3:00 AM

For an explanation this poem was written years ago when I was on a medical leave from my work in hospice. Things turned out much better with me than anyone thought they would but I keep this poem because it reminds me of a woman I knew as colleague, co-survivor group member and then finally patient. She is one of the proofs that we don’t get what we deserve, we just get what we get. She was braver, better, stronger than I and had a lifetime of better habits;  I am merely very blessed and  still obviously breathing. 

 

3:00 AM

If I was still working there now,
I would be opening my last unopened chart
the one whose evening was noted in a dozen
red ink
one liners on the outlined nights report
and my eyes would struggle with the strong desire to close.
as I record the symptoms
and the remedies
Medicines results not real until a pen has set them onto paper.

But the work I do tonight is another kind of labour and so my eyes
fill wet and spill out the over flow of erupting magma darkness
my mind instead of cotton
fills with syrup sad and anger sweet
and fears
and tears are the
red lines that will vomit into other black charting

map of this uncharted place
a record on cyber journal page so I can digest
expose and maybe post
the darkest part of dawn
I sit and taste the almost moonless night
so once again life can turn into the light.

I am home here now at 3 AM,
my other home,
not the one you find centered on the pile of unpaid bills
but the couch where I have weathered a decade of my tears and fears
while the friend who stood beside me through it all
the marriages and lovers and not quite one night stands
and those others who I wisely did or did not give my heart;

upstairs with husband sleeps.

I wander her halls
up to the bathroom,
back into bed
one drink of water
and then two
fighting the inevitable fall into my heart
from the safety of my head.
another drink of water
an email check
as inevitable as toddlers sleep
the feelings come
and I curl in the safety of someone else’s couch
and weep;
clutching yet another toy
the child inside will bring alive
deep beneath my smile and laugh I dive.
but first just one more drink….
another bathroom trip.

In this place thats more than place

in this time thats more than time

Fear is first to walk along the path with me
She brings her sisters Loss and Greed
And hand in hand with little Ego they all stroll
All rhymy, mythlike skipping rythm droll
past the mirror

the mirror in the bathroom downs the knight bringing truth to bear on fancies flight

I am not six

My face wrinkled sagging grey stares back at me
no magic,
no nightlight hero staring back.
I look inside my mouth again at the thickened strawberry mark on my left cheek
will it burst out and show?

What other secrets will my next scan unmask?
Is it really just my fears and hates and selfishness
my unspent anger finding flesh,
the physics of the faithless broken child’s soul
coalescing
family legacy manifest?

It is questions, I think
That haunt me most in this post witching hour.
The Great Unknown.
Questions and a nagging ache that has no words.

I have seen eyes like this before,

“I’m not really angry,”
she said,
“Not even really sad.”
She thinks a minute
I wisely wait not filling up the space
but allowing the vacuum of the silence to suck from her things she cannot face.
“Its not like pain, your medicine took care of that.”
I notice I still hold the now empty 1 cc syringe in paper in my fingers
to soon from her first dose for chemical relief but I don’t tell her that.
The paper crinkles tighter in the other hand, the one not holding hers.
“And I’m not afraid,” she kind of chuckles and snorts and cries all in the same expellation of breath,
we both pause all function while she wipes the pieces of bodily reality from betraying flesh.
“OK, I AM afraid,” she almost yells
as if some inquisitor tore secrets from her absent breast,
“but not of dying,
of making a fool of myself,
of peeing my bed,”
her voice now just a whisper
“of all this, this ugliness.”
The room quiet except for the machine extracting oxygen from air to feed in concentrated form to her tired lungs,
the tears start a silent river flood down that pragmatic nurses face,

“of seeing my husband so, so, so sad.”
sobs turn to something stronger,
” I’m not ready to die,”
she clutches my hand even tighter
body jerking with the movement of her mind
and I think of the four tiny fingers that two hours ago clutched tight to mine as I fed them their last bottle.

“That’s OK,”
I say, moving no closer,
not moving at all
a hug the surest way to scare away that wild burst of rankled grief
that unlanced will trouble every dying breath,
“Nobody is.”
A tiny part of me wants to meet her eyes and let her see
“I know!” it screams in mousy squeeks,
“Look at me, ” it wants to say in outside voice
“I know!”
but that’s a voice for therapy
Support group meetings
dogs and bears at 3 AM.
not patients,
for underneath
blue hot in the center of her life’s flickering flame
she is a nurse as well
and would find escape in comforting me.
This is her Rubicon,
not mine
and this woman that I midwife out of this mortal life

like me has held a hundred hands
and this moment is not
can not
be
about
me.
“Nobody is ready.” I murmer back.

Are these the right words
I never know
Right or wrong
what I say really doesn’t seem to matter.
Its not about me and
Its the telling that the woman needs the most
the saying,
so what I do is sit and listen.
“I feel so bad,”
she says as the boil on her feelings burst
“I hate that its all about me all the time
I grow uglier to myself daily
and he tells me I’m beautiful,
I’m not beautiful,”

The damn inside broken she reaches out to me
and I sit on the edge of the bed
and hold her rocking back and forth
as she shakes and weeps.
“I can’t tell them,” she says,
“I can’t tell him,
but… I’m….. so……… tired” she gasps and tries to fight again,
“I love him, but I’m so tired ” confessional thorn torn from her
She doesn’t win, but storms spend themselves in time.
“It’s OK,” I murmur, “He knows you love him.
and we all get tired sometimes”
I rock her till she falls asleep
and lay her back on morphine’s pillowed lap.
The irony of phrasing is not lost on me,
I smile small as
I tuck a sheet here
adjust the light there
switch on the gentle lap of waves and native flute
and leave.

The years of weathered marriage reflecting another conversation
Her husbands sat rigid amidst the soft cushions
like he was esconced in a hardback confessional chair
It was the first night of my week
the night of his wife’s admittance.
We did not hug,
he and me,

that may or may not come later
depending on how long it takes for nature to work its final task
but I though then  “in time we will.”
That night he only looked at his hands,
“I can’t tell her,”
his voice broke as he fought for control and won, at least,
in this.
“I can’t tell her.”
He looked at me for forgiveness that he didn’t need.
“I love her so much, but I’m so tired.”
“Its Ok,” I said and touched ever so slightly his hands,
“Its OK to be tired, I can tell you love her.
We’re all tired sometimes”
He shook himself then
the emotions flying away like water off a retriever’s back
as he left his list of numbers and instructions and all business like and strong headed off to handle life’s overwhelming tasks.
I walk him to the door
both so silent,
he reaches
almost a hug;
the leaning in the most he yet could risk,
“I know you’ll take good care of her,
she’s everything to me.”

His voice a challenge, an order,
not plea,
not yet a trusting request.
He tucked a shirt tail here
Smoothed greying hair there
and left.

She cried as described

day two of that four day week

and died on my days off
that doorway the closest he and I would get
My charting said first night
“Support and education provided to spouse.”
and I checked the box “Grieving appropriate”
or however that paper I’ve filled out a hundred hundred’s time
diminishes the hurricane to pencil marks and numbers.
The second night same phrase of sorts,
“Education and support provided to patient,”
followed by my ten favorite words,
“Patient sleeping. No S/S of pain, nausea or respiratory distress”

Three AM darkness
has faded into 5 AM dawn. I will not return to work again, except perhaps myself as patient.
I take my teddy bear and hide away again the things I cannot face or say in a fetal curl.

If I was at work
I would be coming back awake with the rush of deskless shift end tasks.

But I am home
here at my friends
and dawn has come
and I know

I soon will sleep.

CC

Courage is doing it anyway..

The son of a favorite deceased author of mine was speaking this week at my favorite local bookstore “Changing Hands”. I had not expected the huge turnout and the size and closeness of the crowd outweighed my desire to stay and hear what he had to say in person, I can after all read his book and have heard him speak on NPR. So I left.

This experience directly relates to my latest triathlon challenge, facing my fear of race day.  Two things are waking me up at night from bad dreams. One is the cold water, the reality of unheated pool swimming in October superceded my expectations. I bought a “Hothead” swim cap today but otherwise just need to plow on through it. The other thing besides being cold is the sheer numbers of people I will be surrounded by during the first two phases of the race.

I have run before in a group many times, I was after all in the military. That, although challenging to my ego due to my slowness is not going to be the issue. I am struggling to reframe my feelings about the swim and the bike portions of the race. On bike and in water I already feel out of my element AND  especially in the pool I will have the smallest space to deal with the large number of other race participants.

I watch clips online  and here Triathletes talk about the crowded conditions and waves and how much water they drank  and getting kicked and all these etiquette rules about the actual race day and the frightened little girl comes out again that wants to take her book and flashlight and go hide under her covers and read about having a life instead of having one. I have faced that part of myself down in the pool and my fear of putting face in water and blowing out my air, I am facing  down my fear on the bike, as long as I am not near any cars, people or other bikes I am now OK where I used to be terrified as soon as both feet were off the ground and on the pedals. So I know this is just one more thing to face, and I know the key is practice, practice practice.

I am afraid of crowds, the older I am the more claustrophobic I get in large groups.  That being said I go back to the words of Mandela and Ghandi who both said in their autobiographies that a brave man is not one who does not feel fear, a brave man is one who acknowledges the fear and does it anyway. So I am acknowledging my fear.

I am 18 days away from my first race. I don’t feel ready. I do feel scared. However, I will show up and finish, that was my goal for this first race, to just finish.

I can do that, I can.

I guess its kind of like the ninth month of a pregnancy. I want the outcome, the completion. I’ve done the prep work, but the work to get to the reward is an unknown effort with clearly some parts that are less pleasant for me than others. I knew when I picked this goal it would be a huge challenge, that was kind of the point.

18 days to go and there is now way to get through to the finish line except to buck up and do the labor.

Swim practice with run, and then I will bike again tomorrow.

Tonight some sleep.

But I will work tonight on dreaming my success.

 

When Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth do you count his teeth?

I am coming to the realization that I have a harder time accepting the good in my life than dealing with the bad. I use gratitude lists, I work on generosity and discipline,  I even succeed at them sometimes.

I verbalize the belief that we don’t get what we deserve, we get what we get and then choose to make trash or treasures. Sometimes we get the seeds of amazing things and sometimes we get the fertilizer to make them grow. I am still better at making compost than growing vegetables and flowers.

My next project, after the triathlon, is a small plot community garden (the program comes with classes taught by an accomplished farmer to teach me what I don’t know ). Right now though, I am 20 days away form my first race.

I learned to swim in a pool provided by my son and daughter-in-law (gonna go brave its chillier waters again tomorrow and Thursday, just a few more practices left); and finally learned to ride bikes (with my sons’ help) on bikes I was given. This race wouldn’t happen without the love and support of many friends and family. My goal is to finish so I am still running 3 times a week (more walking 5K than running a mile since knee injuries but still MUch, much better than day one), swimming 2-3 times a week and new goal is to ride bike every day so I can feel comfortable with balance and turning, etc.

Still eating the proverbially whale one bite at a time..

I receive so many gifts every day, just form the “Big One”, waking up breathing, talking, and moving; to the little ones like meeting nice people in a checkout line.  My life is so amazing right now, its like I am afraid to relax into the happy, afraid that if I do, it will again get taken away from me.

When Jody and Steve first told me they were giving me a bike, I wanted deeply to refuse it. It was too much, more than I deserved I though, but I then I know I am hurt when others refused my generosity or hospitality, so I thanked them, accepted it, and it has become an integral part of my training at home.

I still hesitate and worry about  imposing on Dawn and Rick and Dallon, even as they invite, give, support and encourage as we train together for our races. I put myself in their place and shut off the fear of letting anyone help me and just say “Thank-you” and keep showing up.

Saturday I received a very unexpected gift and initially wanted to give it back. I could think of so many other people who “deserved the kindness more” . It took me 48 hours to just say thank-you and embrace the love it represents.

Clearly I still gravely need to work on ego. “I am worse than everyone else and undeserving”  is just the shadow side of  “I am better than everyone else and deserve more. ”

In truth I am extremely blessed, and will try each day to get a little better at cultivating the gifts I am given.

Thank you Universe….for all of it, the seeds and the compost materials of this week. Especially thank-you for and to the people who surround and support me with love and strength while I work on all my triathlon skills; the physical , mental and emotional for the race I’ll run in 20 days and the race my soul has been running for half a century.

Long distant parenting

(written when my son was serving overseas)

The sun has set again
and the pale small half-moon of late July
is almost down as well

The days grow imperceptably shorter even as we melt in three digit heat
Asparagus is thick and wooden and shipped in from the North
For rhubarb time has come and gone,
The last Arizona peach shrivels unpicked on the tree.

Childhood over, above my head the babies dodge about
No longer distinguishable from the parent
Sweat beads on my forehead as I perch still foci in my swarm of gnats
Watching the bats fly.

Inside the house, laundry quietly awaits its attentive turn
And tonite’s dishes soak away reheated debris,
So many important things to do
places to go
people to be.

But time itself must wait as I hear your electronic voice
and let the miracle of
telephone connect us
for both our hearts to hear

“I Love You.”.

CC

I Care What You Think

One of the luxuries of accumulated age for me
is how little I have come to care
what others think of me
of what I own
wear
do
or not do.

Not to be confused with not caring what others think.

I care a lot about what others think.
Truth like a stool needs at least three disparate points
to balance.
I read the words of those like me,
but more importantly I seek the truths of those very different from me.
I read books from all the sections of the library
and I read from title page to index to acknowledgements;
I read all sections of the newspapers
Excepts the sports, only reading that in baseball season.
I read graffiti in the bathroom and CD liner notes.

I compulsively care what others think
and how they say it.

I listen to conversations I am part of,
I listen conversations I am not part of, just proximal.
I listen to NPR news, All Things Considered and sometimes
I listen to Howard Stern.

I love to know what you think,
what you believe,
what your eyes see when they look at this world,
what you smell,
taste,
touch,
feel.

But I don’t care if you think my listening to the Carpenters is cheesy,
or my dancing to Fergie is not acting my age.
And I will tattoo “Nomad” on my arm.
I will read Emerson mark my place with a dog-eared “Adventures of Green Arrow.”
I will eschew the brilliance of “Into the Wild ”
and make you watch a marathon of PowerPuff Girls.

I will laugh too loud sometimes
And eat strange spicy foriegn foods
And drink too much rum
And then flirt with men
So young they will humor me
and flirt back and talk about me when I leave.

And I will care about what they say when I am there
And maybe read the books they mentioned
Or maybe buy a brand new CD
because I care very much what everyone thinks
Just not what they think about me.

CC.

MORE, Please.

More

Shiny magazine covers and
building size billboards all scream out their prophecies
American consumer religion sanctifies
the message
We all need more
we need more directions, more faith, more prayers
higher cheekbones, bigger houses, smaller asses
All of the things money can buy
and we can buy it all
Faith in a book, health in a drink, a bottle of Love
body by Bobby
things, things that money can buy
are the things we are made of
the essence of you or I.
More, more, more…

And a lifetime I’ve spent in priding myself
on being above
this greedy accumulating philosophy
content, enough, happily poor.

But I want to finish my Gratitude Journal
and have another glass or two of rum with friends
Hold my as yet unconceived grandchild in wrinkled arms
Run a marathon, sail my ship to Worlds’ End
Visit Antartica and learn to speak Chinese

How humbling to learn as I face this part of me
That I am not so different from any western “You”
The trappings of the greed, these things I may eschew
But the philosophy has encultured every pore
Like every edacious American as I face this end

inevitable mortality

I find all I want is more….

Midwinter

 

Midwinter

 

Frost lies white on the ground like my memories of snow
Or the Oak King’s processional cape in cactus times.
So few angels I have seen since then,
those days when booted mittened feet and hands
Spread wide in new snow Dance of Heavenly Joy,
and smells of mothers’ baking Pannetone signalled Holly’s end.
Now Mighty Oak is brought with the lightest brush of diamond dust
That drives us into winter coats I’d never have worn back home
Until the frost obscured the windows view almost till noon
Its four AM and the dark again grows short tomorrow light
But tonight the Sun is underground and dim, a seasons gloom
Its four AM and I am only now returning home alone
Having safely born upheld by friendships arms and firelight reminds
The trip around another turn of time.

 

CC