WALKING


At twelve, thirteen,
fourteen months,
when most children
begin to walk,
or make a show
of pulling their soft
wobbly bodies
to stand,

you were content
to sit and rub
the carpet, watch
the fibers grow fuzz
beneath hands
you didn’t seem to know
belonged to you.

A plump child you were,
with flesh-ringed legs
and arms,
at least three chins.

As you grew
stronger, my arms
did, too,
carrying you
room to room,
holding you
while you screamed
inconsolably,
and turned away
from others,

while you recoiled
at sights and sounds,
textures, certain clothes,
and any kind of shoe.

We didn’t know about autism,
not yet,
but I quickly learned
what brought you comfort.

When you were at peace
I could be, too.

I wonder
if you recall,
as I do,
when you were sixteen, eighteen,
twenty months
plopped on the grass,

making a study,
it seemed,
of the individual green blades,
your fat hands
brushing the tops of them
over and over,
your face some mix
of stern concentration
and happy fascination,

sweet reprieve from the screaming,
relief for my strong
but tired arms.

And still you grew,
and rebuffed
my attempts
to hold you up by the armpits,
sing walking songs
show you videos
of babies toddling happily
from toy to toy.

It was this,
the not walking,
that brought my questions
to doctors,
to Early Intervention,

that began the parade
of specialists and therapies
I never dreamed
would become our norm.

It was a blur in many ways,
that time,
but I recall when
you took your first,
tentative steps.

You were two
years two months,
finally ready
to trust your feet
against the hardness of the earth,

to step forward
into the blur of delight
and confusion
and newness
and noise.

–Melinda Coppola

Temporal Tryst

Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, meaning “seize the day while trusting as little as possible on what tomorrow might bring”.

Tomorrow

In a daytime dream,
the kind of interlude
I once slipped into
and out of
as easily as frog to pond,

and as shiny,
with the slick
lubricant of youth,

I met some Truth.

Down by the river,
it seemed,
among the broad
skunk cabbage leaves
where I knew fairies
peeked at me,
or napped,

though to catch them asleep
is a very rare thing indeed,

I tripped upon a root,
and stumbled into something,
a large shape-shifting cloud,

more like a swarm
of stingerless bees,
or a waft
of waxing hummingbirds.

I tumbled in,
and seemed to hover there
held aloft
by all that buzz and dance,

and in that dream
of separation, day
from night or young
from middling,
or me from you,

I opened my lips
to introduce
my self or selves,
time traveling grandaughter
of the Fae,
or some Balkan equivalent,

and found no words in me,
only a throat full of ears,
a heart shaped
basket
of listen
and feel
and know

and so,
the thrum and verve,
the sparkle and mumble
of nebulous dance and buzz,
passed over and under
and through me,

as if I were sponge,
born porous and light,
unknowingly poised
to take in and on,

and transform
and wring
and give forth,

and this amorphous
toss of effervescence
had wafted out
to meet me
in that dream of day,

to gift a message
and task me tastefully

to go forth
and make story
or poem
or song,

and tell you,
tell you all,
that I met Tomorrow,

and that she never lands,
never stays,
never quite arrives.

–Melinda Coppola

Perhaps his name is Three Dollar Bill

The Emissary
To the man on Pleasant Street

You pace
the same stretch
of sidewalk
every morning,

purposefully, in one direction,
then turning abruptly
to traverse the same piece
of asphalt

back to an invisible starting point,
ovalling this way
over and over,
rain or shine,
in every season.

Your arms flail
as if conducting some
mysterious orchestra,

both hands
occasionally popping
peace symbols.

How can any mere human
maintain such a pace?

Is there a secret wellspring
of energy bubbling up
from some crack
in the hard ground
you’ve claimed as your own?

Your eyes hide
behind sunglasses,
with no regard to weather,

as if you can perceive
sun where there is
none.

An unkempt jungle
of beard and mustache
obscures more of your face,

with just a long
sunburned nose
and two crescents
of tanned upper cheek
to show a weathered countenance
to an indifferent world.

And then
there are the too-long pants,
always bell bottoms,
perhaps the same pair
day after month
after year.

You seem a refugee
from Woodstock,
and I wonder
what called you
to this life
of endless pace.

Is it drugs,
or mental illness,
or the too-common
marriage of the two?

Do you know any refuge,
where and when
do you sleep,
and who once called you son?

There are days, man,
when I see those
peace symbols popping
from your expressive hands,

and I think
you could be a messenger
come to remind us—
the busy ones,
the ones who hide our crazy
behind full schedules
and rapt consumerism—

that we’re born for more,
that walk-dancing on a sidewalk
can’t mean less

than strapping ourselves into cars
to rush to sit
behind screens
so we can buy
more than we’ll ever need.

Perhaps it could
very well
mean more.

–Melinda Coppola

Hearing the Ocean in a Tea Cup ( again)

The Sea, the Sea

I met the Pacific in 1982,
she in her blue-green majesty,
and I, in perpetual denim,
my words untested
and eyes
not yet jaded.

For twelve months,
hundreds of days,
I lived so close
I could sense her depths
by the movement of
fine hairs on my forearms,
her salt
with my inexperienced nose,
yet my feet
did not once taste her.

Atlantic and I,
having been casual friends,
revelers with no commitment
over some
six decades,
we are in each other nonetheless.

My DNA swirls in the belly
of an east coast fish,
the curve of a shell,
and her pungent saline
melds with my own,
runs the rapids of
the rivers of
my veins.

Past mid-life now,
considering commitment,
I can picture us,
the sea and I,

like good neighbors,
best buddies,
my watery body
and hers
heeding the same moon’s pull,
witnessing
the gull’s winged dances

against every sky’s first light.

–Melinda Coppola

Tender

Raccoon, bread, apple by Bink


Tender.

Unless I am speaking of meat,
which I mostly don’t,
the very word owns its ness,
as in,
what is tender
evokes tenderness,
and what calls that forth in me
is that which I am drawn towards,
or s/he whom I draw close,
or want to.

Draw close,touch,
be connected with, and to—
it’s like a song whose notes
sidle up beside each other
and seem happily married,
or a poem that dances
smoothly,
word to word,
meant to be silken,
not rough and chopped
like this one.

Tender.
Tenderness.

Decades ago, as a young mother, I joined a playgroup with the odd name of Warmlines. I was lonely in my complete consummation with motherhood, and with my baby. The group name continued to strike me as odd, until recently.

I am thinking of the people in my awareness that are hurting, that are celebrating, that are lonely, and tired, and scared. There are mothers whose adult children have complex special needs ( like my Bink) , and they are trying to hold their ground in choppy waters, and I so get this and I feel connected to their pain. There is the friend from a writing group who has recently been diagnosed with incurable brain cancer. I’ve never met her in person, but she is a sister of the pen. I can only hold her image in my heart, and pour small offerings of caring into her hands, her mouth, as I trek through my days. There is a friend whose brother has mental illness, and his dangerous behavior pulls something from my depths which reaches out to her. There is my dear Aunt, recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, and my beautiful friend M who mourns the loss of her mother.

On the celebratory front, my niece is blossoming in her first independent teaching job, living in her own apartment. One of my Yogabilities™ students is in a new day program, an art program for adults with disabilities that encourages her immense talent and will also market her work. My own Bink is creating rather wonderful art in an afternoon class nearby. She also began horseback riding a year ago, and she has exceeded my expectations with her interest and ability.

There are so many more, people I know online, in person, people I know of through friends or family, all dealing with the sticky stuff of life. When I think about them, I visualize myself floating in a kind of emotional outer space, connected to each of these people, who are also floating. There are slender but strong ropes growing out from my body to theirs, or perhaps they originate from each of the others and find their way to a temporary home in my heart. The ropes are purple, and there is an energy pulsing through them; the energy of connection and compassion. That’s when it hit me. Warmlines. Tentacles of caring, linking us to one another as we journey through life. So tender, so very tender.

–Melinda Coppola

Hmmm. I thought I put me down right there

Here is Where

All day the wind blew
the trees against the house,
and my old ears
heard the hearty breeze
as a roaring river,

the kind that swells
in spring,
the kind that swallows
half made nests
the wind shakes
from the breast
of tight bushes
and tosses
carelessly
towards the sky.

Inside I wander,
room to room,
searching for some trace
of the self
I just this morning
left in that corner,
or under those stairs,
or,
I could have sworn,
on the hanger
next to the scratchy gray cape
nobody wears.

I’ll get tired, I know.

My legs will protest,
and I’ll hear a cup of tea
calling to be made.

The wind will slam
something solid
against the siding,
insisting on inspection.

The doorbell may ring,
the emails chime,
the text messages
which make a stream of song
mysterialize
from another room—

all will
summon my attentions,

and when I stop looking
for the self I lost
here, somewhere,
near,

I’ll settle with the cats,
who always tell the truth,
and ask them
where I am,
who and why,

and their answer will be
same as always—

You are right here
silly human.

You are always right here.

–Melinda Coppola


Dear Future Roadmaker

It’s still April, still Autism Awareness month. I’m thinking, as I so often do, of all the people I have met on my journey of raising a daughter with special needs.

There have been some wonderful teachers and some exceptional therapists (physical, occupational, speech and language, to name a few). There have been good hearted caregivers, van drivers, and medical professionals of all kinds that have made a huge difference in her life, and mine. There were, and are, folks from various agencies providing information about and access to services and assistance. There has been an unfortunate number of people from each of those categories that were not helpful, supportive or kind as well, and a few who brought great distress to Bink and to those who love her.

And then there are the other parents. I am a woman of many words, but I cannot adequately find the right ones to describe the love, support and comfort I have found in a tribe of others who are parenting an individual (or two) with special challenges. Most, but not all, are mothers. I’ve known some for over 20 years, and some less than a year. I am certain there will be many more I’ll come to know along the way. Some have children with multiple or well defined diagnoses. Some are parenting in the grey zone, struggling to find their children of all ages the help that might coax them to leave the house, or find a little job––a foothold in a world that has little patience for those who look “normal” but struggle to function on their own.

We lift each other up. We listen deeply, hearing the unsaid words beneath and between the audible ones. We try to check in on each other. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a ” How is _____ doing?” And a sigh or a quiet ” Just OK.” can speak volumes. If one of us learns of a new way to get help or a new service, program or activity, we want to make sure we share that information. We also understand how very possible it is to have no time or energy to communicate for many months at a time.

So many parents have helped me along the way. It’s important for me to try to do the same, especially for those with younger and/or more recently identified children. The following poem came from this place of deep appreciation and desire to be there for others who are walking the same road.

Dear Future Road Maker

I promise
this will pass.
Not the diagnosis, of course,
not your cellular memories
of initial shock, sadness, despair.

But this crisis,
the one that’s shredded
your equanimity,
kept you up some nights
for months,

the one that involves biting
and teachers,
veiled threats from
Those Who Decide
that Johnny may not be appropriate
for their coveted program,

the lauded school
that took
five meetings,
twelve months,
most of your energy
and an attorney
to finally welcome him
into their fold,

It will pass.

Toilet training:
Above all
don’t despair,
I can tell he’s going to get it,
nine is not too late
in our world.
Give it time.

Your current devastations;
Johnny rides the short bus
and there’ll be
no prom,
no diploma,
no college or
wedding or
career—
this will pass,
give it time,
these things will fade
into insignificance,

and besides
short bus=fewer students,
fewer stops,
less sensory overload,
and sometimes,
a kinder driver.

There are special proms,
if he is so inclined,
and nice certificates
of completion, now.

Take a breath,
safeguard your energy,
for you will need
every precious bit.

Choose your battles,
don’t try to war
in many places
at once,

and know this:
I am here,
and there are many of us,
veterans who faced
that forest,
stepped into the dark
growth and
trod the faint
paths left
by those who came before us,
and we are
making roads of them.

Don’t underestimate yourself
or your son.

You will both grow callouses,
you’ll know such triumphs,
and despairs you fear
will wreck you.

They will not.
You will emerge tougher,
a warrior advocate,
and we’ll be there,
all the road makers,
cheering,

and someday
that documented
list of deficits,
all his Johnny-can’ts
and Johnny-won’ts
will cease to faze you.

Mama lion,
future road maker,
mark my fervent words:

Your child,
son of your heart,
will surprise you
and amaze you
and make you
very,
very
proud.

–Melinda Coppola

Inch by Inch

Dear small band of loyal readers,

I’m pleased to share that my poem, Reset, has placed second in the Light of the Stars poetry contest sponsored by Lone Stars magazine, and appears in the Spring 2019 issue. Printed literary journals are becoming less common. More and more of them publish exclusively online, which is, of course, much less expensive. Lone Stars is a paper poetry journal, published in Texas thrice yearly as an offshoot of another paper journal called Conceit, which publishes monthly.  Neither of those has an website, which is why it was an especially nice surprise to receive a check in the mail for my second place win! A modest check, to be sure, but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been paid for a poem.  Publishing poetry is a many splendored thing, but financial gain is not usually recognized among the glories.

A nice boost for a dreary Monday morning!

 

With gratitude to you for reading,

Melinda

 

 

 

 

Our small eyes

Perchance

Perhaps nothing begins
or ends,
not exactly.

The field mouse knows
the tall grass
to be her world.

We say
morning comes,
and yet
it is always
somewhere,

just not in the very front
of our small eyes.

The trees are wise.
They know everything cycles,
seed to sapling,
strong trunk reaches skyward,,
and wind-felled trunk
becomes home for owl
and mushroom,
then fertilizer for forest floor.

Last night
something gentle
grasped my hand,
and I turned towards my partner
who wasn’t there.

Perhaps death
is neither end
nor beginning,
and that
which we name loss
is just a shift
beyond our modest
range of vision.

I want to think
my father came to visit,
or one of my grandmothers.
just to reassure,
just to say,
in Albanian—
which they wanted me to know—
just to say
It’s all going to be alright.

 

_Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

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To Sleep, Perchance to Wake and See the Stars

Bink does not sleep solidly through the night, ever. When she was younger it was especially challenging, because she’d wake up and need me to be right there with her, and she’d often be up for hours. Sometimes, after waking at 1 or 2 am, she’d stay up the rest of the night and all through the next day. I was really tired so much of the time. Even so, there was a certain kind of mystery and grace in every aspect of my mothering journey with Bink. Still is.

Years ago I wrote this poem about the night waking. I submitted it to a few journals, and received the customary rejections that are familiar to all writers, maybe especially poets. I decided to try once more to find this poem a home. And, yay! it has just been published in the online literary journal Vitamin ZZZ. The whole journal is quite beautiful and I hope you’ll check it out. You can see it by clicking here. 

The poem:

Night Graces

Each sleep cycle you wake happy, chirping
psalm-songs into the darkness, small
warm circles of air rising from your
curled body,

and you tumble toward my bed,
proclaim morning
whether it is midnight or three or,
more thankfully, five, and I

surface from moondreams
and embrace you,
little Talitha of Ursa Major,
Gemma of Corona Borealis,
insistent beacon,
nudging my fatigue aside so
this perfect view

of the stars,
those glorious jewels of the night,

reveals itself
as the gift it is

and I,
your student, humbly bring
a glass of water.

 

–Melinda Coppola