NOT ZEN, BUT NOW

Being present is easy when the blue sky moment is trimmed with green grass, when temperate breezes blow your hair back gently from your bright, clean face. You can hop off the worry train quickly in such minutes and hours. You can drop your baggage carelessly to the ground without so much as a glance towards where it lands, and feel your sneakered feet happy on some surface that may or may not be level. You can take the world and yourself exactly as it is, you are.

It’s jumping off in the dark that’s tricky, first opening your chest and reaching in deep for your courage and the faith that you’ll be welcomed by some surface, that you won’t fall and keep falling into some gaping chasm that opened in the earth while you were busy regretting and planning and being all sorts of things except grateful.

When the moment you are living in, the only one you have (which is all any of us have, ever), is a really shitty one by most measures, because you’re watching someone you love deeply (say, your child) suffer, and you can’t fix it, being present doesn’t feel like any gift you want to accept graciously, or at all.

We can know what we know, you and I, about the transient nature of pretty much everything; how all things pass and we are just temporary sculptures made of bits of stars and dust from dinosaur bones and the dreams of our ancestors. We can know all this and still want to do almost anything but be with the most painful parts of our existence.

And yet.

And yet, in time and over days colorful or washed out, through dark, thick nights and between joy sandwiched by crusty miseries, our capacity to sit with it all increases. It might be imperceptible for a long, long time, and then one day you mirror gaze and your jaw drops. There it is, your shiny heart, visible right through your tender skin, and it’s drumbeating and voluptuous, stretched out by all the exercise of crying and breathing and laughing and coping. It’s huge, in fact, and strong enough to hold you and everyone you care about, and even a few you don’t. Right about then you might remember that you’ve made it through absolutely everything so far, and even the thorniest ground doesn’t feel quite like a match for your deceptively tough lower body. Then you sit right there in that moment, and maybe you don’t feel tempted to pretend to be elsewhere at all.

And so.

And so you get up in the morning and pour a hot cup of something like tea. You drop in soy milk that turns the tannic liquid the color of hope. You wake your kid, even if she’s been up ten times in the night, and begin. You begin because it’s the only real choice, and maybe this day you stick around for more of the moments than you did the day before. You don’t zone out as much, or numb yourself as often. You don’t project, or regret, or try to edit what hasn’t even been written yet. You face what arises without censure, because you know and keep knowing you’re strong and wise and sober enough to sit or stand or slow dance with any given moment, be intimate with it, and then let it
let it
let it
go.

–Melinda Coppola

 

Your Repose

I’m pleased to share this poem, which made its debut yesterday, in the Songs of Eretz Poetry Journal. I’ve included my poet’s notes, which that particular editor requires, as well as his comments. I’m grateful to add another poem to my list of published  work. I’m also thankful for the support of my dear readers!

 

Your Repose

The dream stage, when the eyes dance
beneath closed lids,
that which we know as REM,
is also named paradoxical sleep,
because the body rests while the mind
is quite awake.

I wonder if your soul
checks herself in mirrors
as you slumber, scrolls
Facebook, idly clicking Likes
with her ethereal fingers,
as if this tiny dreamland act,
the flick of a mouse,
could change a lifetime’s course.

You, who walk the waking world
following all the rules you know,
making up some you don’t,
doing everything in order,
trying to make sense of the chaos,

You who counts duplicates;
numbers on license plates,
yellow cars in a lot,
who checks and rechecks
the solid fences of her world:
I will have a treat,
You’re a girl,
You will have girl hair when we leave,
Two sides, cheek bink,
Mommy can you fix it

I want to think you are free in sleep,
different, unconstrained,
that anxiety and compulsion,
autism and obsessions
can’t follow you
when you fly to that misty realm.

I want to think
you can have this respite every night,
relief from all the voices, and fears,
the tensions, demands,
that there is no standard
of normal in dreamland,
or, if there is, you define it,
you abide
quite comfortably there.

–Melinda Coppola

Poets Notes:  I often wish I could be inside my developmentally disabled daughter’s brain. The mystery of her inner landscape intrigues me as much as the mystical realm of sleep and dreams. This poem was conceived from my loving curiosity about the nighttime journeys of her mind and soul.

 

Editor’s Note( From Songs of Eretz Poetry Review):  The gradual turn that begins in the third stanza is nicely done, perfectly setting up the reader for the narrative of the autistic girl in her dream world.  The heartfelt wish at the close of the poem takes my breath away.

 

Find a link to the original poetry journal posting, by clicking HERE

Barry of the Wind

The Names Project, AIDS Memorial Quilt

Have you ever dreamed someone alive again, someone long dead, whose memory visits rarely? Have you seen the watery shine of his eyes, smelled the shampoo lingering in her hair?

I’m talking about a dream SO real, you feel like you’ve stepped over the line between this reality and another, but your feet are firmly planted on some kind of hard surface. It feels like anything but dream state.

Recently, an old friend came to me this way, under cover of darkness. I could clearly hear his even, slightly nasal voice. I could reach out and touch that black jacket he always wore. It opened a thirty five year old box of memories, and I’ve been pulling them out and examining them from new angles, with older eyes.

In the early eighties I worked for a time at a health food store in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Thirty year old Barry was one of my bosses there. He was a slight, redheaded, soft-spoken guy whose flat affect belied a wicked sense of humor that took me some months to appreciate. Over time I became friendly with Barry outside of work, and when he moved to my Boston neighborhood, we’d get together at night sometimes, and walk and talk.

Barry loved the wind. We used to enjoy walking across the Longfellow Bridge that connects Cambridge to Beacon Hill. There, breezes seemed common, and sometimes they escalated to whipping gusts that would blow our jackets open and leave us unsteadily defending our relationship with gravity. “Can you feel it?” he’d say, “ Can you feel the power and the energy in the wind?”

I left the health food store for a higher paying job after about a year, but Barry and I stayed in touch. My tiny basement apartment on Irving Street was a short walk from his favorite bar, Sporters. Sometimes he’d stop in on his way there. Self-defined as happily wanton , he was always excited and hopeful for a rendezvous. This was the beginning of the eighties, and Barry was gay.

I’m not sure when he began to get sick. One evening we planned to bridge walk, but he called and said he had the flu. After that, there were sore throats, and later, an odd rash. Though he still frequented his favorite bars, he was often tired. He began to stop by less. I felt like he was avoiding me.

The early reckoning with what was being called Gay Related Immune Deficiency (or GRID) was in the news. Stories and guesses, educated and not so, swirled in the air. People were scared. Barry told me his former roommate had declared he’d remain celibate until someone found a cure to what some were calling the The Gay Plague. “I can’t do that,” Barry told me, “but I’m trying to be safe.”

John, a friend his, died. I didn’t know if they had been lovers, and I didn’t ask. On what would turn out to be our last walk across the Longfellow, we stopped in the middle and he said “ Can you feel it? It’s John. I think he’s in the wind.”

I suspect Barry was in denial, and he stayed there as long as he could. One night I awoke to a knock on my window. When he came in, he looked as thin and pale as I’d ever seen him. I didn’t address it. I think I was afraid of saying the wrong thing. Truthfully, I was afraid in general. Nobody was certain what was causing this mysterious illness, or exactly how it was spread. He sat down on the floor of my tiny, sparsely furnished studio apartment. I didn’t want to do anything to make my friend feel shunned, yet I was a floor sitter myself, and that day I stayed perched on my futon.

I might have offered some water or a snack. I don’t recall those details, but I remember the way he looked at me. I remember thinking that his serious expression wasn’t hiding one bit of humor anymore. “I’m having night sweats.”, he said at last. I wasn’t versed in the various symptoms that were possible with GRID infection, but I sensed a finality in his words.

Barry went back to his suburban childhood home shortly after that, and took up an uneasy residence in his old bedroom. His parents ministered to him. I visited there twice. The first time, he called me over to his bed and furtively handed me the key to his Boston apartment. He wanted me to get his stuff out. I knew he meant anything that his parents might view as incriminating. They did not acknowledge his sexual orientation, preferring to tell everyone that he was simply shy around women. I felt rather heartsick for him, imagining that a loving and complete acceptance from his parents might have meant the world to him then.

“Of course I will.” I wanted to be reassuring and nonchalant and as cool as the wind Barry loved. I wanted to be in that minority that seemed to stay grounded in the face of this frightening collection of symptoms that was taking lives with no regard to age, race or class. I wanted to be part of his support system, without question or judgment. I donned rubber gloves in his apartment, though, and threw them away afterwards with the rest of the things I gathered. As I dumped the bag in a trash bin, I felt a small, creeping shame.

A few weeks later his family finished clearing out the apartment. Next time I visited him in his childhood room, I brought the three packages of Sunny Doodles frosted cupcakes he’d requested. He’d been pretty vigilant about his healthy diet and supplement regimen for as long as I’d known him. It seemed he was giving himself permission to let go and enjoy what he could, while he could.

Shortly after that visit, Barry went into the hospital. I saw him there only once, when he was conscious but just hanging on. He had tubes in his arms and an oxygen mask on his face. AIDS had replaced GRID as the name for the devastating collection of symptoms showing up in increasing numbers, especially in gay men and some drug addicts. It was still fairly early in the epidemic, though, and there were elaborate precautions taken by hospital staff. Some visitors wore masks. I touched his hand but kept some distance from him, and then chastised myself for being fearful. His only sibling was there, and she took me aside at one point and thanked me for coming. She also bemoaned the fact that her parents still refused to acknowledge what was really happening. Again, my heart broke a little—for him, for her, and for a world that stoked such prejudice and erected sad barriers between people.

At Barry’s wake, his parents were impeccably dressed and stoic in their posture, trying to greet each mourner who filed past the closed casket. His sister was weeping in short bursts. After people paid their respects to the family, they gathered in small groups in the corners. I recognized some of them as Barry’s friends that used to come into the store. There was a group of men in Hawaiian shirts, laughing and talking as they shared memories. I guessed there was some special meaning to the shirts, and I also wondered if any of those men had been his partners.

There were some people from the health food store, and a High School teacher who remembered Barry from fifteen years earlier. I watched Barry’s sister leave her parents to move deliberately around the room and greet each person. She took the hands of many people in her own, and looked into their eyes. When she approached me she squeezed both my hands and asked how I was doing. Shocked at her selflessness and her concern for me, I remember fumbling over my words, trying to find the right ones and feeling an acute lack of maturity and grace.

Barry popped into my mind here and there for some years, certainly as AIDS garnered more attention. Precautions were outlined for everyone as the master immune compromiser began to show up in more segments of the population. The news told us that researchers were working feverishly to find ways to wipe out the virus and to mitigate symptoms in those already infected. I knew by then that I could never have acquired the disease with casual contact, and I held on to regret for my former fear and doubts. When the wind kicked up and tugged at my jacket and whipped my hair around, I tried to feel Barry in the rush of energy, but he never came.

After awhile, memories of him and that time faded a bit. Several years later I ran into an old health food store co-worker on the street in the Boston financial district where I was working. He told me that he and several friends approached Barry’s parents and told them they were making a commemorative patch for the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt in Barry’s name. His parents wanted nothing to do with it and even asked them NOT to put their son’s name on it.*  My heart cracked a little more that day.

I am not sure why Barry visited me in a dream. Perhaps enough time has elapsed that I can now offer my young self some compassion for having a level of fear during that time. Maybe, it’s the right time to honor the memory of a young man who loved the wind, a gentle soul who left us far too soon.

–Melinda Coppola

*Barry’s name IS on the quilt, in cotton candy pink letters against a pale gray background. I think he would have approved.

 

RESET

Reset

This morning came twice
to meet my wan welcome.

There was pre-alarm
almost-dawn
when my eyelids were
leaden, fingers numb
after some sleep asana,

and there was no joy in me
to power the muscles
to coax the bones
to shape themselves
around some idea of upright.

Half hour later
my hand rose instinctively
just in time
to palm the clock’s head,
pat the button down before it shrieked.

Second chance at fresh beginning,
and the light in dawn-streaked sky
lifted my lids and held them
open like a daisy, an offering,
a demure directive
to stretch already
and rise to meet
the God
in everything.

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

The Poet Says….

Allow me to share a poem that debuted on the Songs of Eretz Poetry Review this morning. This is the third of my poems to be published there in the Last week. All three are eligible for the Readers Choice Award contest on the SongsofEretz.com    Voting begins March 1!

 

The Poet Says This is How You Should See

 

A prism is lifted to the sun. Imagine
a million nuances of color and shine,
fractal languages of symmetry
resting perfectly
between breaths or heartbeats.

The artist knows the power of spaces,
without which there would be no means
to shape the eye’s longing.

Musician has this same knowing,
gleaned through the eardrum’s
oscillations: there is no song
without pauses
between notes.

Someone in your diaspora of friends
will die tonight, and in the moments
between last exhale
and the doctor’s legal declaration,
a poem is written on the window
in frost. It lingers

only as long as two pairs of eyes can see it,
and if the heart that goes
with one pair can hear it,
a song will be born,
and if the soul that goes
with one pair can see it,
here will be a rendering
in charcoal, or paint, or crayon.

This is how life continues;
The poetry between things
must draw the attention
of some realized aspect of God,
like you, or you,
and your near-desperate desire
to interpret the miracle
becomes the language, the love, the soil
from which
something else can be born.

–Melinda Coppola

The Goddess of Every Little Thing by Melinda

7 AM, Redux

Dear Reader,

I’m so pleased to share my first of three finalist poems from the Songs of Eretz poetry contest. Though I didn’t win first place this year, each finalist poem is eligible for the Reader’s Choice Award.

Steve Wittenburg Gordon, the Editor of Songs of Eretz, published the poem and the following commentary on the site today:

Readers Choice Award Contest Poem: “7 a.m.” by Melinda Coppola

Editor’s Note:  Nominees for the Songs of Eretz Readers Choice Award have been or will be published/reprinted in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review every weekday from February 19 to February 27.  Vote for your favorite in March by sending an email to Editor@SongsOfEretz.com.  The winner will be announced in April and receive a one hundred dollar honorarium.

7 a.m.

I entered your room quietly,
with loving stealth,
stood inches from where you slept
curled into the warmth of your sleep nest,
pausing one round moment
to take in the sight of you, just
to hug you with my eyes
before we began
the ritual we’d perfected over
two decades of mornings.

There we were
in our assigned places,
me leaning gently above,
you just beginning to stir
as I sang you awake.
There were your hands
reaching for my hair,
first right side then left,
like always, like a touchstone
to remind you it’s safe
to be awake and alive.

Pink walls and ceiling, pastel rug,
whispered, made-up song,
you under soft
layers of things;
assorted spreads, a quilt, some blankets,
one embroidered with your name
and the date you debuted,
a gift at birth from a relative
on your absent
dad’s side that met you
once maybe, whose name
I’ve quite forgotten,
who is surely long dead.

I flash-mused on what she’d feel,
this nameless giver of named blankets,
if she could ghost unseen
into your bedroom, this morning
to see what you’ve become.

Would it be grief
for all the ways you’ll never be,
the way you arrived
with unseen challenges,
diagnoses not yet named,
a baby who would remain,
in many ways, a child?

Would it be curiosity,
your differences intriguing,
offering perspectives
she’d never considered
while alive,
tapping on the doors
of her phantom compassion,
awakening a deep patience,
a human reunion with her own
estranged otherness,
the selves she, while living, shunned?

I hope she would be filled
with the color of pure delight
as she saw you still loving
her decades old gift,
for its essential pinkness,
its enduring softness,
its well-named comfort
in the place you call safe,
in the place you dream,
in the place you are perfect
with no one there
to tell you otherwise,
in the place you dream.

 

Poet’s Notes:  My young adult daughter lives with Autism, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and a great deal of anxiety. She is a stranger to the ways most of us learn to survive and thrive in a confusing world. Her vulnerability is a big concern for me, yet she is finding her own ways to cope and to calm the sensory storms any given day can present.

E’s pink room, and her bed layered with soft blankets that echo the colors of the walls is a place of refuge for her. The rituals that we’ve created give her structure and comfort.

In this poem I tried to capture the tenderness of a morning moment before I sang her awake, when my eyes went to the monogrammed blanket on her bed. I imagined the giver joining us in spirit in that pink room, seeing that baby blanket. What would she understand from this scene?

About the Poet:  Melinda Coppola has been writing in some form for nearly five decades.  Her work has been published in several magazines, books, and periodicals including I Come from the World, Harpur Palate, Kaleidoscope, The Autism Perspective, Spirit First, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Welcome Home, and Celebrations.  She is an artist, yoga teacher, and mother to an amazing daughter with special needs and enjoys infusing the work of her heart with her voice as a poet.

Coppola nourishes her creative spirit with singing, early morning walks, collecting and making art with beach stones, cooking, spending quiet time with her husband and daughter, and communing with her cats.  This poem was first published on her personal blog twenty four may on April 20, 2017.

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

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