call and response
words echo back
after reading you
sometimes still alive, mostly dead
your cadence in my head
where you live moments, hours
a lifetime, imprinting past a pulse
into the next and the one after that
all of us who try to capture
copy, reclaim your voice and
make it our own
Look at all the meditators speeding to slow down, a friend of mine used to snark as we drove on Sir Francis Drake in Marin County. Long ago I thought of Spirit Rock as a wellspring for well-heeled grown up deadheads. Cloistered pretentious pilgrims seeking fake refuge from the world, a much smaller version of Disneyland where everyone grinned silently, smelling of patchouli. But the earth rotates, years go by, I’ve been meditating for six of them, becoming less judgmental. August 13th 2017, I enter Spirit Rock. Volunteers greet me with smiles that look genuine. Have you been here before? No, I answer. Bathrooms and the bookstore are to the left, the cubby rooms are over there, that is where you can put your shoes and lunch. I find my way to the large community meditation room, a huge expanse that reminds me of a synagogue, large windows on all sides, light colored wood, all recent construction. I don’t feel any of the energy that dwells in old European churches; this building is new, very new. Rays of light from outside bring warmth in spite of the AC that surrounds us. Some individuals sit on cushions up front near the two Buddha statues and burning white candles. The space is mostly populated by women, with a smattering of men here and there, many people are barefoot. I sit in my 4th row chair and watch large blades of grass waving through the window, sunlight reflecting off straw-golden hills in the distance. I see a woman wearing a t-shirt inscribed Every Body is Beautiful, close my eyes and take seven deep breaths. Sharon Salzberg sits in front of the room looking like a cross between Bette Midler, Yoda, and Ray Bradbury. You don’t have to believe in anything to follow your breath. Your breath is portable. You’re breathing and no one even needs to know you are doing it. We sit and meditate for maybe ten minutes. The rest of the day we move in and out of meditation with a focus on understanding Loving Kindness, the giving of compassion to self and others. Love is not a feeling, it is an ability. We can cultivate and strengthen our capacity to love. Interlaced in the day are boundless stories about meditation practice and experiences from Sharon’s life. I find myself laughing and smiling as the hours pass. There was more, much more, learning about mental noting, dealing with our inner critic, really looking at people instead of through them. At the end of the day I thank Sharon then quietly acknowledge my new found gratitude for Spirit Rock.
My grandma Ethel begins baking weeks before Christmas, her work takes time. Yuletide cherry gem cookies, like sweet scarlet rubies nestled in soft floury sugar. Tan cookies with careful fork-pressed hash marks; trademark peanut butter from an old Schenectady, New York recipe. Chunks of chocolate chips, swirled in batches of dark and light brown, undulating contours, each slightly different from the next. Christmas trees with shiny green sprinkles and Red Hot candy decorations, hand cut with a metal mold. Layer upon layer, they are placed on wax paper in circular tin containers from the 1940’s when she became a mother. A couple tins are kept out, many our slid into the outdoor freezer, an unknown quantity of love and Christmas spirit frozen in waiting. We arrive to ham and turkey, cooked that day, but the cookies linger in memory year after year. That evening Rochester snow falls outside, white flakes looking in. I sit on my grandpa’s lap, his fingers press organ keys, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer bellows from our lungs between cookie bites. At night I slumber in my father’s old bed, the one with carved wooden posts, hear Santa’s sleigh in my dreams, awake for presents, count the hours until the tins and milk come out again.
Manicured ladies in stilettos navigate ancient smooth stoned pathways, corridors assembled during Roman times. Their legs, butt cracks, and cleavage pattern the night, wafts of perfume mingle with the smell of grilled octopus and cigarettes. Some cling to tan wrinkled arms of sugar daddies, men with white chest hairs attached to fortunes drenched in cologne. I never visit the island for Gucci or Fendi, air-conditioned square shops of consumer luxury. The purring cicadas surrounded by sea are my siren song, blue water darkening as it journeys to Tunisia. Pulsating, my calves quiver up and down steps to Villa Jovis where Tiberius reigned supreme, decadently tossing the unwanted off cliffs into the watery chasm of time. The ruins sit unaffected by sun’s sweat dripping from my elbows. I rest in pine tree shadows, imagine when Neruda was here, arranging verse in his head. Away from the glitz, everything is as it was, as it is, ants, jasmine, laughter of the old women who were born in Capri, born by the sea.
most people don’t look out airplane windows
so focused on iPads, coffee cups, sneezing children, they
forget patches of white snow painted on
mountains below like haphazard cupcake icing
stratified sky, hazy wispy air, clouds like rabbit
tails, under deep azure, stretching up towards
the airline magazine dulls my imagination
pages about a hot dog eating champ, movies, TV shows
between ads for hotels and credit cards, I forget
how we got here
suspended in space sipping club soda
lakes look up, see us gleaming
watch our speeding motion
as we travel from
one place to the next
unmoved, trees quietly witness our descent
I pull down the shade
So let me start by saying there was no tongue involved, but there was sweat, anticipation, nerves, so it counts. Camp Friendship in Palmyra, Virginia, end of session dance on the outdoor basketball court, where every counselor and kid goes crazy. I am eleven. My cabin’s counselor Matt has his face painted half black, half white, wearing a button down shirt like some 80’s version of Kiss. We (all the boys) slick our hair back with water and borrow drops of Brut from Daron who already has stray whiskers and has been preparing for this evening for weeks. The first songs are heavy with Billy Idol, in the midnight hour she cried, more, more, more, nothing age appropriate, not that any of us are listening to the words. We are too busy following Matt, jumping up and down skipping like ska dancers. The girls sport side ponytails, wearing colorful gimp necklaces and short jean cut-offs. We all commingle on the ground as the B-52’s blast Rock Lobster, down, down, form breakdance circles, spaz out to “Come On Eileen,” then slow it down for the Bee Gees, “How Deep Is Your Love.” I’m standing next to my best friend Sean, when Carla and Erica make eye contact with us. Do you guys want to dance? I ask. It is a fingers to shoulders slow motion waltz, with all the couples doing their best to look at anyone other than their dance partner. I’m swaying with Erica, she has short hair like Pat Benatar, her pink polo shirt collar popped. I can smell the watermelon Bubblicious that she casually swishes in her mouth. Sean gives me a huge grin like he’s a toddler with his very first scoop of ice cream. The next song is by The Cars as we awkwardly detach ourselves from the girls. There is the lingering feeling of Erica’s hands. Around 9:30pm the prepubescent party starts to wind down like the sweaty end of a sugar rush, Luna moths and mosquitoes flutter and nip getting ready to take over the night. As I head back to the cabin with Sean, Carla calls out, You guys wanna come to our cabin? We have Oreos. Going to girls village after dark is against the rules, but we don’t hesitate to follow Carla. After devouring a couple cookies and handfuls of care package M&M’s, Sean and I prepare to leave. As we begin to walk away I hear Angie’s voice. Aren’t you two going to kiss these girls goodnight? We turn around to see Angie’s large boobs in a tight white t-shirt; she’s their 15-year old CIT (counselor in training). She reminds me of Rizzo from Grease. Erica is standing only a few feet away, it is like I’m on the high dive and she is the water. I’m nervous, but the pressure is on, I have an audience. For a second the crickets stop chirping, the stars stop twinkling, I stride back to Erica almost lunging. I manage to cradle both her cheeks with my hands like I’d seen in movies, then plant a kiss directly on her soft lips, and say good night. Sean is able to do the same with Carla and we immediately take off running like two cowboys into the wilderness, our eleven-year old adrenaline pumping faster than our legs will go. We move across the dark grassy field like boys escaping the future, like miniature men.
I’m addicted to Saturday morning cartoons. Friday nights my sister and I sleep on the blue and white carpet that covers the upstairs hallway. Head to head our sleeping bags contain weekend excitement zipped up in plaid softness. Just before 7am we wake, take turns peeing, stumble like little zombies wearing pjs, go downstairs for the sugar. Pile Tasteeos (a generic version of Cheerios) into our bowls, then heap spoonfuls of the white stuff from a large snapped glass jar, before navigating our way to the basement TV. The Magnavox sits dormant, boring, until one of us pulls the knob, turning the dial to channel 5, Big Blue Marble, the colorful glow of the earth greets us. By 8am the grey goop like melted cotton candy has been scooped up from the bottom of my bowl, I’m transfixed, wired, ready for Super Friends. Good vs. Evil, the Hall of Justice vs. the Legion of Doom, subtle American propaganda?, a magic lasso, aquatic powers, gadgets, Krypton-derived strength, interspersed with short vignettes urging us not to smoke. 9am The Smurfs, a mushroomed utopian village, minus the lack of females, the menacing cat Azrael, the balding black-robed Gargamel, and the bullying of Brainy who is always right. At 10am my appetite for wealth is reinforced by Richie Rich, he, like the games Life and Monopoly, teach me that having mucho money is good, very good. The last show of the morning is Tarzan and the Lone Ranger. The hour does it’s best to insert African and Native American stereotypes into my plastic mind, along with a heavy dose of male-dominated adventure. Around noon I have a rumbling stomach and my dad has already threatened to turn off the TV at least once. We finally ascend, pop in some Stouffer’s French bread pizzas, put on some clothes, and count the days until our next Saturday morning injection.