Oh Baby

Class is about to start. I haven’t done my homework. How old am I? 13?

I signed up for my second poetry workshop in three months, but not because I am a poet. I hadn’t written any poems when I walked into my first workshop last August in Taos. In fact, I hadn’t realized it was a poetry workshop at all. Once it dawned on me that I was among poets and it would be all about poetry, I wondered how I would make it through the week.

So here I am at my second poetry workshop. This time in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, but with the same inspiring teacher/leader/poet Judyth Hill. The background for this time together is Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead). It is something of a national holiday here.

I knew that this is where I needed to be.

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Yesterday we were free-writing after reading several poems, including “He” by John Ashbury and “Little Infinite Poem” by Federico Garcia Lorca. Judyth encouraged us to build off of lines from some of the pieces we read, using their art to launch us into our own infinite space.

I am now a believer that we all have poetry inside of us. And though I am writing a book, something that is daunting and takes a good deal of time, I have discovered the joy of having poetry be part of my toolbox.

Here is what I wrote yesterday based on Judyth’s prompt (mentioned above). Note: Still learning formatting on WordPress so the formatting below is not exactly how I want it, but, oh well.

We Are Always The Last to Know.

We drive the car.
The baby cries when we stop.
We move forward,
Only to stop again.

We soothe the baby
With woosh woosh hushing
sounds that don’t sound
anything like the engine’s low growl.

White noise they call it.
The noise that quiets the baby.
The only noise the baby wants to hear.

We don’t know anything.
We get down on all fours.
We ask the baby what he wants.

We don’t understand
that we will never know.

Kelly McVicar Gordon

(With Some borrowing from “He” by John Ashbury and “Little Infinite Poem” by Federico Garcia Lorca)

Flower of the Dead

Does not sound like something pretty does it? And what on Earth does a flower have to do with writing?

I’m in Mexico and I just celebrated the Day of the Dead by parading around with a bunch of exuberant and voluptuous marigolds searching for someone to share them with. Marigolds which are several sizes larger than the marigolds in my mother’s planter box when I was a little girl. In a cemetery jam packed with the living to be with the spirits of their loved ones, I clutched my bouquet of this golden flower of death and the juicy merlot red of another flower whose velvety pattern resembles a delicate brain. But instead of a brain, I read that it is suppose to resemble the blood of Christ. Still, it looked like a brain to me.

As I brandished my blooms and picked my way through the mass of hundreds of observers, I found a few bare grave sites. Maybe their relatives were just running late and in a few hours the final resting places of these departed souls would be as ornately festooned with flowers and other offerings as their adjacent neighbors. But in case these marooned spots were indeed going to remain naked and unattended this day, I sprinkled some blossoms on the dirt mounds or stuffed a thin bouquet in the permanently affixed vases which up until the moment I arrived remained empty.

No one wants to be forgotten. So, for today, this Day of the Dead, I, this visitor with no formal connection to these souls, would have to do. I said “hello” to no one there and told each one that they had mattered.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

I’ve lived through the death of Allison, the person with whom I had spent the majority of my life. Hers was the first real death to cross over my threshold and invade my space. It was sudden and not expected.

My grief and shock imbue my writing. Death is so ordinary. So simple. So final. And really very plain.

That plainness is the part I have a hard time getting over. We go on. We perform our daily tasks. We file our taxes. We get our groceries. We go through our loved ones things. We send death certificates so that we can cancel the deceased’s phone. We live. Sometimes that doesn’t feel right. The world should have stopped. But, it didn’t.

Grass still grows and it grows over the graves of the people we loved.

I am writing through this grief. Grief honors the past. I write so that grief doesn’t become fear. I use this grief to find the truth about the life I have lived and the life that I will live.

And for the first time ever, though I’ve traveled to Mexico close to a hundred times, I walked with others and left something behind for people long dead and who I had never met. I celebrated. Well, I can never celebrate what happened, but I can embrace the next passage for those who have to move on.  I can honor the time that I had with them while they were alive. They live on when we remember them. Remembering Allison, my grandparents, my Aunt Roby – remembering them is my job. I would like to think that they want me to continue my own journey on this planet with a smiling heart instead of a shredded one. I would like to think that they were with me in this place with a bright November sun where I knew no one.

Remembering September 11, 2001: We were married still.

I had a blog going a few years ago and nothing moved me to return to writing in a public space until a recent morning when I turned on the television to see a replay of the TODAY show broadcast from September 11, 2001.

Watching the broadcast fourteen years later, I was not filled with fear anymore. Instead of thinking about the incredible loss of life and terror instilled in us that day, the crumbling buildings, the revenge being planned, all I could think of is that my first husband and I were still married, living an almost idyllic life in our mountain home with our two young children, surrounded by thousands of tall and swaying redwoods and protected by a gate at the end of a dirt road. Removed. In our own world.

Of course, we weren’t in our own world at all, but we pretended otherwise. There was a lot of pretending going on. More than I knew.

Four years after the terrorist attack, my husband revealed to me that he was living a secret life. During the next few years, after the initial reveal, he fought back his true identity, but ultimately made the decision to live as the woman she really was. I had married a transgender person without knowing it. And we suffered alone. It didn’t feel safe to discuss it. It wasn’t a trending topic.  There weren’t multiple hit television series starring transgender characters and actors and there hadn’t been a major magazine cover with a 65-year old former Olympian introducing her to the world as her female self.

After finally understanding that we couldn’t stop the family earthquake that results when one makes the transition from one’s lived identity to one’s true identity, we divorced. The divorce and my forced entry into a different kind of life prompted me to start a blog. Not this blog. I was singing an anthem of finding joy in later life and breaking taboos.  My spouse broke all of the rules. Why couldn’t I, I reasoned. Oh well. I was being immature I suppose because none of it was really about breaking rules. My spouse had a journey that was too difficult for me to traverse. My spouse wasn’t trying to hurt me. I know that now.

The harder part was coming but I didn’t know it. My former spouse died suddenly at 56 and I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer just as our youngest child left for college. All in the space of three years. 

I had to finally grow up. I learned that I am loved. I try harder to be ready every day for the end (feeling only love and happiness) while at the same time trying to live each day as I want to live it. Not an easy feat. I try. I try. I try.

This new blog space is part of my growth. This is where I will use the craft of writing to birth new adventures, new longings and new perspectives. The old blog is gone. I liked what I wrote, but that isn’t for me anymore. I’m not even that same me.

So, I guess I should circle back to the 9/11 tragedy where I started this post?

No. We were married then. We aren’t anymore. We don’t even share this earth. But, we shared that terrible day when we were scared and vulnerable and we shared many other great days, many of which were great.

The rerun I was watching? I said a prayer for everyone. Then. I turned it off.

And, about all of those rules I was going to break…that was silly. What I need to do is write my own.