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From the writing group

10-minute free writes inspired by weekly prompts

I have enough …

By Ana Lucia Jardim

I have enough tension on my shoulders to crack a walnut against the wall. This armour has been with me since the beginning, likely since my birth. Maybe it was the forceps, or maybe it was the waiting and waiting for the OB guy to come back from his lunch break. My poor mother. She must have been so tense that she passed it on to me, unwillingly. Now it’s kinda cute when we walk down the street together: who’s got the toughest shoulders?! These days, I like putting my arm over my mother’s shoulders, and kissing her on the cheek.

This cup we call life

(This prompt is a line from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Toad.”)

This cup we call life

Runneth over

Spilleth

Leaketh

Is madeth of paper, becomes soggy, disintegrates.

Is echoey tin: a jailhouse vessel, our distorted reflection in its hammered side.

This cup we call life, full of stagnant or trembling or ever-replenished us-ness.

My cup is still. It’s almost empty, which is not to say I am near to death (not as far as I know anyway; not as far as anyone has told me).

It is that right now I need no more than this portion, this sip, the abundance of nourishment contained within.

I feel done with topping off for the sake of not running out. A frantic, futile pour-through of life force – the cup emptying from the bottom while being endlessly, needlessly filled from above.

This cup we call life

Is a crystal goblet

Containing

Something

Enduring…

And it is in and with this I rest. Cupping the cup in my sated palms.

Glancing up and over its rim, I see

The full court of my beloveds.The abundance of the feast before us.

There is still plenty in this dwindling world.In fact—The harder you try, the faster it dwindles.If you sit back, take it in through the awe-struck jewels of your eyes

It will multiply.

Infinitely.

No matter how close you are to death or any other big change,No matter how full it seems your cup needs to be to face whatever lies around the bend in the road,Sip lightly and knowYou will be sustained.

For you are made of space and probability

And the probability is

You will

Re-form

Again and again

Emerging into a new life, a new cup

That will runneth over

Or spilleth,

Or leaketh,

And you will learn the lessons both anew

And all over again

…….

And with a minute left

I spill back to earth—My half-full teacup. The feast of lovingly procured noshes before me.

And the friends of my soul

In their own beautiful cups—

And I know without a doubt that, to deserve this,

I have done

Something

Right.

This cup we call life

By Jan Martinez

I pin them carefully through the paper and onto the cardboard with the little stickpins provided. I choose a color: red, blue, green. Even in my young hands I’d prefer a pen with a weightier line, but this is what I have, so I begin to move. To inscribe a dance on paper. Arcs swirling into flowers, planets, shapes, anemones, galaxies… Later I’d noticed that the patterns of life and matter repeat everywhere. Was it later? Was it before?

There was a Disney cartoon about this. Sometimes I still look it up today on YouTube. Donald Duck stomping through time and space quacking on about the Golden Mean, the Golden Triangle, the perfection of the Spiral. I still love it, as much as I did when I was a child sitting at a table with my beloved Spirograph, making patterns, some I could predict, some not. A miracle in plastic gears and perforated paper on an evermore pin-cushioned piece of cardboard.

Do we live our lives in ever widening circles? As I sip my tea – a blend that most certainly contains Ceylon – I stare into its amber depths. I imagine a staircase starting at the edge and inclining downward, wrapping around with infinite gentleness, so shallow at the top that the liquid is almost clear. From the top it looks dark at the bottom, but it’s just deep. Our eyes and bodies adjust as we live our lives in ever deepening circles.

If I live to be 100, I’m already more than halfway to the bottom of this cup – this cenote – we call life. And there’s great stuff down here: wisdom, knowledge, freedom, choice, pain, grief. There’s movement: flow, dynamism, momentum. And there’s love and calm, bliss. So don’t be afraid. Come on in. The water is fine.

The truth is / If nothing ever changed

By Jan Martinez

The truth is

The truth is I’ve been a companion of death for a year now. January, my father, slipping away alone on the second Wednesday of the month, just after my mom and brother left his room to get dinner. It was so like him to shoulder it all alone as he had since he was a boy, raised in poverty in Mexico.

The impact of the pandemic meant we couldn’t hold his funeral until Labor Day, immediately after which my mother went into the hospital, finally dying on the second Wednesday of November.

The truth is I am grieving. The truth is that grief and sorrow are not the same. Some days I missed them with a depth I can’t explain—a giant hole that drops from my heart into some unfathomably cold, clear cenote. Tangled roots and vines from above threatening to hold me down, deeper caves beneath luring me further in. These are the days I have thought, “I’ll call Mom,” or “wouldn’t Dad have had a laugh about that?”

But the truth is that mostly I’m grateful. To them and my teachers and the profound healing work that has allowed me to close—yes excavate and fully heal—many of the wounds all children have from growing up. So the truth is that my parents have in some ways passed from my life with a pure surgical cleanliness. Not a lot of blood or oozing. Yes there is pain. And maybe a tiny scar, just a pure silver, diamond thread to mark all they have given me.

If nothing ever changed

Sometime after 3 AM, I dreamt that my mother was still alive – frail, in need of so much help and tender care, but alive.

“Mom,” I said, “I think it’s time for you to live in a community of care. You can’t stay alone anymore.” And she agreed, turning her green-eyed child-like gaze up at me from where she leaned on her walker. Her loss of height from arthritis and a broken femur broke my heart again. She had always been taller than me.

She blinked like an owl and I felt myself leaving once again, drawing away, worried for her. I awoke in a mood of pure sorrow, wanting nothing more than to cry or have tea, write, or lose myself in Larry’s hug. But he awoke crabby, so that simply wasn’t to be.

A few days ago, he’d got together with a friend whose daughters go to Oxford high. Four deaths at the hands and gun of a fellow student put this small Michigan town on the map. The girls, twins, were both near the shooter when it all happened. Both had to hide behind locked doors. And there was more upheaval for Larry’s friend—the complexities of life over the past several years, hardships with family, the pandemic…

Larry returned from dinner in a state of shocked gratitude. Grateful for all we have, the things we’ve done well, the metaphorical bullets we’ve dodged. But today he’s crabby. Tomorrow he’ll likely be sunny and grateful, because everything always changes. It’s guaranteed. Maybe tomorrow I’ll still be sad, missing my mom, but maybe not. Maybe there’ll be some relief. Who better than Mom would understand this?

If you look closely…

If you look closely you’ll see a ring of guardians standing around you. To look closely in this case doesn’t mean to squint, or even to soften your gaze and let everything blur so that the invisible comes into focus. No, this is a different kind of looking. The hardest kind. How easy it is to forget how held we are. How protected. How cheered.

It took my friend Justin reminding me yesterday that he is one of the many who stands in my circle, like a ring of redwoods. A population of spirits: living, dead, yet to incarnate, or just fine to hang out on the other side for all eternity. They are layers deep. If you look closely you see their faces, one at a time, many at once.  

You see their hands, held in one another’s, held up in blessing, busy knitting or painting, or with birds perched on their fingers. Beckoning. Patiently unlocking the cages you insist on building and rebuilding. Sometimes striking matches and burning them down. All the better to see them, my dear.

Ah, you are starting to see now, aren’t you? Just like time itself, lineage is not linear. It is a ring. A series of rings. Ever-widening circles, as Rilke says. That persistent spiral – the shape that everything takes, if you look closely.

They stand near, and far, and as you make the circuit of your life—moving farther each time from the core wound, but visiting it again, repeatedly, endlessly—you also pass each of them.

They offer a hug, a handshake, a bow, a good, long look into their eyes – into their own memories of forever, the galaxies they’ve traveled to – and you remember that you are oh so small and you are never, ever alone.

If you look closely you’ll see that the center of you has its own eyes, ones that know where you came from and where you’re headed. It pulls you to the ones who remember when you forget. Who utter, “I am here, and I always will be.” And with those words a light flicks on, and suddenly you needn’t look closely any longer. You can see them perfectly well.

I am tired of …

By Hao Tran

Whenever I came home, my father called out: “the American.” I didn’t think of it too much until years later. Had he meant it as a tease for my weight and baldness, my relative wealth, or something more?

My father lived through three wars, all his life almost, was a POW for seven years after the fall of Saigon, tried to be an American here in California, and then decided to go back home in a small poor village to live the rest of his days.

I often think of his calling me the American because I am not sure if I feel that way. After 45 years of living here, eating American food, speaking American language, working in the Federal Government, I still don’t feel that way.

Lately, all I heard in the news is the evacuations from Kabul which seemed quite orderly to me compared to the last days of Saigon. If not for the 13 dead young soldiers, all will have been forgotten in a matter of weeks. Then the repeating, reliving of 9/11, the tragic attacks that killed thousands of Americans. Oh, so sad.

And yet, I still don’t feel American. What I feel is a bigger, broader and deeper pain for the world. We don’t talk about millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians, and thousands (upon thousands) of Afghans, millions of amputees who still need artificial limbs, rubbles that have been bombed over and over.

If it is all about America First, count me out. I want no part of it.

If it is “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” I don’t want any part of it.

We need to get off our high Suburban SUVs and the 60 thousand-dollar Teslas and look around.

Go with me. Be a vagrant for one day.

Please scream inside your heart

“Theme parks in Japan have banned screaming on roller coasters, because it spreads coronavirus…. and advised riders: “Please scream inside your heart.”

– The New York Times, July 2020


Yes, scream
Shatter its walls
Let the shards and the goo
and the light spill out
Let the lava infiltrate your being
    and then burst that open too

You say you’re about to crack. Good.
Let go, crack, crack up, crack loose
Crack so that it scares everyone
Crack so that you lose all your friends
    all the respect
    all you’ve been so fastidious about building

Nobody, dear. Nobody has ever known what they’re doing
The ones that do
ask questions
    constantly
    Forever
    undermining
    their own premise.

Foundations are shaky at best
Wobbly, like your reclaimed wood desk

Actually no, shaky isn’t best—
Muddy is.

Let the shards of yourself
sink into the silt
    Wriggle downward
    Find soil
    Take hold
    Sprout anew
    Fight through
    Wilt
And try again

Please scream inside your heart
Let the scream echo against the cavernous walls
now that you’ve cleared the detritus:
Everything you thought you were meant to keep safe
    build from
    treasure always
    pass along

It went up in flames the second you laid claim to it.
Since then you’ve been grasping at ghosts
Sticking price tags on illusions
Chasing them hungrily down aisles with your empty shopping cart
    With all your might. With all you have.

Please scream inside your heart
Scream, “Stop!”
Scream, “Enough!”
Scream, “Don’t you see?”
Scream
I     DON’T     NEED    YOU     TO     SEE     ME    ANYMORE

Careen past the other shoppers and out into the sea
Stop trying to be clear or transparent or
    Colorful or
    Opaque

Lay down your street-performer juggle-balls and wade into the water.

Please, please scream inside your heart and set your essence free.
Every single thing your heart can see is in the way.
Scream past it. Scream it open. Scream it free.

Body scan, then write

Foot on the gas, the brake, gas brake gas brake. The echo of it in my right shin.

“Uh-oh!” I said out loud when the truck in front of me didn’t begin moving the instant the light turned green. The old Boston driver coming back. The only place I’ve ever been aggressive: behind the wheel.

“Uh-oh!” The most passive-aggressive phrase I could have mustered. Northern California has fully infiltrated the psyche but not the body. Another four seconds and I would have driven under that truck. As it was, I maneuvered a dangerous swerve around its right flank it as it made its perfectly timely, perfectly safe, perfectly unrushed left.

Me, though: gas brake, gas brake. Rev rev stop. Rev. Stop. Go go go. We’re supposed to be going now. Drumming my fingers at every red light. Every meal. Every episode of Jeopardy that counts as quality time with my husband. Every moment of lying in bed, not asleep but too tired to accomplish anything of note. Scroll, then. Shop. Hypnotize self with a reality show in miniature. No use reading: my eyes simply scan the words while my mind whirls. The flywheel again. It doesn’t stop. Too much momentum. Too much to do. Too much.

Gas brake. Gas gas gas, rev, rev, motor uphill, careen down. Brake for the turn, or not. List sideways and nearly tumble off the cliff. Careful!

A few days ago I heard a silence so silent I knew it was the earth speaking. No other voice could be that deafening. My shin bones become the stalks of the redwoods, the columns of the cathedral, the ode to the everything. Equal weight, gravity. They know no brake, no rev, only reverence. They stand in holy stillness.

I always felt I must

By Tess Bradley

I always felt I must change.And I reason that this is not only a function of my family conditioning, or A-meritocracy or some larger socially constructed system where internal pressure is spawned by the outside. I am somehow convinced that I must change because I am evolving.

I want to pull off the velcro of my past. I want to pull the past off of me with a loud, satisfying noise that rips open like a rain rattle, like the single most satisfying belch ever to light up the inner esophageal and intestinal universe. Bbbbbrrrrrrraaahhh!

I’d become an air plant. I’d be one of those seedlings that can fly! A dandelion daughter protégé. Set up a second life as an expatriate to this continent, this island, this Earth.

I always felt I must change.

Memorize the capitols, start each day with reading the news, breathe through my diaphragm, and get married. Knowing I’ll do none of these things, and the tension building.

Completion is a point on an arc. I must follow that arc. First, I must build the Arc. I must believe that two by two I will be saved by God through following his explicit diagrams.

Let me fill in some of these holes! I see my mother bracing and astounded as I speak at the table to her friends.

This desire to change and the pressure to be-someone-who-is-complete shoot me out of a canyon again and again.So how can I blame myself for flying over your head?

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