Rotten Apple Yoga

Apple, apple, mother-fucking apple.
I tried counting, the way counting
can be meditative. I got to five.
Listing colors worked a little better:
yellow, red, green, brown, black,
beige, rust, orange, peach, pink,
dark red, dark brown, white, off-white.
I modified some poses to enable
picking rotten apples simultaneous to
breathing, just breathing, well, mostly breathing.
Cat pose, cow pose, quad stretch—those worked best.
I talked to my right wrist as it began to hurt
and then my left when I shifted.
My knees both hurt but not at once.
“Hello tightness, my old friend”
I’ve begun saying to my lower back and hips,
but not tonight when I was gleaning
from below the apple tree I loved
when we bought the house but which now I hate.
Somehow my familiar pains were simply not
there tonight. It’s standing and sitting that hurt me
most, not crawling on my hands and knees,
putting all those apples into one broad, galvanized bucket,
one five-gallon cat litter bucket, and then aiming
so many more apples onto an old bed sheet.
I started saying apple, apple, apple, in my head,
apple, apple, apple, two apples, three apples,
another apple, apple, apple, apple.

This task I loathe is loathsome largely
on account of the symbolic baggage that grows
prolific with the apples:

I waste resources.
I am a woman from whom things get away.
I don’t keep up. My ambitions don’t match my energy.
I am lazy. The person I thought I was 20 years ago
when we bought the house is not the person I am.
I have a million mason jars I don’t fill
with anything
but dust.
The mother-fucking tree isn’t even on our property.
Why am I the only one who worries about attracting
yellow-jackets? Why haven’t I hired someone to prune it?
Why haven’t I sabotaged it so that, dead,
it would have to be cut down? Why won’t my husband
prune it back the way the orchard pictures show?
Why won’t he cut it down?

Why don’t I remember to put out the organic fly traps
in time? Why don’t I make applesauce every year?
Why don’t I pick up the few apples that drop
every day and add them to my compost pile?
Why don’t I have a compost pile at all?

I am an awful person. I must be.

I thought all those thoughts. I tried not to.
But I thought them anyway.
And when I thought those thoughts, I also thought,
my t-shirt’s riding up. I’m not going to pull it down.
What if someone sees the white expanse of belly
and hip laid bare right at this very moment?
And then I thought so what if someone sees?
None of what they see should be a surprise.

Each time I thought those thoughts I also thought
apple, apple, apple. Red. Blood. Brown. Apple.
Rabbit carcass. Or possibly excrement.
Apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, apple.
Then I was breathing deep in my big belly,
the belly this shirt’s too small for,
breathing in and also out, a little longer out,
and in again, the rotten smell, the cider smell,
the smell of apple after apple, apple, apple.

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I’ve written about this tree before, a poem called “On Conscientiousness,” which I see myself lacking.

But there really were moments tonight when all that was in my head was “apple” and my body was just a body that existed to move rotten apples from one place to another.

I’m not going to say nirvana, but it was not loathsome or even particularly unpleasant. Interesting.

 

 

Poem for a Cold Spring Which I Somehow Entitled Grace

This was published a very long time ago in Tar River Poetry. I am now motivated to try to ascertain if Tar River Poetry still exists. [UPDATE: It does! Here’s the 30th anniversary issue--I published there almost 30 years ago.] It’s always so misery-inducing when spring is cold. I don’t care how much I love British mysteries set in cold, wet, beautiful places. I don’t want the place I live to be cold and wet and beautiful in APRIL. I want warm and wet and beautiful.

This was long before I met my husband, long before I had a son. But I was babysitting a lot. I’m curious now where these girls are. What happens to the children of writers with interesting names?  (I actually am invested in that question now.)

I’m reading this tomorrow on WRCO, Richland Center’s radio station.

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GRACE

Hymns don’t work on this baby–only torch songs
bribe her fussing into sleep. I’ve planted
Lady Day deep in her downy head:
“Summertime,” mostly, though it’s a cold spring
in Montana, nowhere near humid enough for blues.
Her sister sleeps upstairs, rousing choruses
of “Amazing Grace” still bouncing off crib slats
like a holy mobile set loose.I stand guard, willing
my notes into warmth until the windows bead up
like a glass of tea, my voice ungainly
and stubborn as a weed. I don’t believe
nothing can harm them, but tonight nothing will.

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“Summertime” is one of the songs I’ve always sung to my son. That and “Blue Moon.” I tried adding “Tennessee Stud” to the mix but I can never remember all the words. My husband sings a version of summertime that is medley with “Whipping Post.”

Two things strike me about this poem now (well, lots of things, but I have to save something for the radio show). First, this was before I started writing a lot of sonnets, but it seems to me this wants to be a sonnet. Second, I had nurturing to spare back then.

Go Ahead and Do Nothing

If I loved you before I realized we are really, really far apart in our views about how to respond to school shootings, then I still love you. If I liked you, respected you, before, I still do.

If you’re posting all kinds of articles and links and memes I don’t agree with, I’m probably not responding.  If you’re posting things I agree with, I’m not responding much to those, either.

Here’s my blanket response—go ahead and do what you think is right.

If you think it’s a mental health problem, vote for people who will fund mental health care.

If you think mental health care is messed up, vote for people who will reform it.

If you think it’s a matter of domestic violence and toxic masculinity, the vote for people who are funding shelters and education.

If you think that we need to arm teachers, vote for people who will make that happen*

If you think the FBI dropped the ball, vote for people who will fund the FBI, or work to reform it however it needs to be reformed.

If you think schools and communities need to do a better job fighting against bullying and making sure no child is ostracized, then vote for people who will fund schools and community organizations who are already trying to do that. Or if you think schools and communities need to do something differently, figure out who’s doing it right, and support them.

If you’re not sure what the answer is, do some research. It would be nice if we could research gun violence as a public health issue, but we can’t: Still, there is research out there to read. From other countries, who don’t have the school shootings we have.

If you think there’s nothing we can do, then go ahead and do nothing. Keep doing nothing.

But if, like me, you think there is something we can do, let’s all just go ahead and do it. Join organizations that are working for what we think is the right thing to do. Let’s all vote for people who don’t just SAY the right things, but are actually voting the ways we think they should.

Maybe you’re already doing that. I, personally, could work a lot harder in terms of sending money, working on campaigns, getting involved in organizations. So that’s what I’m going to do. I just made a donation to Moms Demand Action, which I first heard about last year in church.

Why now? Why not sooner? I don’t know. The answer to “why not sooner” is easier–I tend to be cynical about the possibility of progress.  Why now? A teacher I admire wrote a really impassioned piece I found moving. And Emma Gonzalez is just one more example of why I’m pretty excited about Generation Z.

So, anyway—you go ahead and do what you think is right, and I will, too, and we’ll see how it goes. I’ve read that the majority of Americans support sensible gun legislation (but I haven’t researched it, to be honest). So we’ll see.

The only option that seems absolutely inappropriate to me is doing nothing. Although, I suppose if I revert to my cynical self, if you disagree with me, then go ahead and do nothing. OR just go ahead and keep posting stuff on social media. Which I mostly won’t respond to.

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(I don’t tend to post a lot about politics, anywhere. I don’t think this’ll be a trend.)

*I’ll quit teaching when teachers are allowed/encouraged/actually armed in my school, but I’m pretty ready to retire anyway–could you just make sure the wheels of legislation turn slowly enough so I get about four more years in? Here’s a blog I wrote a while back talking about why I think arming teachers is a cowboy fantasy

I Choose to Be Here

It’s the middle of Finals Week. Other semesters, I’d be thick in the muck of a grading backlog, trying to get caught up so I could start grading finals. This time, I came soooooo close to having the backlog done before finals started coming in.   Didn’t quite make it, but I’m still in a good place, on track to have grades turned in on December 23.  Which is before Christmas. Which is fantastic.  (I hear from my family I’m not very pleasant when I’m still grading over Christmas.)

Because I am a master procrastinator, and because over the years I’ve been slower than I’d like to in terms of returning graded work to students, I have a spreadsheet going back more than ten years with precise records–when students turned things in & when I returned them.  This semester wasn’t my best ever, but it’s the best in a while.

Why? Was it because it was a lovely, unencumbered semester in which my family life was smooth as pudding and my work life was also smooth and lovely? NO.  We’ve found 7th grade challenging in my house. We’ve been virus magnets this fall. And at work? Well , my campus administrator is moving on. In a couple weeks. And there’s work to be done.

And, oh, what else? Let’s see. My campus is in the process of merging (though we’re not supposed to say “merging” any more, I don’t know why) with a larger campus. All over Wisconsin, fine, little campuses are merging (not-merging) with fine, larger campuses. This has resulted in many, many more meetings and phone calls and emails. None of which are my favorite things about my job.

And yet.  And yet.  I’m feeling as genuinely copacetic as I have felt in a very long time.

Here’s one reason. In September, I listened to Episode 057 ,”How to Stop Fighting Against Your Life & Fall in Love With It Instead,” of the Courage and Clarity podcast. It’s a great podcast–each interview has two episodes. One is the “courage” episode, in which a woman entrepreneur explains how she broke away from her regular life and had the courage to do something risky.  The “clarity” episode explains some specific process or task.

On Episode 057, Steph Crowder (the host, and part of the triumvirate at Fizzle.co, which I love, seriously, ♥, and which I’m sure I’ll write about more at some point) interviewed Catherine Rains, the Hotel Artist.  I was hooked early on, because they were talking about “resistance toward the day job.”

Even before the merger-not-merger was announced, I was finding my job challenging. Maybe everyone does?  But I’m working with Fizzle because I’m trying to develop a side hustle in creativity consulting, and part of the motive for that is being able to retire from my day job, which I’ve been doing since 1991. So even though I wouldn’t say I was miserable in September, was I loving my job? Happy to be there every day? Giving it my best? Prolly not.

A lot of this episode resonated with me, but this especially:

Catherine says that at some point she was in an academic job that wasn’t thrilling her, but she was captivated by a phrase she thought of, “What you resist persists.”  So she started doing what she called a game, of saying, “This moment is my destiny” any time she was in an unpleasant moment at work.  She also said, “I have lived my entire life to be sitting here at this moment doing this thing.” She said these things “over and over again for three months, and at the end of three months, I realized I had fallen in love with my job.” Catherine also talks about:

  • “learning new ways to surrender to what’s in front of me, as opposed to resisting it.  Because resisting it is what keeps you stuck where you are.”
  • “I think that what makes people think that they haven’t gotten far enough is because they’re resisting where they already are.”
  • “When I stopped trying to get somewhere else, and fully sunk into where I was, that’s when the next step revealed itself, without me doing anything.”

There was just level after level of resonating for me. Somehow I decided to go for it.  I tried saying “This moment is my destiny” and that phrasing just didn’t resonate with me. Maybe it felt too whoo-whoo. But then I tried, “I choose to be here” instead, and snap!  Every moment when things at work seemed tense, when I was feeling tired of any particular task, when I just wasn’t feeling the love for what I was doing, I said to myself, “I choose to be here.”

It wasn’t as if everything was suddenly rainbows and sunshine, but there was a subtle transformation. Work just felt good. Within a week or two (which seemed sudden), I wasn’t working on my side-hustle to escape my job. I was working on my side-hustle because it was an important thing I wanted to develop to spend some time on now and more time on later.

Work just felt good.

So then when the seismic announcement of the merger-not-merger happened (about which I have many thoughts and feelings), my response wasn’t doom and gloom or terror. My gut-level response was positive. And still is.  And as we move through the muck of making a massive transition for this merger-not-merger (about which I have multiple thoughts and feelings), I’m still saying “I choose to be here.” It makes a huge difference.

It’s a huge part of why I’m feeling so mellow during finals week, looking forward to a full day of grading tomorrow, a Solstice bonfire tomorrow night, more grading on Friday, then an email to students asking them to check my data entry one more time, and then turning in grades on Saturday. Then celebrating Christmas starting on Christmas Eve. And actually taking a week between Christmas and New Years where I don’t check work email. At all.

So right now, at the end of a tumultuous semester, I’m sitting in front of my Christmas tree feeling copacetic even before I take a single sip of the brandy I’ve poured myself. This whole method isn’t just for tense moments at work. It’s also for moments like this. I choose to be here.

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Things That Feel Like Two Bricks Scraping Together

Strep throat, when you swallow, but that’s more of a
crash than a scrape. Or a crash then a scrape.
“There’s a wall in my throat! Pull back! Pull back!”
but whatever I just took in through my mouth says
“I’m going! Maybe it won’t be so bad this time”
but it is. It is bad every time.
 
Akin to nails on a chalkboard but not quite that
(and there are whole generations now for whom
that phrase means absolutely nothing),
infelicitous phrasing can sometimes turn my neck
to the side a certain way and those tiny, adorable
bones inside my ear scrape and because they are
right there inside my ear it sounds like bricks.
 
And when my son was still in diapers there were times
when I was changing him and he was being wiggly
or crying or otherwise developmentally appropriate
that I knew the resentment I felt could be overcome
with love but I resisted feeling that love, I fought
to hold onto the pain. There was a tie between
love beyond measure and something beyond annoyance
and they scraped at each other. Hard.

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We used cloth diapers. Over and over and over again.

Brushy Creek Runs Through It

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The beautiful Brushy Creek on the campus of UW-Richland.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” Norman MacLean A River Runs Through It

“It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free”  Elizabeth Bishop “At the Fishhouses” 

Running water changes everything
and nothing. You can stand on the banks and count
the number of trout you see in Brushy Creek

just like you’ve done for half a century
or more, fishing or just thinking how
running water changes everything.

I like to pause there and pretend every morning
that some of my stress is floating away and down.
The number of trout you see in Brushy Creek

does vary, depending. I confess I’ve never seen
a single one, but that doesn’t make me doubt.
Running water changes everything

about a place. It gives our landscape meaning.
It shows us how to shift some things without
running the risk of harming the trout in Brushy Creek,

without giving up the goal of learning
who we are and what our genius loci’s all about.
Running water changes everything
except the number of trout you see in Brushy Creek.

 

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Post script:  apparently it’s BRUSH CREEK, not BRUSHY CREEK.  I think maybe I knew that at some point.  Or maybe not.  There’s not a sign anywhere, and I am very texty….  And I don’t hear well… But really, no excuse. I’ve been here since 1992.  I really ought to know better.  But I ain’t changing the poem because Brushy Creek scans better than Brush Creek.  Honestly, I think it should be Brushy Creek.  I might keep calling it that and see if it catches on.

I wish I could read poetry for the UW Board of Regents again…

But what would I say this time? Here’s what I said last time, thinking, among other things, of Shelley’s saying that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Emphasis on unacknowledged.

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THE VOICE OF THE LEGISLATOR

To those who currently do more with less,
Consider doing even more with even less.
For those requesting more, remember that
We’re giving less and less to those who ask.
Those golden days of doing less with more
Are gone. Don’t ask o where o where o where.
It’s like your family. All the good vacations
Got took before you could even walk. Unconscious
In your baby haze, you never knew
That Polaroid of everyone at the zoo
Captured the last moment in time and space
All the feelings inside matched the look on each face.
Grow up. You weren’t abused. No matter how bad
Things look, there’s always room to make more bad.

From the minutes of the April 10, 2003 meeting of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents:

Report of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
1. National Poetry Month
In recognition both of National Poetry Month and of the outstanding creative activity in which UW System faculty engage, Senior Vice President Marrett introduced poet Marnie Bullock Dresser, Professor of English at UW-Richland. Professor Dresser read several poems, including one she wrote especially for the Regents entitled “The Voice of the Legislator.”