another marathon behind me

For the fourth year – the last three, consecutive – I have enjoyed the challenge of writing 12 poems in 12 hours. I was surprisingly relaxed this time around, even to the point of considering pushing myself to do the full 24. But my new puppy had other ideas about my availability. So in addition to providing her own prompt, she has challenged me/us to be ready to tackle the longer marathon by next year. In addition to offering a wide variety of prompts (and this year, each hour’s prompt included at least two options – one verbal, the other visual – which I sometimes combined in my response), the marathon offers an immediate community of like-minded poets writing, reading, commenting on and most of all, encouraging one another on a private Facebook page during the process and in the days following. It is in the days following that the reading/feedback starts in earnest. Some connections made during this intense period of time continue over the months until the next year’s marathon. Others exist in the bubble of this single week in June. Some are utterly transient, the chance comment seen or responded to when someone is hurting, frustrated, jubilant.

No matter what, the challenge leaves participants with 12 -24 new writings to ponder, revise, scrap, repurpose. It’s all good. Raw material, yes. But more, it awakens something inside. In particular, after this pandemic year of isolation and inner-dependency, those 12 hours opened up possibility and connection. I was reminded of how much shared interest and curiosity there is in the international writing world. At some point I’ll get the statistics – how many participated from how many countries. For now, I am basking in the microcosm of lives shared on my tiny computer screen, spanning the globe, time zones, ages and every/anything else you can name. We shared favorite snacks, music selections, memes, tears, side stories, background stories, what was working and what was not, photos of our space or view or first draft … All of this, plus all the original poetry. No matter what, the challenge leaves participants with a lot more than they started with.

Huge gratitude to the annual organizers, Jacob Jans and Caitlin Jans, for their tireless devotion to furthering creativity around the world, And for their transparency in sharing their own limitations, enlisting the support of others to continue this fine tradition of poem-making and sharing.

spring birdsong

Spring Birdsong

I have been seeking words
for birdsong pouring full-throttled
from small feathered throats
pulsating strands of layered tone
neither drifting nor wafting
but tumbling, lifting, braiding
rhythmic clarity that spring
is not arriving but here
anticipating
unencumbered walks
into coatless sun.

Emerged from winter’s dark
over-long cold, I unwrap the fur pelt,
stretch heart to warming sun grateful
for the open sky of birdsong returning
after long silence, rising free
on nature’s urgent rhythms.

swb

in memoriam

For a dozen years, she walked, ran, leapt by my side, her constant vigilance a comfort, source of joy and inspiration. Last Monday afternoon, my beloved dog slipped quickly away, leaving one more gap in a life with ever more departures. But she well knew how to bridge each chasm. Her gifts were many, her demands few. I carry her arcing leaps across the neighbor field as I walk; her frenzied plunges into pools after ball or stick; her soulful eyes that held mine as long as I asked in our daily pre-food ritual of ‘Loki, look!’ In those moments, we were one intention, one spirit. She is missed and yet present in every aspect of my life. I am truly blessed.

Evensong
for Loki 7/13/08 – 3/29/21

No moonrise tonight
in the dark starry sky.

No great orange orb
peering over the rim
of the bay like dawn’s

eager brown eyes rising
at bed’s edge bearing
bright morning cheer.

***

Last night I lit the fire
not against cold but to feel
us curled snug together.

Today, against your disinterest
I offered my hand with some kibble.
You carefully lifted each

one crunchy morsel
at a time as to savor
every last bite.

***

Not three days since we walked
both beach and meadow
of a dozen years’ rambles.

And holding you now
I cradle your soft length,
hands stroking your chest,

drawing your velvet ears
through and through my fingers
again, once more, again.

***

Had I known that night –
this morning – would be your last,
I would have done the same.

In lieu of goodbye, let me honor
and bless all the years of you –
steadfast devotion

not even this darkness
can obscure.

swb

mask

Yellow crocus  in snow

Today’s WP Daily Prompt challenges me to think of the concept of ‘mask’. To me, the usual interpretation of wearing a mask entails intentionally hiding something. Keeping a cheerful countenance, for instance, to hide despair. Or appearing grim so as to hide the unbearable joy about to explode that might, in so doing, undo an important business transaction. Of course there’s also using tape to protect an area from the paint to be applied beyond it, so that you can create a crisp clean interface between the two.

But what if wearing a mask in fact works toward the reason for wearing it? Something more along the lines of ‘fake it until you make it.’ Wherein the mask itself becomes a helpful tool moving you toward the desired state. If you smile even when feeling down, you tend to elicit smiles from others. This, in turn, makes you want to smile more in response. Until, before you know it, smiling has become second-nature and a gift to all involved.

Yesterday’s surprise heavy snow — well, not all that surprising for late April in northern Vermont — masked the myriad green shoots pushing up from cold ground. Some of them I recall planting last fall. Others seem welcome interlopers. None seemed to welcome the snow that bent their just-opening faces as they sought the anticipated sun. Yet, they poked up even through the density of the surprise snow. And today it melts (as is the wont of late-season white). Those blossoms continue to exude sunny joy despite unseasonably low temperatures.

I appreciate their tenacity, their telling of the fact that winter WILL end, and soon. They testify and reassure that seasons still turn, though in oddly shifting and unpredictable patterns. Their perseverance gives me both hope and gratitude for what can emerge because — and even in spite — of masks.

breathing deep

Quote

credit- andriehvitimus

credit- andriehvitimus

“If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”  —Andrew Weil

“Shallow breathing is a reaction to the unyielding stress of modern life—and is itself a cause of further stress, which leads to more shallow breathing. To stop this downward spiral of shallow breathing and stress—even in the midst of the daily mayhem—I can take three or four deep breaths and enter an upward spiral of deep breathing and calm… All I need to do is gently, without strain, fill up the space of my belly, and then slowly and tenderly breathe out.

I take a first belly breath—breathing slowly and deeply, expanding my stomach as I breathe in—and I focus on centering, on being present in the here and now. I take a second deep belly breath, and while doing so focus on my purpose—whether for that day or for my life as a whole. The third deep breath is dedicated to something for which I’m grateful—thinking about a family member, a meeting I had or am about to have, or anything else.

The physiological impact of deep breathing, coupled with the cognitive component of focusing on something positive, provides a powerful technique that can change the way you feel. The technique is particularly effective in bringing about calm and joy if you do it a few times a day.”

Excerpt from Choose the Life You Want: The Mindful Way to Happiness , copyright © Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, 2014. See more.