Little Big Thing

“Stay in awe of life. The little things are the big things. “ ― Richie Norton

“I’m cold.” Bink had just gotten up, a good hour later than she used to get up on any given pre-Covid Monday.

My eyes scanned her body, noting the hybrid pajamas I’d hastily grabbed for her to put on after her bath the evening before. The top, a pale pink waffle weave that had seen better days, was from a winter set. The sleeves had been cut shorter so they wouldn’t get wet when she washed her hands. She was sporting knee length summer-ish bottoms, made of a lighter weight fabric in a brighter shade of pink. They, too, were once part of a matched ensemble. Sets of things don’t stay together for long in our house. Her feet were bare.

“Hmmm,” I said. “You could put on a sweatshirt, and maybe some socks.”

Individuals with autism can have great difficulty with body awareness, which includes processing sensations and emotions. It’s only in the past few years that Bink has been able to identify a recent feeling or experience, and relay it to me within a few moments or even a few days. This happens sporadically, and I don’t take it for granted. Someday she won’t have me to instinctively understand her and help interpret her actions for a world that can’t. Though she will never live alone, and will always need help, any gains she can make in the self-care department will contribute to her comfort.

She trundled off towards her room, and a few minutes later I heard her addressing me as if I was right there with her. I sighed, feeling the familiar words rising in my throat. You need to come to where I am if you want me to hear you. I would have had to yell them down the hall, though, so I stuffed them back down into the room inside of me where I store frequently used sentences and expressions.

When I entered her bedroom, which is pink on pink and accented with more pink, she was standing in front of the closet looking in. “Mommy I don’t see the sweatshirt.” I instantly understood that she was looking for a hooded, full- zip sweatshirt. After all, that’s the kind we’d both been wearing recently on our walks outside. Let’s wear sweatshirts, I’ve been saying, as much to myself as to Bink or Superguy, as we get ready for our strolls and our hikes.

I pointed to one of her many pink crewneck sweatshirts that she’s been wearing all winter and most of this cool spring. “These are also sweatshirts,” I said, knowing she knew this, too, in some currently inaccessible part of her brain.

We moved through our morning rituals, which go something like this:

Bink texts me a question. A typical question might be Why did ______________ (insert the name of a teacher she had back in, oh, 2001) say such-and such (she’ll repeat the words that were said to her, verbatim) in a block voice on a tears boy Friday? I create my best guess answer for that day and video it back to her. If she likes my answer, my tone of voice, or the image that goes along with the video, she’ll save it and watch it over and over. The questions can be quite repetitive, and my answers may be as well. When this is addressed, she’ll say, “I’m just trying to understand it.”

Next, she texts me a short statement, something like Mommy has pinkalicious hair. She’ll await my brief, verbal response—Yes I do! Or thank you.

She scrawls in her Dream Journal after that, and asks me to read it aloud. These entries might be just a short sentence or two, or they might be a few pages long. At times, they read like recalled dreams might, with odd events like swimming in dream halls or being told she must have a bowl of beads without holes for breakfast. More often, they seem to be just thoughts, usually of the song reference type that frequent her brain in awake hours. “The man sounded like Al Simmons and John Langstaff on Johnny’s Fiddle.”

Welcome to the magical mind of my daughter.

On this particular Monday, we’d gone through our morning triad. Typically (pre-Covid) she’d begin obsessing about some detail of her upcoming day or week that she was worried about, but in these long weeks of Shutdown when all her typical activities are cancelled, she mostly fixates on The Plan. Lunch, treat, where we will walk or hike, and dinner options. Instead, she said,” I was cold in the night.”

Fabulous. Another example of her blossoming ability to identify an experience she has and convey it in a way that others can understand, in a matter of hours or days as opposed to years! I took a good long moment to savor this, then turned to her and asked, ever so gently, “Hmmm. What can we do when we feel cold?”

Bink can tell you what day of the week your birthday will fall on in 2024. She can spot triplicate numbers on the license plate of a car that speeds by so fast I barely notice the color. She can recall the exact words and tone of voice used by anyone who’s ever scolded her, and can likely remember the day, month and year it happened, too.

The integration of other concepts that seem so basic to many of us, like knowing when to don and doff another layer of clothing or a second blanket, is much more challenging for her. The first step—identifying the discomfort— seems to be happening more often for Bink. Little victories like these seem even sweeter during this period of shutdown, with more time to notice them.

Time, Place, Classroom

WHEN

The world gets so noisy. Too many voices
straining, pushing past their natural limits to be heard. Our small ears can’t discern provenance or factuality. Reactions quicken, turning knee-jerk, protective.

WHERE

There is the place where trees thicken into extended families, root systems entwined beneath the earth. Look for the leafy canopy that forms an arch. You’ll know it when you arrive. There are plenty of seats to be had, and no prior coursework is required.

WHEN

Class begins just after the tree frogs cease their urgent croaking. If you prefer to tell time mechanically, it’s around 3am. The instructor will sweep in on a dark, cool breeze. Plan to sit awhile. Class ends at chorus call, when the winged ones stir and lift their beaks to sing the dawn into being.

WHAT

The velvet hour, the lull between cacophonies. Your professor is the apparent silence. You’ll be asked to get very still. Open all your senses, and train them towards the slightest movement or sound or scent. Your assignment: to glean the evidence of life happening all around you. It is in the soil beneath and the trees above. It’s in the air that hangs or wafts or hurries by. It hums steadily in the space you thought was filled with quiet.

Listening is sacred. Listening is a practice.

Listening is a sacred practice.

I marvel at the way it is possible to hear what we already know in someone’s else’s words, when we get quiet enough for long enough. When that happens, things can suddenly sound new and full of meaning and promise, and this is what we do for each other, when we show up and open our ears and hearts, the ears of our hearts. When we
press ourselves into the present exactly as we are, wounds and all, open to a new way of being and seeing.

Consider the way we can make a gift of our listening when we give our earnest attention to others, especially those whose lives are quite unlike our own. By truly receiving their words, we can be a mirror through which they can see their own humanity and beauty reflected. We can give each other new vision and energy and this, too, is what we’re here for, to show each other, again and again, what might be possible.

Listening is a sacred practice.

–Melinda Coppola

.

When all this is over…

WHEN THIS IS OVER

Bring bread,
chewy and warm,
wrapped in that red
checkered tablecloth
that always sings
picnic,

which is short for
happy family,
easy friendships,
peace and plenty
in our town
state
country
planet.

We never went on one,
a picnic,
not once in all our
together years

even though we had that red
checkered cloth,
and enough love
and hope
and time.

Bring bread, baby,
while we can still bake
and chew,
while we can still be
alive together,

while earth still
hosts the wheat, the rye,
the farmer, so trusting,
sowing seeds.

–Melinda Coppola

Prospecting for Grace

Praise

The faithful sun,
generously stirring
energies of Earth
and atmosphere,
coaxing every green thing
towards the rising
song of spring.

Parents
walking with their children
outside, smiling
and laughing, nodding
at neighbors
out washing their cars.

Quieted streets
yielding their usual
ruthless noise
to melodious birdsong,
squirrels rustling in the brush,
the wind whistling
in the still bare branches.

Moon, conducting
the rise and fall
of seas everywhere,
the call and response,
organic and lyrical,
in all bodies of water,
even ours.

Every incremental sign
that goodness and hope
are alive and well,
seeding us with patience
through this reckoning time—

There I’ll set my gaze,
invite my pen to praise
all that.
Praise all that.

–Melinda Coppola

Communicable


PROPAGATION

I’ve taken to humming
in the produce section
while caressing the plums,
sneaking sniffs
of the cilantro,
eyeing the lemons,
audacious in their yellowry.

It’s a low, soothing thing,
the thrum of air
over vocal chords,
nearly a buzz,

and I am almost
a bumblebee,
hovering over color,
circling the end caps

as I admire
the mottled plantains,
the papery shallots
with their secret,
chambered cloves.

Outside the store
there are doomsayers
on every sharp corner,
the shattered remains
of a national normalcy
cutting feet,
drawing blood,
speculation,
and despair.

Even the sunlight
serves only to magnify
the sparkle of
all that broken glass.

The lines in the parking lot
seem repainted every night,
with more space
between the spaces,
to keep the usses
from door-dinging
the thems,

but inside
the flamboyant vegetables
nestle up to their neighbors,
fragrant fruits
and bags of nuts
coexisting,

and there I’ll go
humming and hovering,
covertly cross pollinating,
to propagate
a kinder world.

–Melinda Coppola

Harmonious Discord

This morning I walked early,
mismatched garments
layered to repel a cold, spitting rain.

I’d pushed his baseball cap
down hard
over the knitted ear band
I bought to share
with her, which she
most emphatically rejected
for not being soft enough,
or pink.

Featherweight Bean jacket—
the one that lifts me to frequent
if silent praise
for its tireless rebuff
of even the most bitter winds—
warmed me companionably,
its soft arms moving along with mine.

This walking time—
tucked carefully into the space
between my early rising
and her wake up song,
before the gentle time to get up
directive I save for him—
has become sacred
in my other-centered life.

Rounding the first corner
of the favored route,
I looked down
and had to laugh
at mismatched gloves,
one pink and hers,
one turquoise, mine
by default,

and the shoes, laced oddly,
partially, with big gaps
between eyelets three and six

to nurture the well worn feet
whose dorsal surfaces
are temperamental, and
wavy as the sea.

The thought
and the smile
bubbled up together:
I am a walking exhibition
of my pieced together life.

This quilt of a family:
The daughter
with all her needs hanging out,
her talents slowly
coming to light
in explosions of art
and word
and song.

The man who adapted
to both of us,
stepping in, a little
closer every year,
to father her.

The felines,
who sleep tirelessly,
rising long enough
to eat and coat us
with their fur
of many colors.

Middle aging me,
holding it all together,
multi-hued patches of love,
bits of colorful string,
a plush batting of hope.

An ode
to harmonious discord
is not such a bad thing to be,

Said I to self
out walking.

–Melinda Coppola

BEGIN AGAIN


BEGIN AGAIN

“Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Begin again is the dry brush dipped into water. The soft tip touching dark blue, then medium green. The hand holds it steady over the welcoming canvas for a moment, then escorts it down to the wide, white surface.

She knows this first brush is delighted to be employed in this way. She is certain that each tool and supply she will be guided towards will co-create the picture that wants to bless the canvas with form and color.
—————————————————————

Begin again is the woman opening her purple 2020 calendar book with excitement. She is looking at the weekdays, the squares and numbers and day names that make up those blocks of time. She does the math, deducts the hours she will spend giving care, the appointments and commitments she has already made. She subtracts an approximation of the many miles of driving she will do, transferring loved bodies from place to place. What is left? What is possible? She begins to block out the writing time. Four minimum hours a week, six even better.

Whispers of worry float into her mind and cloud her vision. The scribbles already residing in the blocks on her calendar pages seem to expand as she gazes down at them. Will she be able to keep sacred those chunks of time she will set aside? Will she stay focused, or will she allow everyone else’s needs to usurp that free-ish time?

Those are the old patterns, she tells herself. In 2020, she must allow the writing to become one of the priorities. Set the minimum hours and let the pen form the word WORK in the possible spaces her calendar provides. Honor the time for writing as she would her other must-dos. The books inside her need to gestate and be born.
—————————————————————
Begin again is pink and lavender, with streaks of pleasing gray. Begin again is sweet and just a little spicy. It feels good in the mouth. Begin again wants to marry All is Well and settle happily inside her chest.

–Melinda Coppola

FISHING

Perched on the frost hardened bank
of the wide, cold river,
eyes intent on the rushing water,
dark and high,

I notice the greenish
brown river grasses,
rooted hopefully in their muddy beds,
in a permanent lean
as the current pulls them forward,

and my eyes train between the reeds,
strain towards that bottom
where I might glimpse gray,
or mottled brown,
perhaps a shape
unlike rock or branch,
something undeniably fish.

It’s late,
and wearily, determined,
I step into the freshet,
tossing pail and net aside,
boots sinking into the thick
organic carpet
lining the raging stream.

Now bent-kneed, hunched,
all my senses joining
with the forceful rush of water,
I feel things pressing, jostling,
knocking on my rubber clad calves,

and I’m shivering, such a
cold day for fall, wondering
if I’m delirious or
if perhaps the catfish,
the crappies,
the brown river trout
have finally
come to call,
and

are they taunting,
or urging me to name them,
call them forth,
lift them from the frenetic fray
into the bright relief
of their afterlife?

I plunge my hands
into the frigid waters,
grabbing at any shape
I think I see,
pulling out stones loosened
by the swollen rush,
and hunks of half-composed leaves
still attached to their rotting branch,
and,

gloves now soaked,
I am tossing handfuls
of dubious treasure
up onto the hard earth

when,
hands numbing
from the icy wet,
my eyes go to an odd form
amid the shiny tangle
of cast off debris
trembling on the bank.

It’s a little crayfish
on his back, caught in the clog
of dirt and stone,
tail flipping uselessly
towards the white underbelly,
claws open,
the bright sun
turning tiny, stunned eyes
to shiny marbles
and

my purpose becomes tenderness,
compassionate curiosity
as I reach my wet gloved hands
under his small dark back,
scoop him from the tangle,
and right him
to meet the earth.

He pauses, stance wide,
lifts his impressive little claws
up and out
as if to say
come no closer,

and then he’s off, eyes
still fast on my foreign face,
tail flipping to scoot him
backwards into the river.

Peeling off those soggy gloves,
warming my freed and icy hands
with steamy exhalations,
I sense the little crustacean
returned to his wild waters,
watching from the depths,

and I want to
imagine him grateful
for the wake up call,
full of new appreciation
for his river, his claws,
his small, powerful tail.

I suppose I’m projecting,
because that’s what we
humans do,
dripping our fears and
hypotheses all over
the plants and animals
around us,

pulling poems from their hunt,
their flower,
stories from their mating rituals,
always seeking ourselves
in their purposeful, focused lives.

I am sated, spent, complete,
gathering my empty pail,
my soaking gloves,
heading for home.

–Melinda Coppola

My Bread and Butter

Hello, dear blog. Hello, faithful tribe of readers. My neglect this past month stems not from writers block, but from posting block. Yes, it’s a thing, one which might even merit capitalization. Posting Block.

I have spent mornings and nights in awe of the earth’s revolutions, the comings and goings of light and darkness. I’ve slipped outside my own skin and watched my ego, heart and soul dance around each other. Occasionally, one or the other of them has pulled a sword and declared battle.

I have written. I have made rough essays, and poems, and heavy, sticky globs of freeform observation and emotion. I have edited—just a little—for the book I am growing. I’ve tended to those in my innermost circles, human and feline. I have paid greater heed to the beings without form, whose presence I feel more frequently as time rolls on. I’ve shared some of those proceeds in my writing groups, yet I’ve not posted any of it here.

The year is nearly gone. In honor of the humble post, a more regular practice of which will help my first book come to form, I offer you this. You could say it’s a synopsis of what I learned in 2019.

Breaded

I have been the dough.

Amorphous, rising,
almost gladdened
by the beating down,
knowing I’d rise,
and rise again,

alternately loving
and resisting
the ways this life
has baked me.

Nearing sixty
I am toughening,
flatbread
bordering on plain,
dry cracker.

In truth
I long to be butter
melting into gold,
adorning the delicious,
softening the stale.

I want to be room
temperature slippery
salted sun, sliding
with and into—
not against—
the grain.

I want to please
the palates
of all the gods;
not just my human
beloveds,
but Stillness
and Poetry,

not just
Money
and Mothering
but Quirk
and Solace,

not just Editors
but Sleep,
and Dream
and Desire.

Imagine the Harvest

Mercy

What if we had drills,
not just for disasters, fires
and hurricanes, not just
for active school shooters
and any possible terrorisms
both foreign and domestic,

what if we had rigorous
training in kindnesses:
how to recognize them incoming,
start a volley with the perpetrators.

Imagine preparations
for frequent barrages
of mutual respect,
muscle building
and visual exercises
to increase aim with
arrows of understanding,
rehearsals in how to see
oneself
in another,

and, at last,
commonwealths of decency
brigades of beneficence,
great infantries of amity,

drilling to hone skills
of making, and giving,
and keeping,
peace?

–Melinda Coppola