outside-eat warm nourishing foods! I am winter, season of introspection. Go within; meditate and bear witness to those seeds sleeping under the frozen earth. They will bear fruit in their time and your worry will not hasten their germination! At least that’s what I hear winter saying, when I really listen.

You faithful Yoginis and Yogis are likely to have a more highly developed ability to tune in and really listen to physical, emotional, mental and spiritual selves. That is, after all, a huge part of our practice, isn’t it? The witnessing without rushing to judgment, the respect for natural cycles and our place within them? This season, let’s do it differently. Let’s go slow as if this is the most natural thing there is. Let’s remember that we are enough, we do enough, and that the gift of being present with ourselves and each other is truly the greatest gift there is. That’s when we can begin to pay attention to that spark of light that flickers in you, and you, and you. We recognize it because it lives within each one of us, and we are mirroring each other. It’s the great grand NAMASTE, the honoring of the divine and universal light and life force in each other that emanates from one source, call it what you will. And that, my friends, is the essence of Bhakti Yoga; our devotion, yours and mine, to what created and sustains you and me and everyone else. It’s highly personal and universal at the same time.

I think winter is a beautiful symbol for the going within that is an essential part of the process of realizing who we are and what we are here for. I also think that’s a run-on sentence, but I digress. What do you think?

Take care, stay true to what grounds you, stay well,

Melinda

 

CHASING A CHEESE BALL MOON

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December, Massachusetts

This time of year in New England, it’s pitch dark at 4:30pm. I’m working on accepting this gracefully, though I do stray from intention a few times a week into cursing-the-darkness mode.

Last Wednesday, shortly after the early blackness descended, I was navigating the narrow curves of North Street, wondering if every town, in every state/province/territory,  has one—a North Street, that is. I reminded myself to slow a bit, and breathe; trying to time the art class pickup just-so, not early as this creates distress for Bink, not late as that has its own kind of dissonance. Autism is timekeeper and taskmaster in her measured life, and thus in mine.

Pickup complete, we made our way towards home, my voice soft and even as I announced the bright seasonal lights strung across a porch, snaking ‘round a pole, or illuminating an inflatable Santa or snowman bouncing on a lawn in the evening breeze. “ Don’t care. Not pink.”, she muttered. Hmmm. Last December she would chirp excitedly, “ Colorful lights!” as we’d pass the seasonal luminary flourishes. I heaved a sullen internal sigh. I really like watching her change as she gets older, but I’m a bit deflated with this latest assessment: no pink lights, nothing to see here, folks! There are precious few pink Christmas lights, have you noticed?

BUT THEN,

we rounded a corner and there it was, an impossibly huge golden moon hanging low in the sky, fruit-like. It dangled temptingly behind tree branches, then just above the highway. “ Look”, said I, “ The moon is huge tonight.”, and she, who finds no beauty in a sky without pink, she, who is finished with a zoo in moments if there are no bunnies, pink pigs or yellow ducks, she, who shuns so many of the flora and fauna that decorate our world because “not interesting” –- that very same she exclaimed, “Cheese ball!”. The hairs on my arms stood on end under my winter coat, and my mind percolated with delight. A shared interest! Super Guy and I do try to nurture any inclination she shows towards the natural world, and we often look for common ground. He and I can be a bit passionate about the moon, but Bink has not shared that, ever.

We tried to keep the cheese ball in our sights, Bink and I, as the car slogged through the traffic that can be the bane of crowded eastern Massachusetts. The lights—Christmas ones and traffic ones and the neon signs that have settled and bred along the main route—were competing with the cheese in the most irritating way, stealing its glory.

We finally turned into the street that leads to the street that leads to our street, and the cheese floated a little higher in the sky, seemed even brighter and more golden. I pulled the car over and grabbed my iPhone, trying to capture a picture of this enormous and other-worldly orb hovering so close to our mundane street. Bink followed suit, pulling her own iPhone out of her very pink purse and taking a pic or two. Still with me, she was! More percolating, more joy tugging upward, then, at the corners of my mouth. Alas, within the limits of phone camera technology, the photos captured none of the magic. The cheese ball looked like another of the many streetlights. Damn the lighted streets! Then I caught the irony of it, having been unhappy with the darkness just an hour earlier. Had a little laugh at myself, I did.

Glancing at Bink’s face, I could see that I was losing her. She was already checking out of this rare interlude of shared excitement about something, anything. “Let’s try , I said brightly, “ to follow the cheese and see if we can get a better picture!” Taking her silence as assent, I swung the car back onto the road and we made our way through the little maze of familiar streets, keeping the cheese in sight. I drove to the darkest end of street I could find, with cheese ball leading the way. There, behind some apartments, I knew we’d find that odd field of interesting, tall, reedy things that look vaguely like cornstalks in October. Here the golden cheese ball moon stood out in stark relief against the very black sky. I parked the car and we both got out, pausing just a few seconds to enjoy the sound of wind as it moved through the wispy reedy things. I made a quick note to find out what they were formally called, these rooted instruments of the field. Bink was making a low, throaty sound which I knew to be impatience. Any moment now she’d tell me she needed the bathroom. I took a few quick iPhone shots of the cheese floating above the crispy reeds in the still-early evening sky. Not stopping to check them out, we were back inside the car and off towards home.

Home. We got to the bathroom in time ( a constant theme in our lives). The photos remained unimpressive. Bink was, umm, uninterested in them. No matter, for these are the times that sustain me; a rare delight shared by my daughter, a reminder of the humor and wonder and joy of being alive, chasing a cheese ball moon through the neighborhood on a cold, black, early night. God, I love my life.

-Melinda Coppola

 

Dear November

 

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Dear November,

It is a month of tributes to poetry, 30 poems in 30 days in some circles. So, being a bit amiss, Miss Construed, I write a letter instead.

You are special to me, 11th month, in your own glorious, necrotic, achingly beautiful way. I mean, each page in the book of numbers we call calendar, each page, is rich with grief and pleasure, memories of arrivals, and departures, and years of holding on tight while the New England leaves were letting go. But you hold more in your numbered boxes, 30 in all. More happy, more sad, more than some moon cycles combined. Letting go, dear month, is not as easy as the fall flora would have us think.

For starters, one tiny towheaded boy arrived to two Albanian immigrants in Roxbury, MA. It was your 28th day, year 1926. Do you remember? He came up amid hardships, I was told, the kind that I have never known. He came up against violence, I’m told. That I did feel, and see, echoed in my own book of numbers. And from that,

One grown woman, ( that would be me) who thought herself ready, pledged herself to one grown man, who seemed to need my care and want my heart. Your 4th day, year 1989. Does that tickle your memory? There was audience; most invited, like Love, though a young Fear and his wisp of a friend, Worry, also slipped in. Towheaded 1926 dressed up as balding-headed middle age and walked me down the aisle. I matched my step to his. Too fast, I noticed. I sped up anyway. And from that,

1992, your day 15, gave us a child. She was not the only pregnancy, just the only one to make it out of me alive. Did you have a hand in that, November? She was perfect, and there was joy. 1926 and 1989 seemed pleased.

Things got broken along the way. Things often do. 1926 finally learned to let go, and pieces of him became soil, and leaf, and flower. 1989 fell hard and cracked wide open. There are scars, but they are tough and fibrous and have served me well as I raise up one fascinating young woman. She has been, well, sort of dissed by this time and place. She is called dis-abled, she is dis-affiliated with what society calls normal and her very being dis-allows anyone else’s notion of what she should be. A few who claim to love her have so dis-tanced themselves from her that they have essentially dis-appeared. She, though, has dis-assembled my expectations of motherhood, sometimes in the most delightful ways. She will dis-abuse you of your understanding of how words are used, if you let her. She is dis-arming, full of surprises and an innocence that shines. She also dis-tills my meaning-of-life questions in a way my poems never quite do.

And so, November, old friend, you have grown big in my small incarnation. I celebrate you well, the way I wish we all rejoiced when someone dies because we are happy for their soul, because we know they have graduated from the toughest school there is. I salute you and bow down to you for gifting me with the ability to love beyond measure, to mourn and wail and clutch grief way too tight, and then to breathe deeply and let go like the leaves you coax to their next fertile phase, the ground growing rich under your sanguine discipline.

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

HOME

The past few days I’ve had home humming in my head and heart. Not my physical dwelling, but rather the whole concept of it: home. It’s a loaded word, to say the least. But I rarely say the least… at least not with pen to paper.

Recently, Super Guy and I visited an animal sanctuary. It’s a magical place with paths and paddocks, ponds and portals; little homes on posts, myriad small barns and shelters and cubbies and soft, warm sleep spots, bowls of food and bales of hay. It’s home to creatures of all sorts who were victims of the transposed violence and dark dysfunction that can live within the human psyche. These animals were mistreated by their previous owners, and the sanctuary provides a place they can heal and perhaps begin to trust again. To paraphrase an old, old song. I wondered as I wandered. What shifts, great and small, could occur that might eliminate or drastically reduce the need to rescue animals from human abuse and neglect?

Here, in this home in the woods, are cats, dogs, horses, donkeys, pigs, bunnies, llamas, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, doves, peacocks, and, variably, many other expressions of God. These creatures may be one-eyed or deaf, missing a leg or broken winged, living with chronic illness and/or suffering from post traumatic stress – more and than or–  from the inhumane treatment of their previous owners. And, in this place, they are finally welcomed home.

As I walked the paths of the sanctuary with my creature-loving partner ( oh, how I love this about him!), together we greeted the rescued residents, pet the ones that allowed it. I took in the smells and sounds and sights; colors and textures and strange juxtapositions that are foreign to me, to most of us—creatures so different, living together in apparent reasonable harmony. Possible, perhaps, because all are well-fed, well-housed, respected for their particular needs for space, freedom, and safety…places to burrow in? And I thought, too, of the larger world we, who speak this human language, call home. A world full of rules and laws, customs and traditions, that we have created for ourselves, and continue to create. Lately, we hear a lot about the unpleasant effects of some of those laws, rules, customs: strife and anger and injustice and poverty and violence perpetuated, human against human, with sad justifications like:

different
– not as s/he should be

not like me and mine.

Or, sadder still,
That’s just the way things are … .in the Middle East, in the inner city. In that culture, those religions.

And
-That’s what comes with being black, or brown, or female, or poor. That’s just the way it is.

That afternoon, at the animal sanctuary, I walked in step with a wondering that felt more urgent than sublime. What kind of world might it be if all people had a safe and comfortable place to call home? If all people were well-fed, well-housed, respected for their individual needs for space, and freedom, and safety? What might happen to the imbedded acceptance of those justifications for human-to-human violence and subjugation? And, how much might such a world reduce the need to rescue animals from abuse and neglect?

We are all connected. No matter how hard we may try to ignore this, personal action, positive or negative, ripples outward into families, communities, countries, and our larger home, Earth. What are we willing to give up, or change, or invest in, that can move us towards a time and place where Earth -our home– is a sanctuary for all?

-Melinda Coppola

Love letter to the morning

Love Letter to the Morning

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There is much they don’t know. Our history,
the ways we cleaved together and then peeled apart.
How you went on without me, blithely,
and I mourned you even when I didn’t name it.

It. The mourning morning, the real morning that
happens between 5 and 6am. I deprived myself
of your inspiration even when awake, then,
gave myself over to the brooming and grooming of my paperworked life.

Like a wife; I’d
married it, you see. The computer, the bills,
endless spin of record-keeping for this one and
that one and those ones.
A rushing stream of ones
and zeros. Ones and zeros the sum total of dead hours
with a glowing box that sucks the senses in and into it,
out and out of me. But you, but we

Prevailed! How could I stay away too long?
You are bejeweled, bedecked with sparkling dew,
your siren song a chorus of birds and bugs seasonal,
their auditions the sweetest breakfast in my ears. Your
fragrance is a heady perfume of mystery and promise.

This heart leaps and sings
each and every time you appear,
like you’re coming just for me,
with an invitation for the daily
private showing, darkness disrobing
to reveal pre-dawn and dawn,
the sky a many-hued tapestry,
cool breeze a healing balm, and
aviary symphony,
delight for waking ears.

–Melinda Coppola