Thursday, September 29, 2011

Flu season

Delighting in sunlit moments,
I would grow into a large and languorous beast
were it not for my visitor, this blessed and most vexing virus.

Oh dear virus, you give me gifts of vagueness and lassitude.
You give me gifts of irritation and inflammation.
Snot’s not your only offering but also challenge and answer.

White cells battle with viral invaders. Tiny life is lost on my behalf. 
Here is another (another!) lesson on the inner struggle
and I wipe metaphor from a reddened nose.

I enter the day with heat, joy and hacking cough.
I am taught again that food is simply sustenance--
learn that both health and sickness are obscuring veils.

I pray today for all those who are well, that they may not languish.
From my nest of crumpled tissue I pray that I may respond as valiantly
as my white cells—
—as the least of my humble white cells—
to this vast world of woe.


Monday, September 26, 2011

My child, preparing for surgery.

Your transgendered body will move as gracefully as ever,
hands molding time into beautiful moments.
Your grey eyes, brightening with hope,
will still spill light into dark corners.
The road ahead of you unwinds in the same rambling fashion.

The road behind is quiet now, but traces of you
                           have shaped this landscape forever.
Some things change.
Some things stay the same.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Note

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it's not;

to squeeze inside events, dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble upon a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;
and to keep on not knowing
something important.

                  (Wislawa Szymborska)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Double Helix

The Double Helix nebula, located near our own galactic center

I lie in the nest of the easy chair, babe asleep on chest,
his warm heaviness seeps into my core
making my arms heavy with joy,
weighing down my eyes with joy,
filling up my heart with joy.
Here is a little boy on my body,
never in it but borne from it nonetheless.
Nearby my daughter sleeps after her long ordeal—
her deep familiarity easing into eyes and heart.
I hold what is from her
but is not her.  I hold what is from me but is not me.
We nestle together neath the warmth of a westering sun—
and I am from that sun but am not myself a sun.
My heart bears heat from the very core of that yellow star,
bears light from its light, but is not that star.
This child of my child is also a child of that sun.
Together we lie comfortably in the world, in this chair,
waiting patiently for the sun to set,
for other stars to fill the warm night air.


Friday, September 16, 2011


Stendhal said, "One can acquire everything in solitude except character."

Character lives in the spaces between us. 
When plunged into the texture of faces—the smell of others—
our character is molded and carved;
is struck, stymied, woven, wondered.

In crowds we experience the numinous firsthand. 
No need to question the miracle of infinity: it is before you. 
No need to force gratitude from a miasma of loneliness— 
gratitude is on the menu at dinner. 

Separate universes—wholly other—
Friends may look familiar
but they bring us to our knees time and again.
They condone, condemn, digress and dismay.

They steal our gold, then donate their last dime.
They heal our wounds and sustain our hearts as we die. 
They slap us down and raise us up.
‘Midst them we are builded.  Gilded.  Filled with holiness.  Given life.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I Know They Never Once Thought About Me Sitting in Their Future

Rain hammers the metal roof of my porch.
Lightning arcs toward a nearby copse of trees
and thunder drums, shaking cars, setting off alarms.
Outside my humble shelter, grey squirrel
hangs motionless, upside-down on wet maple.
He blends perfectly with maple bark,
leaving me to wonder at the mimicry of nature
and the tenacity of small squirrels
hanging upside down on wet trees.
Sipping my tea I consider the native people,
                 the first people,
wondering what their homes looked like on this spot were I sit—
considering the warm drinks they sipped during storms such as this.
Sassafras?  Spruce needles?
Wondering if small children sat with a tent flap
open to rain and thunder, laughing and wondering
at the sight of grey squirrels hanging upside-down on trees.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

In honor of today. Paul Simon's Wartime Prayer

Changing views in healthcare (NOT a poem!)

I heard a grieving father talk last month on NPR about experiences with a miscarriage.  He spoke of the lack of ritual for such events, and how he and his wife lived through this difficult time.  This caused me to think on death and inevitability and societal norms.  Why, I wondered, had death become so separate from our daily lives?  I knew the when: it was about the same time as the establishment of the American Medical Association, and their monopoly on health care.  We now take their expertise for granted.  Over the past hundred years illness and death have moved away from the family home into cleaner settings.  Mortality rates have dropped precipitously for many diseases and ages.  Expectations of cure have escalated.  

But why were we so eager to give away our intimate knowledge of death?  That may be the easiest of all questions to answer:  We are really tired, as a species, of dying.  It just sucks.   “It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch,” said the anonymous poet and we are exhausted by fear. 

It is my considered opinion, as a hospice nurse and poet, that the pendulum of reliance on healthcare to have the answer to all our ills may start to swing back, may have already reached the top of its arc and may be ready to head the other way.  We see it in the easier acceptance on the part of doctors that they may need to call in the hospice team.   We see it in the numbers of families calling hospice instead of remaining in a healthcare setting where they would die among people and machines whose sole purpose is to postpone the inevitable. These people aren’t requesting assistance to die.  They want to let nature take its course and they want to be surrounded by love. They want to go home in more than one way.

There are many things that medicine can do, chiefest of which is to prevent disease.  We have not effectively used medicine for that purpose, however, as in a capitalist society we find that money is to be made in greater quantities by illness than it is by health.  Big pharma, hospitals, diagnostic labs and yes, many physicians, are reimbursed at higher rates and for longer periods of time for long term, chronic illness than they are for preventing such illness through education.  Big money days may be at an end though, just as the polar ice cap is about at an end.  The poor, the elderly and the underinsured will no longer be invited to the Chronic Illness Party.  They (we) will be dying at home more often.  Death will find its way into our neighborhoods.  Our relatives will be dying comfortably at home cared for by us.  Our children will not grow up believing that death is always accompanied by car chases and heavy gun fire.  Young people and their aging parents will once again have conversations about end of life wishes and legacies.  We may re-establish rituals to help us survive our grief—perhaps black armbands will come back in vogue to mark us as a people apart, returning to life again after death has come one inevitable step closer.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

One Life to Live by Billy Collins

This is the only life I have, this one in my head,
the one that travels along the surface of my body
singing the low voltage song of the ego,

the one that feels like a ball between my ears
sometimes, and other times feels absolutely galactic,

the life that my feet carry around like two blind
scholars working together on a troublesome manuscript.

This is the only life I have, and I am standing
dead in the centre of it, like a man doing a rope trick
in a rodeo, passing the lasso over his body
smiling inside a twirling of ovals and ellipses.

This is the only life I have and I never step out of it
except to follow a character down the alleys of a novel,
or when love makes me want to remove my clothes
and sail classical records off a cliff.

Otherwise you can always find me within this hoop of myself,
the rope flying around me, moving up to encircle my head
like an equator or a halo or a zero.

Monday, September 5, 2011


The Sick Child by Edward Munsch

The slightest wisp of remaining hair
lies flattened on your temple,
and your mouth--blue--a perfect cupid's bow--
waits for one last tender sigh.

Light recently housed in your betrayed body
flies in quick eddies round the hospice
while aunts and sisters hold sacred coffee
to ensnare you,
to bring you home.

I call your name, but it cannot house you.
You burned with love for this life.
We also hover, lured by the hope
of learning your jeweled secret--

---how to forget this dream of attachment.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

My table was singing today

There was a man with tongue of wood Who essayed to sing, And in truth it was lamentable. But there was one who heard The clip-clapper of this tongue of wood And knew what the man Wished to sing, And with that the singer was content.
                                                                                                Stephen Crane
My table was singing today.

In fine-grained, golden tones it sang of a time when the wind was its friend and the sun spoon fed it sugar and a hummy sort of business was being attended to in its nether regions by legions of creatures. 

Thus sang the table, in my quiet room. 

It got me to thinking about other songs—songs that are small and not well attended.  Songs so great that I could only ever be the faintest trace of a quiet vibration on the final edge of its softest sound.

Here I sit square on Middle C, on a scratched and poorly tuned upright piano in a dusty living room in the middle of the middle of Michigan and now I’m singing my song. 

A fine poet once said it was my duty, that singing was the duty of all of who hear the song or any trace of the song.  Do you hear it now?  Listen hard—hum, it goes hum it goes hum it goes hum it goes hummmm.  In a syncopated sort of hummy way.   Hum.  Like a wave or a pulsar or the strong scent of lavender.  Hum.  And a drum with the hum and a beat of my heart in the art of the hum and I lumber along with the beat of the song.

Why did we ever stop rhyming?  And beating?  Thank God for the songs of young people who know that it is the drive of the beat and the heat of the words that beat back defeat and heal the deep wounds that lie in our hearts.  It’s the hum and the drum. 

What did Dr. Seuss teach us if not that one fish and two fish can last forever?  That certain green food had potential far beyond a drab kitchen full of twinkies?   Do we remember anything half so well as the song that wakes us in the morning, pounding on day’s door to be heard? 

So here I go, humming my little hums, with no drum.

(. . . with maybe a little drum in the background on occasion.) 

With my heart beating its own special beat. 

Hey Captain, it says, pay attention.  There be music in here.

--------------------------------------------------------------- (rhonda)

Thursday, September 1, 2011


One hungry winter morning
amid broken rows of corn,
a lean cat waits, watching a hole
beneath the least of stubble
as though it were no trouble
to lie still for one eternity---
two eternities---
three at the least.
Cat watches with golden eyes while
at the other end
a slow tail beats the change
of each era.

Within the dark hole trembles

either the mother of next year's
crop of patient field mice---

or tonight's dinner.