Fragmented Family Memories

Nobody wanted my grandmother’s sewing table when they were splitting up her belongings. The table she painted sage green decades ago; the old paint chipping off in fragments. 

And so, I inherited her table by fate.

Unwavering, shapely legs lead to carved, mandala stars at its knees. A flip drawer that still contains the two buttons, eight tails of thread, fourteen pins, and two clasps — just as she left them. A ridged lip with dark freckles leads to a splotchy top that I discovered, like a secret passageway, unfolds into a workspace. Nestled inside: a heavy, black, sewing machine embellished with gilded calligraphy. The hardware and craftsmanship of a bygone quality that was made before capitalism said things could not outlast their owners.

I wonder how it came to her. Was it a gift from her mother? I never thought to ask about her sewing table, inconspicuously housed in her upstairs room, in the corner she claimed as a painting nook. Now, it is in my art studio — a yurt to myself, a room of my own. 

Her table found its way to me.

I graze my fingers across the top, scattering the flecks, and I see her. Covering over the somber wood to make it bright and cheerful. Like her paintings of fluffy clouds above pastoral landscapes; children and butterflies; daffodils, deities, and stuffed animals. 

Studying her brushstrokes, I see her hands — elegant fingers I only knew in photographs — knobbed by the time they reached my memory. I see her transforming the gloominess. Giving it a delicate, whimsical shell.

Flaking the paint with my gentle touch, I remember hearing, after her death. Uncovering. Thirty years of anti-depressants that explained why she always seemed far away.

And how could an artist be happy in the confines of conventionality? Days regimented around care for others. The dreariness of living second-class to an upstanding member of the community, high-functioning — until it came to her indigo child. For whom being locked in the windowless, brick-lined basement was better than the alternative. 

My fingers reveal more of the stoic wood underneath. And I feel her artist soul alive within mine. A creatrix of beauty. Only now our work is not of covering over, but of returning. To our truth, our power, and our freedom. 

Because I can hold it all — the antique treasure, her long brushstrokes, and the dark spots.  

Two Poems for Earth Day

To honor Earth Day, this year I am sharing two poems to show the beautiful and devastating reality of being a human on this planet right now. Both of these poems are remixed excerpts from my book Varanasi Sage.

“She Comes to Me”

I am soft and humble, yet unafraid

To share space with Titans,

Entities Unfathomable,

Spirits born from the depths.

I am a guest in their great hall.

Quietude surrenders me,

Dissolving me into the air,

The empty space.

Here

She comes to me,

The truest part of me, for

I am made of Her living body.

My heart turns over to Hers,

And our sacred Oneness,

Endlessly present in time.


“Where a Temple Once Lived”

Ghosts stand visible with

Charred, barren limbs

Naked arms reach for mercy

Bodies no longer breathing

No longer creating clouds

Nor home for animals and insects

Burned alive

Electrical wires cross the hills

Like music lines forming

Measures of a strange and deadly song

A transmission tower’s guilty buzz

Plays the melody composed by

Corporate greed

Man wasn’t exiled from the Garden

He chose his depraved separation

Praying for Rain

My heart, a seed within soil, calls the heavens to coax me out of dormancy.

My arms, oaks on drought-afflicted land, ache from the lost embrace.

My outstretched hands, messengers between earth and sky, cast pollinated prayers to the wind:

Beloved, do not allow your creations to wither. Without you, we are not whole.

Nourish our roots with your abundance; bring forth the flowers of our soul.

Deliver us to ourselves and let our purpose grow.

The Lucky Ones – With Audio!

This is an excerpt from my Varanasi Sage collection, available in audiobook, paperback, and ebook. Originally written and published in 2017, “The Lucky Ones” was my first piece set in an art and music festival. The art that inspired this piece is “Phuture Pasture” by David Suckling for Burning Man 2017. Press the play icon below to listen!

The Lucky Ones

Twinkling lights strung around its frame, chain clicking in a dry loop, my bike created tracks on tracks in the dust, crossing tracks without pattern or reason.


The high desert mirrors the night sky; although the stars on the ground are colored, moving and spinning, careening chaotically. In the dark expanse, we put on our lights and become technicolor shooting stars.


By week’s end, the thin layer of dust on my bike will gather to look as though it had been left forgotten in the recesses of a workman’s garage. Dust on my clothes, my skin and my hair, in my nose, ears and lungs. By week’s end, I, too, caked with dust, will look old and forgotten.

A herd of cows appears. Dim lights twinkle from their insides, differentiating them from the dust and darkness. Stationary, unafraid, wooden skeletons wrapped in translucent nylon. Their twinkling lights, the same as my own.
In the darkness of the playa, amongst dust and art, these are the lucky ones. Peaceful bovines, sacred cows, bountiful goddesses of nourishment. They view passing amusements. Busses dressed like sheep and lighthouses, cars like genie lamps, golf cart abstract art, and bodies radically expressing themselves.


Our shared reality outside this city—the distortion of divine nature, the degradation of life by human command. Here, cows are not an exploitable object; a sentient being trapped in a pit of manure, in line for a violent death, never having eaten a blade of grass or stepped hoof in a meadow.

I, too, am a lucky one, in the darkness of the playa, amongst dust and art, not trapped in a war-torn city, used as a human shield.

The sadness of contrast, a melancholy inspection, thoughts and emotions rising from the depths of another’s creation. Here in the dust—in the middle of nowhere—surrounded by darkness and lights.

Yellow Ribbons – with Audio

This piece looks back at my coming of age that coincided with the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001 and took me from disconnection to understanding, West Coast to East Coast. Balancing light and dark, I reflect on my own history and see the striking difference between then and now in American solidarity to honor the dead and pay homage to the grieving. Click play on the icon below to read along with me:

Yellow Ribbons

Floating gold-leaf words, astrologists and new-age back porch philosophers say these are the birthing pains of society entering The Age of Aquarius.

Let the Sun Shine!

When do we get to the part with dancing and laughing in flower fields under clear blue skies? Not a toxic airplane trail in sight. Or is that now? Is it — now?

Maybe for me. Walking along oceanside cliffs, empty of tourists, covered in pastel green bushes with leaves like hands in praise. Intoxicating sweet and fruity perfume emanating from purple popped corn on the stem. Up and over the hillside, I’d never seen so many together and grazed my palms across theirs. I tiptoed to a clearing between their round, decorated bodies and laid back to look at the sky, perfectly blue, without a pollution-trail in sight.

Three thousand miles away, my sister, cloistered in New York City. You could say we look like twins, though her life, in some ways, is the opposite of mine. With two children at the cusp of adulthood, their grief has been once removed. A friend’s loved one. Thousands of families left behind. Unable to hold hands as they died. FaceTime for the fortunate. Keeping distance as they mourn. Concrete and planted parks for comfort.

I entered adulthood almost twenty years before this virus. At the dawning of my independence, my mother swung open my bedroom door. Gasping. I dragged myself to the living room and watched — live — as the second plane hit. And then the replay. The replay and the replay of impacts that took 2,753. It was far away. It was barely real, but my mom said it would change the world. I went back to bed. That afternoon, I got a haircut.

Under a red terror alert and below redwoods, with an ocean view, my parents moved me into the dorms. It was just before the Fall Equinox and, during orientation, they said they had grief support. But I wasn’t affected.

The next summer, years of discord in high school dissolved during road trips to Santa Cruz with my sister. Bored of familiarity, we moved to New York City into a Lower East Side apartment with a few of her friends. We went to flashy bars for table service those warm nights as the promoter’s guests. I used her passport to get past bouncers.

For convenience, I enrolled in a college just blocks from downtown chainlink fences with green fabric holding the awful scar. On the one year anniversary, the busy streets were empty aside from a howling wind and the trash it carried. I will never forget the howling. From the second story of my school, I watched barges carrying debris along the Hudson River. And my new friend told me he saw, from the school steps, a woman in a blue dress at the edge, every detail of her face, the violent wind blowing her hair. The air that could not save her as she jumped from the burning building. He was with her as she fell. Another friend, in her Brooklyn schoolyard, had thought for a moment it was snowing that morning, but holding out her hand, realized it was ash, floating and landing in her hair.

Back then, people across the country hung American flags and tied yellow ribbons around trees. They hung signs saying United we Stand. United we Stand. They chanted and chanted until it awoke the war machine.

Divided We Fall.

Today, six weeks after the first death, over 19,000 taken by the virus in New York City alone. Amidst drive-by funerals and trenches for the unclaimed, terrorists parading as patriots fly flags of our enemies and carry assault rifles into capital buildings. They call for their right to infect and be infected, carrying signs saying, “I need a haircut.”

fullsizeoutput_18fc

A Holy Instinct – with Audio

Dark, yet hopeful, this piece explores a personal experience during this crisis as I navigate the new reality and try to understand the modern human condition. A departure from my usual focus on Nature’s beauty, this piece recognizes and investigates the shadow as a path to integration and healing. Click the play button to read along with me:

A Holy Instinct

In my studio apartment, I’m a hoarder purchasing yet another screen to chatter alongside the others in dissonant syncopation. They drown the sound of birds singing and dancing outside with news, privileged complaining, propaganda, memes, conspiracies, and — sometimes — photos of Nature or pets or kids. I scroll and scroll and scroll and place them on top of the microwave that runs without stopping its buzzing waves, on top of the other boxes full of half-read articles. Another hairdryer, another blender, another set of lights wrapped in plastic. Photos of mass-graves and refrigerator truck morgues and the unprotected people living in Mumbai slums and. Stack it with the others. Wires and cables dangle, arranging themselves into unkempt braids covering the hardwood floor, connecting and connecting, rows of nobs and buttons and circuit boards and. Push them against the walls, pile them on the furniture. Block the windows, block the trees, block the sun. Stack and stack from floor to ceiling until there are only slim pathways through boxes and bags and bins. 

Just one more thing  — just a petty thing — I crammed it into my studio apartment. And without warning, I turn the nobs on the stove, and let it seep. Racing through drawers, flinging rubber bands, nails, twist ties, plastic baggies, my fingers find the slim cardboard box and open it with joy at the sight of sticks with red heads. In one spark, fury burns the space too small for all it holds.

I would have burned myself with it, but somehow I escape. A holy instinct.

I gasp for breath, inhaling the putrid stench of my own burned hair.

Three weeks since I last turned on my car, and it greets me by saying it can’t go on without a fix. Armed with a disinfectant wipe and bank card, afraid of other hands, I encase my index finger to enter my pin. I swear I’m not a germ-freak. Or, at least, I wasn’t a month ago. But now I have people to protect. Even though I can barely breathe. I drape the wipe around the handle, lifting the nozzle into my car to fill it with dark, processed blood sucked from the Earth. As much as I love my Mother, I’m forced to tap Her veins. 

My car speeds north onto the concrete slabs divided by a wildlife-catcher. When they get there, in a panic, they try to run back. And maybe they make it, but we see their bodies destroyed — disfigured, ripped apart by humans wielding rubber and steel. Their flesh and blood won’t continue as life in another. It sits on top of the concrete to decay, unless it’s picked up like trash because it’s large enough to be a hazard.

Off the freeway, I drive past rows of vines still naked. The ground beneath them covered in grass.

As the road curves between oaks, under their wild branches, I unroll my window just an inch. Fresh air brushes the top of my head the way my mom used to stroke my hair. Turning west, my airways unclog. I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with green stretching, cascading peaks. Jet black heifers lazily dot the hills. Oak forests in the north, gorges carved below undulations. To the south, a golden crescent — miles long — met with white foam waves and the deep blue mystery. The east in my rearview mirror. And to the west, the winding road.

fullsizeoutput_184b
Photo by JPZ Image