Tenure

I offer you gifts
of words newly strung
and tender,
strong and
sometimes proud,

words that are still humming
with the cadence
of my beating heart
from which poems burst forth
onto the page.

I call them my poems,
but we both know
this is folly.

The purled words don’t belong to me
any more than the morning sky
I kiss with my eyes,
or the breath I take in
that my lungs wring out
and return as something transformed.

Here on earth we
borrow things
like time
and plots of land
and beings that come through us.

we
label things ––
yours, theirs, mine

we
covet things
bits of shiny coin and
metal beasts that transport us,
wood boxes that give shelter.

We
think we own so much
of what passes though our lives

yet the Earth always reclaims
her soil
and rubbish
and creatures

as she’ll reclaim our teeth,
our fine furniture,
our soft organs and
all those volumes
of poems
I said I wrote
for you.

 

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lavender

When overwhelmed, lavender.

When nerves fray,
pockets empty,
mind seems a tangle
of wires, crossed and stripped—
lavender.

When ears ring, head throbs,
eyes tire and lose focus
from the too-muchness of it all—
lavender.

When heart weeps
at the sheer number of ways
we divide, subjugate,
brutalize and neglect each other—
lavender.

When soul is starved
for peace and respite,
and throat runs dry,
can’t loose the words,
and lightest touch feels like daggers
breaking tender skin,

lavender.

–Melinda Coppola

Snakery

Dance of the adders photo by Matt Binstock 2014

I wanted to say
let my people write,
or sing, or paint.

Let them take their hair down and
doff their shoes to march together
with intention
on the crusted earth.

I wanted to grow large
with moral authority,
puff up like a hissing adder,
she whose single lung
balloons to strike fear
in predators

by which I mean
all those who are
not my people,
all those who would silence
dissent and condemn
wild creativity,
if possible with a single
continuing resolution.

I wanted to say this
or something like it,
until I learned how an adder
rises and puffs
in response to anything
fast or close,

by which I mean
perceived threat.

You could be a hapless wanderer
too close
to the tall grass
she favors
and still she’d strike,

and don’t we do this —

separate ourselves into factions,
perpetrator or victim,
adder or errant wanderer,

and don’t we claim lineage
to the ones
who bear witness
to our strength,

puff ourselves up
with our righteousness
and attempt to disown the rest?

They’re all my people,
and yours.

We belong to each other,
and to the teeming, writhing
mass of human acting
and reacting

and when we can’t bear to see
our weakness mirrored
in the others,
don’t we rise up,
incite fear,

and strike
and strike
and strike?

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poems, Interrupted

 

 

 

 

 

My poems want to begin, lately,
with waking from a dream,

at dawn, midnight,
3 am or other
portentous digits.

The words insist on that
inherent drama, dance
between two worlds,

the bridge that must be crossed
over moisture, under fog,
as if scrutiny can’t land there
and call out my penned donations,
one by one, into the light and
the critic’s laser eyes.

I wonder if I mother them,
those poems in process,
too much, too long,
which is relative anyway

like the average age of weaning
worldwide is four years old,
and in my country
it’s six months,
and what does that say about us?

You see how I diverge, I spin off,
deflecting hard attention
from the question at hand,
which is

am I smothering the poems
keeping them from emancipation
until they are
somehow perfect,
perfectly formed?

and

will all my lyrical children
perish from lack of sunlight

or,

if they do grow up
will they resent me forever,
end up in years of therapy,
succumb to addictions and
waste away,

quite far
from the eyes and ears
that might have seen their beauty,
or seen beyond their tired
dream analogies and loved,
or liked them anyway?

–Melinda Coppola

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

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