Like it or not, you are a child of fire.

We are not the fire that ignites the Zodiac, but we are the heart of it. Pulsing in midsummer through the hottest days, August at our disposal, our axis, our shift, our anchor, the days before our departure from that which attempts to submerge our flames, alight with the fire of so many storms, the least we could do is release them.

When I think of serendipity, of all of the insignificances for which I paint signs, there is no possible world that exists wherein these visions are not true. I once read that poets are pattern seekers. That we see and feel the rise and fall of everything swarming around us with such perception that it makes it difficult sometimes to know exactly where the poet’s mind begins and the rest of the world ends, or if there is a difference. That we perceive our experiences by layering metaphor upon metaphor upon metaphor, until, at times, if we are not writing it, the metaphor swallows us whole.

In the last few months I dropped back into a pattern that has only ever proved harmful and damaging to me, as if a new ideal plugged into the same algorithm would reap different results. As if care mounted on a promise would not change. As if I, committed to change, did not change at all. As if the betrayal were not mine.

Two nights ago, I dreamed a jovial, round, angelic man, my grandfather’s brother in-law, Bud Perry, long dead, arrived at my house to tell me not be late for my grandfather’s funeral, which was less than 1.5 months ago, and to which my sister and I arrived 3 minutes late. My grandfather appeared in the dream moment’s later to stand next to Bud. He had a twinkle in his eye, and admonished me in the loving way he always did, with a smirk on his face, and so much forgiveness in his heart. As if to say, it’s ok what we did.

My birthday is soon, “…So, I wake each year / on the day of my birth to watch the fire enter the sky // while being chastised by my dead grandfather.”

The poem below, and quoted above, by C. Dale Young, published today by The Academy of American Poets, captures exactly the heart of where I have been, sentimentally, lately. I am the Dragon becoming the Phoenix, extinguishing so much that has mucked up this narrow, singed path forward full of light.

I often joke about my cat, about my native creature a small lion, who lives with me and reminds me not to take everything so seriously, and to take everything seriously. Recently, I joked that my cat and I are not life buddies, because he has nine up on me. But maybe Leos have nine lives too. Maybe that’s how get we get from point A to point B. Maybe that’s how we are the Phoenix ever renewing, and how we are the Dragon, ever protecting and destroying.

Today, at the advent of Leo Season, let the path forward not be one of distraction, or of destruction, but one of carefully lit flames placed on trees that won’t burn to the ground. Let it be like Calcifer in Howl’s Moving Castle, a fuel that doesn’t extinguish or burn out, but eventually builds a home, not unlike the classic children’s book, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton (fun feminist note: published in 1939; her married name and copyright name is Virginia Lee Demitrios, her author name remains maiden).

When those of us born under fire find ourselves trapped under the same constraints, under the same patterns of our own self-made containers, or trapped by the same elements, over and over and over again, we must remember:

“There are no paragraphs / wide enough to contain this fire, no stanzas / durable enough to house it.”

And that you, burning, beautiful, furious, magnanimous, scorching, ember, lioness, huntress, hearth seeker, child of the sun, you, heart of the seasons,  you—

You are never too much.

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BETWEEN THE DRAGON AND THE PHOENIX
by C. Dale Young

Fire in the heart, fire in the sky, the sun just
a smallish smudge resting on the horizon
out beyond the reef that breaks the waves,

fiery sun that waits for no one. I was little more
than a child when my father explained
that the mongrel is stronger than the thoroughbred,

that I was splendidly blended, genetically engineered
for survival. I somehow forgot this, misplaced this,
time eroding my memory as it erodes everything.

But go ask someone else to write a poem about Time.
Out over the bay, the sun is rising, and I am running
out of time. Each and every year, on my birthday,

I wake to watch the sunrise. I am superstitious.
And today, as in years past, it is not my father
but my father’s father who comes to shout at me:

Whether you like it or not, you are a child of fire. You
descend from the Dragon, descend from the Phoenix.
Your blood is older than England, older than Castille.

Year after year, he says the same thing, this old man
dead long before I was born. So, I wake each year
on the day of my birth to watch the fire enter the sky

while being chastised by my dead grandfather.
Despite being a creature of fire, I stay near the water.
Why even try to avoid what can extinguish me?

There are times I can feel the fire flickering inside my frame.
The gulls are quarreling, the palm trees shimmering—
the world keeps spinning on its axis. Some say I have

nine lives. Others think me a machine. Neither is true.
The truth is rarely so conventional. Fire in my heart, fire
in my veins, I write this down for you and watch

as it goes up in flames. There are no paragraphs
wide enough to contain this fire, no stanzas
durable enough to house it. Blood of the Dragon,

blood of the Phoenix, I turn my head slowly
toward the East. I bow and call for another year.
I stand there and demand one more year.

Copyright © 2016 by C. Dale Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 22, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

 

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Far Beyond the Blue

In memory of my mother, February 28, 1958–March 19, 2011.

Cotton fabric, lollipop design, your color purple, my color blue, straight pins in air, a pin cushion skirt around my waist. It is the 1st of February, it is sunny in Chicago, a winter day, Rogers Park, the aquamarine lake not far east from here. Lucinda Williams released a new album today, The Lost Ghosts of Highway 20, you appear in the second to last track: “If There’s a Heaven.”

It’s been a long time. I am eating too many clementines, as if ascorbic acid could kill me. I am learning about sewing and sewing machines and I want to tell you about fabric shears and tracing chalk and measurements for my body, how I am proud of my hip size, how much joy I find in the work you lived.

Your birthday is in 28 days, there are 29 days this year, an extra one for memory, a day for ghosts, a pleasant surprise. I wish you could give me advice on the proper thread, on the best type of fabric, on a shorter cut, a better way. I forgive you for not teaching me.

I imagine stitches mend old memories, black with grief, regret, and anger. I imagine they piece together a world that is whole and not wholly broken, the perfect time to embroider a heart in two pieces. I have so much of your fabric. I need to tailor the edges into placemats and cloth napkins. Wine purple, orange, lime green, and dark blue with white stars.

Maybe it’s not a life that dictates eternity, but those who loved you and reorganize memory to honor good qualities of character. You were such a strong, sassy woman. A feminist in the 80s, in the 90s, independent in the 00s, in the way you could be. A Pisces addict, in the most terrible way.

Darkness and trauma dig deep. They cloud the lens. Five years ago you plunged me into outer space and I am now beginning to find which center the sun resides. I am beginning to sew a garden, grow a compass, plant an heirloom. Tomatoes not quite ripe on my windowsill, the way you would. Wait for the sun to make them shine.

A PLACE WITHOUT A PERSON
By Madeleine Barnes

A star drawn in my mother’s
dark blue planner
reminds me —
we need to be eased from place
to place. We need to be
eased from each other.

so when you go / you let me know / if there’s a heaven out there

Diamond Dogs

david-bowie-001It’s rare that I begin a post with a quote from another medium, but the first paragraph of The New York Times’ Bowie obituary succinctly hits home the truth about the cultural significance of losing him:

David Bowie, the infinitely changeable, fiercely forward-looking songwriter who taught generations of musicians about the power of drama, images and personas, died on Sunday, two days after his 69th birthday. -Jon Parelles, NYT

I hit play on Spotify this afternoon to listen to Blackstar for the first time. Last Friday, I spent the day listening to KEXP.org because the independent Seattle station played Bowie albums all day in honor of his birthday and the coinciding release of Blackstar.

I am not sure if Bowie had been insignificant to me until I attended the David Bowie Is exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago last winter, or if the magnitude of his significance and influence on my life became apparent only during the fully realized installation of his life, work, and magic. As a poet, I am inclined to honor the latter, the homage to what permeates, to the patterns that are good.

What I remember first is riding in the backseat of my parents’ car in Central Massachusetts during the late 80s listening to Rock 102, listening to “Space Oddity,” watching the stars out the back window of my mother’s Grand Am, imagining I was somewhere in space, with the music, with the lull of a song that took even children whimsically out of this world. It was the song I always hoped I would hear on car rides.

I had not loved The Labyrinth. As a child, for me, it paled in comparison to The Dark Crystal, my Henson, puppet movie love, but I do remember the labyrinth dinstictly, and made reference to it in my January 2015 New Year’s blog because my back porch looked like the scene from The Labyrinth, a mental note I had made the day I moved in to that apartment.

In small ways, extended over time, Bowie impacted my life.

I am terrible at collecting albums or even following great musicians’ work in any historical or collectible form, so I was unfamiliar with many of Bowie’s albums prior to the MCA  exhibit in Chicago. What enraptured me while walking through the exhibition was his brilliant marketing strategies, his understanding of human nature and mass culture, and his ability to capitalize and infatuate a generation (generations) of audiences, but not in an exploitive way. He exploited himself in varying creative performances, as both critic and contributor to culture, and that’s where his brilliance, his duality lies. His ability to be both/and, both consumer and magician.

KEXP played LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” during last Friday’s daylong Bowie tribute. I am prompted to listen to LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” as an interruption to Blackstar, a song I had not connected to Bowie until now, but listening I can hear a clear musical reference (even the video is a nod) to Bowie’s work.

David Bowie’s song “Nite Flights” sounds like the theme from Ghostbusters.

His song “Girls Love Me” on Blackstar reminds me of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch (“Where the fuck did Monday go?”).

I think so many people want to write about Bowie but they have nowhere to end. I don’t think it’s a matter of beginning. We know where we found him. I could talk about Bowie’s androgyny and my love for “Boys Keep Swinging,” which is the song I walked away loving most after the Bowie exhibition at the MCA. In 1979, Bowie was deconstructing sexism while dressing in drag in a music video. I could write an essay about that alone.

I honestly couldn’t tell you what prompted me to buy the magnet depicted below. I almost never buy tokens from art exhibitions and I couldn’t even pin what was most significant about it at the time, but I wanted one. It’s been on my fridge since December 2014, always to the top right corner of the freezer door. I almost sent it to my dad, but I couldn’t figure out why he would love Bowie or what he would need this magnet for.

And that’s Bowie’s magic. We don’t need a reason. We need magic.

Thank you, David Bowie, for the magic.

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On the Passage of Time, Friendship, and Marriage

Mountain Love

Rocky Mountain Sunset

This past weekend I spent in the Rockies, celebrating the wedding of the beautiful, silly, dear, sassy, fabulous, Whatever Girl, formerly known as Miss Mayer!

Waking up each morning at 9,000 feet, unable to breathe in the gorgeous mountain air, grateful every scale up and down the bunk bed ladder, through the lower hills of the upper mountains, a kaleidoscope and a thunderstorm dare, white jean jacket fance in case of weather, and a knot tied in laughter and love, the way the hands hold tightly to newly married faces when they kiss.

There is no better dance than the one you choose with your best friend, the one who also chooses you.

Through union, what transpires is a passage, a change in time, a bond that is fruitful, lifting, and if you’re lucky, true.

What I return home to, after travel, after Love’s Oven ginger snaps on the mountain, so much joy in faces, is a heart that is bigger than it was before, refreshed and awakened by celebration, friendship, a dare not to get stuck in the places of daily life that sour, and an encouragement to honor the places that rejuvenate us most.

For all of my cynicism, marriage is a reminder that there is space to connect with the ground that makes a person home. That the life we work on building will someday be a life for others.

Through the union of friendship, the warmth and bond and silliness of old friends resurfaces, and places where conversations never skip a beat find their place again, and places where fondness once grew bitter, grow fond again, and safety with new friends begins anew.

The sun is nearly set in Chicago on this humid July evening, and it may be just climbing under the mountains in Colorado, but what I know, and what I take with me, is that the heart is always playful and always rejoices in its light.

To my two friends who were married this weekend. Thank you for sharing your light and thank you for the sun being so warm at high altitude that I have my first ever farmer’s tan.

I have photos, and I’ll post them to the appropriate social mediums, but I didn’t want to lose my words to pictures if I had them.

A small glimpse into the joy you bring others, may that joy follow you.

Love.

Love.

Upcoming Readings | April 11 & April 15

Anam Cara Storytellinganam_cara-april2015-BW
Irish American Heritage Center
Saturday, April 11
6:30-9pm

Since September 2014, I have spent most of my Thursday evenings at the memoir writing workshop at the Irish American Heritage Center. The workshops are lead by Oakton Community College Professor of English Virginia Gibbons and curated by the ever-commited and talented, Theresa Choske.

Anam Cara means soul friend. In these workshops, we bring what we can. We are informal, opening the second floor library doors each week to the working writer, the struggling writer, the young writer, the dreaming writer, the in-love writer, the grieving writer, the elder writer, the tired writer–any writer–to come to the table with a pen and paper and with what words, or lack of them, we are capable of carrying that day.

Anam Cara Storytelling is a celebration of the writing we have been capable of carrying for the past year. I will be reading about ghosts, as usual. Others will be reading about ghosts, too. I hope you’ll join us.

FirstTimeLogo

CHIRP Radio Presents: First Time, First Lie
Martyrs’
Wednesday, April 15th
8pm

In 2012, I performed at CHIRP Radio‘s “First Time, First Digs” live lit event. I told a story about my first apartment in Massachusetts. I paired it with the Tom Waits’ song, “Hold On.” It was a magnificent experience and I am grateful to have the opportunity to read again at “First Time, First Lie” at Martyrs’ on April 15. I won’t tell you what my first lie is, but I can assure you it will open an inverted world of wonder, faith, curiosity, satire, church, and restitution. Please, do come.

On Feminism | On St. Patrick’s Day

I Dream I’m the Death of Orpheus
by Adrienne Rich

I am walking rapidly through striations of light and dark thrown under an arcade.

I am a woman in the prime of life, with certain powers
and those powers severly limited
by authorities whose faces I rarely see.
I am a woman in the prime of life
driving her dead poet in a black Rolls-Royce
through a landscape of twilight and thorns.
A woman with a certain mission
which if obeyed to the letter will leave her intact.
A woman with nerves of a panther
a woman with contacts among Hell’s Angels
a woman feeling the fullness of her powers
at the precise moment when she must not use them
a woman sworn to lucidity
who sees through the mayhem, the smoky fires
of these underground streets
her dead poet learning to walk backward against the wind
on the wrong side of the mirror.

1968

[from The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001, W. W. Norton & Company, copyright © Adrienne Rich 2002]

Wind Chimes in Winter | 2014

Gifts in the New Year

Gifts in the New Year

In the spring time I will plant wind chimes. Dancers in the wind. In the Goblin King’s labyrinth on my back porch. They will swing and sway and bring fantasy and warmth to the sound of the ages. They will be small and large and made of turtles and stained glass. They will be dreams I had in memory, latching on to things that would solve so many pieces of last year’s puzzle: the regrets I left on the lake in the Adirondacks, so much I don’t ask for.

In 2014, January began with a vortex, it swallowed the whole year whole. Those first few dark days reading Fortunes of Feminismafraid to step outside. What great science fiction is this? What bubble of a world in which it would physically hurt to step into air? What force field I found myself in?

On day two, I was lonely. There was no one in the company of my home but the mice my landlord swears do not exist and the imaginary cat he tells me would be lazy, had I one. The guidance of so many others redirecting the guidance of myself.

By February, my mother. The days between then and March, darker and darker as the light grows longer, and I thought: I wish you would stop dying every year.

How I sent a love letter in the mail that month anyway.

By Mother’s Day I hated Hallmark, the sickening warm wishes of every person in the whole world who could buy a badly written holiday card to send to their mother, their grandmother. A pink and rose colored catastrophe in a CVS in downtown Evanston when all I wanted to was to buy my co-worker a birthday card. That storm blew me out onto the street, naked and raw in the May afternoon sun, though spring, still felt like winter. The trees not on the leaves. No one more grateful or blessed in the blinding grief of a daydream.

I worked to kill this daydream. I attended a 6-week grief support group that, by my birthday, brought daring back into my heart. By mid-August I met a new friend whose birthday shares my mother’s. How much hope and weight is placed on mechanics and new news. How much logic and magic and faith where the heart is always seeking. How even this sparkle, this warmth, can have seraded edges. How feminism is what I still fall back to:

“Do not be jealous of your sister. Know that diamonds and roses are as uncomfortable when they tumble from one’s lips as toads and frogs; colder, too, and sharper, and they cut.” —Instructions by Neil Gaiman

How, by October, I killed the need for a person in my life whose actions imposed it better I not be romantically in his. How this relationship broke my heart.

How the ghost of my sister’s kitten protected her dog during the month of hallows. How taking the back seat is something I am blessed and never good at doing.

How, by November, metaphors on first dates at Hungry Brains began to look like favorite childhood animals and favorite colors and dogs that are the same color and how all of this means everything and how delusion is so beautiful and how foxes on soxes brighten brown eyes in the morning and how crazy hearts leap out of bicycle bags and thereright thereis where beauty remains. How this looked a little bit like love.

How by December my friend Medicine Bear was teaching me how to use a sewing machine. How I have been terrified of them all of my life, a spool of purple thread tattooed on my back.

How in 2014 my friend eric said yes across the table at the Pick-Me-Up Diner when I asked a big question and how much weight lifted from my heart.

How sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose.

How, even though, those yeses turned out to be only slivers of what I wanted, I still asked.

So, for 2015, more asking.

On the first snowfall of the year followed by a sad rain and the sound of cars driving through slush on Damen Avenue, I no longer worry that I have left my bicycle outside. I know I have not left my bicycle outside.

To things I will choose to leave outside.

To planting wind chimes I wanted so badly last August and arrived on my doorstep the last days of December, small gifts from old friends who remember us as we are. Trusting that blessings we’d asked for, someone knows we need.

To those in our lives who will force us to remember that we are messengers of hope. Where once our spirit animal, the turtle, carried us along on their backs, now the snail’s swirling body whorl plots along our life in moral fortitude, leaving a trail of slime behind us.

We won’t go back that way.

To remembering the change has been made.

To being objective.

To learning to write in third person, eventually, better, and at all.

Happy 2015.
This Mama.

This Mama.

In Which I Burn Down the Hideout

On a cold Chicago evening, in June, after a winter lasting longer than eight months, what warmth is sought through fire. The low dance of flame insulated by the description orange. It burns through circuits, rises beyond anxieties that disfigure the momentum of some dream. The ghost of an element that sears holes straight through the chest, destroying the casing of whatever we imagined protected our hearts from imaginary undoings.

In an attempt to sweep away the ashes of my imaginary undoings, I will compete in favor of the literary construct BURN at Write Club: Literature as Blood Sport on Tuesday, June 17th at the Hideout Inn in Chicago.

Show starts at 7:00 PM. $10 cover. If I win, a portion of the proceeds benefit the Chicago Women’s Health Center.

With Calcifer by my side, fire demon of folklore: May all your bacon burn.

See you there!

burn

Magic

It is Poem in Your Pocket Day. I will be carrying this with me:

MAGIC
By Rita Dove

Practice makes perfect, the old folks said.
So she rehearsed deception
until ice cubes
dangled willingly
from a plain white string
and she could change
an egg into her last nickel.
Sent to the yard to sharpen,

she bent so long over the wheel the knives
grew thin. When she stood up,
her brow shorn clean
as a wheatfield and
stippled with blood,
she felt nothing, even
when Mama screamed.

She fed sauerkraut to the apple tree;
the apples bloomed tarter
every year. Like all art
useless and beautiful, like
sailing in air,

things happened
to her. One night she awoke
and on the lawn blazed
a scaffolding strung in lights.
Next morning the Sunday paper
showed the Eiffel Tower
soaring through clouds.
It was a sign

She would make it to Paris someday.

(from THOMAS AND BEULAH, Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1986)

How the Sharing Economy Doesn’t Need Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The current generation of 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and 40-somethings—Millennials into Gen X—are stuck in the rotation of an old model of corporatism and systemic hierarchies that are progressively outdated.

In April 2013, just around tax season, James Surowiecki published in The New Yorker’s Financial Page that $2 trillion dollars is missing from the U.S. economy. In the article, he states that money represents a grey economy of under the table jobs: “nannies, barbers, Web-site designers, and construction workers….Ordinary Americans…”—ordinary Americans in a workforce that is both creatively and actively afloat. A grey economy that represents an act of creative ingenuity for the 10.5 million Americans who are currently unemployed, underemployed, or who have been laid off in the United States since 2008.

There would be an expectation that these lay off numbers would generate a mass cultural state of depression and despair—and in some demographics, it has—but what I think it has created also, more genuinely, is a shared economy. Because Americans have been told that the cubicle boxes they so snuggly fit into for years no longer need them (or want them), the American public have been forced to discover how to fit snuggly into an economy that they themselves had to create.

The executive head of a small nonprofit organization (NPO) in Massachusetts once referenced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to demonstrate where certain employees stood in that particular office environment (an office that had barely 8 full-time staff at the time). That sounds like trying force a square into circle and demanding output and efficiency. That model is not going to work for a generation who perpetually expects to be laid off.

Because stability is no longer found in those structures, most employees find, or are working toward, innovate economic escape routes. Perhaps survival of the fittest is a more accurate indicator, but I’m too much of an optimist for that. And that’s my point.

Whether or not the economy is sure-footed, the nebulous nature of its recovery is making a certain demographic of the population sure-footed, and it’s not the 1%.

Maslow’s Needs do not reflect the current nature of productivity and integration of people in the United States, or if it does, it is the middle section: “Love/belonging”. Maslow’s pyramid structure no longer exists, not really. His hierarchy, an outdated patriarchal paradigm, pushes against cooperative feminist structures of sustainability, compassion, humanity, and cultural collaboration. The idea that there are people—helpers and connectors—who will give a person a chance over and over again (for no apparent economic, corporate, or social gain) is a progressive, but by no means new, model to keep the economy moving and to keep the populace engaged with its community and world.

I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and had the brief privilege of working under the direction of Lois Weisberg, former Commissioner for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, before the office was shuttered in 2012. In that brief moment in gleaming Chicago history, I understood what it meant to be one of Gladwell’s connectors.

And since, more and more, women make up a significant portion of the workforce (and in honor of International Women’s Day) perhaps an act of feminism, then, in a shared economy would be to proactively work in opposition to those structures of hierarchy? To act with greater connectedness, love/belonging, compassion—even healing?

Systemic office culture under Maslow’s hierarchy is classism. And in the current state of U.S. affairs and privatization, too many workers are still marching and climbing and racing to the top of a ladder toward some dream of corporate success, yet somehow never got the memo that there is no longer a top to get to.

And that’s the American dream.


Doing It Ourselves: What the Economic Crisis Really Means and What We Can Do About It