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

The Sleeping Bee

As the reclining sun made dense fog glow, I walked the path I had walked like a thread through my years. Memories returned a child, in these same feet, on this same path to the bus stop, imitating the red-winged black bird’s melody with her newly-developed whistle. 

With my first steps, I realized my pocket computer remained on the nightstand. Breathing the mist that merged land and sky, I didn’t miss a step. I didn’t need it — that taker of presence — I knew this path by heart. 

Along the creek, where we made movies with my father’s camcorder, and across the highway that never was this busy, I entered the forest. Owls lived in those trees, but now, only morning birds sang. Their notes brushed past the silver, camphor-scented leaves. Our mother accompanied them from a quarter mile away. Her watery voice now hushed; her soul now quiet. 

A narrow trail of sand through sap spikes took me from the forest to the cliff’s edge. The sun, unable to break the clouds, allowed the sky to hug me beside the Pacific’s expanse. Water and heaven: indistinguishable at the horizon. Ferocity made soft. 

Nothing between us, no dark window in my palm to disconnect my heart, nothing to take me away. In the salt air, I slowed to enjoy my solitary humanness and my awareness of each now. 

My eyes embraced the world. 

I stopped for a sparkle. With dew in diamond beads set symmetrically along each finger, a lupin leaf extended its palm to touch the day. Color called out and my eyes drifted to magenta muffin cup petals. Inside, on the yellow puff pillow, a bumble bee dozed. 

I reached for my pocket to document the sight, immortalize the memory, grasp and clasp at this now. To share it with my friends and receive heart-eyed emojis — each one a chemical thrill. I shook my head at the addict within and her insistence to go back and fetch the screen.

Instead, with nothing between us, I sat and observed the bee’s bottom rise and fall as it napped in its flower bed. Royal palms stretched to me, asking me to stay beside the ocean, held, as mist strung glittering beads in my hair. 

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.