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

 

Rocking the cosmic swirl

Rocking

It comforts me to know the old
couple across the street
just celebrated fifty years

in the same house. Fifty together years
with the home they perhaps chose
to be new in together,
a threesome of sorts,
their bodies joining brick
and hardened earth
settling and cracking
and pressing together,

adding more spackle
and grout
and laughter

with a child, then three more,
adding rooms
to contain the growing
and the mirth
and the tears
of those who were
fledged,
now gone.

When my soul grows weary
traversing tightropes—
such fast-paced, overloaded,
know-too-much times—
I look across the street,

to the wise and wizened pair
who are ever so busy
slowly rocking, in their old chairs,
on the porch,

and it consoles me to witness them,
soothes me to consider
the old ways of houses
and their people,
and the history of aged dwellings anywhere,
the ways these wood and stone
talismans seem to lean into
a wind or two that can elicit creaks,
groans even,

and their occupants
maybe know
they are being held up
by sagging floorboards
and crumbling plaster,
and the roof is losing shingles
fast as hairs on their heads,

yet they rock, and nod,
and smile
as if to say

where are you rushing to,
and don’t you know
all things fall apart.
We do, too,

so why not sit awhile,
give the swirling
sediment of your ancestors,
and the greening pollen
that falls from the trees
like stardust in the daytime,
a place to land.

See how the wind marries the light,
begets little particles of evidence
that you’re alive,
that others have been, too,
and ragweed and dander,
detritus of the whole cosmic swirl,

touch down on your arms,
have little dances
before they settle there.

 

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

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

 

Per Annum

Every year, now, around my birthday, I feel a tug to write something, employing words to mark the privilege of completing another ride around the sun. This year’s efforts came in the form of a love letter to my life. Here, below, is an edited version, and though it’s all between me and me, I wonder if you can relate to this need or desire to mark the years somehow, to catalog your journey. Do you write a song, or journal? Do you collect things; a feather, cards, ticket stubs, remnants of days you rushed through, moments you think you’ll never forget, yet know you might?

Dear one,

Last Thursday, we woke to the beginning of our 57th year together. It feels like some things need to be said. Probably nothing I haven’t said before, but I find that I tend to forget things more frequently these days. You, too?

Look, we’ve had our challenges. We rarely seemed to measure up to what the world expected of us. I know that’s just a perspective, but then, so is everything else in life. Conjecture, presumption, supposition….call it what you will, but the truth as I know it is that there isn’t one single way to describe the truth. Everyone sees things their own way, depending on their circumstances, culture, upbringing, It’s the simultaneous bane and beauty of being human , I suppose. But there I go again, digressing. It’s something I’m really good at, at least on paper.

There were times I wished we weren’t together. I’m not proud of this, but I am really, really grateful that you didn’t give up on me.

There were times I belittled you, comparing you to other lives. I know this is a common thing people do, but I also know now it is extremely unhelpful. We get what we get, don’t we? It’s how we look at it, what we do with it, how we react to it, that matters.

There were times, too many to count, that I was blind to our abundance, our cup spilling over with blessings. Now we live in a world that has perfected the art of showing and telling the endless and collected horrors and incivilities and the ways we harm each other, the ways in which we hoard while others starve. Now, it is impossible to ignore the inequity, and it feels criminal to imagine we lack a single thing, you and I, or that we should not be grateful and share generously. Perspective.

At nineteen, I knew my life would be one grand adventure. I’d travel, and give birth to poems and stories, and mother them with a loose and loving abandon. If you’d been clairvoyant, and told me I’d all but neglect my writing, for years and years, throwing it just enough scraps of food to keep it hanging on and hopeful, I’d have been horrified. I’d have told you, in no uncertain terms, how confused you were, and how unfaithful.

I could go on, dear Life, and on some more. I’m good at that, remember? But here’s the gist, here’s the heart of it: I love you. I love the way we’ve unfolded together, warts and scabs and miseries included. I loved our adventurous young adult years, and I’ve grown to love these plodding middle years, too. I love the way I’ve evolved; once a fearful, quirky teenager who knew she didn’t want children, and now a mid-life woman, quirky still, whose days are saturated with mothering, and it’s nothing like I imagined. Things so rarely are.

I love the patience and tenacity you’ve modeled for me, helping me grow my own. Also, Life, I am so grateful for the way you’ve pointed quietly to the journal, the keypad, over and over again without lecturing, allowing me to find my Poet’s voice again. I respect the way you just know we are going through the landscapes we must, with the company we need, at the times we should.

I will never abandon you, dear Life. I know we are in this together, for we are nothing without each other. And here I am , down on my sometimes achy knee, asking you for your hand. Here I am, promising, promising to make all kinds of love to you, with my whole self. Here I am promising to be true to you, which means being true to me, for all the days we may be gifted in this flesh, this venue.

Let’s be what you’ve always known we could be—a helper, a blessing, a teacher….and do what you’ve always known we can do—make poems, and art, and stories, and keep guiding a special young woman towards her own life, which will someday be untangled from mine. Let’s take the raw, rough dough we are offered and throw in yeast and punch it down and let it rise, punch it down again and trust it will rise, be transformed by the heat of all the fires and become something that will nurture, and nourish, and sustain.

Happy Birthday to us.

 

–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

Questions, Questions, Everywhere

 

When Bink was young, I didn’t know if she’d ever be able to ask questions. She had words at age three and four, five and six, but not in a conversational way. She didn’t point at things. Figuring out what she needed or wanted involved some combination of detective work, intuition, and guessing, the way it is with new babies. Could she be hungry? Well, it had been a while since her last snack. Did she need to be changed, or was she about to need that? ( She was very late to the toilet club compared to…well, mostly everyone). Did she want that toy she seemed to be eyeing, or could it be that her eyes were fixed instead on the fluttering leaves visible from the near window?

I got better at reading her actions and reactions. Her vocabulary began to grow. Still, no questions, no gesturing. I’d carry her to the various rooms in our home, finding assorted objects and pointing them out and saying their names over and over. When she got too heavy to carry, I’d toddle around with her and do the same thing. After awhile, I began to add the beginnings of a question. I’d point at something, try to get her eyes to follow my finger, and then say,” Wh, Wh, What. What is it? It’s a ….light! Wh, wh, what. What is the sound? It’s a …..doorbell! In front of the mirror it was Wh, Wh, Who. Who is it? It’s….Bink!”

Like many aspects of autism, the gaps in typical development were frustrating, and also fascinating. Bink’s inability to inquire about the world around her created an odd, passive dependency. I could never be sure what or how much she was taking in from anyone’s efforts to talk to her, or from overheard conversations, TV shows, or picture books. Weeks, months, even years later, I’d hear her repeat phrases or snippets of old conversation that told me she was absorbing more than most people thought she was. She didn’t observe others, but she did seem to be able to associate what people said with what they might do, sometimes. She and I developed an ability to communicate using pictures, gestures, and songs. I was her interpreter, filling in the gaps when kids and adults tried to communicate with her in the ways they knew. “ I think she wants….”, I’d say to them. “ Bink, Susie wants to sit close to you and play.”, I’d explain to her, while demonstrating this with my own body and a nearby toy.

I don’t remember exactly when she began to form the W’s. I know it took a long time. Years. The questions, when they came, were repetitive. Often, they still are. In fact, is not unusual for Bink to ask the same question during phases that last months, over many years, and multiple times a day. But I’m getting ahead of myself, as I often do.

Bink’s delivery gradually expanded from vocalizations directed at nobody in particular, to words sometimes uttered in the general direction of a person. Years later, there were more words, scrawled on a napkin that she’d leave on the table where, perhaps, someone might find it and be able to decipher it. Later still, there were typed lists. Many of her questions, now, involve why someone said a certain thing to her (or did something in her presence). It can be a challenge to explain why a certain teacher said a particular sentence on that second June Tuesday in 2003, or why her now deceased grandfather played a certain game with her when she was two years old that she didn’t like. The notion that he may not have realized she didn’t like the game is foreign to her. Doesn’t everyone just know what is happening in her head? Do others have different thoughts, feelings and preferences than she does? These concepts can be pretty advanced to those on the autism spectrum.

These days, Bink is a veritable fountain of questions, mostly about her past, and most of them are directed at me. “ I don’t know”, or “ I wasn’t there” is not a satisfying answer for her. I know she uses the answers as a learning tool, and so “ I wasn’t there, but I can guess” is my default intro to an answer that I hope will help her understand.

In a recent post, I shared some of the rituals and routines that punctuate life with Bink. Her Friday questions list is one of them. She types up a list of ten questions, titles it according to what is in her head, and I answer them as I think the named person or thing would answer them. It sounds convoluted when I try to explain, but this is part of the rhythm of our lives at home now.

If something is troubling her about why a certain instrument sound happened on a particular song on a specific CD, there may well be a list of ten questions for me to answer the way I think the song on the CD would answer them. Her Occupational Therapist, the one she loved and knew in 1997, used Jello animals during sessions. Bink has probably asked me about this two hundred times. Why did that OT use those animals and no other OT did? No iteration of my answers has satisfied her curiosity. There have been many lists of questions for Tina, the beloved OT who died long ago, typed out for me to answer them the way I think she would answer them. Maybe someday Bink will be able to accept an explanation that you or I would find eminently reasonable, and then she’ll close this particular file in her head. Until then, the questions will continue, asked and answered slightly differently.

I admit that the questions list is often a challenge for me, and something to fit in between all the other things that demand my attention. Yet, I remember myself as Bink’s  young mother,  twenty years ago. I imagine she and I, meeting today for tea. “ What do you mean, too many questions?,” she might sputter, eyes wide for emphasis. ” Do you know what I would give to have my little Bink ask a single one of them?”

I’d have to be humbled, and tell her she’s right. I used to just hope and pray for that which sometimes overwhelms me now. I know Bink’s questions are a banner of progress, and a reminder that she is always learning and growing.

Indeed, if my young mother-self were sitting with me now, I’d reach across the table and take her smooth hands in my older, weathered ones.  “ Keep the faith,” I’d whisper. “ She’s going to surprise you and delight you and make you very, very proud.”

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

NAMED

Someone asked me

 

What is your name?
To name is to make known,
to specify, enliven, color in,
to make dimensional.

My surname: Verdant. Given name, Green and Round.
Given by me, to me. Green Round Verdant.
Or is that what I long to be?

My name is often She. She plus Who.
She Who Sings, She Who Creates, She Who Loves.

Define me, please, by what I love,
If you must define at all.

Being Gemini feels like
a delicious excuse to be myriad things,
many Shes, and so I introduce
She Who Flowers
She Who Avoids
She Who Storms.
She Who? She Who Knows
She Who Knows Much
She Who Knows Much about Little.

My name is Skin, warm and well-used,
mapped with roads of veins. Rivers of stretch
mark the spots where I expanded
to include more than I ever
thought I could, maybe
more than I should, so perhaps,
this She is named Adaptable.

Almost Crone.
That, too, is mine to claim.
She Who Softens into Aging, She
Who Welcomes the Amorphous Opening Nature of It.

That last one should be illegal, far too long.

Hungry. My name is Hungry for What?
Am I Too Hungry? My name is
Tell Me The Shapes of Your Hungers.

Yesterday my name was Tight.
Not Good Enough.
Not Enough. Never Enough.
My name was I Have Nothing Worth Saying.
May I Please. How May I Please?
May I Please, Please.

Towards tomorrow my name is Santosha,
short for
May I Be Content.
May I Be.
Content.

 

–Melinda Coppola

Many Singularities

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Hawking,
having passed away
a full fifty one years
post predicted demise,

has left us trails,
breadcrumbs.
Not random,
because nothing is
haphazard as it seems.

Rather they are beaded,
strung together
on some
holographic ribbon
run through holes
patterned in multiverses
of black velvet,

and I’m already poeming
a proposal
that each patient,
upon a presumed life
shortening diagnosis,

be presented with
Stephen’s curriculum vitae
and
for good measure,
a collection of verse­­,
(the non-rhyming kind),

to further impeach
the arrogance
that moves mere mortals
to issue proclamations
of allotted time,

as if anyone could ensconce
one star from its constellation,
give it nothing to reflect
back or upon,
and foretell its singular light
in years.

Stephen, leaving breadcrumbs,
round clues to square
the life he left behind—
two wives, three children,
a dozen maps with two sided arrows
pointing to where
we came from, where
we might go,
a dummies guide to
how to flourish
despite, or with, or even because of,

also left a hundred doors
open to the curious among us,
which should mean everyone,

and he gave language
to the way an atheist sparks
a deeper appreciation of God.

It’s all in how you label it;
accident, plan,
gift, curse

it’s all up for grabs in a universe
where everything is sacred
or nothing is.

Melinda Coppola

What is the definition of a poet? I think we are interpreters of everyday sights and sounds and interactions, enabling more people to experience the sheer miracles that surround us and live within us. Stephen Hawking grasped things most could never comprehend, yet his named theories and observations captivated millions. He was a brilliant physicist, yet also a poet in his own way.