Today

Today the light shone-the sun beaming through a clear, blue November sky.

As I walked I thought of Mary Oliver and her words:

Do you need a prod?

Do you need a little darkness to get you going?

Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,

and remind you of Keats,

so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,

he had a lifetime.

* From Oliver’s “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac” which is published in her collection Blue Horses, The Penguin Press, New York, 2014

But today I don’t need the darkness.

It has done its job.

It has been my constant companion and I am grateful, for darkness has helped me to see this

this beautiful day.

And all I can think is,  “Live.

Live.

It is the only thing you haven’t done;

not really.

Perhaps you tried, but

only in the space of shadows.”

A lifetime should not be reduced to a blot on a page.

The story is elsewhere

on clean, white paper.

written in a pen that doesn’t bleed.

The Chair Downstairs

The chair was out of place. The design was early American, so it did not fit in with the rest of the room’s Ikea aesthetic. We used to keep it upstairs in our bedroom where I paid it little attention-probably because it functioned as a catchall for our laundry and was usually buried under mounds of clothing. But, when we needed extra seating to accommodate guests, we brought it down to the living room and placed it near the bottom of the stairway where it remained, standing there dignified but an outlier, small and stiff, like something an 18th century scholar would sit in as he pored over musty books, straining his eyes to read by the dim candlelight.

Rarely did anyone choose to sit in the chair-I assumed because it looked so uncomfortable. But there was something else about it-a quality of being already occupied, as if one would need to whisper into the air, “pardon me, but mayI have that seat now?” if she wished to use it. At night, when I’d turn off the lights, I’d dash upstairs, not wanting to be left alone in the dark room with whatever sat in that chair. I could feel its gaze though, watching me take my leave, and when I’d wake during the witching hour, I’d think about the living space below and wonder.

Eventually we moved, but we did not bring the chair along with us. Whatever company it kept, I was finished entertaining.

 

A Warm October

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I waited for October’s chill to chase summer away

but instead she brought heat

a sick heat, like a fever.

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I watched the leaves, which should have ignited like flames of gold and amber,

shrivel, die and fall to the ground

then crumble under the feet of passersby who might or might not have noticed

that something was not quite right.

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In my lawn I noticed the squirrels

which should have been busy preparing for winter

forget what was their purpose

unaware that nature, although herself unburdened by the dictates of her own laws,

does not forgive those who ignore them.

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And snakes-I saw two on my morning walk.

One, a baby, I would have crushed underfoot

had I not noticed something wriggling across the pavement.

Another larger green serpent had been flattened by a car

at the end of my neighbor’s driveway.

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Night might well have been day

as I lay in bed, damp and awake.

And that thing that was wrong

began to push through my skin

leaving impressions

like slashes of a beast

on my chest.

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And, as the rest of the world rattled,

here it remained still

quiet

hot

October, insisting

like a ringing in the ears

that something was not quite right.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer’s Burden

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This poor life-we demand so much of her.  Give me happiness.  Give me success.  Give my children happiness and success.  We place upon life’s shoulders the burden of impossible expectations, expectations that she cannot possibly fulfill, and then we, feeling so entitled, label her a disappointment.

We have divided every year of life into four seasons, each functioning to help us achieve fulfillment. Autumn must bring vibrant beauty to inspire us and cool temperatures to prepare us to head indoors and begin creative projects and academic pursuits.  Winter, with her storms and frigid air, isolates and keeps us inside.  She rids us of all distractions so that we may keep our heads down and continue working undisturbed.  Then spring comes to tease us with her sweet air and gentle breezes, letting us know that the time has almost come to move away from our desks.  Her’s is a balancing act-keeping us focused on our work with just enough wet weather and gray skies to finish what we have started, but also alerting us with her blossoming flowers and vibrant greenery that the days of toil are coming to a close.  Then summer…..

Summer, the happiest of all seasons, has the greatest responsibility-to give us rest and in giving us rest allow us recharge. By lying out on sandy beaches and listening to waves lap upon the shore, we are supposed to quiet or minds, yet, at the end of ten weeks, we also expect to emerge better, clear headed and knowing how we should march forward into the coming year.

Sometimes, however, life does not cooperate and sends summer to us a bit weaker than we remember her in the past.  We lie in the sun, but our bellies still quiver with worry.  We sit quiet, but our minds do not rest.  Summer’s long days seem to race faster than winter’s short ones.  And now August has arrived.

August has arrived, reminding us how quickly time moves.  We are now faced with the task of figuring out the answers to all the questions-the answers that summer was supposed to bring. We now must race to the sound of the cricket’s song, which will grow increasingly louder with the passing days, and find the answers before fall is upon us-all the while hiding our disappointment in summer, in life, and perhaps if we have leaned anything, in ourselves.

 

Poem About My Mother Written at 11:26 Last Night

 

Last night, I recalled a beautiful moment from my childhood between myself and my mother.  This memory seemed to come from nowhere.  My husband had returned late from work, and we were standing in the kitchen, talking about something I cannot even recall, and suddenly, there it was, this memory.  It was so vivid; I abruptly (and rudely…I am sorry Giorgio) broke away from our conversation, opened the computer and began to write it down.

I don’t often remember the happy moments with my mother, so I felt an urgency to record it, to find a way to preserve it, so that the day my memory fails it will not be lost forever. I wrote about a time so long ago, but that last night felt so close. As I wrote, I felt and heard my mother as she was then.  I felt myself  as a small girl, cradled in the arms of her mother.

I wrote with longing for my mother as she was in that moment and with sadness for what could have been and was not-she had so many dreams for how her life would be.  Mostly, I wrote with love. As I wrote, I felt the same love I had for my mother when I was so little.  It was pure, not tainted by anger and resentment.

When I was done and just before I hit publish, a thought struck me.  Once I hit publish, once I send this out into the world, into the blogosphere, what if the memory disappears?  What if I had just transferred it from my mind to the computer?  The brain’s capacity to retain and retrieve is limited.  What if our minds are inherently lazy, unwilling to fight to keep memories that have already been wrapped up neatly into text and boxed into notebooks and computer screens, happy to free up space for the lifetime of more memories that will clamor for a place in the mind’s limited storage facility?

And what of recalled and recorded memories? No matter how hard we strive to remain true, the written word is never as pure, as real as the actual memories and feelings we hold within us.  Those are invariably filtered as we strive to match feelings to words and translate the unspoken into a code of letters and commas.

Last night, I did not want to lose that memory of my mother, to send it away in a document that couldn’t possibly express what really was and what I really felt.  I prefer to keep her, as she was that night so long ago, close to me, in me, in my memory.  Perhaps, years from now, when my capacity to recall becomes so diminished that my memories begin to escape, then I will hit publish.   Until then, I will remain the keeper of that moment.

Autumn Writing

There is something about the season of fall that lends itself to writing.  I can think of many reasons why this is, but, for me, it is the quiet.

Summer with her symphony of fireworks and lawn mowers has ended, and now we are left with the gentle whispers of  crickets as they pass from this place to another. We are now left in the stillness of a season that comes between the summer’s obligatory happiness and the winter holidays’ forced merriment.

Autumn seems to grant the writer permission to feel deeply and express the broad range of emotions that we sometimes subconsciously suppress. It allows us to be present amidst the great beauty of amber and gold leaves as they fall to the ground, to sense the nervous excitement of the animals as they rush to gather the food required for survival during the long winter and to feel the sadness that comes from the loss of life that once thrived  in the warmth and light of summer.

I hope that this fall yields you a bountiful harvest of writing-poems, stories, songs, posts, articles.  For me, throughout this month of November I will be posting new and older pieces inspired by the season.

Happy writing!

Can you blog and still be a decent person?

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Lately, I have not posted much on my blog-not because of a lack of ideas or motivation.  I am not blocked.  I have written plenty of pieces.  It’s just that much of what I write is about the people I know-my daughter’s teacher, people I meet at the park where I take my children, family members, friends… My draft folder is full of pieces, some of which are not fully flattering representations of the people in my life.  I am afraid to share this work because I don’t want to hurt anyone.  Well, that’s partly true.  The other part of it is that I also don’t want to face the consequences of calling people out. So what happens is that I write and never publish.

As a writer I am feeling the burden of self-censorship.  When I hold back, the work is not true, not authentic.  When I let go and write without restraint, I feel uneasy, guilty and fearful that I have been hurtful and cruel.

This brings to mind a novel I read over the summer-Elizabth Strout’s “My Name is Lucy Barton.” There is a moment in the story when Sarah Payne, a writer and teacher tells the title character, “If you find yourself protecting anyone as you write a piece, remember this: You’re not doing it right.”  If this is true, which I suspect it is, how do you write and remain a decent person?

Do you sacrifice feelings and relationships at the altar of good writing?  Is telling your story worth it? 

Blogging is a particularly tricky business because it is so personal. Usually, family and friends follow you. They read your posts and know who you are writing about.   Yes, I suppose that you can change the names of the people and places to protect their identities.  Really though, if I write about a teacher who gives too much homework but am careful to change her name, people who know me, who know my children, will be able to figure out who I am talking about or, given that I have two children, will be able to at least narrow it down to one of two people.

And while we’re on the subject…How do I write about my children and not steal their stories?  Of course our lives are inextricably linked, but aren’t their stories theirs to tell?  How much right do I have to discuss their lives, their struggles, their mistakes?   I do not feel that just because I am their mother, that I am in any way entitled to use their lives to further my writing. At what point am I stealing what is theirs?  The internet is full of mommy bloggers.  Sometimes I read what is out there and I wonder what their children will think when they grow up and read the stories their mothers posted about them.

Can we as writers find a balance between speaking truthfully and protecting others?  Should we?  Or should we just tell our stories, the truth as we see it?  Should we release ourselves from the shackles of censorship? If we do, can we still write and be decent people?

 

Weeds

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You were so beautiful once.

Both delicate and strong.

No storm

be it wind nor snow

could harm you.

No drought nor torrent

could quell your spirit.

Nothing could destroy you

until the weeds slowly encroached upon your ground

and invaded your place

your peace.

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They sprouted up

taking root

upon your roots

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and weaved themselves

around you

through you

above you

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and strangled you

like thoughts

dark and fearful.

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Thoughts as real as weeds

strangling the rose bush.

 

 

 

 

Reaching Limits

Unable to find the poetry as of late, I thought I’d take a crack at some short fiction….

Reaching Limits

By: Heather Nanni

Gretchen didn’t understand how anyone could drive that slowly. What would possess someone to pull into traffic at breakneck speed then proceed to drive precisely three miles below the speed limit? Just a few minutes earlier, Gretchen was relaxed and moving. Then this person pulled out in front of her- this person, who, in her small royal blue car, would periodically, and for no apparent reason, press the breaks, bringing the speed down to ten miles below the limit and then, again for some indeterminable reason, bring the speed back up slightly above the limit, only to drop it back down to three below. Why? Why pull out and then move so slowly and erratically? Why the urgency to interrupt the flow of traffic? Looking in her rearview mirror, Gretchen could see that there were no other cars in her lane other than the two that were directly behind hers. Why, given that this driver clearly had neither the intention nor the desire to move at the same speed as Gretchen and the two other cars, pull in front of her? The selfishness of it. It infuriated her.

As Gretchen thought about the driver in the blue car, she felt herself become hot, her pulse quicken; she could feel her right ear turn red. With great effort, she attempted to check her anger. She didn’t want to spoil her few minutes of driving. She entertained the idea that the person in front of her had a legitimate reason for going below the speed limit. She searched for a gray head, two frail, aged hands clutching the steering wheel to mitigate her anger, but there were none. If only the person were elderly she could perhaps understand this vehicular injustice…slow reflexes, poor visual spatial perception. But no. As far as she could see, the driver of the car in front of hers was a bob-haired, redheaded female. And there was something about the woman’s posture that told Gretchen that she was certainly not elderly. This she could neither understand nor tolerate. She banged her steering wheel with her fist. She screamed. Fucking just move!!!

She just needed to go-to press her foot to the pedal and move. It pained Gretchen to be constrained by the dictates of this driver, to be forced to put her foot on the break even though there was nothing but open road ahead.   As she approximated how far ahead she would have been had not this person pulled out in front of her, she seethed with anger. To her, anyone who could maintain this rate of speed was someone with low affect, someone who lacked passion, who lacked energy. Didn’t that person have somewhere to go? If she did, then why dawdle? Low affect. Low energy. She couldn’t relate. Everything about Gretchen moved quickly. She talked fast; she walked fast. Her mind raced. Never could Gretchen rest on a single thought; rather, she was always trying to keep up with a barrage of happy thoughts, disturbing thoughts, relentless thoughts racing through her mind, waking her up in the middle of the night, waking her up in the morning-racing thoughts resulting in a racing heart which beat into the mattress at the most rapid, unnatural and dangerous speed. Only movement could ease her mind and, somehow, rescue her from those thoughts that pulled her deeper and deeper into that midnight zone where she became stuck, unable to breathe, and from which she feared she would be unable to surface. Driving-this was an activity that released her captive mind. But this person in front of her…this person didn’t give a shit. It was her world and it moved at her speed, and everyone else could just go and screw themselves. She was a selfish bitch. How else could you explain her, the bob-haired redhead, The Bob, forcing everyone to drive three miles below the speed limit?

Gretchen just didn’t get that kind of person, the kind of person who was indifferent to the rest of the world.   Gretchen had a hyper-awareness of her surroundings, something she attributed to her acute senses. Anything in her periphery was as visible as if it were standing directly in front of her. Scents, unnoticed by others, where to her strong and pungent. She prided herself on being able to identify the age of a home by its smell. Water that years past, and before the installation of the sub-pump, pooled in in the corner of the basement, the grease of sweaty palms touching doorknobs, insect remains moldered into carpets- all revealed themselves to Gretchen’s nose. And getting a full night’s sleep was nearly impossible, given that she awoke with the slightest sounds-the cat jumping off the chair, the stirring of her child in the room next door, the turning on of the furnace when the temperature fell below 74 degrees. Gretchen was aware that the vigilance to which she paid attention to all that surrounded her was beyond the realm of normal, but on the opposite end the spectrum fell this person, The Bob.

As she was forced to press the breaks again for no apparent reason, Gretchen thought back to the previous evening. She was hurriedly picking up a few items at the grocery store when she found herself stuck in a narrow isle, cornered between a man who came to a dead stop to look at his shopping list and a display of cookies and pies. The man, at first, appeared unaware that anyone was behind him. He certainly would have moved if he knew that he was holding someone up. Gretchen stood patiently, convinced that the man was oblivious of her presence although she questioned how it was possible that he didn’t hear her, considering that her shopping cart had a very squeaky wheel. Finally, the man put his list into his pocket and took three steps forward. When Gretchen resumed walking the front tire of her cart gave out a piercing squeal. Now that he knew she was behind him, she assumed that he would feel badly about holding her up. She was relieved. He knew she was there, and they were moving again. She had places to be, a pace to maintain if her night was not going to fall apart. To Gretchen’s dismay, however, the man moved ahead approximately two more paces and then stopped-dead, took out his cell phone and placed a call, all the while Gretchen standing behind him. The anger that had been percolating now came to a full boil, and the sudden urge to just shove the asshole in front of her became almost uncontrollable. Gretchen contained her anger and softly said, “Excuse me.” The man made no acknowledgement other than to move his cart ever so slightly to the right, giving Gretchen barely enough room to squeeze through. She muttered “prick” under her breath and proceeded to finish her shopping – nervously, concerned that the man had heard her call him a prick and that they would run into each other again. Gretchen loathed confrontation, but she was so angry, so very angry, and as she completed her shopping, she became angrier just thinking about what had happened.   She worried about how she would react if she were to run into the man a second time, so she kept her head down and moved as quickly as possible, hoping to finish her shopping and get the hell out of the store without having another encounter with him.

And now here she was again, trapped behind another selfish shit. She thought about how very different she was from these other people. Whenever Gretchen found herself holding someone up, she was mortified. She recalled a situation a few weeks back. She was stopped at a traffic light and had picked up her phone to check her messages. Somehow she managed to drop it between the console and the passenger’s seat. Quickly, she stuck her hand into the space between the two, desperately searching for her phone. Aware that the clock was ticking, that the light would turn green at any moment, that if she took a second too long she would hold up the line of cars behind her, she unbuckled her seat belt, leaned over and poked her head under the passenger’s seat. It took no longer than two seconds for her to emerge with her phone in hand, only to realize that the light had already turned green. Damn! The people behind her must be pissed. They must think she’s an idiot, or worse, a lousy, selfish person. She had to show them that they were wrong, that she was not who they thought she was. She was better than that. So she pressed the gas and tore through the intersection.   She weaved in and out of traffic, making it to the next light in record time. Yeah. They understood. They would forgive her the hesitation. It was an easy mistake-that pause when the light turned green. They knew. We all get distracted. They would forgive her.

But now she had to deal with the selfish asshole in front of her who, unlike Gretchen, didn’t care if she held anyone up. She didn’t care that Gretchen was in a hurry. It seemed that The Bob’s sole purpose was to slow her down. She just drifted along, and all caught in her wake were at her mercy. Damn these two-lane roads. Traffic flowed from the opposite direction. There was no opportunity to pass. Damn! Gretchen’s felt her chest tighten. Her breathing became shallow. Should she lay on the horn? Flash her lights? No. She wouldn’t do that. She didn’t want to call attention to herself. She would just drive as closely to The Bob’s car as possible, being careful not to tap its bumper. But she just needed to make sure there were no cops around. The last thing she needed was to get pulled over for tailgating. That would slow her down. More importantly, it would be embarrassing. What if someone she knew drove by and spotted her pulled over on the side of the road while an officer wrote her a ticket? What if someone from her daughter’s school saw her? No. That wouldn’t do. She needed to be extremely cautious.

Gretchen moved her car as close to The Bob’s bumper as possible, trying to push her along, to get her to, at a bare minimum, reach the speed limit. Of course, her attempts were futile. The Bob just ambled on, erratically slowing down, speeding up ever so slightly and braking well before there was a need. If only Gretchen could just push the car in front of her, attach it to the front of her car like a snow plow and force the fucking driver to move.

Gretchen wondered if The Bob was even aware that she was on her tail. As far as she could tell, The Bob never even looked in the rearview mirror-not once. She just continued driving three miles below the speed limit, periodically speeding up only to return to three below within a few seconds, until, of course, she approached a traffic light. Then, long before there was ever a need, she began breaking, bringing her speed down to an unbearably slow rate before coming to a complete stop for the light that had just turned yellow. Sitting behind this woman, coming to a dead stop, at a yellow light when there was clearly more than enough time for both cars to make it through before the light turned red was too much. Gretchen cursed; her heart beat a savage rhythm. After being forced to sit idly at a yellow light when she had someplace to get to, she had reached her limit. What she really wanted to was get out of her car and punch the bitch. That’s what she wanted to do. Instead, however, she laid on the horn. She laid on hard and long and angry. Only then did The Bob look up, but just for a moment, as if to check what the sound was simply out of curiosity.

Finally, the light turned green. Of course The Bob sat for about two long seconds before accelerating. Moving slowly down the road, Gretchen searched for opportunities to pass, points where the solid yellow line broke up, indicating that it was safe to move into the oncoming lane. Of course, when those moments arose, there were always cars flowing from the opposite direction, making passing impossible.

Fearing she would be late, Gretchen felt a nervous energy surge through her. Her body began to tingle with the mix of anxiety, anger and frustration. She needed to pass this person. She needed to move forward. She felt like those poor bastards who, after swimming for hours in the frigid waters of the English Channel, were forced to quit because they kept getting pushed back by the tide.   Why should Gretchen be made to feel this way? She left her house on time. In fact, she left early. She had someplace to be. Being trapped behind this person was unfair.

Finally, Gretchen noticed that, up ahead, her side of the road opened into two lanes. Here was her opportunity. Granted, the sign indicated that the right lane was for right turns only. No matter. She was going to do it. She was going to risk getting caught by a cop. She was going to risk looking like a maniac in front of everyone who was about to witness her maneuver. Since you could turn right on red, she was even going to risk holding up the cars that lined up behind her. She didn’t care. This was war, and she had to view anyone stuck behind her as collateral damage. Of course, the irony of holding people up didn’t escape Gretchen; she just had to push that thought aside.

Slowly, The Bob and Gretchen moved towards the next set of traffic lights. As they approached, Gretchen watched the light turn yellow then red. It no longer mattered. Soon she would extricate herself from this unbearable situation. This was it. The Bob came to a complete stop. Gretchen pulled to the right and moved up beside her. Don’t look at her. Don’t worry if she looks at you. Of course, another car drove up behind Gretchen. Her stomach turned. She hated holding the person up. She hoped that traffic would come through the intersecting street, rendering the right on red option pointless. No one came though, and the driver of the car behind hers honked his horn. Don’t look at him. Focus. Once the light turned green, Gretchen would have to move fast. Finally it did. Gretchen floored the gas pedal, driving past the light and pulling in front of The Bob. Gretchen felt a sense of euphoria. She likened it to the feeling an animal must have when it escapes from a trapper’s cage.

She looked ahead. Traffic seemed relatively clear. She looked in her rearview mirror. There, far in the distance, was The Bob in her little blue car, moving slowly down the road. Fuck her.

Finally, Gretchen reached her destination. She found a place in the school parking lot. Excellent. 2:48. She still had seven minutes before she had to walk up to the door of the school to collect her daughter at dismissal. Gretchen felt tired, drained from the drive to the school. She pulled out her phone to check her messages. As she was reading, Gretchen sensed someone pull into the space to the right of hers. From the corner of her eye she could make out that it was a blue car. Shit. No.

Yes. Yes it was. It was The Bob. Gretchen commanded herself not to, under any circumstances, make eye contact with the woman. At precisely 2:55 Gretchen, not wanting to be late to retrieve her daughter, got out of her car.   The Bob, of course, seemed in no hurry. As Gretchen closed her door, however, The Bob emerged from her car. Don’t look at her. Don’t look up. Then Gretchen heard the sound of another parent call to her from the direction of The Bob’s car. Shit. Could she just ignore the person, pretend like she didn’t hear her? No. The woman was so loud, Gretchen had to have heard her. Again, the woman called out, “Hi Gretchen! I haven’t seen you in a while. I guess you always make it here ahead of me.” As Gretchen raised her head to respond, The Bob caught her eye. It happened. They made eye contact. Gretchen felt the familiar and uncomfortable hot and tingly sensation throughout her body. Her face became tight and somewhat twitchy and then, not having enough time to attend to all her racing thoughts, she managed a stiff grin. The Bob, the imperturbable Bob, placidly grinned back. Gretchen chirped back to the woman four cars down, “Oh, I rush in, grab my daughter and rush out.” Then they all made their way to the school doors. The Bob, moving slowly, calmly. Gretchen, scurrying quickly, nervously. She had someplace to be. She had to get there. She had to move. She had to move. She just had to move.

 

 

 

 

What’s Left to Say

From the recesses

of your clouded mind

there are things

you always find.

You retrieve these things

that I wish you would let pass

into a history

that will disappear

when the book is burned.

You apologize

for whatever it is

that makes all

“not right between us.”

And I tell you,

“there is nothing to be sorry for.”

This life has punished you enough.

I will bear the burden

of all that was

that we wish wasn’t.

I will set the book ablaze

and let the smoke

like memory

fade.

And us

and all that was

and is today,

that is my burden to bear.

It is something you cannot share.

You are too frail.

Your shoulders

too weak.

If it is comfort that you seek

from me,

I am here.

We are okay.

There is nothing to apologize for.

There is nothing left to say

other than

I love you.