Dots and Dashes

Shirts must be pink, or occasionally “pool”…

She speaks in code, Bink does, and I endeavor to decipher. She works rather hard, in her neuro-atypical way, at making sense of the world. As her mother and Chief Advocate and Interpreter, it is my dharma to help the world make sense of her.

We walk parallel to the others, next to but ever separate from the niceties of everyday etiquette, the social customs of this place and time. Try as we might, ( and we do try, usually) the distance between us and the others, the “typicals”, seems a little wider by the quarter moon, the fortnight.

We sandblast as we go, hew a serviceable path and call it road. In retrospect she will have surely perseverated on a multitude of things, in any given month of any year. It’s an intrinsic part of her skill set, and she does it well. For example: Why did __________ have a dangerous voice when she said no three times in a row on the Raquel chips Tuesday in the silly-silly-when column? That was in the year 2000, by the way. I know this, and roughly what was happening at that moment, because I have heard this exact question at least one hundred and fifty times over the years, and I have answered it each time in perhaps ten different ways. “ I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer, so I ask a few questions of my own, gather clues, piece things together. Sometimes the answer satisfies, sometimes it is clearly wrong. She is occasionally able to articulate a new detail, so I learn a little more each year. This is just one example of the hundreds of repetitive questions that populate my life with Bink. It’s fascinating, really, and it cultivates a wild patience.

There are always dots and dashes, codes and patterns that order my days. Take, for fair example, the laundry.

Splatterings of oils; could be olive or walnut, canola or ghee. These make wide patterns like the cosmos on a velvet sky. There are drops like stars; some large and hard to miss, some so tiny
they are barely visible to the eye. These can be found flung asymmetrically across the shirts, rubbed wildly into the thighs of pants, mysteriously pressed into the seat. An anarchy of art, or stain.

There are the squiggles, little wavy lines calling up my inner detective. Brown: could be coconut aminos, our alternative to sauces such as soy or hoisin. Or could it be chocolate? This calls for a review of her last few days, and then I remember that Thursday afternoon sweet éclair. There are also grand sweeps of things; green curry, crimson siracha, curled across the cotton like big cursive letters spelling out a gleeful early dinner.  Blobs, like asteroids crusted and clustered, could be smashed chevre, wild rice, couscous laced with parmesan, and pecorino.

The laundry basket bubbles up with all these garments, abstract perpetual records of her days. I pull each one out, smooth it, inspect for the artists’ signature, assess which treatment plan
will erase, release, allow for swift return to a home drawer.

Bink has an odd relationship with clothes. They must be stretchy, soft, mostly free of snaps and zippers and buttons — nothing to bind, scratch or pinch. Shirts must be pink, with the rare exception of “pool”, which is a particular shade of blue.

When she is upset, her pants are fertile ground from which her fingers will seed holes, which sprout and flourish. Once she burst in after school with half her bottoms flapping in the breeze like a maxi-skirt, the entire outside of one pants leg torn open.

So, the laundry. It’s not that she cares about stains, or how she appears to any of you. I am the one who notices the ways of the world, who sees how she is daily judged. In line at the market her hands flap, bird-like, and she sings a whole CD, in order, from memory. She has a voice like an angel, and some have ears to hear this, her sparkling soul. Others see the Morse code on her clothes, dots and dashes, a little tear with hole-y aspirations. So I , the one who knows her best, every freckle and scar, dot and dash of her, will keep erasing the distractions of yesterday’s menu on her shirt. And I will hope, and sometimes pray, that this will give more people the ears to hear her song.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m just the messenger

Lurleen Lumpkin, from The Simpsons

 

Sometimes, it’s a struggle to write. Lots of sometimes. There’s so much inside that wants to come out! So, picture this: I’m at my desk, all serious-like, trying to hone words into pictures, to allow the pen to move and accept what comes without judgement, and then to be brave and put it out there for you to (hopefully) read. I’m kind of hunched over in a very un-Yogic way. My brow is probably furrowed. And then this, …this stream of country western song lyrics comes pouring forth! I mean, I’ve always wanted to learn to play guitar, but this??  So, after my laughter died down a bit, I sat up straight, took a deep breath, and put it into this blog post. The Muse may have called the wrong number, but who am I to hang up the phone?

 

LAST NIGHT THE WIND

It was blowing and moaning and
(I imagine)
Singing and lowing and
( I believe)
weaving it’s way into and through
any old regrets I’ve had about you
What’s a grown woman to do?
Last night the wind
had me singing along, stringing along
my old Pollyanna-ly ways
Last night the wind
had me winging and winging
til my arms felt they’d burst
with me bringing and bringing
the news of some positive positive shift
the news of some mighty big changes.

When all’s said and done,
life rearranges and don’t we adapt or
we die? Sometimes
we adapt and that means something ends
as a means to an end, so
can’t we allow
The wind to go blowing and moaning
singing and lowing and
weaving it’s way into and into and through
Removing old regrets I once had about you
Goodbye old regrets about you

 

Melinda Coppola

Seeing Through

I am so pleased to share that the poem below was published on the Songs of Eretz Poetry Review yesterday!  If  you want to see the actual page with the Editor’s choice of photo, and check out Song of Eretz Poetry Review in  general, click here:

 

Seeing Through

Melinda Coppola

In the summer, after rain,
over mint iced tea this time her weary
eyes, careless gray hair fell, heavy,
onto drooped shoulders. The blouse
so inappropriate, I thought, seeing
right through it. A woman should
wear a nice bra at least, I thought, seeing
right through.

I hadn’t wanted it, this awkward date.
She’d caught me off guard with her call.
These days I loathed forced smiles,
cheeriness that smothered the bare
truth of my life. Avoided Let’s have coffee
at all costs. Off guard.
I tried not to look again at her
tasteless I thought again bra
that wisp of a blouse on one her age
seeing through it. Right through.

Focused now on her thin lips, feeling
downright mean
I made to-do lists in my head
as she went on and on trying
to reach a point, perhaps, or find words
…died….I heard her say
murdered in his apartment. They think
my heart skipped a beat
it was a random burglary he
shame crept crimson into my selfish
was to be twenty the next day.
Her eyes bore holes into my skin, words
peeled away my feeble layers. Seeing right through.

-Melinda Coppola

Poets Notes: This piece sprung up from the surprisingly rich ground of mild depression, fertilized with distraction and the human tendency to make assumptions about others without actually entering their story.

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

Important Things

img_7900

 

Almost 8 am, a Wednesday
on a highway east
of where most live, a man
slowed his big semi
to an almost halt.

8 am attracts the big crowds
on a weekday, busy highway east
of where most live
yet west of work, and they,
trafficking in Important Stuff To Do,
lit up angry this bright morning,
forced to slow and stop behind a man
with a farting jake brake,
big rig lumbering to a crawl.

A dozen horns shrieked, indignant.
At least as many middle fingers
hopped to attention, and words
too coarse for this poem
hurtled from sneering mouths,
all that vitriol pointed towards a man
on the crisp cusp of 8 am
on a highway east
of where most live.

Crowds wild, rig halted,
fingers flying, sharp curses
thrown like spears towards
a Wednesday man at 8 am
who stole precious moments
from the angry commuters
to save the lives of seven turkeys;
two big ones and five littles,
who deigned to cross
the 8 am river of cars
driven by important people
with Such Important Things To Do.

–Melinda Coppola

Autism Nation

Autism Nation

fullsizerender

My same different daughter
at twenty three years,
is riddled with anxiety
and complicated fears

Loose beads with holes —
they should be on a string! —
and thunder and lightening,
that power failure they may bring

My same different daughter
moves mountains each day
just to get through the hours,
OCD in her way

She struggles with things
many learn when quite young,
like shampoo, and shower,
and how clothing is hung.

My same different daughter
comprehends, then forgets
she clings to routine,
is indifferent to pets

My daughter, same difference
can be quite verbose
you can think it nonsense
but if you listen, real close,

you’ll begin to glimpse patterns,
and reasons, and more;
you’ll notice her humor,
literal to the core

My same different daughter
sees colors in song
she smiles when she’s anxious
and we get it all wrong

My different same girl
offers such fresh perspective
makes all of their judgments
seem so like invective

My quite different daughter
hasn’t the least bit of care
what you think of her outfit
or how often you stare

My sweet same daughter
gets so much just right
she’s happy with little
prefers loose to tight

Her laugh is heard rarely
but oh! when it flows
she bubbles with joy
from her nose to her toes.

Dear daughter, so different
is teaching me well
about patience, acceptance, and
how none can truly tell

What’s inside the mind,
and the soul, and the heart
of one labeled with autism
of one who stands apart

This daughter, same as you
in the eyes of Creation
is part of the rainbow
which is Autism Nation.

–Melinda Coppola

 

Pavement Dream

IMG_7286

The cashier in the grocery store knows
your secrets.
So does the young man who bags
your fruit, fish, shampoo,
Together in one thin plastic bag
Groaning towards the floor as you leave, hastily.

If you deserved better you’d have spoken,
you say to yourself.

Two bags please, or even three
Fish is a loner, shampoo will bruise
the tender fruit, the firm flesh.

As it was, you scurried off, head down,
and the parking lot was
reliably busy, and the thin bag
reliably broke,
sending all your contents hard
to the cold ground
for all to see.

Fruit, fish, shampoo.
How to balance all the needs,
all the needing
this
being human entails,
and, because neglect is what you
do to yourself,
the empty, broken bag on the pavement
whispers
How have you forgotten the hungry heart?
Yours, not his. Yours, not hers.

And you’re rushing to pick up your pieces,
fish leaking salty strong perfume,
fruit bruised and crying,
shampoo intact but—oh!—
The wrong kind,
And you’re talking back to the bag,
to the broken, to the hot concrete herself,
saying I cannot feed a hunger
that hasn’t been named,
and it’s a gaping hole, too big
too much, as too much as
I am not
enough, not enough,
never enough,

And the hot, hard ground pushes back
against your tired words,
hits hard with her gray gravelly truth,
yells in a way only Pavement can:
Hey! You tread on my back same
as the others, not heavier or light.
Claim the space you were born into,
use my hard to push
your soft onward, upward,
and, honestly
, she spits,

it only takes three minutes to go back and
hear your heart out in the aisles of the grocery store,
find what feeds her
in the eyes of a stranger, the words
on a cereal box, perhaps the colors
of that Alstromeira over in Floral,
the slowing of your own
footsteps, as you choose pause, and space.

Furthermore, Pavement emanates,
Pay your own way, not hers, not his,
Claim your own sovereignty, damnit,

And then:

Your secrets are not
Secret anymore, no more.

And

Notice in the light of day, Pavement says
(softening now),
scattered on the ground,
fruit, fish, shampoo,
here is space between them,
for love, for rest,
for flowers.

Here is space for more.
Use me, let me ground you.
Take up four f—ing parking spaces.
Says Pavement,

And you realize you never knew
The parking lot swore,

And then you wake
to the sting of your hot bare feet
shedding gravel between the sheets.

 

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Write her

IMG_7260

Bink at the beach, watercolor by Melinda

THE WHY NOT THEN

When my daughter (alias Bink) was younger, sometimes friends or family would say,” Why don’t you write about her?” I was dismissive, back then. So many other people had done that—written articles, poems, a book about their child with autism– and done it well. I just didn’t think I’d have anything new to add. And – more truth to tell – I doubted my ability to do her, and my life with her, justice with my words. And then there was the SLEEP thing. (More about that later.)

Recently, the mental and emotional fog that seems to go with raising a child who has BIG needs, has begun to lift. In the semi-clarity I now sometimes enjoy, it has dawned on me that nobody else has a Bink. I am the one who is most privy to her Binkness, and the world just shouldn’t be deprived of the richness of knowing more of her.

So I have written some poems about life with Bink, and an article or two. There will be blog posts, and, Spirit willing, a book someday. I figure I owe it to the world to make her known, autisms and all.

ABOUT THAT SLEEP THING:

In those early years, ( say, the first twelve or thirteen in Bink’s life) I was weary. That’s putting it politely. Fact is, I was often just barely making it through the days. Generally Bink would go to bed at 8pm, which she called “Owl” and fall asleep within an hour. Often, though, she would wake at midnight, or 1 or 2 am, and be up and wired for the rest of the night and the whole next day. I was flying solo by the time she was six, and it would be years before Superguy landed in our lives. I was exhausted so much of the time. I remember being so fatigued, driving Bink to her educational program and her various therapies and doctor’s appointments, that I’d  open the windows wide to get blasts of fresh air in my lungs and slap my cheeks, bite my tongue and lips to keep myself from falling asleep. I was also diagnosed with mono somewhere in all that haze, but I soldiered on because, well, I had to. Asking for help was never my strong suit. There were many daily rituals to go through with Bink, so that she would eat, and void, and be clean enough and have her clothes on correctly.  The level of energy required to care for her well and keep up with all the paperwork that went with all the appointments, doctors, therapists, school…it took a big chunk of my mental and emotional capacities to keep all that in line. Many days felt like a marathon. I am not writing this to complain per se, rather to explain that I was in no place to write about any of it, during those years.

THE WHY NOW

That was then. The waking in the wee hours, agitated and buzzing with anxiety, gradually faded away. Medications have helped. Along the way she also learned to tolerate being alone in her room for periods of time, or in the living room in front of a video, when she couldn’t sleep. She still gets up in the night, somewhere between two and six times per, but she usually just visits the bathroom and then goes back to her bed. And so, I am relatively rested. And in the ten or fifteen years that have elapsed, even more other people have written poems, articles and books about their child with autism, and done it really well. Still, I am the only one uniquely qualified to tell you about this parallel universe, life with Bink. I think it’s time.

More to come….

 

Melinda Coppola

 

Between Faith and The Cable News

As far as I can tell, we still revolve,
this planet with people sticking out all over it,
around the sun. Seems we still burn, and tan,
and crops still turn towards something in the sky
that glows warm.
Tell me if you know otherwise.

IMG_7224

Art by a teenaged me

No, don’t tell me.
In a year that feels surreal,
in a time that makes it hard to praise
the abundance of good hearts, I praise you. Knowing
in the red marrow of my white bones
it’s all I can ever do.

The curtains fall on precious lives,
musty curtains that fast obscure a score of tragic
demises and all that preceded them; lifetimes of sunrises
and sunsets, love between family members, other love;
partners, friends, a cherished pet.

All these details,
brush strokes in each personal masterpiece,
which every life is, after all.
After all, erased. We forget. We can’t hold
the knowledge that the family of man and womankind is not
wholly kind, that there are deep chemical imbalances on the
planet and in our governments.
We are off kilter, scales tipped precariously,
our hope teetering between
faith and the cable news.
Do you know otherwise?

Street justice: some prefer it to the hot heavy hand
of an unjust judge who claims a blindness as a disability
of privilege, a deafness as a way not to hear.
We turn it against each other,
the judgment. We think the more we talk
the more right we are. We are many, and the many have
much to say, mouthing the words they lately
heard are right, as if to prove to an indifferent world,
Hey, I am not one of them. I am one of you.
I implore you, tell me otherwise,
if you know.

We say things.
We say things like,” Agree with this man, this woman,
this group, or I will not look you in the eye anymore,
will not work with you, will not play with you, will unfriend.”
We say and write these things
when we know in the very marrow of our white bones
this planet with people sticking out all over it,
these people on this planet are in need,
deep need, red need, these people are
in open-weeping-sore need
of more friends, more friending. More.

We feel hopeless, frightened. I am of the we,
and we are sticking out all over this weeping planet
in raw need of more.
Tell me. Otherwise, this I know:

In a praise that makes it hard to time
the abundance of good words, I can only
let them come. And I will, and I do.
I praise you.

-Melinda Coppola

On growing and knowing | Wisdom

wisdom tree

wisdom tree

The older I get the less I know. I woke with these words in my mouth, and they taste both new and true.

My birthday has arrived and this one is significant somehow in a way no others have been. Fifty five, as in 55! The exclamation point is genuine, because I am rather mystified at the speed with which time passes. Those numbers look so solid and substantial on the page. Time is one of the things I used to think I knew something about.

When I was young I thought I’d always know more as I got older, but I think I was confusing knowledge with wisdom. Knowledge says,” I know why the sky appears blue and when the tide will rise. I know which suspected carcinogens reside in that food and this shampoo. I know who the first ten US presidents were and where Albania is and how to say spring in Hebrew.” Knowledge knows from the head.

Wisdom does not concern itself with facts and figures. It doesn’t believe, it just knows. Wisdom is married, in a long-coupled and deeply familiar way, to an abiding trust in the ways of the universe. That loving marriage can bear many fruits, not the least of which is compassion. Wisdom knows from the heart.

Wisdom is humble, while knowledge can sometimes be arrogant. It seems to me, too, that knowledge is about acquiring, about taking things on, absorbing information. And knowledge can be incredibly useful for living in the world and getting by. Wisdom is about peeling stuff away, letting go of appearances and allowing the light and the darkness to complement each other. Letting go and allowing.

Part of my decision to start a blog relates to my relationship with wisdom. I’m moving closer to living authentically more of the time. This includes noticing and even embracing the fact that my head knows less than I thought it did. For example, I no longer know what path is right for you, why you act the way you do and why or how you can do what you do and say what you say. Wisdom means noticing and embracing that my heart knows more than I knew it did. For example, I know that when I trust my intuition I can flow with the river of life rather than try to swim against it. The blog? Intuition made me do it.

I look forward to a year of letting go and allowing, of knowing less and being more. And you know what, 55? That exclamation point looks good on you!