Natura Illustratio

Nature is a picture book
of wisdom and example,
an illustrated guide
to how we could
arrive, and live,
and die.

Take, for example,
a leaf in spring.
It draws from mother tree
the energy it needs
and not a drop more,
grows to the edges
of its vibrant
green potential
without once demanding
bigger, more, better.

The leaf in summer, deep
green and selfless,
offering shade and sustenance
without complaint
to the winged
and the crawlies,
the scamperers and
the two leggeds.

Leaf in autumn
clings until
the time comes
to let go,

and then it drops
without struggle,
allows itself
to be ushered downward
in gravity’s tender care,
right on time,

content to rest under snow,
yield to dank invitation
to become fertile carpet
warming earth,
no misgivings,
no regrets.

 

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

Thalassophile’s Lament, August

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That place I left
my last glass of calm,
tabled and shimmering
like the Sun himself had reached
down and swished his mighty
steamy hand in its
vitalizing quell,

the place I leave
against my will,
bits of devotion
and enthusiasm dripping
from my fingers
onto sand which absorbs,

absorbs so nobody
except I would know
I was there, ever

and always resisting,
resisting the pull
towards fall,
responsibilities,
the reckoning
that bruises my hands

as I grasp, try, hold,
lose grip,
the salt air
and the light
which illuminates my delight

like nothing, no place
ever has,

 is always by the sea,
by the sea.

 —Melinda Coppola

 

The art that blesses my listening hands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Art with Beach Stones

My home hums with them–—
the smooth and rough,
pale and dark,
striped, speckled,
some with lines,
or bits of mica
mesmerizing the light.

They number
in the thousands by now,
populating table
and bins and buckets,
lining mantels and
perched on shelves,
all holding the sea,

having chosen to be plucked,
over years,
from their temporary,
sandy homes on beaches,
Massachusetts mostly,
with a Rhode Island minority,
a Florida few.

They called to me as I strolled,
or else I spied them first—
glimmering with sea water

having just rolled in
with latest tide,

or perhaps half buried
among their brethren,
co-habitating peacefully
in their transient villages

along a shore dotted
with shells broken and whole;
scallop and clam, oyster
and the thin,
pale yellow jingle shells,
the occasional smooth sea glass,

strewn with the crunchy brown or
slippery green salty seaweeds,

among seagull leavings
and the remnants
of humans at rest and at play—

and I asked the stones permission,
waited for yes,
cradled them
with my work worn hands,

guided them
into my cloth bag or
scratched bucket.

My home hums, perhaps
three thousand stones,
alive
as you or I,
just vibrating slower,

and they answer
as I approach, as I
hold, inquire
with loving intention,

as I invite them into art forms,
cairns,
ancient and new,
stacks and lean-tos,
bridges and
little families
all supporting one another.

We try one side, then another,
collaborate to find
balance

and then,
then we pause
breathe
feel,
and I wait for their final yes
or not this one, not now.

Together we make magic,
my humble hands
aligning each stone,

knowing
with all my six senses,
when I hear

yes. Right there.
We are perfection now.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

 

Mothering Outside the Lines

The Bus Stop Moms

From my morning window
I would watch
as they huddled casually,
tossed light conversation
back and forth,

an occasional
eye towards their kids
who played and laughed
together, finding sticks,
tracing shapes and letters
in the dirt.

After the big
yellow bus swallowed
their chattering children,
the moms would often stay
and talk a bit
in the easy way
women do
when they have things-in-common,

like an intact marriage,
and Pilates class,
and typically developing children.

I’d watch them wave to each other
as they’d part,
good-bye, see you later,
the bus stop moms turning
each towards her own
well manicured lawn,
highlighted hair shining in the sun.

I’d guess at market lists,
soccer schedules,
Girl Scouts tomorrow,
Johnny needs new sneakers,
such busy mommy thoughts
dancing in their heads.

From behind a fraying lace curtain
I’d imagine being one of them.
How carefree they must feel,
sending their kids off
without concern
for their obsessions,
compulsions, anxiety,
lack of toileting skills,
inability to communicate.

Without gnawing worry
that today might be the day
she bites the teacher again,
(who tells her to wait for the bathroom),

or rips at her clothes at recess,
(because it’s just too loud),
or has a meltdown during snack time,
(because the juice was the wrong color,
and nobody noticed signs
of the impending storm).

Almost two decades later,
the bus stop moms
are all grown up,
and so am I.

We still live in parallel universes,
they in their emptying nests, kids
off to college,
getting engaged,
traveling the world,

and I rarely compare
my apple to their oranges
these days,
having found the appetite
for what I have been served,

which is another way of saying
we can learn to love
what we’ve been given.

I’m busy slow dancing
a day, a week at a time,
having found my own
special mom circles,

and a different carefree
that doesn’t demand
grades, degrees, weddings,

having found a partner who
loves being her dad.

Different house,
the lawn still unkempt,
the curtain perpetually
in need of replacement,

these days I only peek out
to see the bunnies
so at home
in our untended landscape,
as am I,
as am I.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praise at the end, for beginning there

A Prayer, Fertile

For all the beginnings
we cultivate from seeds,
lay to cradle in the richest earth,
give moisture with our tears,
our sweat and
handfuls of rainwater
like offerings to the deities
we name Hope,
or Light, or Fire of Creation,

I fall from standing
into some posture
that might be praise.

I kneel sinking
into seasoned earth,
fold my face
into the minerals,
offer my nose as home
for decayed corpses of beetles
and trees, musk
of the short lived creatures,
the remains of wildfires,

ashes of loves that didn’t last,
marriages that turned
their flowering heads away
from sun and plunged
broken stemmed
into that great brown blanket
to which all things return,
sacrificing their seeded
and petaled orbs
to the wombs of future loves,

making one with the source
of creation and destruction,
opening my mouth at last
to welcome fertile earth
and all I shielded myself
from and against,

and out come muffled songs
of dying love, their
notes traveling deep into the earth
and echoing back
as push for infant seeds
now traveling
up and up
towards the surface,
towards the light.

 

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

I Write You, I Write You Not

I was thinking about not-writing, which is a special collection of behaviors called Really Uncomfortable Avoidance To Silence The Singing Muse, or RUTS for short. It is practiced by word gatherers of all kinds; novelists, playwrights, essayists, poets. Correction: actually, it’s the creative writers who engage in this behavior. Journalists and reporters have such a direct relationship with the words they use. Their cupboards are all organized and clean, with appropriate words just sitting there obediently on the shelves, waiting to be pulled down and used.

I was earnestly practicing not-writing behaviors, and when Poetry came around with her seductions, wearing her best evening wear and very unsensible shoes, I rebuffed her. “ Come out to play,” she purred, and I could smell her flowery breath, feel the temperature of her neck, her hair. “No,” I replied, “I’m much too busy doing laundry and running errands, answering emails and cleaning the tiny spots on the long striped carpet in front of the kitchen sink.” RUTS type stuff. “But you know this is The Way for you,” she said, “The path through the haze and towards the place where intentions meet commitment, where water flows clean and equanimity rides in on cool breezes to clarify the mental muck.”

“ Poetry,” I sighed, “ I am busy worrying about my daughter, who has had a very rough four months. I am researching novel ways to help her, calling and Internetting and looking at books. She is my heart, and when her rhythm is off, I forget how to dance.”

Poetry leaned against the wall and just watched, listened. Her benign expression irked me. My defenses threw another brick or two onto the wall I imagined between us.

“ Besides, Po, I’ve begun my summer Yoga and Yogabilities™ classes, the latter in a new space on a new day. This takes planning, you know. I don’t have huge chunks of time lying around just waiting to be poemed upon.” I pushed out the last few lines in a gently accusatory manner. Poetry seemed impervious, letting my words bounce off her shimmery gown, which I then noticed was purple. My words got confused right out of their sentences. Some fell to the floor a few feet away from her, other made for the window and smacked into the glass, hard. Stunned, they joined their sad sentence family on the floor.

Poetry shifted a little and kicked off her fantastical shoes, which were just the sort of thing I never wear. She wiggled her toes and arched her back away from the wall and did a few gentle half-neck rolls. (I taught her to do those in lieu of the full rolls, which are simply not good for most people.) Her eyes met mine, and she waited. I knew this game. She’d stand there, or sometimes sit, eyes full of compassionate, irrefutable truth. And she’d wait. And I’d avoid her. And she’d wait some more.

Eventually, if I practice my RUTS hard enough, she leaves. It used to upset me greatly when she finally spun on her heels and left, often slamming the door behind her. (Poetry can be so damn dramatic.) I used to worry that she’d never return, she’d give up on me for good. I know better now. My blood type is Poet, and I can only deny it to a point before it becomes, well, unhealthy for my soul.

So, I was thinking about not-writing, which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. There have been Very Good Reasons. (See above.) I was sitting and making To Do lists, doing my RUTS exercises and creatively coming up with Even More Reasons.

Poetry came, she spoke, she went silent and waited. This time, she refused to leave. She sat in the corner in her purple, sparkly gown and watched me not-write. She followed me from room to room and even out to the car. She lay down in the backseat as I drove around, took Bink here and there and filled the gas tank. I ignored her, knowing nobody else in my immediate sphere can see her. At one point, after I dropped Bink at her day program, I turned around and addressed her as she lounged across the back seat, seemingly oblivious to the bags of Savers donations and Yoga straps and Bink’s soft pink car blanket. . “Po, don’t you have somewhere else you need to be?”

“Nope,” she said.“ I’ve cleared my calendar. I’m not going to leave until you pick up a pen and write something that isn’t a To Do list or a birthday card. I’m going to follow you like your shadow until you start a poem and nurture it ‘til its natural end. Until you let the words that need to be joined, come together and fly freely through the Earth’s atmosphere. I know you know the world needs poetry more than ever right now and I can’t do it on my own. Rejoin the brave ones who are making their art and writing their songs and poems and reminding people that there is more, much more than Fox and CNN and Facebook and endless division, anger, and greed.”

She said all that. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Poetry say so much at one time. You gotta respect that kind of speech, so full of passion and care and certainty.

I consider my ass gently kicked.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

So many ways to say it. Be Here Now.

 

 

 

 

 

Between

Opening the red door to a new spring day.
my feet greet crumbs of last year’s leaves,
dotted with recent, light green pollen
all swirled into the little cove, entry
that guides me into and from
this place, this home,

and they rattle a brittle kind of music
together, new and old,
crunchy and soft,
before I even lift a sneakered foot
across the threshold.

There it is—a word, a season, a sound;
threshold, May, music,
and my mind goes to all the beginnings;
friends welcoming grandchildren,
my niece with a new Master’s degree,
and last eve, baby bunnies
shaped like promise
against the lovely, later dusk
in the front yard.

A poem, a sign,
seasons bumping up against
each other, and my mind
goes to all the endings;
one woman struggling with reason
in the wake of her husband’s suicide,
another, across the world, daily grieving
her young daughter,
who would be nearly eight now,
taken by a disease deemed too rare
to fund research for a cure.

Endings, beginnings, the seasons
tireless with their lesson plans,
and somewhere between
the celebrants
and mourners,
the rest of us keep forgetting
to be alive while we live,

and the wind keeps
reminding us—
breathe, breathe,
this too shall pass,
you too,

so be urgent with this
moment, press your face
into the grass,
let the musky earth
fill your senses,

get dirty
get wet,
leave the laundry
for another day.

 

-Melinda Coppola

Today’s Truth

We all have challenges, right? Bink has rocky periods, when her anxiety rises and OCD rears its particularly ugly head. There is no easy or quick fix for these times, though we try many things. When she hurts, I do, too, with my whole heart.  I know things will change, because they always do, but today this how things look from my window.

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s Truth

I could write all sorts of words,
poems, songs, I could
take pictures and post
on Facebook, showing
the world
(or the twenty who’d read it )
my strongest doing fine face

and maybe share
that one of me in the Florida sun,
beach behind, smiling into the iphone
all shiny teeth and Aren’t I lucky
and
See how lovely it is here.

Truth is,
this morning
my daughter awoke
navigating a battlefield
familiar and grim.

Her foes—
anxiety, obsessions,
compulsions—
filling her head
with demands and
little terrors,

and I can only
pierce my skin,
pull my heart through the hole,
weave my love into a soft armor
and toss it around her shoulders,

and from the periphery,
shoot blind bullets
into the invisibles
she wrestles with,
use words
more powerful
than theirs,
hope to gain ground
through repetition.

I can only
turn my whole self
inside out,
reach into my center
and grab steaming handfuls
of my fortitude and
my perspective

and fling them towards her,
tell her this is medicine,
this is salvation.

 

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

Poetry, Autism, and Statistics, Oh My!

Hello!

I’m happy to share that  my poem, Autismville, won the Songs of Eretz Readers Choice Award Contest, and another of my poems, 7 AM, came in second!  If you’d like to see the official announcement, you can click HERE   If you voted in the contest, thank you, thank you!

This is an international contest, so it can’t be just my little ol’ cheering section of friends and family that helped this particular poem to win. Maybe the results reflect a growing interest in learning about autism, but I think it’s as likely that it mirrors the increasing numbers of people receiving the diagnosis.  More and more people know someone who is on the autism spectrum, and perhaps that means that lots of folks can relate to my poem. The latest National Health Center for Health Statistics data puts the autism stats at 1 in 36. Yep, that means that, of every 36 children alive today, there is one who fits somewhere on the autism spectrum. There are many arguments, many opinions about the true prevalence of autism in the US and worldwide, but there is no doubt that the numbers have risen dramatically in the last few decades. Bink was diagnosed in 1994, and my early, frantic research at that time placed autism at 1 in 10,000 people. I think the stats were actually more like 5 or 6 in 10,000 then, but my first information resources were library books and her first pediatrician, and neither of those sources was quite up to date.

Sometimes, people ask me why I think the prevalence rate has increased. My answer has been the same for the last decade or so: I believe it’s a combination of factors. This thing called autism is an umbrella term for  a collection of symptoms, and I believe there are multiple influencers. More children are being diagnosed, and at earlier ages, but that only accounts for a part of the increased numbers. I count vaccination schedules, genetics, environmental toxins, in utero exposure to certain maternal illnesses, medications administered to moms during pregnancy and/or birth, and lots more in varied combinations. Too, because I am a spiritual person and I believe we are all here to learn certain essential individual lessons and to share our unique gifts, I sense there is an element of fate involved. Note: in some corners, them’s fightin’ words!  I am not here to argue with your opinions or defend my beliefs, so if that’s your impulse, take it elsewhere, please and thank you.

Look, it is critical that research is funded and continues. I really, really hope science can at least find a way to ease or eliminate the most difficult manifestations of autism, like self-injurious behaviors, seizure disorders, inability to communicate, and utter lack of safety skills and self-protective impulses. But my beautiful daughter is here now, and that’s where the bulk of my attention and energy flow. As her mother, there is much I can do to make her life easier and better. As a writer, there is a little bit I can do about raising awareness and perhaps helping people understand the magnitude of the challenges Bink and so many others face. As founder and teacher of Yogabilities™, I can help people with autism and other disabilities in my community feel a little stronger, more balanced, and more flexible, and I can help them learn some basic and portable stress reduction techniques.

You’ve probably heard a few different quotes from some really interesting people like Voltaire, Confucius, and Shakespeare, suggesting that we not let perfect get in the way of progress.  Our allotted time is short , and doing nothing will change nothing. When Bink is struggling with something, we go over (and over, and over) her strategies. I’m trying to teach her that there is always something she can do to help herself.  Expanding on that, there is always something each of us can do to help others, including people with autism and their families. What seems like a little can feel like a lot.

It begins with acceptance, and a desire to understand a very different way of being. When people are curious about Bink, I don’t interpret it as rudeness. I’m glad to answer questions, or suggest ways they can engage with her.  It continues with respect for all people, including those that don’t talk, and those that flap their hands, and those that spin, and those that don’t make eye contact. That means the Neurologist in that top rated hospital could’ve handed me his written assessment, rather than reading aloud his list of her supposed deficits and offering a bleak prognosis, while she stood at my side, taking it in. That means the waitress in the restaurant could ask Bink what she wants to order instead of asking me what she’ll be having, as if she isn’t there. If Bink can’t answer, I’ll step in, but please, waitress, treat her like the adult she is.  That means the dad in the CVS could reassure his little girl that she can tell Bink her name when she asks, rather than averting his eyes and turning away, which teaches his daughter to do the same in the future.

When in doubt, assume competence, do unto others, and be kind. Little things, big impact.

Stepping off the soapbox now, and signing off.

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Am I blue?

Hello,

I’m re-posting this poem I wrote last year about Autism Awareness Day, which is April 2. If you know someone with autism, today is a great day to acknowledge them.  Tomorrow works, too, or next week, or anytime. If they like deep pressure, give them a big, squeezy hug. If they don’t like to be touched, hug them with your eyes, with your thoughts. Hug their Mom or Dad, or better yet, offer to take their kid for a walk around the block, or an ice cream. It could be the most interesting half hour you’ve had in a long, long time.

 

Light it up Blue

Autism Awareness month is April,
World Autism Awareness Day, April 2
and, in case the day lacks color,
(as if any day with Autism in it could be dull),
the mysterious Namers-of-Days-and-months
have painted it a medium sort of blue.

I wonder who decided this;
and how it was chosen,
this perfectly ordinary second day,
and weighted with a long middle
moniker, like a fish
plucked out of the ocean,
tagged and thrown back
into what used to be
a perfectly ordinary fourth month.
And why a color? Why this one?
Does Autism look like blue
to outsiders?

Pondering this, I roll up my sleeves,
prep the tub for her,
the one who turned my life on its ear,
she who makes me laugh,
she who wears me out,

she who is a master of repetition,
she who defies reduction,
who is multi-colored, many-hued.

She who is unaware of your awareness,
who, if asked, would mutter “ Not interesting”,
she who needs help with a bath
but can take a thing
and spell it backwards,
report to the air/no one in particular
how many redundant vowels it contains,
and how her lunch reminds her
of Home on the Range.

She who hears songs in color,
who does not stay in her bed all night,
who is frightened of beads with holes,
she who knows if there’s a day to be aware of
it’s the fourth Friday in February,

which is called Ate Baby Kate, and that means bad,
and therefore must be worried about
many months in advance,
she who can sing whole CDs in order,
she who tells me thirty times a day
that I’m a girl ( in case I forget)

She who needs more than I have
who gives more than I need
who has more than you think,
who is more, so much more,
than you give her credit for.

And so, dear you-who-aren’t-aware,
please allow me to set the record straight.
Autism is multi-colored,
and awareness is every single day,
and no blue second day of any fourth month
will ever matter more
than your interest, your kindness, your respect,
your willingness to help us challenge
a world that would reduce anyone
to an assumption
or a label
in one color
on one day
within one month.

–Melinda Coppola