Why Poetry

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Why Poetry

My poetry is influenced by nature, math, science and art. I had an opportunity to study Emily Dickinson at Amherst in the summer of 2017 when I won a grant for the National Endowment for the Humanities. She has always been interesting to me, both her writing and her life. I resonated with the way in which she observed time and moments of being, with a great reverence for the minute and the mundane.

My Mexican-American heritage also plays a part in my writing, as does my personal journey in mothering a teen who survived cancer and another one who was on a transgender journey. I have been to hell and back in many ways that most people understand, but not all people are willing to admit. Here I stand, alive and willing to share my stories with the world. I know that my stories have helped others understand their own. I hear this again and again when I lay myself down on the metaphorical table and all allow myself to peel away the layers, bare for all to see.

When I write poetry, I channel. I channel the anguish and the deep sense of compassion that I have experienced on the path. I tap into a greater cosmic consciousness, on a realm outside of this 3 dimensional reality. I have written as long as I can remember. Poetry is how I think. It is my therapy and my lifeline. While I went through watching my thirteen year old daughter fighting for her life, I could not control the outcome. The interesting thing I learned, is that no one is really in control of anything. We like to think we are, it helps us feel steady, to think that if we plan everything just so, it will all unfold as we imagined it would. But, life is not that way for many, and it certainly was not for me. I was schooled in how to slow way, way down by the cancer. In the In Between Times, there is no future. There is only now. And in the now, everything becomes heavy, the movements fluid and gentle, as you flow with (as opposed to against) time. Sometimes, when you are in the underwater-like existence, you experience other-worldly latitudes. Once, when I could not comfort my sweet daughter during an agonizing bout of anxiety that her cancer might return, I experienced this very phenomena. She was 2 months into remission. I had to go to work. I had done everything to comfort her, but she was facing her own fears and I could not allay them. The fierceness of a mother to protect and shelter her offspring is hardly unique. But, this fierceness went beyond the five senses, because there are senses that lie unawakened in all of us, until such a moment presents itself for its stirring. I thought of my vulnerable daughter and when I arrived at work, I felt compelled to write a poem for her. The words fell easily onto the page:   

                  Whirring noises are the sounds of birds in flight

The cold air a misty San Francisco morning in the depths of summer

Prayers whispered to Whoever while my hand touches the soft fuzz of her delicate hair

Delicate shell, the inverse of Her being, Her soul, Her unconquerable spirit

We are not in that sterile place of radioactive inspection

We are in our own private world where time and beauty bless us

With their perfect embrace

Just as I finished my last line, she called me. “Mom! You’re standing at the end of my bed.” “What?”, I asked her, still in my poem daze. “I am pinching myself. You are standing here, looking at me.” I smiled a smile the old mystics must have known intimately, “Yes, I am with you. I told you a mother’s love is just that strong. I conjured ourselves together with words.”

Emily Dickinson was right. There is nothing mundane about the small things. There are greater worlds to explore in the depths of minutia. All around us, all day, everyday. And that is how I move through my life now.

11.20.14

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by Carmen H Gray 

the waves lapped at the shore

industrial waste in a place

where freshwater meets saltwater

the bright sky viewing a town that feels like a story I’ve written

like time stopped here, somewhere in the 1970’s of my childhood

and it may as well be a repeat of those chaotic times these days

except here I am, a woman now

with a daughter who can celebrate

a date that has past

and here we are

souls brined

hearts preserved

bodies intact

and this is better than any man made holy day to me

 

 

 

 

 

seven letters

seven letters

by Carmen H Gray

words synonymous with scan:

witness, inspect, survey

scrutinize, view, portray

words synonymous with survive:

withstand, outlast, persist

endure, remain, exist

four letters can hold seven in prison

seven letters have at last risen

Seven more sevens float in my eyes

1 injured 2 revolve 3 realize 4 forgive

5 healing 6 absolve 7 revised

seven letters…l e t t e r s

so much meaning squeezed inside

the tall, statuesque L

the E, the sound you make standing after you’ve fallen in a heap

two T’s, like parallel crosses you buried deep

another E, this time it hurts because of

the R, rough and capsized love

the S, the s…well the s is soothing as it slips

off of your tongue and out of your soulful lips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Symbiotic

Symbiotic

by Carmen H Gray

 

In the bath that night

When your hair of coppery wine

Fell out without a fight

Your cells committing suicide

A part of me died, too

They all told me, “this is hardest on the mother”

But I kept up appearances for you

I held in the fears and tears for the sake of others

Keep them all in smiles

Don’t disappoint

Hide the real hardship, the trials

Stay on point

The malignancies in both of us

Were put to rest

Releasing me from the superfluous

All that I had suppressed

In my long-running attempts to be infallible

Liberating me from my selfhood

Learning that the real “me” is valuable

Beyond a perfectly imperfect motherhood

 

 

 

Bells

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

-Leonard Cohen

Bells

(for Jackson)

by Carmen H Gray

The chiming sound

That comes from a hollowed, hallowed you

Inverted from life’s spiraled bound

A premature summoning

To another place

The space you made humbling

The lives of those you knew

The bells ringing in

Messages that carry through

Time and space

Pain and suffering

And love’s memory trace

Anger

“Instead of resisting any emotion, the best way to dispel it is to enter it fully, embrace it and see through your resistance.” -Deepak Chopra

Anger

by Carmen H Gray

Who am I to speak of kindness and love?

I held everyone else’s anger

And thought that I, being so kind

Would transform the danger

Of the negativity that trailed behind

But, lo, I am just a fallible woman

I am nothing great or good

My heart is not some grand cushion

On which all sharp objects could

Softly land

Instead I absorbed it deeply

And

It did not stay tucked nice and neatly

It snuck out in the most unusual ways

So very unexpectedly

In and out of days

It spilled excessively

Until I told it

Yes, anger, I embrace you

Your darkness that transmits

The necessary pain imbued

I have given you your time

To shine

I am just a fallible woman

And you can now go on

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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“for there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes”

-Milan Kundera.

Tonight was a celebration of Ava’s friend, Jackson’s life.  All of us surrounded together to have fun, enjoy some music, food and be grateful.  But, our hearts also felt heavy with compassion. My heart is so full sometimes it hurts, teetering on the unbearable lightness of being, only made bearable by our connections, which are what hurt us again and again.  The sweetness and bitterness of it all-remote incandescent bodies of light shining well beyond the expired time given.