"Love Note for the Rough Days"

It’s Poem-a-Day/Post-a-Day Week! No editing, no perfectionism, no publisher/submission-managers mediating the place of art in public. IMG_2659


Day 3

A first draft from 10 days ago, Hawk Campground, Marin Headlands, under the cypress rain

_ Love Note for the Rough Days

Rest easy in that storm heart, those thunderheads gave it to you for watering roots and shaking bones into dancing.

Sometimes it's dark inside the beating water of the sky.

Rest easy in that storm heart you got, let relief crack open the way summer breathes in Georgia when something bigger than human hands decides there will be no more fires set, no more fires allowed to burn.

The way lungs fill with electric ease when it finally finally finally rains.

The First Question

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

~Mary Oliver, The Summer’s Day


When you come to a print on a muddy streambank, the first thing you say is not “This bobcat was thirsty.” The first thing you ask is not, “What should we do about all the thirsty bobcats we now know exist in this woods?” The first thing you think, on a good day in your walloping, galloping mind, is not even “Hey, a bobcat track.”

The first question is: Who is it?

And the first answer is: No answer.

It doesn’t matter if you think you know. If you are as certain as your own left foot. Because the truth is, there is nothing certain, nothing given about even your own left foot.


The trick here, the hard hard tightrope dance, is that there is space between noticing and meaning-making. And in fact, there is a space before noticing as well. For most of my life, nobody taught me this. I thought curiosity had to with voracious, rampant questions, answer-driven or aimed at taking down assumptions somewhat sharply (“critical thinking”). No one mentioned that I was skipping two major steps, steps that, if skipped, tend to leave certain mental and physical muscles atrophied and stagnant, until your starving spirit or soil-working hands suddenly need them decades later, and you feel the awkward, unfamiliar strain.

Welcome back to your animal.


The two steps, the two muscles I largely missed from age 6 to age twenty-whatever (what age was I yesterday?), were the slowness of noticing, and the capacity to stay inside of not-knowing, to tolerate curiosity and multiple possibilities.

Have you ever noticed how unconscious we have made our noticing? Wait, there’s a catch-22 in there somewhere…

We perceive first with our senses, in mutual subjectivity, as ecologist and magician David Abram tells us, with the matter around us. Our sensory perception happens so quickly, in these animal bodies we live from. It makes sense that a lot of this noticing would go uncatalouged in the conscious mind- if we had to take time to consciously list every color we perceive in order to move through our day, it would take a very long time to get anything done (conversely this is why sitting and listing every color you see is a great way to get out of an addictive pattern to getting things done). And even our almost insantaneous meaning-making from the things we notice makes good animal sense- if something is dangerous or there is a very short opportunity to take advantage of a food source, our body-mind needs to be able to go without a ton of articulated, analytical conscious thought.

But we have created a strange world of billboards and car horns and sirens, of rooms without wind or water or food where we spend our days, all these sensory spaces that our animal bodies might very well perceive as extremely threatening. Starvation spaces. On top of this, though we create beautiful music and tender things, we also fill these worlds with extreme injustice, oppression, cruelty, and torture. And then we ask each other, in our jobs and transit and home spaces and waiting rooms, to move through these worlds at breakneck speed. No time or safe container to deal with all that truly perceiving these things would imply for us. No wonder the noticing muscle goes not just under the conscious radar, but under-used altogether.

Noticing, presence, whatever you want to call it, asks us to stay in relationship with a bigger body, a larger organism or ecosystem. The meaning-making that follows, in this world we’ve woven, can bring with it extreme grief, stress, and pain. For many of us then, it has become a survival tactic to turn down or shut down most of our perception.

The problem with this tactic is that it leaves us out of relationship with the bigger body. Suddenly, we are stuck in starvation mode, alone, without the “family of things,” as Mary Oliver puts it, to hold us if any of that pain or joy from perception does get through to our lanky, rough, tender hearts.

So simply walking up to something, a track or a feeling or a knot, walking towards it instead of immediately assuming meaning or danger (“it’s a bobcat!”), and asking, Who are you? brings us instantly back into relationship with our ecosystem body. Suddenly, we’re not alone anymore. Then, too, this practice relieves us of the intense secret pressure so many of us carry around to already know what’s going on. In this way, too, the practice releases a bit of the hubris that “knowing” and certainty bring with them, a hubris that often becomes cultural structures of harm for our world-body.


The relief, the delight, the humility, of not knowing, of wondering and therefore walking towards, of suddenly being in curious relationship again with the matter and body around us, in direct defiance of a world that says we are separate individual isolated entities living on top of matter- I believe this is a radical act. For our own development, yes, but also for the way we live with this planet. I’ll return to this at the end.

First, though, let’s talk about how uncomfortable it is not to know! At least for me, it’s almost intolerably painful, even as I recognize its value. This is the second step, the capacity to stay inside of not knowing. To ask that first question, Who is it? To notice, and draw no conclusions yet, letting the first answer be: no answer yet. Instead of the drive to find out the answer, curiosity in tracking for me is the increasing ability to stay and play around in the space where I don’t know.

Tracking teachers Scott D. and Jon B. are amazing at modeling and guiding this process. The first time we stood and looked at a hole dug by an animal (probably) and were not allowed to decide whose it was, I lost focus immediately and started planning what to cook for dinner. The next time I tried to stay inside the question and possibilities while looking at a nimal sign, noticing more and more details and considering options without narrowing to any answers, I almost started crying. I was so uncomfortable with the physical experience in my body of sitting with the unknown. All of the other unkowns in my life rose around me like a flood, a deluge.


For those of us whose sense of value and personal stake in the world have been built around performance, competence, whose education has encouraged us to be clever, to know answers, to volunteer in a group only when we have something concrete and correct to offer, whose sense of ability to receive gender equality has perhaps depended on maintaining an outer appearance of extreme independent competence, it is really, really hard to trust that your teachers want you to have the space to be wrong out loud. A lot. But as Jon and Scott so artfully and compassionately demonstrate, trying to be right immediately decreases the likelihood that you will actually perceive as much of the story in the landscape as possible.

To be in widely perceiving, expansive, deep relationship with the world I am a part of, to learn at a pace and with a humility that allows for my delight and deep learning, epistemologies (ways of knowing) that depend on proof, defense of ideas, and certainty must fade, in order to be balanced by a deep trust that information is present in my inner and outer landscapes, and I will meet it with the gentle, slow question, Who are you? And I will stay with what I notice, and I will wonder, and I will generate possibilities, not because I need to prove that there is something here worth looking at- that I can already trust- but because I want to track who it is and how they are moving, because I want to explore. The only agenda is not to have one. And to show up. And to ask.

Cowbird Pond

Then, when I’ve noticed things, and questioned, and made humble meaning, I can point to the trails of my knowing as a story or a root system. Rigor is still present here- the threshing out of a track-maker’s possible identities, and the continual noticing of details that support particular possibilities- this is a rigor of deep systems observation, rather than of isolated, replicable experiments. We still say, this is why I know what I know. But it is not a thesis defense. It is a story rooted in deep observation, and it arises out of not-knowing, and noticing, and then following the threads, bringing past observations and intergenerational teachings to bear on the curiosity play.


These practices apply equally to a bird in the sky, a track on the ground, or a deep sense of knowing or experience in the self. I came to write this not because I am looking at tracks or birds (well actually as I write this a bunch of crows or ravens are dive-bombing what I think might be a raptor because of its shape and flight pattern and the way it’s being treated by the neighborhood birds), nor because I am anything but a novice tracker. Rather, I am embarking on two years of deep learning in a school setting, albeit an extremely unconventional one. I can feel my old ways of learning, of needing to defend and prove and protect my curiosities and sense of thread, attempting to sneak in. And they were delightfully harsh and rigorous and left me with a lot of distrust and atrophied inner muscles.

The last time I was a full-time student, I expended an incredible amount of fear and exhaustion trying to prove academically that all the things I thought were connected and important- poetry, education, ecological literacy, radical reclamation of voice in spaces under attack- were, in fact, connected and important. And I did it. But my sense of trust was shattered. And this has deeply affected my ability to stay in relationship with my own education. It has inspired self-directed learning, and transformed the way I teach and lesson-plan. But in my own relationship to academia, there is still this sense of being under attack, of a thesis defense, of the possibility that everything I believe is worthy could just be wrong. A hundred times while writing this, I have, in fact, stood up and walked away, because of the fear that it will be unclear, that the arguments or the writing will not hold up. Expression modulated by fear of outcome has become a disastrous energy-suck. It is not really freedom. It takes away a crucial part of learning: messiness, voice-ownership, testing, trying, curiosity, self-trust. Empowerment.

Last week at Goddard College, where I now have the immense blessing of being a graduate student, I made a commitment. In the past, I have had to defend and prove the very idea that the ideas I see and feel are connected are, in fact, connected. This is a warlike way to relate to my own knowing and curiosity, and to the world in relation with it. How can the act of my learning model the world-change I am trying to learn about/into? I commit to trusting that these threads are connected, that these prints form a trail. This is not in question. My task, my gift-burden (TRANSLATE?), is to approach with this trust and ask the threads, Who are you? To track, knowing that they are connected. To, with curiosity and an increasing tolerance for staying in this roiling, dark, strange river of not-knowing, begin to find out how they are connected, and what that might grow into in the world.

So I ask, Who is it?


In the case of my study queries, who is talking about systems and eco-social resilience? Who are the people proposing applicable frameworks of changemaking, and what are they saying? Who has something to say about grief and cultural story in the context of structural revolution? What about art and individual action/expression? Who is here? Who am I in this conversation?

I'll let you know whose tracks I find  think I've found based on noticing and presence and staying with questions...

I am still in the dark on how this first question, this noticing and tolerating curiosity, leaning towards, lives its way through us into bigger systemic change. I don’t know. It is difficult to trust that this is a “good” or “correct” thing to do. That it serves. My impulse is to turn away, towards rational, critical cynicism- Who is this helping? If I don’t know, if I can’t prove it, I should abandon the track. We only have so much time here, and the seas are already rising.

This is all true, in one sense. But/and, to tend this world without knowing in my body how to be in relationship with the shadow, with the unknown, how to stay engaged in perception and openness to interrelationship- without these things, I might very well replicate the very structures I hope to change. Avoidance of interrelationship and shadow are one of the threads I want to track, in fact- how are these fears at the heart of the harms we’ve built? I don’t know yet. And so the question is simply, Who is this? Who is moving here? And, as part of that, Who am I? My body wants to follow and so I follow. Back into relationship, messy, shaking, unknown, with the body of the world.


Kingfisher Zine

A few months ago I had the honor to contribute to Kingfisher, a collaborative zine currently publishing out of Providence (I think?). Just found the PDF of the issue, based around the glorious theme of Grunge. Here it is: Grunge

Looking forward to checking out other issues as well, saw some names of great folks in those tables of contents.

What the Body Wants

The mint roots got tired of the windowsill water, so in the early afternoon today I pulled myself out of the mental bog and mire of second-guessed decisions that I'd been slogging around in and went outside to fill a cup with pebbles and dirt. There happened to be a hurricane helping water the weeds and native plant garden in the dirt parking lot. I was not particularly worried about it. I grew up on what I think is the fringe of a minor hurricane corridor (is that what they're called? or is it a hurricane foyer? the language architecture of weather seems to be a futile exercise in imagined control- we give it names, rooms in houses, corridors, so maybe it won't gobble so much. So maybe we'll have a better linguistic grasp on chaos and a better literal grasp on our roofs and beech branches and car windows.) I had heard distant thunder earlier in the morning and the rain was coming down pretty much in accord with regular old gravity- psh, I thought. Not even a good, drenching lightning storm to siphon off this end-of-August frenzy we've all been feeling, fall whispering its evening way in. Hubristic and barefoot, I opened the mud room door and stepped out onto the harsh pebble driveway, unafraid and frankly hoping the water might rinse off some of that mental bog mud. The dog, on the other hand, had been trying to climb onto my lap on each and every article of furniture I parked on all morning, and several times even tried to paw his way in when I was standing, lapless, in the kitchen putting blueberries into things. I have stopped checking the weather channel this summer because this dog knows when a storm is coming. And ain't nobody getting any work or sleeping done once he knows.

I thought that he, like everyone and their newspaper, was overreacting- climbing into laps, buying water at the grocery store (is there a reason not to fill up jars with the water we already have? is it unglamorous? I probably missed that memo...), parking their cars in other people's places to avoid the potential of a washed out road or an overenthusiastic tree branch trying to make love to the far away ground. Issuing a no-driving state of emergency at midnight the night before when it was hardly drizzling (which we ignored).

So I walked out in a t-shirt and sweatpants, holding two stems of wild mint I salvaged last week from a plowed-under row of zucchinni. The grass next to the parking lot had turned marshy and tasted delicious between my toes. Sometimes rain is all that breathing you didn't realize you'd been forgetting to do. I enjoyed the water, thinking how perfect and ordinary it was. And then I walked around the corner.

We live and work in on a hill in a building called the Creekhouse. On one side of the house is the road, on one side woods and rose thickets, one pasture (complete with requisite cows cowbirds and flies), and at the bottom of the back hill is the ankle-deep creek. Or what used to be the creek. Because when I walked around the corner, what I saw where the creek was supposed to was a living muscle of water equal in volume and rush-rapidity to certain parts of the Nantahala river, which I used to raft back when North Carolina was still close by.

I probably said something profane and thrilling (at least to me). I probably made noises I wasn't planning to utter. When the body sees water moving like that, busting out its banks, clamoring up the trunks of trees and frothing with intention, it starts moving too. The mouth, the tongue, the arms flail in wildness, look. Holy crap. That is a freaking river. Immature language because no language will be sufficient. The body does things, sends liquid into the blood, says run, run, whether towards or away.

When my body sees water moving like that, it wakes back up and demands a banquet with grapes, hammers on the door of the tiny room I keep it locked in most of the week, screams its way out and does wayward things with me even as I am determinedly trying to creep back to the mucky bog of self-doubt in the safe, immobile kitchen.

Umbrella. Camera. Click. Return to house. Shorts. Jacket. Waterproof sandles. I set off down the hill to see more wonders. The entire bottom of the pasture across the road, where I sat once for half an hour drawing Queen Anne's lace intently until I suddenly realized I'd been sharing the field with a coyote, is underwater. The pasture close to the corner becomes a marsh, birds returning to it like they know this ecosystem of old, even here in the hills. I walk through a road underwater and feel phenomenal. Not a familiar feeling lately. The storm drain expels a constant Charybdis roar. The gully on the left, usually a rock and flower ditch, now contains waterfalls.

I feel like something fresh, a bucket of tomatoes with the mud still on. The way the water gnaws on the edges of the roads reminds me of that poor small winged thing wanting hope. Not that I would give up the concrete. I simply want to live places where there is something bigger trying to eat it. This kind of chaos, unlike that in my mind, does not terrify me. I have crossed rivers up to my thighs with weight on my back. I have locked eyes with wild hooved things. I have confused earthquakes with the comfort of trains and sought of mountains I knew would destroy me because I trust even the destruction. I fear it, but the feeling is not terror. Weather. Something bigger that happens. The last great uncontrol. What the body wants.

Half the farm is underwater, which should make me unhappy. It's really going to be a problem for the crops. Instead I feel a great, lapping joy, unbound and uncouth and uncultured. I want to shout. I want to roll in the new marsh. I laugh in my throat and consider for just a moment being inside of the river (the second stream is also flooded past its own hips), what it would feel like to be that surrounded, that free. All body. No longer the one responsible for the chaos, the pounding water, the confusion. Just inside it, rush-water battered and alive.

Lately I have been angry. Or cruel, rather. Slinging slicing blades at my mind for not solving the questions of what I want. When I want. Who I want. Where I want to go to. And how. I stay inside the small house on the hill, erecting spiked fences to keep my own gentleness out, trying to force my own hurricanes into corridors because the weather looks a little grey, a little unpredictable. There is no house for a storm but the sky. I have been going about this journey the wrong way, compounding the problem, inverting and inverting. To stay inside with the mind trying to figure out what, who, where, how I want is to draw farther and farther from ever answering, to lose my boots in a that dark bog of self-doubt which turns out to have also been confined to the drawing room in this tiny house where I try to keep my chaos. My unexpected deluge.

It is the body that does wanting. Desire comes from there, not the mind. The mind is a secondary tool for desire. My particular mind is overdeveloped from years of getting in my own way. Engorged from a blessed, privileged, and terribly imbalanced education full of analysis and questions and hands folded or raised, one-at-a-time, polite and empty. My doing-things-muscles, my desire and will, my use and my wild knees that used to ride horses badly and collect bramble scars, are atrophied. And I sit here and keep taking x-rays, holding consulting sessions with experts in my head: what are all the different ways this muscle might move best, which part should move first, in which direction.

It doesn't work that way. You don't heal in the doctor's office. I know this story. I once spent 4 months unmoving in a bed. You do not decide what to do with those pathetic, tiny strings you are left to move with when you get up. You just move them. Painstakingly. You run half a mile and sleep for two days. Then you make an omelete and sleep again. You don't plan, you don't decide how your calves or your latisimus dorsi will move in the world. You move them in the world, and the world moves back against you. You use them. And after weeks of this, when they have returned to their minimal functionality, then you start to do things because they feel good. You start to want again. That 70% of yourself that was motion, that was doing, starts to feel like it can come back in. You dance to old motown in the kitchen. You go for a run and feel windy, not winded. To do this, the muscles have to already work. To already be developed. Only then will they know how, when, where, who to move toward. What to touch. What to hold on to.

And how are you to know what you want to do if your doing-things muscles, the wanting and the building which happen in hands and hip sockets and the small of the back, don't work yet? You have to give them practice. You have to give them flavors, things between their toes. If you keep them inside, they will starve. There is nothing to want there, only the mind, trying to plan the wanting before it happens. You have to let those sweet muscles out into the chaotic body of the world, go skinny dipping with strangers inside a hurricane and dive off the dock into water you can't see. You have to give them input, things they might want, might be thrilled by, might despise, so they can learn about desire. So they can give you feedback: yes, this, storm, no, not that, we don't like fennel, don't know, try again, not sure about her, not sure about that sound or that swerve in the road.

You go to plant mint in a hurricane. Your senses come, smell the grass underwater and the crushed mint strong in your pocket. Then desire, and then the word. In that order. You start with what the body wants. You give it options, things to smell and rub up against and drown in. And then you listen to the rain on the roof of the new house you are building, with open walls, no corridors, room on the edges of the concrete for the teeth-marks of a verdant chaos you forgot you needed in order even to breathe.








Today I Love the Farm

On Mondays I wake up at 5:30 hating everything. I hate myself, I hate my alarm clock, I hate the pushpin next to my bed, I hate chaos theory, I hate cucumbers (I always hate cucumbers), I hate steamy movie scenes, I hate toothbrushes, I hate other people for being awake and not hating everything, I really hate other people for being asleep when I'm not, I hate fallen arches, I hate sun hats, I hate the once-soothing sound of summer fan blades in the morning air. I smear sunscreen onto my face without remembering to wash the sleep out of my eyes and hate that I now have to either leave the sleep there or rinse sunscreen into my soon-to-be screaming cornias. It's far enough past the solstice, and far enough into a day of sky taunting storms, for it to still be pitch-black outside. (I hate that.) The clouds hang low and cool in the hills east of the Hudson River. (Okay, maybe I don't hate that so much...). I eat maple yogurt made from milk from cows that are currently in the barn down the hill being milked by really weird, fascinating machines and farm apprentices, and I don't exactly hate the yogurt, but I do think about the fact that whole milk yogurt is not the same as low fat yogurt and which one is better anyway but who cares because I hate everything. Except my bed, which I am no longer in. My drooling dog mind, certain that the only reason we could be up this early is that we are UNDER ATTACK, kicks the adrenaline up and starts driving itself feverishly into the self-criticism button, fix this, fix us, fix the (non)emergency, fix everything.

I ignore the dog and continue eating yogurt.

The dog is catching more early morning burs, more of those crisp little "shoulds" in hard shells determined to lodge in my side, and getting them all over the place. I put on my hiking boots and rain pants (harvesting without them when the sun isn't up yet is about equivalent to jumping in the swimming pond across the road with all your clothes on) and wait for the other intern to come and lead us down the hill too fast.

And then this happens: in the mist, we harvest tomatoes and I speak with an apprentice about that illusion called future (dog mind throws itself against the bars in the tiny cage of my head). The tomatoes are firm and they have green shoulders. My hands turn green-yellow grunge from the leaves and smell of that pungent kind of salvation that comes from this late-magic summer fruit. Everything feels free, like it can breathe, the low sky a collarbone bending down to pick us up, small children protected by this out-in-the-open weather. Relief spelled r-a-i-n.

I am prepared to bet that I could make my first million by bottling and selling a scent called "tomato harvest infused with dark 6 am rain." In the face of rampant dissatisfaction and a pendulum heart that won't tell me anything about where or how to go next, and as someone who admittedly has some sleep issues, a rainstorm and 5:30 wake-up call should pretty much send me over the edge of horror canyon into the gorge of despair (imagine really deep echoes around both of those phrases for the full effect). But today I declare the following, won't you join me, say: I'm finished with "shoulds," they're evil little burs, let's all get over ourselves and spend a few days picking them out of our skin and the cuffs of our pants. And then forgive our stupid panting adorable shit-rolling curious insatiable lovely dog-minds for bringing us such wiry, piercing little seeds of doubt and chain.

I ride in the jolting back of the blue truck bed and grin like a mad boat captain, watching the road go backwards, the drizzle in my face fresh freedom, the spray of mountain-seas. I have been frenetic with the wild permutations of thinking about next month and invisible conversational nuance and my car battery and feet and was not expecting this kind of peace. This kind of joy in motion. The road only goes backwards while we move in a direction with no name. Here we are in this truck bed careening towards something, California or death or the field down the road, and I only see the potholes after they've hit. They are full of muddy rain. Spine already knows. Ass already knows. Slung sideways in the glorious dirt of the truck bed I finally feel safe. Heart shaped like those lopsided oxheart tomatoes that all had rotten spots already already  knows.

Most days I don't love the farm. I respect it but it is not my endeavor, I feel no ownership or belonging, I work most days in an office and resent my tailbone for getting so much use. I am a guest in the field and a bad early riser. I try to draw far-reaching conclusions from every minute thing I do or don't enjoy (perhaps a trait of many of us in this particular carnival moment of abject uncertainty). I could exchange my thoughts-per-minute for dollars and have enough to buy a three-hour trip down the river and all of Manhattan when I got there. I believe in farms, especially this one, I work for and on and around farms, but they have been hard for me to love. The first farm I ever really worked on got tangled up with my white blood cells decision to engage in open revolt and my first shameful thrill of heartbreak besides and also it was run by people who kept asking me if I could see the faeries outside my tent. I have been somewhat mistrustful ever since.

But today I love the farm. I love its people and their rough warmth, their hands full of competence I aspire to. It is not an easy love. I try hard not to draw conclusions, not to decide what I will and will not handle in the future. The farm alone among all my rattled loves and angry phone line snares, all my cover letter disappointments and friendship-wish travels that never put me on a real road, has offered me this: the smell of tomato leaves burned into my hands. It does not rinse off when I come in for breakfast.