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

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.

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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]

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!

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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)

Songbirds in Winter

Hearth. Woodland. A round of robins. A mythical Alpine Christmas creature resurrected. Wendigo. Gifts from my father. Faith. The snow as it melts from too much rain on the solstice. Prayers for so much blizzard.

I spend much of my time writing about the women in my life. This year, this season, I dedicate to my father. As the winter solstice wanes and the days grow lighter again, my meditation focuses on his steadfast nature, his resilience, his never-ending attention to light. If my mother is the civil dawn, my father is the moment just before.

The heaviness and weariness he wears on his face from hard work, how joy lurks in every crack of newly beginning wrinkles regardless of history. How I take my good humor from him, how we go to the turkey shoots every December. How the winter I discover Krampus (from the German “to claw” or “to seize”) is the same year my father’s impeccable aim shoots a 156 lb. buck in the woods of my childhood. When the animal hit the ground, its eight point antlers shot straight off its skull into the Massachusetts snow. A gruesome victory for a practice unrelenting.

How my father loves those forests, how his diligence shadows mine, his punctuality an earmark, his jest that of a master trickster well-intentioned. How his sadness sobers me because his resilience never exhausts. His excitement to show me new things never wavers and his stoicism listens every time I am angry, every time I am happy. I have seen my father’s small dreams manifest into reality with patience, even though I believe my sense of urgency comes from him.

He is the rural compass I never lost, the hummingbird feeder stationed outside every windowsill no matter how many times I lose direction. He is the reason the songbirds sing before sunrise. He is quick on his feet to greet them.

He is a round of robins in winter well prepared for the frost, awaiting good news.

“my father, who had no faith, but loved
how the long, ascending syllable of wild
echoed from the walls in celebration…”
— from “Aubade in Autumn” by Peter Everwine

The Belle of Belfast City

Arms wrapped around fall, a tumultuous summer, the wounds of travel, transition, death, grief. Grim worlds of wakes in Irish settings, Irish flags in fresh ground, the foundation of a family strong and crumpling and molding together beds of grass and my grandmother’s marble funeral urn turquoise, a color she chose, so beautiful on an August morning.

Her gift to me a clock that always keeps time, royal purple of a queen who knew best the last year of her life, histories before. In a community hall, in an apartment she called her own, coffee sipped every day, all day black and there was still never enough time. Never enough time for sleepovers under quilted blankets, conversations over breakfast and so many hard candies, baskets full.

My heart broke the hardest six days after my 31st birthday. A woman who kept tabs on obituaries, of elder people in town dying off as if it were just another thing, as if she would never be next. That blue house on the hill, a place where love lives, the wood stove, the fire place, the dogs around our feet.

What I wouldn’t give for all of those hours watching the snow fall. Warmth is a place that lives in the heart of the people we lose. When they laugh, we can hear them for generations. Listen.

Azul in Summertime

Photo courtesy: summer57

The color of my grandparents’ house. Azul or blue in summertime. The back of the house painted a few different shades each summer because my grandfather would climb the paint ladder each day to maintain structure. One hand unable to move, frozen from a stroke years earlier. But he painted anyway. The yard full of blueberries and gardens and greens and freshly hung laundry in the sunshine. This is the New England I smell when I return. The deep black soil stretching into roots of earth only defined by this land.

That land contrasted by the land I cultivated eight years in the Midwest. The golden smell of the prairie, grasses soft brown and soil sand, the minerals less glimmering, but warm. I live an intentional artist community. Three years prior I healed from the loss of my mother in the Solarium. I chose no clothes and stepped into a community of no one I knew and my naked body painted an apple tree. Roots growing down around my hips, the trunk my tummy, and my breasts two large beautiful red apples. My heart broken and open in the August sun.

Communication and navigation create structure to understand my ally-ship, directly addressing and connecting a deep hurt I can only see from afar, or up close if I ask. Given breath, space, held. There are few New England blues in the Solarium, lots of reds and yellows, the color of Arizona clay or the deep embers of the earth’s star.

I’ve never understood
round things, why would leaving come back
to itself? 
Bob Hicok

In the heat of the Chicago summer, the reason for return more forward than the icy New England winter. Medgar Evers returns to Florida exactly 50-years later in Trayvon Martin’s gated community in a false post-race period and every fight cast from the embers awakens a history and when I am shocked on an airline on a Sunday afternoon, my heart aching, racing, curious, hopeful, naive, wistful, helpful, fully aware that when I move faster in time, time steps back. 

Through the doors of the unknown over and over I ask questions that are difficult to leap off my tongue, break silences starving for understanding, starving for energy to speak and light the way with every new revolution. How silent we can be, how our orbits are not navigational, how we bind in spite of our fears. How we hold onto our history like a light we hope it will be, dawning every horror in our makeshift bed lamp of country. When I arise each morning, I seek blue water that will fully diffuse this fury, hoping it will not rise faster after dampening each time.

Each time, grateful, it does.

For a future you.

I’m never sure of making plans for the New Year. Of saying, “I’m going to take you by the reigns and destroy you.” But maybe it’s because I think every day is a day for new beginnings. New awakenings. A much harder practice. I’m not saying I’m very good at it.

I am feeling reflective this morning, mounds of clothes and piles of things to contain, to box, to take or leave. I should be packing now, not writing, but things will get done. The point from here to there is so much clearer when you are not in between, searching, compiling, organizing, dismantling, arranging. I’ll land in Northampton, Massachusetts in seven days with an air mattress and two suitcases full of clothes. I am shipping my bedding a week in advance so it will be there when I arrive.

I look forward to an empty room. I imagine a bed, a yoga mat, and a zafu. My belongings housed in a storage unit in Chicago for the time being, an indication of the split my mind seems to taking. One foot in and one foot back. Not ideal, I know, but one way.

I adopt a word each year in lieu of making resolutions. Resolutions are lists in journals that are good ideas. The memory of writing them is often there, but the contents missing.

For the New Year, I will hibernate. I will tuck myself up into a little den and I will meditate and I will read and I will write and I will process. And I will take care of myself. Radical self care.

Before I leave Chicago, I will read poetry at the Hopleaf on New Year’s Day.

For a future you, from a past me

With love from Mars.