Charley & the Chocolate Factory

Sometimes I get a whiff of it,
something that takes me back in time.
I close my eyes and breathe it in.
Sometimes it’s so sublime.

But yesterday, I smelled a smell
that brought me to my knees.
I was back in the park, near the subway station
under chocolate covered trees.

Do you remember that time, in the park?
behind the factory?
That time when I thought I had lost you for good?
Thought you weren’t coming back to me?

Sometimes I get a whiff of it,
something that takes me right back,
and we’re staring down those trains again,
we’re standing on that track.

You ever smell it? Do you?
Something that brings you to that line,
and you wonder if you’ll be all right
or if this will be the time…

Sometimes I get a whiff of something,
that is so strong, and so good.
It takes me right back to better days
there in the neighborhood.

The bittersweet scent of August
when the evening air smells cool
brings me back 100 years,
back to when we were in school.

The boys smelled like raw onions
and the girls like Sweet Honesty.
The gymnasium smelled like dirty socks
and the librarian smelled like tea.

The cafeteria smelled like Salisbury steak
and spilt milk and mushy peas.
The bathroom smelled like cardboard and piss,
and the dumpster smelled like disease.

The halls smell like industrial paint,
and the playground smelled like hot tar.
We’d sneak over that wrought iron fence and run,
but we never ran too far.

Sometimes I get a whiff of it,
something so good, so strong.
Something that takes me right back there
to the place where I belong.

The black girls smelled like shea butter,
the boriquas, like fried plantains.
The old lady next door smelled like mothballs,
and her basement smelled like rain.

The Indian girls smelled like curry and
the Cubans smelled like beans.
The crazy German guy down the street
smelled like bitterness and mean.

We ran past his house so quickly.
It smelled like gunpowder and booze.
and no one on the block was surprised at all
when they heard the awful news.

That night we played manhunt on our bikes,
hiding behind trees and cars.
We pedaled and pedaled for hours and hours
but we never went too far.

My mom smelled just like cupcakes
and a starchy ironed crease.
My grandmother smelled like Chantilly
and her hugs smelled just like peace.

Your mom smelled like garlic and oil
and a wet brown paper bag.
I smelled just like a teenage boy
and you, smelled like a fag.

So your father smelled like anger,
resentment, failure, sin,
underneath cigar smoke,
Old Spice, tonic and gin.

Your family smelled like misery
and a complete loss of hope.
Mine smelled like Pine Sol,
Tide and Ivory soap

My father smelled like hard work,
chocolate, menthol and hops.
He taught us how to drive a stick,
and how to smell the cops.

There was a vanilla air freshener
in my crappy old smoke filled car.
We drove and drove for hours and hours
but we never got very far.

We could smell the situation
and we learned to play the game.
We were certain we could smell danger
an hour before it came.

We could smell the adrenaline
when we got up to the edge.
We could almost smell the freedom
as we leaped off of that ledge.

The day he died you walked with me
through a house that smelled like bread.
My fingers smelled like copper
and the sitting room smelled like dread.

We stole all of the liquor
from his parents’ basement bar,
to take us away, somewhere, anywhere.
But we didn’t get very far.

The next few years smelled like brandy
cheap cigarettes and beer,
cherry blossoms, magnolias,
sugar, excitement and fear.

We sat in a room that smelled like skunkweed
and we called it paraquat.
It smelled of dirty laundry
and the things other people forgot.

Sometimes in the middle of a hot summer night
the air smelled heavy and thick,
and the sweetness filled our nostrils,
and we forgot that we were sick.

We ran toward the train tracks
that smelled like wood and stones and tar,
running away from the stench of it all.
We never got very far.

The air smelled like ash that time
I jumped right out onto the tracks.
I grabbed the rails, I heard the train,
and you pulled my dumb ass back.

The room smelled empty, antiseptic,
Like metal and porcelain,
like hours spent on hands and knees
scrubbing away the pain.

Like silence and medication
and psychedelic songs.
I thought I would get better someday.
But my thoughts, they smelled all wrong.

The years have passed us by now,
and look at where we are.
All this time and distance.
We never got very far.

Sometimes I get a whiff of it,
and it takes me back in time.
I close my eyes. I breathe it in.
Sometimes it’s so sublime.

But yesterday, I smelled a smell.
It brought me to my knees.
I was back in the park, near the subway station,
under chocolate covered trees.

 

 

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Sea

My peace, my love, my joy.

Soon
the sea
will take it all
And I
shall not
be sad.

Sitting in the boxy
hotel balcony
on the 7th floor,
overlooking the ocean.

I watch as the tide creeps in. 
Wave after wave,
inching closer and closer to the mural I sketched with my soles,
digging in deep just before the stars went out,
just before the sun came up,
just before the fishermen began to line the shore.

A sign of peace,
           a sign of love,
                      a sign of joy.

Soon it will be swept out to the sea,
and I will not be sad to see it go.

Even as the seed of it blossomed in my brain 
I knew it wouldn’t last.
How could I deny the roaring of the ocean?
As I stepped away to survey the scene;
my peace, my love, my joy;
I saw the spectators seated in their own balcony boxes,
Heard their whistles and applause,
I looked up at them, their smiling faces, and I waved with both hands, beaming.
Every single thing about that moment was sweetness.

So now I sit in this box and I breathe.
I rest calmly in the knowledge that everything is impermanent,
understanding that ultimately
all of my energy and all of my effort
will be stolen,
softly,
slowly,
by the ocean.

My peace, my love, my joy.
It will mingle with the salt and with the sea and become a part of everything. 

My peace, my love, my joy.
It will all be swept into the sea.
And I shall not be sad to see it so.

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No Shame. Period.

It was a hot summer day in 1978. All of the kids from the block were there. In Ms DelTufo’s pool. She was such a nice neighbor. 

We would all gather and sit across the street from her house on my grandmother’s front lawn, waiting to see her coming or going or walking around the yard. When she appeared we’d do our best to look bored.  

If she wasn’t coming outside and we really wanted her to notice us, we’d play touch football right on her lawn. When she looked out the window, we’d do our best to appear overheated. 

She would come out and say ‘Do you kids want to swim today?’  

We would all scatter like roaches, run to our houses, throw on our bathing suits, grab our towels.

Within moments all of the kids on the block would be in the pool jumping, laughing splashing. 

But on this particular day I was sitting on the concrete around the pool with only my feet in the water while everyone else swam. 

I had just gotten my period for the first time.

My grandmother had proudly proclaimed to my uncles who were eating lunch, ‘Kim became a woman today!’ much to my great embarrassment. I was a 10 year old tomboy who didn’t even want to be a girl! There was no way I was ready for womanhood!

She had also broken some other horrible life-altering news.  

Grandma: You can’t go swimming now. 
Me: Ever? I can’t go swimming ever again?
G: No,
M: Whew
G: Just for a week or so.
M: A week or so?! That’s like forever!
G: And it will happen every month. 
M: Every month? Every month I can’t go swimming?! 

This was terrible. A whole week of long, hot, sunny summer days. A whole week of listening to all of my friends while I sat in the house. Sequestered like some sort of cave woman. 

My grandmother obviously didn’t know about tampons. So I was left, calculating. This could be 21 whole entire summer days of missed swimming opportunities. 

It would mean more of these conversations that I was about to have right now.

All of Them: Come swimming!
Me: I can’t.
Them: Why not?
M: I just can’t.
T: Why not ?
M: Because I’m sick.
T: You don’t look sick.
M: But I am.
T: Then why can you sit here by the pool, but you can’t swim?
M: Because I can’t.
T: Why? Tell me why? 
M: I just can’t, alright?! Jeez, shut up! 

Then I stood up and stormed off.

I went back in to my grandmother’s house. I laid down on the couch and stewed. I could hear the splashing of cannonballs and squeals of joy from across the street. This was not going to be easy. 

To this day, I’m not exactly sure what it was that kept me from simply saying,

‘I have my period.’ 

My grandmother had just declared my womanhood to everyone in the house with pride! And here I was wallowing in sadness and shame.

All of the women in my family had been waiting for this. Aunts asked out loud over coffee and wine ‘Did she get her period yet?’ They speculated about when it would happen like they were taking bets. It was a rite of passage that they were all anticipating (aunt-icpating?).  They spoke a bit too loudly and proudly about my developing body, but they whispered whenever a man walked into the room. 

Uncle: What are you ladies laughing about?
Chorus of Aunts: Nothing!

So an hour later, I sat in silence, back at the edge of the pool. I sat there slouched over, holding onto the leftover genetic shame from caveman days, waiting for my friends to tire of swimming. 

It was a long, hot summer.  

Luckily, times have changed since 1978! Right? 

I’m wondering if things have really changed all that much? The regular use of tampons has helped, I’m sure, but tampons aren’t for everyone.  

Are we still having theses types of conversations? Are we still unintentionally shaming our girls by keeping our boys in the dark? 

My 15 year old informs me that she would proclaim it without shame should the situation arise. She thinks it would embarrass most boys. She said even at a girls-only party, there would be girls who cringe at the mere mention of menses.

My 13 year old, for instance, didn’t even want to answer my questions. She told me not to write this blog post. She told me not to discuss such things with anyone. Ever. ‘Mommm! Reallly?’

Recently at a public pool, I overheard a conversation that went something like this:

Girl: I can’t go swimming.
Boy: Why?
An intercepting Mom: She’s sick.
Boy: What kind of sick? Can I catch it? 
Mom: No just girls get this kind of sick. 
Boy: Swims away confused. 

Girl: Sits and sulks.
Now, the girl is not only unable to swim, she is also a liar. She has been shamed by her well-meaning mother for something that will be happening to her every month for the rest of her life.

She will continue to feel the shame of it in varying degrees for perhaps, her entire life. 

This boy will grow up to one day realize what was happening at all of the pool parties when the girls were sitting out. And he’ll hold on to the seed that was planted in his young brain; the idea of periods as sickness, as something that keeps women from doing things, as weakness.

I have taught my girls from the time they were young that our periods are a part of our power. They connect us to the universe. Deep down inside of us there is an atomic clock that connects us to the gravity of the moon and the flow of the tides. It is the thing that allows us to bear children, perpetuate the species and form bonds of unconditional love. It is one of the things that makes this world possible and beautiful.

One of my kids grasps the scientific shameless nature of it. The other wants no part of the conversation. 

How can there still be so much deep rooted shame in a biological process? 

Why can’t the conversation always be simple? 

We have to stop shouting about power to our girls, and whispering about biology around our boys.

I like to think that if I had sons I would teach them about  menstruation before their peers were about to come of age. I hope I would.

The summer of 1978 would’ve been much more bearable if the conversation were just a little different. 

Them: Hey come swimming,
Me: No, I can’t.
Them: Why not? 
Me: Period. 
Them: Oh, okay. Let’s go play football instead.
Me: Yes! (Runs to the lawn smiling).

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Spirits In My Head, and They Won’t Go

I used to love Asti Spumante. Way back when I was in college, Asti was my party drink of choice, because it made me happy. Very, very happy. 

There are more than a few photos floating around of me holding a bottle of Asti in my hand, with my head thrown back and my face full of laughter. I always drank it straight out of the bottle. Why dirty another glass?

Last week we had a college reunion of sorts at our house. My dear friend Michael brought 2 bottles of Asti Spumante. Half way through the evening I poured it out into so many tiny paper Dixie cups (nothing but the best for these folks) so we could raise a toast to our long lasting friendship.

As I took a sip for auld lang syne, I was immediately transported through time. Standing there on my deck, surrounded by the old familiar faces, darkwave music playing in the background, the voices and the laughter mixed with the taste on my tongue. It was an absolute perfect moment. I drank it all in, and I thought,  

Tonight’s the night I drink again
It hit me like a hammer, and my monkey woke up. Oh yeah! It’s on

I haven’t had a drink in 6 months, and this was the first time that I felt a real craving. It was big. It was strong. It filled my whole body.

So I poured another swig in a Dixie cup, and I sipped it slowly. While the party swirled on around me like a dream sequence, the monkey in my head planned to go inside and get a big glass. 

But I realized that pouring it into a glass wouldn’t satisfy that monkey. He didn’t want a glass of Asti. He wanted to drink it straight out of the bottle. Big bubbly mouthfuls. In quick succession. He wanted to grab that bottle tightly around the neck, wave it up in the air, dance, sing, and say inappropriate things way too loudly.  

It was the entire flashback that my monkey wanted. All of it. 
So, I brought the bottle into the house and put it on the counter. 

For the rest of the night, every time I walked through the kitchen I looked at it. I felt the flashback each time. And each time I thought about picking it up, and drinking it down. But I didn’t. I just let it be. 

It’s still there. Half full.
I’m keeping it there because it’s powerful. So powerful it can wake the dead.  

At a very young age my brain was programmed to hide things, to bury them, as a means of protection. I kept big secrets and I stuffed my feelings deep down and put a cork on them. Denial and avoidance are the tools of that trade.

The sober practice of meditation has taught me that everything we hide eventually comes to the surface. Like spirits they emerge from the grave, scratching and clawing. They sometimes come back subtly, and sometimes with a vengeance. They usually have a score to settle. 

We can dig a deeper hole, and bury them again, but they will resurface time after time. Because they’re not really dead. They have a lifespan of their own. 

We have to face them, meet them where they still live, listen to what they have to teach us. We have to resist the desire to let them go, and learn to simply let them be. 

They are always there, buried under the surface, under the business, under the noise. If we avoid the stillness and the silence and the situations that will trigger them how can we work through them? If we live in our busy, noisy comfort zones; if we avoid people, places, things who challenge those thoughts, feelings, beliefs, how are we growing?

The bottle on the counter will encourage me to embrace the spirits that rise up to the surface. It is a constant reminder that things come up. Things will always come up, and rather than bury them, I will acknowledge them.

I will meet them face to face. I will allow them to be there. I will allow them to live with me as long as they need to live, until their business here is done.

Out in the open air, uncorked on my kitchen counter, until their lessons evaporate into my life.

********
The song that has been haunting my house. Spirits by the Stumbellas 

********

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A Figure of Speech 

I remember the day that I first fell in love. It was the spring of 1977. I was 9 years old.  She was standing at the front of the room, chalk dust on her hands, hair pulled back in a neat ponytail. I was listening to her voice, sing-song, lilting. I was completely unaware that my world was about to explode.

Then it happened. She said the word, and as she said it, my ears perked up, my eyes widened, my heartbeat quickened. Something stirred deep down inside of me. It was a feeling I had never felt before, yet it was achingly familiar. I knew, I somehow knew, that my life would never be same after that. After she said the word. The word that sparked my ever-living, ever-loving, undying devotion. That amazingly, wonderful, hypnotic word.

She said,  ‘Onomatopoeia’.

Just as the beautiful, blessed, wonderful word slipped from her lips, she gazed at me. She saw my reaction. Gasp! It was as if she could hear my heartbeat from the front of the room. Thump! Thump! She knew what she was doing to me. She looked right through me and kept on going.

‘Alliteration,’ she said. I could barely breathe.

‘Simile.’  My heart was beating like a drum.

‘Metaphor.’  I was a ticking time bomb.

She could see the excitement in my eyes, and so she continued to speak.

‘Imagery. Allusion. Hyperbole!’  Yes! Yes! A million times, yes!  Call me Alice because I am in Wonderland!

 
By the time she got to caesura- oh, I was spent.

The words! The glorious words! Words to describe other words!

These words expressed what I’d been feeling inside all along. My words had been paint on a palette, just waiting to be tapped and stroked, and now… Now I had the brushes! Now I had the tools that I needed to turn them into something bold and beautiful.

From that moment on, my relationship with words became conscious, active and deliberate. I began to hold words closer to my eyes, to magnify them, to see them more clearly.

I began to turn them over in my hands, to feel them, caress them, squeeze them. I began to tear them apart and put them back together.

I stuck them in my ears, letter by letter.

I swirled them around in my mouth. Chewed on them. I learned how each one felt and tasted. I noticed how every combination of words had a different flavor. How the textures varied on my tongue. Silky, smooth, sharp.

I learned that the exchange of words is always peppered with the unique spices of the participants.  Sweet, sour, bitter, savory. I swallowed them. Digested them. Felt them flowing through my veins.

I began to study the sounds and vibrations in my ears.The rhythm and the timbre of each word, separate and strung together. Staccato, legato, pianissimo, marcato. The consonance the dissonance, inflection, intonation. The clanging and the banging, the tintinnabulation.

I felt them as they flowed from my fingers to the pen and out onto the paper. The thin blue lines, and the thick black curls.

The feeling in my finger-pads as pencil scratched on paper, or my fingertips and fingernails tapping as they typed.

I felt them. Everywhere. Inside me and all around me.

 
And now my thumbs fly furiously across a small screen, trying to keep up with my brain.

Sometimes I can’t keep up.  And sometimes, I have no idea what you’re saying, because I’ve started a relationship with a word you said 5 minutes ago.

I’m busy turning a phrase in my fingers, touching it to the tip of my tongue, banging it against my eardrum.

I’m busy falling in love again, fanning the fire that was ignited years ago by a woman whose name I can’t remember.

She had me at ‘Onomatopoeia’.

 

 

 

 

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The Politics of Compassion 

A slow, steady, daily practice of loving kindness and compassion for all people can tear down walls. Even Trump sized walls.

With compassion in mind, I watched the Republican National Convention. Compassion for all includes compassion for an influential celebrity who chooses to spew divisive words of hatred and fear. It includes compassion for supporters who think white is better than black and straight is better than gay and christian is better than muslim.

With kindness in mind, I tried to understand why the speakers think the way they do. I tried to understand why their words trigger a reaction in me.  I accepted that the words cause a reaction in me other than compassion and kindness. I breathed.

I do this every time someone in my friend group posts something on social media that causes a reaction in my gut. I get a feeling, something in my body, tangible.  I want to respond immediately, but I don’t. I’m not ignoring it.  I’m working with it. I am feeling my feelings. I’m trying to figure out why I feel them.  I’m trying to figure out what they even are.

Sometimes it’s nausea mixed with anger mixed with panic mixed with disbelief mixed with confusion. But it’s definitely not kindness or compassion. Where do they come from?

They come from somewhere. They are inside of me and they well up to the surface when something triggers them.  They are a part of my physiology. And they stack up like bricks around my heart.

So I breathe through them, and I try to soften. I breathe and I try to soften.

Why do I feel this way? My feelings come from every moment that has happened before this one in my life.  And so do their feelings, the feelings that produced their words and ideas. I try to understand why I feel the way I do.  Then I try to understand why they feel the way they do.

We are all just products of circumstance.   We are products of where we were born, how we were raised and what we were taught. It was someone’s responsibility to educate us; our parents, our teachers, our neighborhoods, our churches.

We think our ideas are our own, but they’re not.   They all grew from seeds that were planted by someone else, by some person or experience in our past.

I was discussing this idea with Maggie the other day, and my 15 year old social justice warrior told me in no uncertain terms that we can no longer sow those seeds, because it is “our responsibility to unlearn everything we’ve been taught.” I reminded the young idealist that not everyone believes in letting go of our ancestors’ ideas and embracing a new age.

Coincidentally, I had just read a book about Robert Louis Stevenson, and had been completely taken by a passage he wrote.  He said, “You cannot change ancestral feelings of right and wrong without what is practically soul murder.”

Soul murder. These are strong words. Trying to change someone else’s mind is like trying to murder their soul, and the souls of their ancestors.  We hold on tightly to the things we have been taught. So tightly that some of them are written in our genes.

He went on to advise, “Barbarous as the customs may seem, always hear them with patience, always judge them with gentleness, always find in them some seed of good”.
I am trying to do this, daily. I’ve added his requests for patience and gentleness to my own practice of compassion and kindness.

I don’t argue about politics in the interest of kindness. I don’t want to commit soul murder on anyone.

As I watch the Democratic National Convention tonight, in the interest of compassion, I will continue to slowly gently soften, breath by breath. Tearing my own walls down patiently and gently, brick by brick.

 

 

 

 

 

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Jayne Says

I try to be nonjudgmental
(about yoga poses), 
but, if someone were to press me, 
I might tell them 
that Warrior 2
is one of my favorite poses. 

On one particular day,
however,
my friend Jayne 
kept us hanging out
in Warrior 2 for 
quite some time, 
(quite)
and even though
it’s one of my favorite poses, 
I started to feel a bit weary. 

My arms were growing tired,
my legs were working hard,
I was struggling, uncomfortable,
my mind was wandering and I was
wondering
when we would be moving to the next pose,
wondering
what the next pose would be,
wondering
how long she was going to keep us there.

I was thinking, 
please, 
let us move, 
when will we move?
tell us to move, 
I need to move,
dear god, can we move?

I decided I was going to move. 
After all,
I didn’t have to stay there. 
I have freedom of choice,
I can always choose
to seek comfort.

Just as I was about to 
move out of the pose, 
she said something 
about staying in the moment.
She said something
about presence of mind. 
She said something
about appreciating all that is happening,
right where we are.

She said, ‘Just be here. Love this.’
‘Just be here. Love this’, she said 

And I thought to myself, 
as I held steady, 
Can you just be here? 
Can you love this moment? 
Can you really, truly, completely,
be in this moment
instead of standing here 
waiting for your practice to begin?


Your practice isn’t on hold 

while you’re struggling impatiently in this pose.
This pose is your practice. 
This practice is your life. 
This moment is your life.
Why are you waiting for your life to begin?
Your life is not on hold.
You may think you put it on hold
to do other things,
for other people, 

while you wait 
to go somewhere else 
to do something else
that you really want to do
for  yourself.

But your life is not on hold. 
It
 never stopped.
It’s here. It’s this. 
This is your life.
This.

She said, ‘Just be here. Love this.’


Stop your mind 
from wandering 
away from this moment.
Stop drifting off to a different place,
wishing you were somewhere else.
Stop reminiscing,
rehashing,
regretting the past.

Stop looking forward to
the time
the place
the day.

The day is here.
This is the day. 
It’s here.
Be here.

‘Just be here. Love this.’ she said.


Stop wishing that your life would change.

It is changing.
It is constantly changing.
Even when you’re standing still
Even when you’re struggling 
to hold the pose.
With every breath you take,
it never stops changing.

It is changing as you sit here.
So, sit here.
Feel this.
Stay here
Accept this.
Right here.
Embrace this.
Be here.
Love this.

‘Just be here. Love this’ she said.

I heard her

‘…be here. Love this.’

**********

Sharing my earworm Jane Says

*********

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