For Beth with the Golden Hair Published in Oddball Magazine

Oddball Magazine just published my poem “For Beth with the Golden Hair.”

I am a weaker version of you
you are a stronger version of me
you said as you did not grind the gears
as you pushed it into fifth

Read the full poem here: http://oddballmagazine.com/2015/02/25/poem-by-frances-donovan/

Gratitude List

  1. Fuzzy wool socks for cold feet at night
  2. A 3:1 household ratio of blankets to humans
  3. Cooler weather means the memory foam in our bed doesn’t give me night sweats anymore
  4. We finally paid off the bed
  5. A doctor who reminds me that the symptoms of my illness are not moral failings, that I don’t have to suffer through them in order to be a productive member of society
  6. A job that allows me to work from home AND provides me with office space (now with new, improved window cube!)
  7. Listening to Sharon Salzberg’s audiobook Lovingkindness while taking baths
  8. A partner who loves and accepts me in spite of my flaws
  9. A community of friends who love, accept, and support me in spite of my flaws
  10. It’s finally frickin’ Friday
  11. Getting two more hours of sleep last night after a solid week of insomnia.

 

What Lokito’s Death Reminded Me About the Gifts of Being Present During Painful Moments

photograph of a cat and a kitten on a suburban lawn
Old man Walter and young pup Loki

I was visiting a good friend in Hartford, CT on a fine spring day in 1998 when a passel of kittens tumbled across her neighbor’s driveway and onto the grass, mewing and scratching and generally working their kitten magic. From that litter I adopted Loki, a tiger/calico mix with kohl-like markings around his eyes. It seemed appropriate to name a kitten after the Norse god of mischief.

He lived up to his name. On Saturday mornings he would skitter over the hardwood floors of my apartment and under my futon, scratching the underside of it and then running away again. Continue reading “What Lokito’s Death Reminded Me About the Gifts of Being Present During Painful Moments”

National Poetry Month in the Year of the Horse

crocus-yam-2014It’s national poetry month again. My website was briefly down because Gmail did such an amazing job of sorting my email for me, I never got the notices reminding me to renew the domain registration for Gardenofwords.com. That was a killer way to start off national poetry month.

I noticed the outage when I was pitching a website redesign to a poet whom I greatly admire. I’m fortunate to be able to pick and choose my clients in a way I wasn’t always able to in the past. As a result, my very short client roster is full of interesting, creative women. This latest client would probably point out that I am an interesting, creative woman myself, to which I respond “pshaw.” It’s nice to have friends who say complimentary things about you. In the Po-Biz, that’s how you get blurbs for the back of your book.

April has been surprisingly un-cruel in the past couple of days, especially given March, February, January, and December, all of whom I want to roll up into a big ball, flatten with a giant rolling pin, dry in the sun, and then fold into lots of sharp corners and stick up the posterior of  this past winter. It’s very easy to forget that things are exponentially better for me today than they were this time last month, and the month before. Just the other morning I forgot about it while packing my lunch. M. and I got into a lively discussion* about his tactical decision to forgo buying lettuce on Monday night rather than buying me non-organic lettuce which I might not eat. It wasn’t about lettuce, of course. It was about my own severe anxiety at having less than $10 in my checking account the day before I got paid. And the very uncomfortable dynamic that develops when two people fall in love and move in together, and then one of them takes a hefty pay cut.

On the plus side, we worked it out, as we always do. I’m continually amazed at M’s ability to handle situations that have baffled me for most of my life. Emotional intelligence comes in all kinds of packages — some of them former infantrymen. Also on the plus side, I’m steadily plugging back up the hill toward a full-time work schedule. Also also on the plus side, I took a walk yesterday afternoon and TOOK OFF MY COAT. And didn’t put it back on once. Which just goes to show you anything is possible.

Spring is late this year, but it’s here. The hills are still grey and brown with bare trees, but the moss has turned bright green and the grass won’t be far behind. Snowdrops have been out for weeks now, lingering in the cool spring air. Crocuses are here, and may even be gone in another week. The daffodils in my back garden have been poking their little green heads up. Ralph chases the squirrels until well past 6:00 pm.

Poetry-wise, I’m doing less and more than I’ve done in years past. Whereas in past years I’ve adhered to a strict regimen of a poem-a-day, I find myself moving more fluidly now. I’m making inroads into new techniques for revision, attempts to cut away the dross and find surprising turns of phrase. A sort of Orb-style remix, but with random poems instead of sound clips.

The bout of illness and the 40th anniversary of my birth made me stop and think about what I’m doing with my life, and if it’s what I want to be doing, and what I can do about all that. When I’m very ill, I will often decide that This One Big Change is what will fix all of my problems. Past experience has taught me that it usually just creates more instability and makes it harder to get back to a baseline. A cursory search of the Intartubes (“year of the horse” plus “horoscope” plus “2014” plus “water ox”) gives me highly scientific** evidence that this is not the year for me to make any sudden changes. In the Year of the Horse, things gallop along. You might find yourself miles from where you started, only to discover you’ve gotten on the wrong horse. For a person born in the year of the water ox (1973), it’s not a good year to be moving and changing. But it is a good year to send out hidden feelers under the earth, gathering information through the mycelium that binds us all together.

The seed inside unfurls with the longer days, reaching toward the light. I watch it, worry, pray it won’t be killed in an early frost. April is cruel in a different way every year. I am curious to know its cruelty this year, in the year of the horse. Maybe there will be a kindness to its cruelty, as I slog and toil and trudge into something warmer, something sunny, something else.

 

*which our neighbor could hear through the walls, no doubt

** and by “scientific,” I mean the opposite, of course

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker: Okelle’s Career Path

A gentleman I’ve never met but would like to some day asked on Facebook, “What was your strangest job?”

It wasn’t my strangest job, but my most memorable and also my first real-paycheck job: ushering for the Palace Theater in Stamford, Connecticut. The pay was crap — some people actually just volunteered in exchange for watching the shows — but its rewards have stayed with me through the decades. I saw Ella Fitzgerald (twice), Chuck Berry, Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, George Carlin, and countless plays, operas, ballets, and symphonies. And I didn’t appreciate it a bit. Well — maybe a little bit. God knows I do now.

Continue reading “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker: Okelle’s Career Path”

Beltane 2013: Union and Loneliness

Beltane fell on a Wednesday this year. It’s my favorite holiday, but even though it is a holiday of union, this year it leaves me feeling rather lonely. On Sunday I’d intended to rise early and make the trip across the river to my old church for the annual Beltane service — a tradition I resurrected when I was a part of the congregation and the Women’s Sacred Circle. It’s good to know that it still happens without me, but bittersweet. Even before M and I took the plunge and moved in together, I’d begun to pull back from the community at First Parish. It’s hard to say exactly why, although it’s definitely for more than one reason. Since the church is in Cambridge, there’s a regular turnover in membership. People finish their schooling and move away, or they pair up and move off to more affordable parts of the world. Once I’d looked on those people with disdain, but like so many of the people whom I’ve judged in my life, I came to find myself following that same natural progression.

I still remember the incredulity and joy I felt the first time I walked into the First Parish Cambridge Meeting House on a Sunday morning and heard an old, white man in a black robe saying things from a high pulpit that I actually agreed with. Things about the inherent worth and dignity of all people, the interconnected web of existence, the importance of social justice, the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. There was a banner above the door that said “Support Marriage Equality — We Do” — and this was long, long before the tipping point of public opinion on that issue.

Before I ever made it to the Meeting House on a Sunday morning, I’d attended the CUUPs rituals in the Barn Room. Two warm and wonderful Texans I’d met at a public ritual on the Boston Common brought me to my first Yule in the Barn Room. Then later, after I’d left Quick and moved to Cambridge, after I’d reveled in my freedom for a while and dated lots of people, after the rather disastrous end of a rebound relationship, I found myself sinking deeper into depression and isolation.

A woman I met on Craigslist–a recovering Southern Baptist–took me to the rounds of potlucks and parties in the winter. It sounds trite, but those potlucks and parties saved my life. At the time, I was looking up the lethal dosage of my medications, seriously considering death as an option. But I had a party to go to instead. One night, the movie I Heart Huckabees convinced me not to end my life. That same woman started rousting me out of the house on the third Friday of the month for Women’s Sacred Circle. I’d known about the group for years, but was intimidated by the fact that it was closed to new members except for once a year. And Fridays are tough in general, but Fridays in October, the month they open to new members, are brutal.

The community at First Parish was so cohesive and yet so varied. College professors, software developers, non-profit do-goodniks, menstruation rights activists, environmentalists, atheists, pagans, Buddhists, old-school UUs with Puritan pedigrees, a few token queers (I was one), believers and doubters and  folks who showed up for the community and the cookies — all these people came together to the Meeting House for a service where they sang hymns like “For the Beauty of the Earth,” and listened to sermons about Martin Luther King and the importance of comprehensive sex education. It was a place where anyone, even a woman, even a lay person, even me — sinner and witch and lapsed Catholic that I was — could organize a service. It was the first place I truly felt that I belonged since I moved to Boston from Hartford almost 5 years before.

After a year or so, though, the bloom came off the rose. Some members of the thirtysomethings group decided to invite all the “cool” people to a Christmas party the same weekend as one my girlfriend was throwing. I noticed the stranglehold of the current leadership of CUUPs; they said they wanted new members, but they didn’t actually let the new members participate in any planning decisions. Friends paired off, got married, moved off and had babies, never to be heard from again.

Even the Women’s Sacred Circle, with all its magic and mystery, began to feel like a chore instead of a place of union and spiritual growth. During my stint on the leadership council, it was not unusual for meetings to run for five hours. And I realized, as perhaps all of us realize as we push on into our late 30s, that my time and energy were sadly finite. I wondered where else I might be spending it.

I began to direct it elsewhere. Slowly but surely, M and I began the careful steps to bring our households together. Settling in took longer than I thought. I mourned my old life in Camberville: the friends an easy T ride away, the streets, the back way from Arlington to Harvard Square, the Trader Joe’s at the Fresh Pond rotary, the summer meadow just beyond it, next to the Fresh Pond Reservoir, the water itself enclosed in a chain link fence. Some of them I still keep in touch with, but the meetings require planning, long drives. Weeks and months might pass before we see one another. Sometimes one or the other of us cancels, and so more weeks and months pass. We keep in touch on the Intartubes, but there’s no substitute for physical presence.

Nine months after the move, I joined a poetry workshop one of my circle sisters has been attending for years. The critiques were tough, but I appreciated the focus on concrete results — publication — and the practical tips given and shared to help us all achieve the same goal. In December I had my first success: my work was accepted at Lyrical Somerville and will be published next week. In April I read at Porter Square Books, and I am scheduled to read again at the Newton Public Library in October. After the reading, the workshop leader said “you surprised us!” She’d never seem or heard my finished poems, only the unfinished ones I brought to workshop. Buoyed by the praise I’d coveted for so long, I submitted to two journals.

Finances demanded that I take a hiatus from the workshop for a few months. With the world’s sap rising, I find myself composing more and see how my own eye has changed, my writing more careful — sometimes for the better, and sometimes not.

As I write this, the sun shines in the back courtyard on the forsythia bushes, all yellow in the bright spring light. Birds come and go from the feeder I installed last year; this spring I know most of their names. The leaves and spines of my garden wave in the breeze. The cats wander in and out of the treeline. For the first time ever in my life, I have a room in my home that is three walls open air, the solid brick behind me. The oaks have just begun unfurling their leaves, but for now the sun shines unimpeded on the bed I planted one week ago, on the pots I brought with me from Camberville. A nature-worshipper, I have access to more actual nature than I’ve ever had before. It’s right outside my door, front and back, and yet I’m a five-minute drive from Jamaica Plain, Boston’s answer to Cambridge.

It’s not the same, though. I am too far from my old circles. It’s a distance through both space and time. We’ve scattered and settled elsewhere. The bonds grow weaker. And I’m not sure I have the energy, the strength, or even the inclination, to build another circle from scratch around me here.

I don’t regret the union I entered into when I moved to this new green and alien place. I bathe in it every day, and the water is sweet. But I do regret the interconnected web of existence I left behind in Cambridge.

The Day After the Boston Marathon Bombing

Sudden violence (is there any other kind?) throws the world into sharp relief. Horror that doesn’t speak but roars in the head like the ocean. Magnolias blooming under the crescent moon.

It gives things the proper perspective, too.

Last night, laying on the bed, talking to my mother on the phone while Army Guy relaxed next to me, the younger cat purring between us, I felt utter contentment.

This morning I woke at 6:00 am to take down the emergency update on the hospital website that I maintain. Cortisol shot me awake, makes me drained and snappy today. The sun is shining, the air is crisp and lovely. The Copley Square area is closed from Mass Ave to Berkeley. Did they wash the pavement clean? Will they find who did this? Will the cycle of violence continue, into the end of the time? Is peace just a pipe dream, like dreaming for the end of hunger, the end of darkness?

All things in sharp relief, from one moment to the next.

Four Way of Looking at a Homeland

1.
Embarcadero backwards
lady firefighter in Victorian dress
bronze plaques trailing behind us

At the Ferry Building, I explode in hunger
sad-eyed, you explore on your own

On the terrace,
             a seagull as big as my head
begs, expectant
        then pigeons
                 a corbin I’ve never seen before
     (blue-black, but not a grackle)
puffs his feathers and collapses
making a noise that makes us laugh

2.
Muir Woods. Scottish father
Mother from the deep
In silence we repair, foot-sore,
the light that shines between us

In the mist all things are possible
trees mightier than the sword
walk far enough and you will find silence

3.
Road a sacred spiral
there the stand of eucalyptus
there the hills
there the fog
there the houses
there the ocean

4.
The elk, unexpected, in the hills of St. Helena
regard us without much interest

raptors on the wind above hills
tall as mountains
gentle as hips
wider than a mouth can contain

The Move: During

Saturday 12/17/2011

Moving day. 8:30 a.m. and I have time enough for tea, time enough for love.

Sipping the tea from my to-go mug (all the china is packed). Laptop laboring away with its asthmatic fan. Surrounded by boxes, and still my house has its elements of humanity. The plants. The Chinese fan, the bodhran, and the calendar still hanging on the wall. Most of other the artwork bubble-wrapped and stacked.

Stop. Breathe. Feet on the floor. Be present.

And the day begins with the eleventh step.