Three Haiku – Daily Constitutional at the Office Park

sunny open field
soft, cool air of late summer
and the maple’s shade

bare feet in the grass
daily constitutional
sans electronics

indescribable
the pleasure that comes from just
a moment outside

Queen Anne’s Lace Haiku – July

shoulder height, queen anne
waves her lacy head. blackbird
rises from her feet

What Lokito’s Death Reminded Me About the Gifts of Being Present During Painful Moments

My relationship with Quick was far from perfect. On one of the multiple occasions when she kicked me out of the house, I packed up our cat Loki in a carrier and took him with me. She cried over Loki’s departure, not mine. More than ten years after our breakup, we came together to be with him — and with with each other — in his final hours.

photograph of a cat and a kitten on a suburban lawn
Old man Walter and young pup Loki

I was visiting a good friend in Hartford, CT on a fine spring day in 1998 when a passel of kittens tumbled across her neighbor’s driveway and onto the grass, mewing and scratching and generally working their kitten magic. From that litter I adopted Loki, a tiger/calico mix with kohl-like markings around his eyes. It seemed appropriate to name a kitten after the Norse god of mischief.

He lived up to his name. On Saturday mornings he would skitter over the hardwood floors of my apartment and under my futon, scratching the underside of it and then running away again. He and Leo, the cat who adopted my mom while she was loading newspapers into her car in the dead of night, would roughhouse in that apartment, jumping three feet or higher at moths, flies, and — in one case — a bat who flew in through the chimney. Other times he would sit and stare at a blank wall for hours. At night he would plop his soft body down next to mine and purr and rub his forehead against my face.

When I moved to Boston to live with Quick in 1999, Loki began sleeping on her side of the bed. She would nudge me and say, “Look at this little animal.” I would grumble that he used to be my little animal.

My relationship with Quick was far from perfect. On one of the multiple occasions when she kicked me out of the house — or when I tried to leave her — I packed up Loki in a carrier and took him with me. She cried over Loki’s departure, not mine. I finally succeeded in breaking away in 2003, just a few months before gay marriage became the law of the land in Massachusetts. When I did, I left him with her. A lawyer, she used to say (more than half seriously) that we had joint custody, but she had physical custody.

Loki developed many health problems later in life. Quick’s obsessive tendencies proved a boon for Loki. She kept him alive through FLUTD, diabetes, lymphoma, IBD, and cancer. Loki was a faithful companion to her through all of it. His health really started to deteriorate in November. Quick kept him alive for six more months,.

Quick called me from Angell Memorial on a Friday night at about 5:30. When I arrived, he was panting in an oxygen tent, unable to raise his head. He’d lost about one-third of his body weight. I could see by his eyes the prison that his body had become. Quick and I had both wanted him to die at home, not on a metal slab surrounded by the cries of other sick animals. But he was so sick, there was no way for us to take him home without causing him even worse pain. Over the course of the next few hours, I helped Quick make the difficult decision to end his life rather than prolong his suffering. Sixteen years after I saw him tumble across my friend’s back garden, Quick and I said our goodbyes to him in that oxygen tent.

I used to say that lovers come and go, but that kitties are forever. They live shorter lives than us though, and it’s inevitable that we will be with them from birth to death. The inevitability doesn’t make the pain of their passing any easier though. Loki’s passing underscores the passing of my own youth — my maiden years. I’m happy to release some of the pain and bewilderment of those years, even as I become aware of my own life’s finite nature. I’m grateful that Quick allowed me to be there with her and Loki, to make those difficult decisions with her and for her, and to be his other mother again during his final hours.

Not everyone understands why I hold on to relationships with ex-lovers. I’ve always found the traditional “straight” approach to love relationhips rather troubling: here is someone you’ve spent most of your waking hours with, for years or even decades, and then you’re supposed to pretend like they don’t exist? I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a period of separation, but at some point in the future I think it’s healthy to remain on at least civil terms with an ex. It’s a way of validating the beauty and connection that happened between you, even if it didn’t result in shared property or kids or whatever else society tells us it means to win at love.

The world of lesbian and queer women is so small, there’s extra pressure to remain on civil terms with an ex. Otherwise, you’d very quickly run out of friends and hangout spots. But there’s another, deeper reason why I hold on to my relationship with Quick. We both know what it’s like to be a woman living alone in a city with no family nearby. Even though we’re no longer partners or lovers, even though we don’t see one another very often anymore, I still consider her to be my family. She’s shown up for me during some very trying times and I’ve done the same for her. I view maintaining the relationship as a way for me to make living amends for the ways in which I wasn’t able to be there for her when we were together. And as I get older and friends move away — or die — I value more and more the longevity of relationships.

When I was in my 20s, I was so full of my own suffering — and my own vision of how the world should be — I couldn’t really pay attention to the experience of other people. Since that time I’ve become more comfortable with ambiguity, more accepting of the world’s imperfections.

I’ve learned what a gift it can be to have someone witness your pain and suffering without trying to fix it, deny it, or appropriate it. Since experiencing that gift myself, there have been a few occasions where I’ve been able to pass it on. This time was particularly powerful. I felt that I could be present not just for Loki, not just for Quick, but also for all those younger versions of myself who fell in love with Loki, who raised him, who met and fell in love with Quick, who suffered through the breakup, and who came out the other side.

The Burden of Bearing Fruit

Two years ago I read a piece in the Sun Magazine by a woman named Brenda Miller called The Burden of Bearing Fruit. It was the sort of article one finds there a great deal: a personal essay, contemplative, sometimes rambling, with a flash of beauty  — a surprise tie-up, an effortless making-sense of daily objects and events. The making-sense of art, which tells the true but tells it slant.

These essays often shame me in their seeming effortlessness in the same way that Martha Stewart shames wives and mothers all across America, or the way Oksana Baiul shames 12-year-old figure skaters. In my saner moments I remember that the authors of these essays (often English professors or professional writers) probably went through multiple drafts, worked and worked on each word and sentence, considered the form and flow of the piece, perhaps the thesis and the theme. In my less sane moments I wonder why my own work doesn’t appear in The Sun’s pages. Never mind that I’m focusing on honing my craft in poetry right now, not personal essays. Or that I have a full-time job writing meeting minutes and functional specifications. Why am I not better at it by now? Where is my Harvest-themed centerpiece? Where is my triple lutz?

But let me, for the sake of this moment, put aside those inner critics. Let me even put aside the notion that I might beat that little hater. And let me return to that phrase which has stayed with me for two years and more: the burden of bearing fruit. Miller describes her own complicated relationship to the cherry tree that graces her property. You’ll have to read the essay to catalog its full meaning, but what stays with me is the notion that as the tree ages it is released from the burden of bearing fruit. Approaching 40, years into an artistic recovery I can barely discuss without weeping, I’m well aware of this burden. The terrible secret of farming and gardening is that bringing in the harvest is just as difficult as the plowing, the sowing, the planting, and the tending. Once the fruit arrives it must be picked, it must be eaten, it must be shared, it must be preserved and set away for the winter.  Some of it always rots.

My tree has blossomed and begun to bear fruit. This evening I read at the Newton Free Library and the day after a brand new workshop begins meeting in my home.  It’s not the first time I’ve read to an audience, not the first time I’ve led a workshop, but the burden of bearing fruit remains. Perhaps this time the harvest will be more sustainable.

In Memoriam: Trayvon Martin

I’ve been largely silent regarding the issue of Trayvon Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal. As a white woman living in Boston, I don’t see the ongoing effects of racism in the same way that I did when I was living on the north side of Poughkeepsie, or growing up in a housing project in Stamford. But racism still affects me and those I love. I’d like to take a moment to honor the friends and loved ones whom I know deal with racism on a daily basis — and the friends and loved ones I never met or never got to know well because of the racist and segregated society in which I live.

From a New York Times editorial published July 14, 2013:

While Mr. Zimmerman’s conviction might have provided an emotional catharsis, we would still be a country plagued by racism, which persists in ever more insidious forms despite the Supreme Court’s sanguine assessment that “things have changed dramatically,” as it said in last month’s ruling striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act.

The Day After the Boston Marathon Bombing

Sudden violence (is there any other kind?) throws the world into sharp relief. Horror that doesn’t speak but roars in the head like the ocean. Magnolias blooming under the crescent moon.

It gives things the proper perspective, too.

Last night, laying on the bed, talking to my mother on the phone while Army Guy relaxed next to me, the younger cat purring between us, I felt utter contentment.

This morning I woke at 6:00 am to take down the emergency update on the hospital website that I maintain. Cortisol shot me awake, makes me drained and snappy today. The sun is shining, the air is crisp and lovely. The Copley Square area is closed from Mass Ave to Berkeley. Did they wash the pavement clean? Will they find who did this? Will the cycle of violence continue, into the end of the time? Is peace just a pipe dream, like dreaming for the end of hunger, the end of darkness?

All things in sharp relief, from one moment to the next.