At about 4:30 this morning, I woke the first time to the rain. I considered that there was a cleansing of the past year around the sun, preparing me for the solar-year journey ahead. 62 years I have made this move into another year of my life. I have life because my mother and father created me. Though our relationships were complicated, truncated, I am so grateful that they made me. I am grateful that my mother focused so hard on not believing the doctors’ predictions that her toxemia would mean I would not survive. In the words of the cherished Lucille Clifton:
to be alive. i am alive and furious.
Blessed be even this.
2015 started horridly and I felt an internal shame for being so close to the edge financially, still. Somehow I had considered the precariousness of my income was the only gauge of my being and value. The previous year I had pneumonia, which pointed to other vulnerabilities. Aging and preparing to be elderly have been at the forefront of my consciousness. I have looked at the crepe-like quality of my skin, the ache when I stand up from a chair, the ways my eyes are goofing on me. I have felt lonely and curiously resigned to the fact that life is moving closer and closer to its own deadline. Yet every day I just put one foot in front of the other because I have work to do and I was gifted with the privilege of life, and human consciousness.
With the support of loving and generous friends, as usual, who believe in me and my capacity, my value, I got through the immediate need and I now am rebuilding. But I realized that I am not a failure or a screw-up, the little lie that lurks in the background of my psyche so often. I am highly successful when I take stock of my work, my efforts, my accomplishments. I am simply undercapitalized, and that is rectifiable. And I remembered that I will start claiming Social Security in 4 years. That will help, just as paying off the car this spring did. A step at a time. And now to draw on my true career as poet and pursue more opportunity to share my joy.
As for my body, I have been body-shaming since I was a child and the other day, as I stepped out of the shower and looked at the image in the mirror, all wet and no barrier. I claimed this body as it is as God’s work, as the work of my parents to present me to the world. Now to care so I get another 40 years out of it in wellness and ability.
Everything I do in my life and for my income is anchored in my truth of being a poet. I am so blessed. My start in publishing was with Mary Russo Demetrick’s Hale Mary Press with Coaxing Nectar from Longing and I have been grateful every day. I now have four books in the world and a contract for another as coeditor. I had the honor and joy of a third collection of poems published by Tiger Bark Press this June, Psalter: The Agnostic’s Book of Common Curiosities. This has been my greatest achievement thus far in my work as a writer. For those of you who do not know, Tiger Bark was founded by Steve Huff, former publisher at BOA Editions, Ltd., and he is a marvel and a friend. Steve has published the best of American poetry in his esteemed career and he does it because he loves poetry, language, writing, and writers. I still shiver with the knowledge that he has published so many poets who I admire and learn from with each poem I read, and that Steve chose me to be among that community. I was determined to live up to his confidence in me and give him the best book of poetry I was capable of offering, to give my readers the same. Every word was deliberated, every placement, all of it was a lesson I will carry forward in all the work to come. I will never accept complacency from myself in my art. I also view Psalter as the validation of the choice I make in living the way I do, even if it is on the margin. I need this flexibility to create and be my art.
The other pleasure of this book was that Psalter owes its visual grace to my dear friend Phil Memmer, who is Tiger Bark’s Associate Editor and designer of most of the books in the catalog. Phil knows me well and we work together to give our Central New York community a vibrant and supportive place for writers of all ages to convene, learn, create, the YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center. He captured the elegance I was envisioning perfectly, the simple beauty of a vintage prayer book. He has much talent, a great eye, a skill in administration, and a keen sense of making a great poem, as evidenced in his four books. And he has been my friend for 15 years. What more could I ask?
Psalter taught me much over the 8 years it took to bring to the world and I am so grateful. Recently, I sat with the folders and piles of drafts I have stashed while I put my primary focus on Psalter and I have 58 pages of my next collection, Psychometry, and a clear sense of what I need to finish that in the year ahead. The conjoined twin series is a third complete and they are whispering to me that they would like me to visit. A memoir that has been languishing is starting to tickle my attention as well. And my second book, The Doom Weaver, is still alive and available from Main Street Rag Publishers, led by the relentless and wonderful Scott Douglas.
And my teaching is still a complete delight. In fact, even that is yielding new work, as I now write to the prompts that my Young Authors Academy poets bring to our circle on Saturdays. At the beginning of the year, I pointed out that they have agency in the process of our workshops and they take turns bringing inspiration that I also can glean new work from and we are all creating wonderful poems together, me and the next generation.
In late June I had the honor of facilitating a very intimate workshop at the Noëpe Center for Literary Arts in Edgartown, MA, on the beautiful island of Martha’s Vineyard. I would love to return to teach and write in that wonderful, nurturing space. I am hoping to book readings and workshops, I am hoping to be more visible with my work beyond my immediate (and cherished) community. I am loving the conversations with Bob Herz, Steve Kuusisto, Phil Memmer, and often Jasmine Bailey that have yielded the podcast series, Talk about Poetry. I have posted videos of me reading poems from Psalter on You Tube. I worked another summer for the Syracuse University College of Arts and Sciences, I got to write for Hendricks Chapel, and teach in the Honors Program once again. And my dear Keith Flynn included both a review and reprint of a poem in the 20th anniversary issue of the Asheville Poetry Review. I continued my work with the Comstock Review and presided over a great panel of Massachusetts poets we have published at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. I continue to be a part of the 90-year legacy of the Central New York Branch of the American Pen Women and share with my friends and colleagues in that circle. If nothing else, I get a lot of things done in the midst of my flurry.
I have many projects in the pipeline too. Working with my friends of Syracuse Stories, we are expanding our mission and opportunities to capture stories that contribute to Know Your Neighbour, Know Your World. I am sculpting a plan for an excursion to Cuba for collaborative art-making. I teach in numerous locations, each class giving me ways to support other writers and further my own growth as I teach what I want to learn. And I started a new part-time job at the Syracuse University Bookstore, which I am loving. I get to play with books, talk with people about their interests and passions, and enjoy my colleagues…and it is just 20-minute walk from home.
My coauthor and cherished friend, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and I are collaborating again as coeditors of The Whiskey of Our Discontent, an anthology of essays to honor Ms. Gwendolyn Brooks, due out in spring 2017 from Haymarket Books as the nation plans to celebrate her centennial year. This will also give me much opportunity to be in communication with many poets and scholars as well as immerse in Ms. Brooks’ work and example.
I am ready for it all. I have so much to do. And I need to remember that I have this moment in time to make the most of and to relish. I have watched my night-blooming cereus finally give its spectacular performance and the blood moon eclipse. I have grown a vegetable garden with my neighbor. I have lost several dear ones, most poignant and recent was the transition of my friend, my big brother of 50 years, Joe Leonard, who cares for me even from beyond his body in this life. And yesterday, I celebrated the third anniversary of the deepest love who is my dear puppywhuppy, Enza. Nuff said…
I have a huge Venn Diagram of beloveds. I cannot name you all but I know that the success and value of my life is measured in each of your faces and hearts. You know who you are and why I love you. Thank you for choosing me. And let me tell you, there is something timeless in the moment, the 19-year old in me, the 5-year old, the 30-year old, the 50-year old, and now today, when I woke with a zit and a bounce to my step, a flutter in my heart, and the showers stopped, the sun poured its honey everywhere, the clouds drifted through in wispy laughter, and the drops fell from the thick fall leaves in the backyard like gold rain. Know that you are cherished. I am profoundly grateful to you all…and perhaps I will take up the action of Ms. Clifton, and from now on sign each of my books, JOY…after all, she said to me, “I choose joy because I am capable of it, and there are those who are not…”