looking in from outside

woman waving behind glass

credit – superstock

Weekly, I write inside Vermont’s women’s prison with a group of 12 – 15 women. They are ‘inside.’ I can go ‘out.’ How does this feel?

After four years of this work, I have built trust and several strong relationships with many who are ‘inside’ for a long time. No longer do they eye me with the distrust of a gawker come to stare at them as if they were a rare species of bird or worse – a criminal with no name, no life, no story.

Of the many, MANY stories I could tell, one inside/outside moment remains seared in my heart even years after the event.

One Thursday evening as I was heading home late, I looked through the glass while waiting for the officer to hand me my keys. One of ‘my’ writers stood beyond. She doesn’t write with us anymore – English is tough for her and she’s severely depressed. But our eyes connected. I put my hand to my heart, nodded and smiled to her. And SHE crossed both arms over HER chest, held my gaze with palpable tenderness. Oh, the compassion that can pass through time, space, even glass prison walls – not to mention the enormous divide between us in terms of where we are in our lives . . .

Thanks to WordPress Daily Prompt: the experience of being outside looking in.

seeking hope


Credit: earthobservatory.nasa.org

I walked seeking hope
across stream and gully
through stumps and rubble,
my feet cresting a hill they knew
as path to my grove of yellow birch
bent now to the weight of felled hemlock,
no dappled shadows dancing visions
of peace and solitude

saplings exposed by canopy emptied
of venerable sentries to a world
of hidden paths, where years gone by
a blink ago my young wandered
through brambles buried now
with piled debris from saw blades trained
on diameters.

Seeking to make familiar
the rise underfoot, lost landmark
like myself, I continued
breathing deep
chancing the new
uncovered way
to guide me



from summer 2012 retreat

Tomorrow morning, a new writing circle starts. We will be a full group in our dedicated writing studio; a group of women writing together in a new combination, as it is new each season. Words recycled into new meanings, gathering us to their heart as we gather one another to ours.

As each season starts with a new group – even though every woman in the circle has been there before, never in this configuration, at this time, in this place – it seems an initiation. There is something about that first meeting . . .

Your initial impression of this group may
be uncomfortable – what with the candle and all.
a few weeks in, you’ll be holding
conversations with it. As in, ‘hello, candle
how ya doin’ today?’ This happens
because the candle has become more
than just familiar. It’s become a friend,
a part of routine initiating every circle
we hold together, a way to slow down,
transition from the rest of our lives and move
into our circle space, together.

Why a candle? Other than the obvious —
it gives us something to look at, focus on –
it represents inspiration, the creative fire; speaks
to some of us of silence, reverence, both
of which are ways we choose to open
and conduct our circle.

This signals a kind of personal
initiation as well – an entry into this sacred
circle of evolving women devoted
to telling their stories and exploring their lives
through writing and speaking their words.

Here we create a new community,
one composed of writing hands and listening ears,
of curious minds and open hearts. We share
our stories – sad, tender, funny, outrageous; we
encourage one another onward with our writing;
we let our words spread out into the broader world
so that others may in turn be inspired, perhaps even
initiated, into the sacred circle
of fire and trust.

i love this world, but not for its answers*

I love this world but not
for its answers. I love it
for its unbounded possibility, its
open-hearted vistas and ocean expanse, its bordered meetings
of rock and plant, the unexpected ways a sunset can dip and grace
an otherwise dull day; for
the surprise of sweet narcissus
emerging from late snow; hope
and optimism of cycles, turning,
predictability and surprise
of trust, not knowing
and faith.

I love this world, not for its answers
but questions that lead us forward
and in, that lead us to learn from
earth and star, the unique and cosmic;
to practice seeing gratitude grow into truth –
right relationship with all life.

I love this world for being alive.
For its challenge, comfort,
its steadfast presence.
Though it holds horrors
that never should have been borne,
that can drag us down, distort
and destroy; though it does
not always answer – yet
its inherent good lives.
And for this, fI love this world.

*with thanks to Mary Oliver, ‘Snowy Night’; an in-class fast-write from a girls’ circle that feels like a natural follow-on to Friday’s post.

youth revis(it)ed

To mark the start of our fourth annual girls’ Writing Camp for (a) Change! tomorrow, I looked back over writings created and shared with previous girls’ circles.  I dedicate the following to transitions from childhood through adolescence and on to adulthood. Each at our own pace; each in our own way.

I am indeed honored to hold these young women’s words in trust; and trust that they in turn will move outward into the world with the clarity of purpose they bring to our groups with unparalleled grace, confidence and wisdom.

The following fast-write was written within a spring class of young teen women in response to our opening poem:

I remember that trembling
timorous tremor
of uncertain confusion,

the dire dysfunction
of too old for my age
yet knowing no better.

I recall the aimless
striving to get it right, be good,
enough, the ambiguous

awkward amblings
into unknown
traps tripping, trying

slipping, sliding, shrilling
to none who heard the silence
of scared, scarred,

losing and lost, left
and aloof.
I recall all that

through a shimmer of time,
an unbroken trail of trial,
distrust, so many distracted deeds

without derring-do, just trying
to manage, make it through.
Today all this comes back around

as I circle with young women,
their wide-eyed dreams
shimmering them onward

unbroken unbridled, unbeholden
to the shrieking sorrows of before
unbirthed yet blooming free.