Cleavage.

I choose my most revealing top for a spontaneous drive to sea, not because I want to reveal, but because–skin, air, a September return of summer and something else–something feminine–not soft or attracting–but essential–FULL–surrendered–MINE.

At 53, I can expose my cleavage, and not because it’s in fashion, though that helps, but because: What does it matter?

My softening, descending breasts no longer belong to a man’s gaze or a babe’s mouth.

And still, as I load my car, passing in and out of my mudroom, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and mutter out loud, something I’ve never heard said (or thought?) by me before:

“Slut.”

I’m struck by this assault.

“Wait, what did you say?” I ask. “Don’t say that.”

But I’m equally intrigued.
Where has this thought been hiding?
How long has it held me back?
Defined me?
Defiled me?

(And yes, I realize that not only am I talking to myself, but arbitratrating between selves, as if there are 3 of me. So what. I am large. I contain multitudes.)

It was an early August wedding (just before the respiratory virus from hell) when I photographed my nieces’ cleavage. I asked first.

“Why?” they said.

“Because of beauty and light and flesh.”

Budding. Ripening. Surrendering.
Maiden. Mother. Crone.
Defining. Life-giving. Fulfilling.

 

I consider changing my top.
(I don’t.)

Breasts are brilliantly placed.
Over the lungs.
And the heart.

My heart has been broken this year.
By this Nation.
By the election of a man who defiles my gender.
Grabs body parts like my junior high classmates at West Point Elementary in the dark halls circling the USMA Academy Football Stadium.
As if we belong. To them.
As if the whole point of us, was their. Pleasure.
As if men can’t bear for women to be both beautiful and sovereign.

I photograph my nieces’ breasts because it is clear–their breasts belong to them.

That’s why I go to the Sea.
That’s why I expose my Cleavage.
That’s why I take the remaining seat on the bench at the top of the beach.
A man on the other end. Decades younger.
A handful of his companions on the next bench–loud, and taking up space, in the way men are always free to do.

I take out a book and read.
A chapter later, the men rise to leave, and I look up to see them pile into a large van.
Work release?
Were they dressed the same?

My mind re-imagines the bench scene:

“You don’t want to sit here,” he says. “I’m a criminal.”

“Are you?” I respond. “I’m 53, on the brink of menopause. I could be a criminal at any moment.”

I’m struck by how often I say  or think “53” to myself, as if it is a thing, this random number, defining nothing in its ambiguity, but somehow something, a year in which I have been radically reshaped from the inside–blood being held instead of released–while polite society dismisses the transformation as nothing, as loss, as problematic.

“Anger,” a male friend said to me. “Is a problem.”

I think anger is appropriate, I say, Useful, instructive. (I’ve only just begun to befriend anger.)

“We don’t have control when we give into anger,” he says.

“Ah,” I say. And then I launch into all the ways that women have to live without control. In the home or the office or the White House. In anticipation of menses, never knowing when we’ll bleed or how inconvenienced we’ll be. The possibility of pregnancy, the radical transformation of body and self, labor and delivery, not to mention–nursing, mothering and letting go–all capped by Menopause. A journey, not of control, but of surrender, again and again.

I remember sitting with my sister at her long wooden kitchen table, our views at opposite ends. Abortion was the topic. Evangelical her lens. Autonomy mine. Both of us loved our babies, those lost or given up, those hanging by our sides. Without changing our minds, without trying to change each other, we hold hands, across the divide, of what it is to be a woman, to be a mother. We weep. Together.

“It is this tender heart that has the power to transform the world,” writes Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a man who must know surrender.

I am writing this piece in a cafe, and like the father of the toddler at the table beside me, I have to remind myself, again and again, I may not shout, even as a shout threatens to explode like a thunder clap:

Turn off this fucking music!
Everyone shut up! I can’t hear my voice.
Open the windows. It’s too stuffy in here!

(I may have been too harsh with my family this morning.)

I’ve spent the past year angry and heartbroken and surrendered. Every year has its companion. Mine was a recommendation from my first born: Jack Kornfield’s, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace. I’ve just finished it. (I think I’ll start again from the beginning.)

It’s taken decades to give up the power that my appearance held, while slowly and all at once claiming the sovereignty of irrelevance.

Of belonging.

To me.

Because a heart broken,

Expands.

~

(Related post: I’m Leaving.)

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I’m leaving.

I wake with a start and a stirring. A tug. A pull.

“I have to go to the ocean,” I tell my husband.

Our bank account disagrees; so I tell it that I will drive there and back in a single day, departing absurdly early and returning late, without the need for an overnight stay.

But a week passes, and still I haven’t recovered enough from that tenacious August respiratory virus to fund the energy needed for this kind of day trip; which is unfair because it is this very virus that no doubt produced this untimely insistence on the ocean. It is already September, the air is cooling, and school has begun.

Rumi’s words echo even as my commitment wanes:

What matters is how quickly you do what your soul directs.

 When a week passes and a string of summer-like days return, I go to the pond–a place where I am stirred, again and again, by beauty and light, but like a toddler, denied a specific spoon, I am unsatisfied.

“I must stay overnight,” I say, and with that, I renew my commitment, and add to it–boldness and creativity, while my efforts are met, without success.

I go to bed on Monday, muddled, and wake the same on Tuesday, and decide to find clarity, inside:

I get on my mat.
I write in my journal.
I take my supplements.
I tend the garden.
I shower outside.
I do what needs doing for work.

All the while, I do something else, slowly, nonchalantly, covertly, just in case, little by little—setting aside, at first, some underwear, and then a bra; and then an outfit or two; a toiletry kit; some beach things; waters and snacks, and finally a meal for lunch and then dinner.

At 11:00 am, I leave a note for my family on the kitchen table:

Heading east.
Be back tonight or tomorrow.
Will message.

Just then, an email comes through–a single night in an Airbnb at a very friendly rate. I update my note to my family.

It is well into the afternoon when I arrive up the coast of Maine, not all ideal, and I have to resist chiding myself so that I can receive what daylight remains–to sit and read and take in the smell of the sea and the sounds of waves, and to walk in the surf, and finally to float and then to submerge myself fully in Her embrace.

Afterward, I rack up a $9 check at an upscale restaurant–a glass of Portuguese wine and a mini lobster roll with fries—Yay, Maine Happy Hour!—and when I arrive back at my room, I receive another email–an unexpected payment from a client—for the exact amount of my stay.

Alas, the angsty restlessness I felt in needing to come, and in deciding to come, and even in the coming and the arriving, continues, even the next morning as I sip coffee at my favorite cafe, and even as I walk along the stunning cliffs at the lighthouse, and even as I sit in the sand and build a sand castle like I did as a child; so that it is a continuous practice, this being with me, with awareness and compassion:

“Of course, you’re restless,” I say. “These are shifting times. Not just summer’s end, and your mother’s anniversary, and a month of coughing, but this heartbreak of an administration, and the fires and floods and shootings, and then, of course–this leaving of motherhood, not to mention hot flashes and a road trip without air condition.”

Exactly 24 hours after I arrive in Maine, I begin driving south, and then west, and three hours later, I cross the Connecticut River from New Hampshire to Vermont, and then turn off the highway to stop at the fish market to soften the separation of the sea and me.

Mothers do, you know.
They leave.
They drop their kids off at daycare or at school and never come back.

I’m leaving.
I’m leaving.
I’m leaving.

These words appeared like a mantra after I’d written the note to my family, ominously hinting at a larger leaving, and continuing, even after I arrived back home.

I’m leaving, I’m leaving, I’m leaving.

I half-thought I might not make it to Maine or home again. That I’d die on the road like my grandmother did just a year older than me. I remind myself, firmly, that I’d like to transform without such drama as she (or my mother) enacted.

And still, my spirit is called into the wild, and as I lean in to listen, I hold back, for fear of going too far.

~

(Related post: Cleavage.)

Rest, for the world

If I was sick, say with the flu or maybe cancer, I would lie here, on the couch, like I did for a good long while this afternoon, and do nothing, except listen–to the sound of the breeze through the trees–like I once did for an entire summer of afternoons–the summer my mother lay dying, 300 miles away, my belly full with child, searching for my mother’s face in the leaves, for any sign of her wellbeing, and later, his mouth, on my breast–and instead of getting up and pushing through this hangover of family– an August wedding–too many hellos & goodbyes–in too short a time–instead of chasing away this deep fatigue, this ache in my bones, with food or caffeine or distraction, or even this here–these words I’m expressing–I would remain effortless, without choice, with only the rise and fall of my breath, and the sound of the leaves in the breeze, and my life, my living, and maybe even the world, would be better for it.

Capricorn, My Mother’s Moon

My mother’s moon. Capricorn.

Full moon and fox den and hotflash…
In lieu of releasing into a deep sleep,
I open to the sensations around me,
including the ocean-like rustle
of the breeze through the trees,
and the squeal of pups,
and the fine mist across my forehead & between my breasts & in the crook of my arms;
and I ride it all,
like a wave,
only not the kind that crests & breaks & tumbles
toward the shore,
but the deeper swell,
that rises and falls, rises and falls,
like breath…
And I think:
This is how I’ll die.

And I think…

Thank you Mom.

Summer Solstice. prayer. blessing. dream.

Last night, I woke, as I often do these days,
no longer drenched, but misted,
with a fine release–of attachment, I suppose.
Behind my knees and under my
shoulders and also between my breasts;
and lately even, in the crook of my
arms, as if I’ve been carrying too much;
and just this week, tiny beads of sweat, dripping.
down. my. spine.
Refining, I suppose,
Me.
Only this night,
Solstice Eve,
I remain awake, and feel something
more–a lightening inside–so very light–
my bones–that i think to myself…

So this is what it is be a bird.

(Bird Egg Feather Nest, Maryjo Koch)

Throw away the key…

One of the unexpected ways that my life has unfolded is that from time to time, I have the honor of assisting presenters at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

In this volunteer capacity, I’ve come to serve as a regular assistant to a few of my favorites, including the author Dani Shapiro whose presence is as lovely as her work…

Quieting.
Clearing.
Soul-quenching.

Though I have assisted this same program of hers a half-dozen times, I never fail to benefit from the practice of writing inside the nourishing container that she creates with her presence to the space between the words.

Sometimes I write from the center of my current writing project, which alas, has been the same project since I began assisting in 2014. Often I write from the center of the present moment, which is quite familiar as a memoirist and as an instructor of yoga.

It’s always a bit of a treasure hunt to see what comes on the page in a room full of others doing the same; and there is often gold at the end, no matter if one is a professional author, an amateur, or someone without any writing practice at all.

A favorite prompt Dani offers comes in response to a poem entitled: It Could Have Happened.

Here’s what I found inside it this past autumn…

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It Could Have Happened…
September 2016
Kripalu

it could have happened that I, like my traveling companions, did not hear the knock at 4 AM

It could have happened that it didn’t stir me or cause me to wonder:

Is someone locked out of the room?
The building?
A Relationship?

Was it a knock on the door?
The window?
The wall?

Should I get up?
Let her in?
See what’s wrong?
Make sure I’m safe?

It could’ve happened that Sting did not begin to sing in my head…

“If you love somebody, go ahead and throw away the key…”

It could’ve happened that he did not continue…

“Free, free. Set them free.”

It could have happened that the singing subsided, and I fell back into a deep sleep

That I didn’t ponder why…

Why me?

Why now?

Why this song?

Who needs freeing?

It could have happened that I didn’t feel the urge to rise and run down the hill toward the labyrinth before dawn…

It could have happened that I didn’t pause with the birdsong and the pale yellow petals and the mountain range as the sun began to rise…

It could have happened that once inside the labyrinth, it didn’t occur to me, that it was…

Me,

I was the one

The

One

who Sting was singing to

The one who needed

To Be

Loved

By me

Without a key
~

(5 months later and I’m still not sure what this means…)

Night, like Trump~A hormonal fable


Now that the days are shortening, like the days of my life, night comes, like a barge, toward my ship, and lurks ominously, like Trump, behind Hillary, at the Town Hall debate.

Sometimes night comes even closer, with an unwanted advance, and nudges my boat, just enough, to stir panic inside.

Other times, night enters more forcefully, and the impact is enough to tip my vessel to its side, and I feel the contents of my cabin slide across the floor, and then toward me, as the boat begins to sink, backwards, or sometimes nose down, and sometimes folded in half, plunging into the icy cold waters of death.

Night has been coming like this more and more.
I live in fear of that day in November.
No, not that one.
The other one; where we set the clocks forward
and night comes even swifter.

After that, comes the other night in November;
but I’ve taken care of at least my cabin
with an early ballot.

Last night, I gathered with women
to chase away the darkness,
but night found me even there, in the middle of the dance,
in the center of our power,
as a friend quipped: Nasty Women!

I’m typically buoyant after the dance,
but my ship could barely stay afloat before I docked it into the harbor of sleep.

I woke this morning, long before dawn, to the murky fear of death,
not just mine, but those I love.

I rose then, and began writing, this fable,
and soon, I found in me, an invincible light,
even in the darkness,
with the promise,
of a new day.

~

~

More musing regarding that second day in November: