I received this framed portrait in the mail today from a friend of mine. She combined a photo of me with a poem written by my friend the writer Tia Finn. I will treasure this, always, as it was a gift that came straight from their hearts.
The everyday extraordinary
As it ever did.
Biding its time until we stop,
Until we notice.
The tiny unheralded jewels nested within our daily lives
That we rushed past, cavalier,
With no time for the smaller movement,
We were hell bent on destinations.
Headed to the best seller, the top ten.
There were judgments to render, texts to send.
None of which we remembered
Five minutes after.
Pause to discover
It is not only the peony in delicious full bloom
That deserves our attention.
Bend down and inspect the tightly wrapped, sleeping bud
Just as it is,
Soon to swarm with the manic aphids that will allow it to be
All it can be.
Watch the dog watching the squirrel.
How the clouds above change shape even as we look away.
The sad supermarket cashier who will remember your smile.
It’s not the goal, it’s the journey.
Once trite, now wise.
Did you know Margaret Atwood also wrote poetry?
There are always good people.
Mr. Rogers was right.
Just yesterday the man on the plane
who saw me struggling with the overhead bin,
jumped up, took over, smiling.
The mother of three across the aisle
handing out cleaning wipes,
her children willingly helping.
The flight attendant, struggling with her face mask,
joking with her colleague:
“If I hyperventilate behind this, you got me, right?”
The Customs official facing a sea of disgruntled travelers,
asking me if I had fever or sickness: I told him no.
“I’m happy you’re well,” he said, before sending me on.
Heads up, people.
We have widely different families and streets and seas,
but underneath it all
we share a beating human heart,
the same skies and sun,
the same bewitching moon.
I am not immune to the wonders of the natural world.
I have seen peacock feathers under a microscope.
I know birds retrieve lint from the ears
Of a musk ox carcass to construct their downy nests.
I realize that the grand canyon of Mars
Is the same size as the United States.
I too know that when a blue whale dives deepest
Its massive heart slows down to two beats a minute.
But none, for me,
Can rank with a heated conversation one dressing room over at Marshall’s.
A debate in a movie lineup about the merits of Scorcese vs. Tarantino.
One Raymond Carver poem.
Give me the Lives column in a New York Times Magazine
About the writer’s troubled child.
Let me in on that moment when you knew it was over.
There for me lie the mysteries I care to unravel,
The fleeting moments between us drawing me back
Time and time again.
Hike your mountain. Portage the greatest rivers.
Give names to all the stars and constellations you have ever seen.
Then tell me about it when you get home.
** Photo by Joel Koop.
Absorb whatever is around you
Like a box of baking soda in the fridge.
Be prone to hangnails
and mysterious rashes.
Cancel plans at the last minute.
Be unapologetic when saying no.
Judge nothing as beneath you, beyond you,
or outside your realm of interest.
Know everyone has a story to tell.
Carry a large overdraft on your checking account.
Dwell, no, fixate, on detail.
Realize everything matters or nothing does.
Wear an inordinate amount of black.
Write poems you want to read.
Jot ideas on restaurant napkins.
Carry an extra pen.
Become accustomed to letters beginning
We regret to inform you.
Write some more.
Is sometimes all it takes to capture happiness.
If you’re lucky.
I’ve done it. Thousands of times.
It never felt like a Nikon
I was holding in my hands
but their lives.
The hours alone are punishing,
arriving at first light at the bride’s parent’s house
before the makeup even goes on.
Forty pounds of equipment in tow,
already beginning to fray.
The bride for starters is never quite satisfied with
her dress or her hair
or her bridesmaids.
The groom often bears the look of someone
who has just been given
some very bad news.
Groomsmen are a particular challenge.
Lining them up,
they visibly stiffen.
Roll your shoulders, unclench your jaw.
Pretend you have actually met, I cajole.
To no avail.
And there’s always the visual artiste in the crowd
who tries wresting the camera away from you,
just for fun.
By the time I get to grab a bite
the buffet has been ravaged.
The wedding cake looks like a Dali painting.
Drunken husbands and wives
remembering their own ancient vows
push themselves in front of me at night’s end.
I still love her, you know, he slurs.
She rolls her eyes, shakily fixing her lipstick
before I freeze them in the blink of an eye.
I am always the last to leave
in the wee hours
just as the cleaners arrive.
I gather them together
for the last image of the day
They wonder why the fuss.
They talk about this woman heading off alone in the dark.
from chasing happiness all day long.
It comes down to the ceremony now, the detail.
Pressing your shirt with the cutaway collar, not too much starch,
the way you liked it.
I sent the shoes that were a bit small,
but they were so fine-looking and you would approve.
At the last minute I remembered your favorite photo of all of us
for tucking into your suit jacket pocket.
Now to prepare the food for the mourners,
sandwiches to begin.
Made differently today,
the correct word is painstakingly.
The butter must be spread
to each and every corner of the bread,
from freshly-baked loaves.
Heap both sides of the bread lavishly with spreads,
No celery, you hated it.
Remove the crusts.
Assemble them ever so gently
before making the final cuts
into perfect quarters.
Clean the knife after each one.
Display them proudly
on my most treasured serving pieces.
And cloth napkins.
All is ready.
Invite them in.
I’ll get this right
for all the times
Among da Vinci’s countless notebooks, all written in code,
or backwards, to ward off thieves,
is found a jotting that translates to:
“Tell me if I ever did a thing.”
Hardest on himself,
his abandoned projects haunted him,
and those completed offer little solace:
scissors, the parachute, a clock with a minute hand,
the first contact lens.
An upstart, he sketched Mona Lisa, no doubt, just to keep us guessing.
Her lips alone took him 10 years.
Voracious curiosity fuelled him,
climbing a mountain outside of Milan to understand
why the sky was blue.
dissecting human cadavers to perfect his anatomical drawings and,
it is rumored,
When he was commissioned to paint the Last Supper
he reluctantly put aside a joke book he was writing,
and throughout his life was convinced that if only we had wings
we could fly like birds.
Imagine this man’s to-do lists:
“Have Avichenna’s work on useful inventions translated.”
“Get a skull.”
If it’s true
as grim neurologists now claim,
that our memory is far from intact,
that the very process by which we retrieve the past
is flawed, random, that it plays fast and loose with
fact, detail, even
colour. Then how exactly do I conjure
what was us.
If it’s all up for grabs,
all bets off,
what was true?
The way you looked at me that evening
on the boardwalk,
was it as tender as I picture it now?
And your kiss. As deeply felt?
Did you profess your love in three languages
or was it just two?
Before you round the corner do you actually
turn to look at me
one last time?
Are you in the blue shirt
or the red?
Are those actual tears?
But science falls short. It overlooks
the power of the human heart
which has a memory all its own,
where the moments of our lives never alter,
or grow old.
Where a look remains as tender
as when first it was delivered,
a heart quickens just as it once did.
Yearning as fervent,
passion as acute,
and in that special place
the moments worth remembering
lie in wait for us, inviolate,
undefiled by time
Coming to Nothing
The day-to-day momentum
carries us with it,
making it impossible to imagine
this all shall pass.
Too much to think this will end,
carrying us into oblivion alongside
all of our carefully honed plans,
our exquisite attention to detail.
Who can contemplate that one day
and not so very far away,
another, perhaps even a stranger,
will be charged to sift through our lives,
tossing into random piles
our old day timers, nail polishes
and favorite sunglasses,
expired library cards.
Who can comprehend that one day
Some distant cousin may glance
at a dog-eared photograph
of a laughing, red-haired woman,
and ask with fleeting interest
to no one in particular:
“Wasn’t she a writer?”