Wednesday, November 16, 2011
babel and bare hands
there were some beautiful moments
at that ol' Tower of Babel...
but it was always going to fall.
and since then,
we've been separated by words
and a thin veneer of failure.
and i need you to tell me
that fallen things can be rebuilt
and constructed things can be torn down
with eager, bare hands.
but you don't exist to me.
when we meet,
in the wreckage of that idolatrous tower,
i will know you
by your eager, bare hands
and you will know me
by my words.
the Revolution is a terrible place
to look for love.
because why would you love a woman
when the Revolution's coming?
why am i looking for you
in my weakness
when my strength awaits me
outside this modern-day Babylon?
i think it's because scattered tribes
always count their dead
on the one hand
and their missing
on the other.
we know where our dead are.
it's the missing who make us wander.
i have gone far in search of you
and your eager, bare hands.
the Revolution is coming, love.
we have things to build.
our mothers always told us
not to look directly at the sun.
our fathers always lit fires for us
so the flames wouldn't lick our fingers.
but it is parents, not children,
who are hurt most by incendiary heat.
his story and sad, broken wings
spawned a thousand parental nightmares.
what if our children fall?
what if they follow us to the sun
but we've given them
the wrong coordinates?
there are so many things in this world
that may kill them
and so few things
that may save them.
but the children remain unaware
of this unspoken anxiety on their behalf.
they continue to throw themselves down rabbit holes,
step nimbly over landmines,
kiss the wrong people,
make all the wrong choices,
some of them twice.
fire does not phase them.
it is their nature
to dance this closely
to the edge of the sun.
they will never know
how close they came to burning.
Monday, September 5, 2011
I just finished good quality time (almost 4 hours) with one of those friends who makes you feel most profoundly yourself. I floated down into the Red Line station, awash in feelings of realness and gratitude, when an older woman asks me if I can help her get to Millennium Park. And I freeze. Because I know she won't recognize me, but I recognize her immediately.
She's the mother of my middle-school archenemy - the girl who made/whom I let make me feel so badly about myself that those feelings have echoed through the ages. The girl I blame for lost friendships, lost sleep, and lost worthiness. The girl I hated and admired at the same time. And whose mother, I believed, held those same feelings toward my mother, who had the grace to never really engage in that. The girl who made me feel like nothing.
I eventually introduced myself to my middle-school nemesis' mother and oddly felt none of the things I'd expected. I am myself and am so far from home that there's little that could hurt me now. We played catch up, briefly, as I tried to point out that she was headed in the wrong direction. And during that catch-up, I asked about my nemesis, prepared to feel the same jealousy I always feel when I ask about "golden children." And she does have things I don't - children, a partner. But I learned, right before her mother stepped off the train, that her father is dying of terminal cancer and lives with her.
It was like being socked in the gut. I have carried this girl's actions so far into my life, only to find that we've lost/are losing the same things. None of that competition got us anywhere, except to a space that neither of us, I'm betting, would wish on our worst enemies. Which she stopped being, officially, as soon as I heard that. Hearing that helped me remember that, in high school, she got treated like shit by the new in-crowd. Hearing that helped me remember that, while she shouldn't have hurt me like she did, I used that hurt to turn around and victimize a whole bunch of people who should also never have been hurt. Hearing that reminded me that comparing myself to a person I have seen in over 15 years only hurts me, and helps me forget that we all gain things and lose them - that's the deal humanity has struck. The only things we get to carry always are grace, forgiveness, and the ability to love.
All of this time I wasted, and continue to waste, measuring up to other people, counting and cataloguing hurts, blaming others when I fall down - I get none of that time back. And there are so many things I want to do with my life. I can't afford to waste time anymore.
So, to that girl, wherever she lives - I am sorry. I am sorry for carrying a distorted picture of you around. I am sorry for envying what you had then. And I am most sorry for what you are losing now. We neither of us deserve it, which makes us more alike than either of us might have imagined...
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Water sprayed everywhere when I saw her,
the tiny, fragile baby bird
fallen out of some anonymous tree,
no feathers to break falls,
barely even eyes opened.
her beak opened and closed needlessly,
crying for help that would never come.
what kind of mother does not drop anything
to find her fallen child?
surely that is nature, not nurture,
at its finest.
a feeling arose in me as i realized my utter futility
to be savior for this innocent, broken thing.
and all those feelings i'd been playing hide-and-seek with for years
we will die.
and it will always be worse for those who die last
and are forced to watch the death of innocent, broken things
with impotence, futility, and many tears.
it was the same with you.
it will always feel the same with you.
the dying baby bird, with her tender, veiny skin and broken wings,
has the better part of the deal.
of the two of us,
only i will remember this moment
Monday, June 27, 2011
The thing I had actually forgotten was how often I used the notes/blogging function of Myspace. So I was unprepared for the onslaught of pre-breakup/pre-Mom-loss memories. In an effort to keep these words safe-ish somewhere, I figured I'd reprint them here, as a way to remember and honor who I was and am no longer and may be again. (Also, umm, in re-reading them, please note that mid-20s Cat has a MOUTH on her which makes most of this relatively unsafe for work/children/upstanding citizens)
Thoughts on Profound Loss
I was going back through some poetry I wrote during the winter, and found this one I’d written about my mother. I reflected on what her loss might do to me, and, although there’s a lot I was very wrong about, I felt like it sort of summed up a large part of how I feel now.
This is also an incomplete way of saying thanks to everyone who’s supported me recently, and who’ve supported me throughout my mom’s illness. It’s appreciated more than you’ll ever know.
The Final Depot
in the past two weeks i have:
-received pictures of aborted fetuses in the mail
-been accused of naively encouraging attendance at an "indoctrination camp for children" (a local peace camp)
-seen my father accused of nepotism (apparently, I got my job due to his fantastic ability to fix the computers of many Catholic organizations. He is a mighty wielder of power!)
-been accused of attending a church which is, apparently, comprised of only gay people and heathens
i truly have the strangest job ever. on the plus side, there's always free red licorice (oh, and 99% of the people i deal with don't hate me/pity me/pray for the state of my soul. which is nice.)
come from a plant in a tiny, gorgeous town in Baja California Norte.
The people there didn't smile, except at Charlie Chaplinesque Franciscan monks.
They work 14 hour days.
The poorer of the migrant farmers leave their five year old children to care for two year olds.
One of their children suffers from epileptic fits and there is no medical care.
They don't want you to feel sorry for them
The hothouses come from Israel and the computers come from France.
The owners of the plants own a house that is visible anywhere on the plantation so you know someone's always watching.
Their isn't anything that's harder to see than people robbed of the dignity they should inherently possess as human beings.
Just thought you'd want to know - enjoy your tomatoes in December.
it's new year's day, the day that everyone starts their resolving-to-be-better cycles of dieting, changing, evolving. also, i turn a year older.
this is the part where i am stuck - 27 is that magical age where i thought i would find a family, professional success, intellectual prowess, and general american-dreamness. instead, i am confronting the worst parts of myself with an eye towards changing them permanently. which is cool, but also hard work. which is all supposed to be done BEFORE i turn 27, so i can have the family/job/brain/coolness that is undeniably due me before i turn 30.
at least i didn't make my sister feel awful, like i did when i turned 25.
but the new year and it's eve were full of enough excellent signs that i cannot say that being 27 will be at all awful, just different than i thought when i was 15 and the mere thought of being 30 creeped me the fuck out.
and so, since i love lists, here is a list of wonderful omens for this year:
although he will be soo embarassed, i am going to say it...my partner is fucking awesome and carefully, caringly helps me to balance my brain out and not freak out all the time, or live in that paranoid space where everyone hates me, i am totally fat, and we're all gonna die. thanks, sweetie!
i am meeting (and re-meeting) the most fabulous people. and, although it often makes me wish i had been a more mature person at 19 and 20 (still really sorry about everything, missoulians), i am psyched as hell to be mature enough at 26 and 27 to recognize that i have met some really wonderful people in my time on the planet
i am really learning to be unembarassed of either my body or my brain. not in an "i'm better than you" way, but in an "my stretchmarks and your stretchmarks should be friends" kind of way
we saw whales and spent time on the ocean and drank whiskey to ring in the new year, which sounds weird but was so excellent
last of all, i think i am getting back a little of that fire and energy that fueled my activism and general do-gooderness...it may look a little different now that some of it is reserved for my family, but it's sort of back and that makes me happy
more appreciation and graciousness
more adventures out of my geographical and intellectual comfort zones
more brussel sprouts
i recently watched this video on the life and death of the original Black Panthers (find it below!) and was immediately flooded with all these thoughts about how fucked White America's views of race are (and always have been). All I ever learned about the Black Panthers was so negative and fearful and wrong. When Eldridge Cleaver came to our high school, it was the very first time that anyone had stood in front of our group of mainly white, mainly rich "young women" and told us how life might turn out if we believe the wonderful lie that luck/fate/etc. had made us better than some other people. And he told us how totally wonderful life could be if we just fought against that notion everytime we got it and learned to recognize that we had been given more than our fair share and it was time to give some of it back and start trying to deserve the power we had left. I kept the autograph he gave me on the back of a postcard depicting the earth with an asterisk and "You Are Here" next to it. My favorite coffeeshop calls its 20 ounce drinks Eldridge Cleaver sized which is nonsensical but makes me smile. I like to think that Eldridge might have liked to have something named after him that wasn't fraught with misunderstanding or hardship.
It makes me angry to think that there are people, here and around the world, who are right now, right at this very instant, being hurt or killed for their belief in justice, equality and freedom. We will, most likely, never learn their names. We will, most likely, never hear their stories in the voices of our history books. They may not make the difference they thought they would. Their children may learn to get by without them. But I just think that, every once in a great while, it is just good to stop and give praise to them for not giving up.
the end and the beginning.
entitled "Why I love the Greek Festival"
the list is as follows:
1 - loukamades
2 - it gives me the ego-boosting (albeit slightly claustrophobic) feeling that i know lots and lots and lots of people
3 - spanakopita
4 - talking with an 8 year old about the various ikons around the church
5 - listening to an explanation of the orthodox view of Mary's death and realizing how peaceful they make it sound and how much I wish that for my own holy mother
6 - baklava
7 - the modern greek language
8 - hearing this gem (out of the mouths of drunks, indeed): "do i?!? is my middle name Abby?" "umm, no, that's your first name"
9 - talents
10 - community
the end...one pointless list down, several million to go
how, oh how, has my descent into old ladyhood accelerated so rapidly?
i have noticed the following alarming symptoms:
a - i have periods of knitting feverishly. now, i know that knitting is now the latest thing to help bring down the patriarchy ("here, Patriarchy - I knit you a scarf") and restore feminine arts their rightful import, which i am all for. But I got sooo excited about the fact that my friends (whom I love and adore) just had their first-born child, Zola. Main reason I was excited - the possibility of knitting baby booties. (Side note: do modern babies still wear booties? Inquiring minds want to know)
b - I cannot stop reading mystery books from the forties and fifties. Seriously, this is the most damning of the recent "spinster-esque" (sorry, love) qualities I now possess. Who, aside from the advanced-in-years, would gladly pass on reading (or viewing) the Da Vinci Code, but is planning to read Agatha Christie's Passport to Murder and The Big Four until she can decipher all the hints?
c - My senses, mostly my sense of smell, have become increasingly delicate (read: fussy) recently. I just want a day where I don't have the urge to say to someone "Seriously, back away. You're making me nauseous." Because who says something like that? Crotchety old people (or, most probably, spoiled B-list celebrities in love with their own fame. So apparently this trait is not particulary damning - perhaps I am merely turning into Vickie Lewis of Newsradio fame?)
d - Both my elbows and my knees creak. Thank you, Laskowski and Willett genes.
e - This I was hoping to hide for a very long time, but, alas, my sister has found me out. Dear God I hate confessing this, but everyone will, I am sure, realize it eventually: I have a very large patch of grey hair on my temple. Instead of making me look very Jean Grey or English-Professor-Gone-Wild, I think it looks more like I either perpetually have paint in my hair or as if I dyed my hair from grey back to its original (lackluster) color, but was drunk and missed a spot. The truth: I am really too lazy to fix it.
I am hoping that, ala Star Trek, this advanced aging is really an episode involving the Holodeck. Hopefully, I will emerge, 50 minutes into the episode, with a new lease on life and an understanding of star dating. Really, I have no idea how that works...
(None of the above is really a condemnation of the "over the hill" or on the concept of aging. I am actually excited to be elderly. I just want it to happen when I am actually old.)
so our family is going through this thing that is huge and difficult and scary. and now i have become a writer with no words, and a future-thinker who cannot bear to think of the future. and a really shitty optimist. and i just wanted to write something about it, because crying just sucks and robs the time i have for being present and (bonus) makes me really dehydrated. so this is the second best option, and even it makes me feel itchy and restless. because everything makes me itchy and restless. and if my fears of being "kicked out" of my family were bad before, they are crippling now, because i realize that i will have to make time everyday for it before i leave, and also deal with the fact that, unsurprisingly, my sister is ultimately the best at dealing with all of this. she and my mom, the most hurt by this thing are the absolute best at helping me along. which is humiliating for a professional helper for yours truly. and i don't know how i feel about God. that's all.
so i woke up incredibly anxious today, and the day itself has done jackshit to alleviate my feelings. for a long time, i have been worried that my poetic sensibilities are atrophying...i am unsure how to explain it to anyone sane, but i think that my lack of time to write down all the little lines that float through my head has caused the words to come less frequently. and then last night i dreamt that monk and i had a baby who we only referred to as "the tiny child." the tiny child, or ttc, was actually made out of all the poems i have not written recently (which just shows how totally fucking pedantic my brain has become since i stopped writing shit down.) and ttc was always getting lost, and i couldn't find him/her and then i stopped caring, which was really emotionally fucked up in my dreamworld...anyhoo, i am pretty anxious about that, especially because everytime i do the natural thing (actually put pen to paper) it rivals hallmark in its crappy linguistics... so then i get to school and am freaking out about having to re-add physics which i stupidly dropped...and then i began to seriously hyperventilate because the class was exactly like a dream i have had. everyone knows each other, there is no syllabus, the teacher is german (i don't actually dream about that, but it seemed relevant somehow) and the "review" for the class had all sorts of greek letters and waves and math and things i have never even heard of. and then i learn that, a little later in the term, we will be learning "the basics of atomic and nuclear physics." oh, you must be SHITTING ME! i promptly re-dropped it in favor of biology, but can i just say - i hate required classes! and that brings me to my big, overarching worries - not graduating and graduating. this fucked-up dualistic approach to my life wreaks havoc on both my brain and lower back. i am worried that some mysterious requirement will appear that i have not fulfilled and which will cause me to be a perpetual senior. and i am worried about what this next year holds for me. i desperately want to be in the jesuit volunteer corp, but keep psyching myself out because i do not think i am worthy of nice things. but if i don't get in, i am afraid everyone will laugh at my next best plan of going to palestine. actually, my parents won't so much laugh as shit their pants. hmm, actually, please forget you ever read any of this. although, i do strangely feel better now.
1. the spanish word "misericordio" means "mercy" in english. 2. Scissor Sister's "Take Your Momma Out" inspires me to new heights of cubicle dancing. 3. covered bike racks are a necessity for any workplace. 3 1/2. the lack of covered bike racks makes me wander around post-lunch, afraid everyone will think i have pissed myself. 4. there is a reason why no really good songs or literature have been written by proofreaders. 5. everyone should email me more than they do.
so i am feeling out of sorts with the current protest trends. as most of us know, today was the inauguration of our fair leader. and people are still focused on one of two things: A - whether or not the election was fair (a valid point but one about which jackshit can be done now.) or B - the continued presence of US military troops where they do not belong (which is an EXCEEDINGLY good point, but one which should be acted on, not just shouted on). I felt like most of the "action" i saw today showed a lack of deep, introspective thought and a simplification that i have not seen before (perhaps because i was not looking). So then it threw me into this whole crisis about what i want to do with my life and whether activism is really where my heart is at. thankfully, the answer is still yes, but i am massively frustrated with what i saw today - much talk, little action.
so, having never used the "blog" for its personal aspect, this is all new to me. but i am on cloud fucking nine. i just saw three of the most amazing poets (Christine Orby[?], Christa Bell, and Saul Williams) speak about activism, feminism and their personal experiences of race and racism. it was good to sit back and watch people who are marginalized in mainstream society speak their piece (peace). one thing happened, though, that was a big jolt to me. during the question and answer, this girl started talking about how being blonde was something that had "oppressed" her all her life. and she was shouting at saul williams and everyone was shouting at her to shut up except saul who was really trying to dialogue, and i realized that the whites and the african-americans were having two different reactions. other whites were the ones being most vocal against this girl. but her attitude - that oppression is just when people are mean to you - was obviously familiar to many of the people of color. it made me realize how little attention white people pay to what their white friends, colleagues and fellow students say about race. it was really a disturbing thing to realize and be witness to. but, aside from all that, the night could not have been more beautiful and i am gonna love it for a long, long time coming.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
claire's got a pretty good trend going with her rosary-a-day dedication project but i always flounder around for a bit. but this year, i knew almost right away what I wanted to do.
for the past few months, i've felt very drawn to the text of Matthew 6:25-34. For those people (like me) who don't have Scripture memorized, it goes as follows:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?' All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
for a person whose life is defined by an easy security and an intense amount of privilege, i worry. a lot. about most things. i worry about money. i worry about food. i worry about how i come across. i worry what you think of me. it all adds up to a lot of anxiety. and that anxiety keeps me from doing the things i might want to. i don't hug my homeless friends hard enough because i'm worried of what people will think. i don't donate as much money because i'm worried about finances. i don't open up to people because i'm worried about being judged. and i've begun to realize two things. that worry doesn't come from God. and that worry gets in the way of the authentic life i want to live. so i decided to change my life to address some of that worry.
breaking Matthew's words down into concrete action was a little tricky, but i think i've got it down.
for Lent I will be giving up:
- eating out (unless in the company of friends). i spend A LOT of money on coffee. and then, when i worry about money, i keep drinking metropolis coffee and stop giving money to my homeless friends. not of God.
- clothes i no longer wear. i cycle through the same 7 shirts. i have WAY more than 7 shirts in my closet. not of God.
- self-deprecating statements. this one is gonna require strength of steel but i think i can do it. anxiety about myself=not of God.
- weekly time in nature. to watch those grasses and flowers (or, in Chicago's case, dry branches and more dry branches) do their thing.
- tithing to church and charity - i started doing this early and i feel super good. with my tiny donation, it's possible that a) my sister might go to Mexico (jealous!) and that my friend Melissa will be able to help some folks in El Salvador buy land for their church. i've also been able to give a little more to the folks i know on the streets who are struggling, which feels really good.
- Sabbath time each day - I will set aside 15 minutes each day to pray/meditate/be with God amidst the hurry.
Friday, February 18, 2011
one big focus of my life now is violence and reactions to violence. because of where i work and the people i surround myself with, i am becoming more and more aware of the effects of violence on individuals, communities, our church, and our world. it's become clear the issue of violence and, especially, it's impact on youth, is something that reaches me in a deeper place than most other issues.
I've also been spending time, inside and out of therapy, thinking about acts of individual violence, especially verbal violence. I've come to see the violence in self-deprecation, gossip, and sarcasm, all of which form my usual mode of operation.
About a month ago, the Kairos Community floated the idea of a Vow of Nonviolence. Some of our Jesuit novice friends in MN had undertaken a yearly vow of nonviolence and it was suggested that some of us might discern doing likewise.
Never has something so seemingly small felt so right and also so daunting. I knew almost immediately that this was what I was looking for - a strong commitment to which I would hold myself accountable (and ask to be held accountable for in the larger community, as well). It also gave me an opportunity to commit to both small and large ways of resisting violence.
On the other hand, one could argue that sarcasm, and not English, is my native language, and a day does not go by without me making fun of myself in some capacity. I also am just now getting over (sort of) a reliance on gossip as a form of entertainment. I'm never HAPPY doing these things - they're just ingrained now. Uprooting these tendencies may have serious ramifications for me and for a lot of relationships that I value. Figuring out how to stay true to this vow and not end up being one of those goody-two-shoes, holier-than-thou folks while holding this vow may prove challenging. I don't expect to get it right, at all. But the end of the vow (which our friend Sajeev said is the end of many priestly vows) really resonates with me: "God, I trust in your sustaining love and believe that just as you gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so you will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it."
I suppose I'm writing this for two reasons. One is that, scared as I am, I am mostly really excited to have taken this vow, especially in the context of a community of resistance and faith that holds me up and sustains me. The second is that I want to make this vow public so that I am accountable to more than myself. if you see or hear me engage in something that seems to violate this vow, i want to know. Ingrained habits of violence are so pernicious, they're sometimes difficult to see. i need the help of a loving community to help me root out all forms of violence in my life.
Below is the full text of the Vow of Nonviolence. Thanks for helping me be accountable to it.
Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:
Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus
- by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life
- by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it
- by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence
- by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart
- by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live
- by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.
(From Pax Christi USA and John Dear’s Disarming the Heart)
Friday, January 21, 2011
The Fear and the Poets
As poets we are dangerous people,
living in a land that views all truth as metaphor
and all our griefs as codes
for destruction from the inside,
so that when you say
"i miss my mother"
we assume the bombs will go off
and when you say
"the tyrants are corrupted with power"
we point our finger back at you
and your strange metaphorical tongue.
and when you say
"they have beaten, are beating, will beat me"
we look around, and scratch our heads,
and wonder at your strange choice of words.
we can't allow that it's true.
we aren't those kinds of people.
but we are.
and we are afraid of more than just metaphors.
we're afraid that our unshakeable faith
in life and in liberty
will come tumbling down
with the poetic quakes
sent from Guantanamo
from the font of our own imagination.
yesterday, a man laughed
in a courtroom
by all that he had done.
his unshakeable faith in his own righteousness
is not metaphor.
nor was the question posed to him,
("why did you do this to me? you were supposed to be the law")
a metaphor. or a joke.
but he laughed, all the same.
in the end,
it is not words we should fear.
it is our unshakeable faith
in things that, in the end,
are just terrible metaphors
written by people afraid of poetry.