Tag Archives: poetry

Becoming the Wind

10 Jun

On a sunny morning last summer I found myself lying on my bedroom floor, sobbing, unable to get up. I say “I found myself” because it was like an out-of-body experience. As though I stumbled upon this girl, a heaving pile of limbs, and I could do nothing to help her.

Thankfully, someone else was there to scoop me up off the floor, put me in the car, and take me to the doctor.

While I sat in a bare clinic room, cheeks sticky with tears, he made the difficult call to my mom, gingerly explaining to her what was happening. My parents were on a plane to Asheville the next morning.

And there were other knights in shining armor. A friend who called me from the endodontist’s chair after I sent him a text message asking for help; who got me out of the house for a walk in the woods; who sat with me at Urgent Care, dropped off my prescription, and took me for a slice of pizza. Another friend came to spend the night with me, armed with movies and the willingness to listen. One thing I know for sure: I am a lucky woman to be supported with such love.

The most difficult thing to explain is just how I reached such a low state. From the outside, things seemed to be looking up. I had just completed a master’s degree, moved into a new apartment, built a solid group of friends, and was dating a lovely guy. But something was off.

Trying situations had been amassing over the previous year: heartbreak, loss, unemployment, and that whole 26-and-directionless quarter-life crisis thing. In June I came to the painful (and expensive) realization that I didn’t want to do the very thing I’d just spent two years becoming qualified to do. In July my ex-fiancé’s new girlfriend gave birth to their daughter. By August, I’d been unemployed for months, couldn’t pay any of my bills, and had no desire to do anything productive.

That last part was the scariest. A total paralysis. Here was a girl who has essentially worked since she was 16, now utterly afraid to seek employment. I couldn’t even imagine myself interviewing for a job, let alone having one. What if I broke down crying in front of my boss? What if I couldn’t get up in the morning and had to call out? I felt pathetic. Suck it up, I kept telling myself, millions of people are much worse off than you. But for some reason, I just couldn’t. Or wouldn’t.

Looking back, I think I was overwhelmed by change. Nearly every single aspect of my life had changed in the course of a year, and it felt like life was happening to me. Worse yet, every time something good came along I clung to it with a death-grip that immediately strangled it out of existence.

We have all observed change in nature and called it beautiful: fall leaves like glowing embers, an emerging butterfly, grapes fermenting into wine. Of course, these changes mean that something has died, and without death this beauty wouldn’t exist. Yet when death reveals itself in our immediate lives, we resist, turn away, or dig our fingernails deep in a panicked attempt to hold on.

Depression is a strange friend, in many ways. Often brought on by separation or loss, it beats you down until you have no choice left but to give up or stand up (or let someone pick you up…). General sadness does not compel such transformation–it allows you to keep trucking along, thinking tomorrow might be better.

“Standing up” and moving beyond depression is not about stubornness nor determination. It’s about letting go and becoming the wind, as Rilke puts it in the poem below.

Through yoga, long chats, books and yes, a brief stint on medication, the tide shifted. Yoga, in particular, is teaching me how to embrace change. What was the worst time of my life turned out be the bearer of life’s greatest fruits: the “children” of whom Rilke writes. For me, these children were deeper friendships, a renewed passion for writing, and a sense of belonging in this little mountain town of mine. Right now, that is happiness.

When life changes drastically again, as it inevitably will, I’ll remind myself of all I’ve gained from loss. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do what Rilke suggests…


Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus Part Two XII


i carry your heart

12 May

My brother got hitched last Sunday. The same brother who, six years ago, intended to be a bachelor for the rest of his life. Proof positive that time, and the right person, changes everything.

After the engagement ordeal I endured a couple of years ago, I stubbornly declared that I might never want to get married. What’s the point? How can anyone promise to love another person forever? And then I meet a boy who makes my heart beat double-time, and well, my stubbornness seems to dissipate in an instant. Time is a healer, as the late Eva Cassidy sang.

Yet what struck me most during the wedding was not the expression of love between my brother and his new wife. It was the love expressed by the union of two families. No man is an island, nor is any partnership.

Mid-ceremony, the officiant asked us to take a deep breath and just be present in the moment. To appreciate each person in attendance. As I looked around at the other 24 people in the room, I realized that my brother’s choice for a date to his Sophomore dance some 17 years ago had led me to gain three new sisters, a brother, and a larger support network in my own life. That, to me, is the beauty of marriage at its best. It binds families together, and each family member’s life is thus increased and expanded.

With that in mind, I’d like to bring Cheekie back to the interwebs with a poem the maid of honor (my new sister) read during her toast to the bride (my other new sister). This poem has been a favorite of mine for years. One of the qualities I love most about poetry is the way a poem can resurface in your life at various times with new meaning.

i carry your heart speaks to the love between sisters, which I am now fortunate enough to enjoy for the first time in my life. But it also echoes this moment in my life in a larger way, as my heart seems to be stretched out in so many geographical directions while life responsibilities anchor me here in Asheville…

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

-e.e. cummings

Are You Breathing Just a Little and Calling it a Life?

12 Dec

It’s a cold, snowy evening where I live. Perfect for poetry. (Even if it’s not cold and snowy where you are, I declare it a perfect night for poetry nonetheless!)

This poem is longer than previous ones I’ve posted, but it’s worth sitting with for a while. Read it and re-read it. Soak it in. Though poetry should speak to us universally, I cannot help but feel that some poems speak to me as a woman. This is undoubtedly one of those poems. And Mary Oliver is undoubtedly one of those poets.

As a woman in her late twenties, this line screams to me from my computer screen: And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away/from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

I wouldn’t be going out on a limb to suggest that the person who would likely chide you for wandering away is yourself. How many of us stay seated at that metaphorical (or perhaps real) desk because of fear? What does fear keep you from doing? For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,/caution and prudence?/Fall in! Fall in!

If you enjoy this piece, check out The Journey–it’s another beauty.

Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives —
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?

Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot
in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually?
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left —
fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one’s foot into the door of the grass, which is
the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
not be afraid!

To set one’s foot in the door of death, and be overcome
with amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,
nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the
present hour,
to the song falling out of the mockingbird’s pink mouth,
to the tippets of the honeysuckle, that have opened

in the night.

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,

and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
to the wild roses:
deny me not,
     but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or tow of music, damp and rouge red,
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,
caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what’s coming next
is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
upon the immutable.
What more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn’t ended yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean’s edge.

I climb, I backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

-Mary Oliver

Lines for Winter

29 Nov

We’ve got another three weeks until winter officially begins. But it’s cold and gray where I live, and those familiar feelings of wintertime have started to re-emerge. Winter is a season of endings–the end of life, the end of the calendar year. Maybe for you it’s a time when a relationship or a life phase will end.

The following poem is a favorite of mine. Perfect for winter and coming to terms with the cycle of life (and death).

Lines for Winter

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself–
inside the dome of dark
or under the crackling white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your
that you love what you are.

-Mark Strand

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

10 Nov

It’s my experience that poetry is good for the soul. Unfortunately, many people were traumatized by confusing poetry lessons in school as a kid. Now, they believe that poetry is too difficult to understand. It’s true that poetry can be enhanced by in-depth analysis. But it need not be analyzed to be enjoyed. Simply reading or listening to the language can sweep you away from mundane concerns and put you in touch with the wonder of life, even if only for a moment.

So Cheekie will be periodically feeding your soul with poetry. Take a moment to soak it in.

My Dressing Mirror is a Humpbacked Cat

My dressing mirror is a humpbacked cat.
Continuously my image changes
As though on flowing water.
A humpbacked cat. A speechless cat.
A lonely cat. My dressing mirror.
A staring, round, startled eye.
A never waking dream wavers inside it.
Time? Radiance? Sorrow?
My dressing mirror is a cat of Fate.
Like a controlling face that locks up
My rich beauty in its own monotony,
My quiet virtue in its coarseness.
Steps, gestures, indolent as a long summer,
Desert its melodic steps,
Immured here in my dressing mirror–
A squatting cat.
A cat. A confused dream.
No light. No shadow.
Never once the reflection
Of my true image.

Jung Tzu

I chose this poem because I’ve been reading Unbearable Lightness, Portia de Rossi’s new memoir about her struggle with eating disorders (keep your eye out for an upcoming post about this terrific book). The role of mirrors in a woman’s life is prominent in both this poem and de Rossi’s book. I’ve been thinking about the role of mirrors in my own life, in my self image. How does my reflection change from day to day? What power does the mirror hold over me? Does my image in the mirror affect my self-confidence?

What kind of relationship do you have with your dressing mirror? Is it postive? Negative? Has it changed over time?

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