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The Map of Longing: Poem and Chapbook

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How shall I properly introduce my chapbook The Map of Longing now that it has snuck into my blog entries through a poem called to mind be recent experience?  It is my second chapbook with Finishing Line Press, published in 2009.  It is a collection of poems about loss and longing within the ordinary phases of life.  I had the fun of working with a friend who is a photographer to choose the cover picture, which shows a road leading to some unknown place through overhanging trees.  The fact that it is a scene from my home state, California, was an incidental plus.

 

My mother, Emily, in her prime

Many of the poems in this collection relate to my mother, including some about the last months of her lifeand clearing outher house.  Others refer to my own move from Pennsylvania to New Mexico, which happened the same year as my mother’s death.  Is it any wonder the two themes are intertwined?

There are several poems, however, which attempt to capture the feeling of being lost, disoriented, out of touch, as a general human condition, not connected to any specific circumstances.  One of these is the title poem, which expresses the mood of distraction and disorientation by the very number of its metaphoric images.

The Map of Longing

The express train
knows where it’s headed.

I zigzag,
a squirrel before cool weather
signals gathering,

no pattern tidy
as trimming for a skirt,

no purpose,
like switchbacks
up a mountain.

My turns random as leafing
through a dictionary,

I skid like a getaway car
within a movie frame,
constricted by the tracks of time,

direction inescapable
as A to Z.

The Map of Longing is available through Amazon.  You can get a signed copy from me via ERYBooks.

Reflections and Poem: Habit

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Habits: We need them to survive.  There’s no way we could get anything done if we had to make a decision about every step and action of getting up, getting dressed, preparing breakfast, or preparing for sleep.  It was a dental hygienist, instructing me in flossing my teeth, who told me, ‘It takes four months to make something a habit.”  That’s not very long in the grand scheme of things, but it requires constant attention until the habit takes hold.

There are habits of action and habits of thought.  Prophets, I would say, disrupt our habits of thought.  Prophets are not soothsayers, tellers of the future.  They tell us things we might have seen or understood if we had been looking from their perspective.  They asked us to “think outside the box” back when that was not yet a cliché.

There are habits also of attention: stopping to look or listen as we carry on our habitual activities.  I wrote about my interest in William Paley in a blog back in May (May 9).  In his Natural Theology, published in 1802, Paley, an Anglican clergyman and theologian, asked his readers to pay attention to detail, from the smallest features of the eye and ear to the way plants and insects interact on a summer day.  For Paley this was all evidence of God’s good creation.  But such attention to nature is not bound to any particular theology; many religions suggest this approach to the world, as a way of really seeing, of paying attention to what is.  I tried to capture Paley’s approach, which suits my world as well as it does his very different world view, in this poem:

Habit

Alert to the ordinary, caught
by wonder at small creatures,
hidden muscles, as thumb or
toe is wondrous to an
infant, he has no
mantra, no method
to teach this habit of
attention, wonders at
the lack of wonder
in those who cannot stop
to look, who only admire
the new, the bold, sharply
chiseled lines, contrasting
colors that shout most
loudly in the constant press
of seen and sensed that
batters them until
like overbeaten dough
they lose their power
to rise to admiration, to
wonder at the marvels of
the bodies they inhabit.

“Habit” is included in Ascent: Five Southwestern Women Poets (2011).  See more on Books page.

A Poem for July 4

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Parade Float, 2012

For many years we have celebrated July 4 at our extended family’s summer cottage in Maine. After the small town parade in the morning, we go home to prepare our potluck dish and gather with acquaintances in the afternoon for a party.  Seeing people we haven’t seen for a year can be complicated, producing the sensations in this poem:

 

Hail, Festival Day!

First the parade: old
cars, fire engines,
floats carry costumed
neighbors.  Then
the party: annual
acquaintance makes
conversation hard.
Even the names slip
from these not quite
strangers: is this
the grandmother who
reported two weddings,
or the mother whose
child had cancer?
An interior parade
imprints names,
connections: she’s
Mary’s daughter, he’s
Frank’s houseguest.
Is Joan the artist
or the realtor?
Brain tires with
body: oil of politeness
cannot loosen stiff
ligaments, strained
from standing
so long at attention.

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