Saturday, September 04, 2010

A Sincere Heart

Cindy Yeager pictures herself.

What are we waiting for? A woman? Two trees? Three flags? Nothing. What are we waiting for?

---Andre Breton

Whenever I catch a frog's eye I am aware of this, but I do not find it depressing. I stand quite still and try hard not to move or lift a hand since it would only frighten him. And standing thus it finally comes to me that this is the most enormous extension of vision of which life is capable: the projection of itself into other lives. This is the lonely, magnificent power of humanity. It is, far more than any spatial adventure, the supreme epitome of the reaching out.

---Loren Eiseley

For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself. From within, I couldn't decide what to do. Unable to see, I heard my name being called. Then I walked outside.

---Jalal-ad-Din Rumi

Once in a rare while, someone you've never seen before walks into a room and rivets your attention. It may be the flair, it may be the grace, it may be the bravado...and sometimes it is angelic humility. It is with the last quality that Cindy Yeager entered my consciousness. She came in the room almost as if she wanted to be invisible. It wasn't because she felt ashamed of how she looked. She was a most natural, windy wheatfield kind of way. It was because she didn't like how she felt, but knew this was the place to be.

It was a room where people talk about very basic feelings...or attempt to...and practice doing. For many of us talking about our feelings is not least to do it with complete honesty. She knew she would have to do that here...and so she sort of curled up in a chair, ran her graceful hand through shocks of hair every shade of blonde imaginable, and took for granted the hair would stay the way her hand had passed through. And it did for a while. Then she continued with lowered head and eyes to sit contemplatively until it was her turn to try to put it into words.

Cindy was in the midst of a painful divorce. Her relationship with her husband had been deteriorating for some time, as apparently was his mental health. A diagnosis finally revealed the cause, and Cindy wondered what to do. Should she now shift to caring for this man, who perhaps could no longer care for her, plus continue to mother their 2 teen-aged sons as well? Would she not also have to provide for this family with some kind of job? It was overwhelming and she had wept every day about it. And as she told us, she began to weep right then. Her tears, her honest emotion, her humility was such that everybody in the place started weeping. It was a catharsis.

But Cindy didn't even notice that. This wasn't for audience reaction. This wasn't for pity. She was working. She was working hard. To work it out. It was tragic for her to divorce because she loved him...and, for a Catholic, it also was wrong. But a friend had told her convincingly, "Cindy, you have suffered so much. Now you deserve to be happy." She believed her friend. She knew the suffering was eating her alive...and she felt the pain she now endured through the divorce was more worthwhile than fighting perhaps a hopeless battle of her husband's condition.

And for the next several months Cindy would come into these rooms and suffer, and try to put it into words, and get it out. And she would cry...and we would cry. And we all went through it together. And as we did everyone developed a love for Cindy...and for each other too. Because a group can't go through something like this and not end up in love. And Cindy loves us. And so everybody hugs everybody else when Cindy is around. That in itself is a successful life.

Now I'm telling you all this because it certainly is worth telling. But there's more. Cindy writes and even teaches poetry. Unlike most of us, she even has found a way to make sort of a living at it. That's not all she does to support herself and the boys, but it is what we're looking at today. Last week Cindy walked into a room again, and over to me, and handed me three poems. With customary humility, she asked, "Would you take a look at these when you have a chance?"

A group of us were having a huge breakfast, and I didn't want to spill syrup on poems...but carefully I couldn't wait to read the first one, which is called "To My Odysseus." I got halfway through and realized I was reading an intensely personal love poem. I shifted gears...and then I began to utter little noises as I read on. The three poems that are posted here are Cindy's effort to put the ache into poetry. I don't know when I've read such personal expression as these works. Rest assured, the gentleman under discussion, her ex-, knows this is happening. They're going online and he's OK with it.

I think you'll find these are magnificent poems, whether you know Cindy personally or not. And of course after you've read them, you will know Cindy personally. That is what poetry is for.

To My Odysseus

Our sons have told me that Sasquatch
has been found, in a northern Canadian cabin,
DNA evidence on a nail
protruding from a floorboard.
It may happen. Mythical creatures,
whose very existence we thought a
fabrication of human longing, manifest.
Isn't that was longing does?

Yesterday I returned
overdue magazines to the library. They
get caught up in the landscape of belongings,
take residence in the bathroom or
at the foot of the bed,
the Rolling Stone in the former, the
Natural Home, the latter, a testament
to my ridiculous aspiration to
neatness, every cover
a perfect, orderly dream.

The circulation manager told me
I had a credit on my account. "That's
impossible," I said, but we agreed,
miracles should not be ignored.
And so, just now,

I thought of you telling me
how you dream you hear me breathing
next to you in the night
though I haven't been there
on the left side, my side, of the bed
for months. You tell me this,
your breath warm on my naked shoulder,
my arms around your back like
a sea creature, a siren,
this moment
both mythical, and real.

These nights when I gaze the sky alone
I easily find Orion
who's marked the passing decades
like blood reinvents us,
every seven years, the person I am now
completely different from the one
that you married
all those years ago.

From the corner of my eye, Orion
in the eastern sky, me, here
in the front yard, far from the sea, you,
sleeping in the bed inside, not a ship,
though you toss and turn
like its waves that move you.

Outside, I am singing,
like a woman who cannot stop herself,
singing, singing,
the sound, hope
to the sailor
long absent from his home,
from the sound of someone breathing,
his wife's familiar taste, the salty
tendril of her hair,
gone so long
her very existence
now the thing of stories.


The Gift

This morning I am giving you my body
for the last time. These breasts
which fed your sons so well, now
older, soft, a safe and restful place,
hide the beating heart beneath
a steady drum, the measure
of my one true self. These hips

which held those babies up
above the fray of absence
and resentment, the ones
you pulled to your own
each morning before light;
they are taking up their journey
now; these hips are leaving.

The legs you first noticed
and desired, long as yours and strong
as steel, these legs are longing
for another place to fold themselves
underneath themselves.

The skin we all agree
has aged with grace.
Your face upon my shoulder,
your fingertips along
my arm, remember these
because they will
not brush this skin again.

This body has been my only answer
to your questions of despair.
I gave it willfully; you took it
every time. It bought a home,
allowed a dog, made a fence--
the fence I wanted--raised a family
but it's leaving now. The mind,
the heart have called it back
to be with me in stillness
which is not death, but life, again,
though you doubt it so.


Pill Bug

The poem begins with a sock curled in
upon itself, the way they do when boys
pull them off and leave them where they fall.
The ball of white so different from the nearly
feathered bird, still upon the concrete
where I found him dead tonight, skin,
translucent, gentle neck, eyes blue
pearls of sleep. The fragile shift we all
could make when no one holds us back.

And then the image of that not quite formed
baby boy, the one at fifteen weeks
the nurse held in her palm, the one
my body pushed away, a bloody mess
of hemorrhage, and you across the room
sickened, now, I understand, afraid
you'd lose me in the bleeding though I knew
I'd stay if I survived. You were my family now.
You and I and sons who'd later come
to fill the gap of emptiness, began that day
in March, the first hard tug of gut
as painful as the last. I said DON'T LOOK
our thumb-sized son already named,
but we looked, you and I, at what we had
become, two lonely souls, two tired angels,
briefly clinging to a bedrail,
the knowledge of aloneness
like a new book's broken spine, permission granted
to read on, the story had to write itself.

And then,
the pill bug that I find
curled in fright beneath the last
of ash and oak, a nesting place
for such small things, and now
I curl upon myself, the memory
of your sweet tongue
drawing me to come to you,
in a ball, protected
by the outer shell of nothing,
the illusion that I can
live like this and so
I just let go, accept the pulse,
the blood, the heart, the wound
of sex that brought us back
to our beginning, the loneliness,
the gripping hands, the death
of someone you're expecting
but who never will arrive.