Tuesday, August 31, 2010
There is a little girl who catches
Words as they fall from the sky…
She lets them melt on
Her tongue like snowflakes.
There are sweet words and bitter words
And words that are way too hard for her to swallow.
Words that are too hot to hold
And words that she just wants to cuddle.
She wants to take some of the words
And hide them under her pillow,
Leave them there like baby teeth
Then wait for morning when
The words will turn into treasure.
There are words soft as wool
That she can weave into stories
And words as hard as diamonds
That cannot be cut.
Words that gleam and others
She is a lonely little girl
Who no one talks to really.
They throw words at her
And make her carry them like stones
In heavy buckets that she
Shuttles between them
Again and again.
The words enter her heart
Like poisoned darts and her blood
Becomes the highway for these words
To travel all through her.
Words she doesn’t want to say.
Words she doesn’t want to hear.
She wants the other words,
The ones beyond her reach,
The ones that look like stars
That rest on her earlobes
That caress her neck and wrists.
She is a little girl with a butterfly net
Chasing after the words
That have escaped from her heart
That float through the air
Too high for her to reach.
She jumps higher and higher
Until she falls to the ground alone.
Lying on her back in the grass,
She looks up at the great big blue sky
And sees that the words have become balloons
That pop pop pop into silence.
Suddenly, her mother’s scream pierces the air.
Shattering the silence, words tumble on top of her
Her father’s curses land in all of her soft places
Bruising her skin, punching her arms,
Slapping her face, thrusting inside of her.
She wants to find the words
That can shove them back into silence.
She will lie on the ground still as death
Dreaming of the beautiful words that got away.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The day that my friend Tobi Zion delivered the painting of me that I had commissioned her to do, I found a dead butterfly floating on the top of my pool. The painting, entitled “Marsha, Reborn” grew out of conversations I had been having with Tobi about this passage of life I have been going through since my children left home –a kind of struggle for re-invention post- career, post motherhood – which as I explained to her felt like a kind of re-birthing of the self.
As we were talking about this a couple of weeks ago, Tobi opened her eyes wide and said, “I SEE it!!!” And at that moment, we agreed that she would paint what she had seen.
It only took her about two weeks to complete the painting, and during the process, she would sometimes email me and tell me what she talked about with me that day, or what music we were listening to together while she was painting me. One the day, right before she finished the painting, she wrote, “I can feel you breathe.”
So it was with more than a little bit of anticipation and anxiety that I awaited her arrival.
When I first saw the painting I was stunned and slightly disappointed. While the woman in the painting looked like me, her expression and the overall sense of the scene seemed too calm, innocent, almost and not much like the wrenching emotional pangs of a difficult labor I’d been experiencing lately. That feeling lasted only a moment, as I sat before the painting and let it tell its own story to me. Even though I had had the idea for the painting, by sharing it with a close friend, an artist, and asking her to paint it, I was saying to her, “Take this story, and make it your own. Show me new dimensions and resonances that I am incapable of seeing on my own.”
And that is what she did. She dressed me in my favorite summer dress, put my jewelry on me, turned my lips into a Mona Lisa smile showing my mouth at the moment right before speaking, the words promising to escape from my mind and planted inside of me a fully developed fetus, swimming in a womb of flowers, its round face, covered by a butterfly. A joyous and colorful celebration of the fullness of life.
Later, she told me that she had unconsciously painted the same butterfly that I had placed on my facebook page – the one in a see-through chrysalis about to emerge into the world.
Tobi and I had a wonderful afternoon together that day, going out to lunch and talking about deep and important things. She’d recently lost a friend to cancer, as I had a decade ago, and we talked about the fragility of life. We talked about our grown children, our marriages and our longing to love and be loved.
When I returned home, late that afternoon, I went out my back yard for a swim. But first I had to skim the pool, a mindful ritual for me which I remind myself that everything – my house, my pool, my body exists in nature.
Floating atop the pool and nestled within hundreds of bright pink petals from the crepe myrtle tree was a beautiful yellow and black butterfly. I gently placed the skimmer beneath it, then carried it in the net over to the crepe myrtle tree where I let it float to the ground. With mounds of deep pink flower petals, I covered the butterfly until it could no longer be seen.
For days I have been pondering the significance of the appearance of a dead butterfly, floating in water in my back yard on the same day that my friend brought me the image of rebirth.
When I told my husband Nate about the butterfly, ever the rational man, he said, “It’s just a coincidence. It doesn’t mean anything.” He went on to explain how if we were to calculate the number of butterflies we had seen in the garden this summer ( a much higher number than usual) and then figure out the surface area of the pool and the space it took up in the backyard, then extrapolate using some formula of probability, we would see that it was kind of inevitable that at least one of those butterflies would land wings down in the pool.
But I couldn’t get the butterfly out of my mind. On the following morning, I went out to the crepe myrtle tree to visit the makeshift grave. What I saw startled me. The butterfly I had buried beneath the tree was lying lifeless about a foot away from the pile of petals.
I can only imagine that last surge of life that fueled its final movements - it's dance before death. And looking at it then, I saw its wings move ever so slightly, not sure if it did it itself, or if it were blown by the passing of a gentle breeze.
In Beyond Coincidence, Plummer and King compare our understanding of synchronistic events to quantum physics. They write about Carl Jung and the work he did when he teamed up with the physicist Wolfgang Pauli. One of their most fascinating insights --- that just as physicists are constrained in their ability to know whether the sub atomic particle they are observing is a particle or a wave by their own participating in the observation, so too are we constrained when looking at a the occurrence of two or more causally unrelated events which could have the same meaning by our willingness to believe in a world in which mind and matter are united.
My husband, who makes meaning in his life through logic, numbers and formulas, was able to explain the appearance of the dead butterfly through mathematics and probability. For me however, as someone who tries to live in story and metaphor, in poetry and possibility, the appearance of the dead butterfly on the same day as the arrival of the painting of rebirth calls up deeper meanings and teaches me some difficult lessons.
I must always remember that what is born will always die, that with every new beginning there is an end, that every transformation requires a sacrifice and that life itself, like the butterfly can be fragile and short-lived.
Marsha, Reborn by Tobi Zion
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
I didn’t have natural childbirth, though I labored mightily with my first child thirty years ago. My husband and I had done birthing classes – pure Lamaze training with Marie Lorello, a legendary midwife and Lamaze instructor, who was all the rage among educated young women like myself, who were determined to have a different kind of birthing experience than the one foisted upon our mothers by the male medical establishment of the 1950s. We did acquiesce to a Cesarean section class, required by Lankenau Hospital for the prosepctive father who might want to be in the operating room should it become necessary to cut the baby out of me.
For years, I felt cheated by what happened to me when I went to the hospital after feeling the first pangs of labor at 7 in the evening on a Sunday night. My ire was directed at the doctor who ordered the nurse to give me pitocin at 3 PM the following Monday afternoon in an attempt to hurry my labor along. Only later did I understand the timing. The pitocin drip was timed precisely to have my baby be ready for delivery at the end of his office hours so he could be home for dinner.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way. My labor stalled, the baby showed signs of distress from the pitocin induced contractions and I was “rushed” to the operating room for an emergency Cesarean section, my months of training and breathing rendered irrelevant.
“If we think about the entire journey, we will be too daunted to take the first step,” Marie had said as she lead us through the different breathing techniques for the progressively difficult stages of labor. Just take one step at a time. Breathe in. Breathe out. Give yourself over to the journey.”
And that’s what I tried to do as the epidural sent cold numbing fluid through my back and the surgeon cut through my skin horizontally and my womb vertically.
Michael Ray Pincus was born at 5:OO PM and I have no doubt that Dr. First made it home in time for dinner. I was left with a curved scar below my navel. To this day, my abdomen looks like a mocking, smiley face.
Dr. First opened up that same smile once again two years later, when my daughter Allison Rachel was born, a planned C-section this time, at 9:18 AM. The doctor liked to start his day at 9.
These memories don’t hurt as much as they used to. I am grateful for my children and the lives we have lived together. Mike is 30 and Ali 27 and they are beautiful, compassionate, healthy and positive adults who are both doing good work in the world. So what if I was numb as they were sliced from my body by an impatient surgeon’s knife?
Giving birth should hurt. Being born must hurt too – you’re all cramped, swollen, unable to move, a fierce pressure holding you in while another violently tries to push you out.
What comes next, I have written about before, and I imagine I will continue to write about it. Until it happens. If it happens.
Once in a playwriting workshop nearly ten years ago, we were asked to draw a self portrait, with our eyes closed. I must have lost my place and started over, because when I opened my eyes to look at what I had drawn, I saw the image of a woman with another identical woman inside of herself.
A woman, giving birth to herself.
I have been haunted by this image since it first appeared to me, reading psychology books about women in post mid-life, memoirs of women on spiritual quests, tales of women leaving their comfortable lives and beginning the painful journey of finally giving birth to themselves.
I am in the throes of it, feeling the twin pains of giving birth and being born.
And this time, there is no time clock on the wall, no surgeon’s dinner waiting for him, no pelvimetry to measure my womb, to fetal monitor to watch the vital signs, no pitocin to hurry things along, no epidural to dull the pain.
Just the deep, deep contractions of a life folding in on itself.
And Marie, her voice echoing through the years, “Breathe in, breathe out. And give yourself over to the journey.”