Ten Years

Adam 2002

March 15th, 2004 will mark ten years since my son Adam’s death.

As I compose this blog post so many thoughts are in my head. His conception, my struggle with motherhood at 15 years old, learning that he was disabled, coming to a place of acceptance of that fact and becoming the mother he needed and that I needed to be to him up to the time of his death.

I am thinking about my mother and I going to Wal-Mart to pick out his burial clothes.  Towards the end of his life, maybe the last two years, he only wore hospital gowns. We had to guess at his size when picking the blue dress shirt and slacks. The clothes were too large and the mortuary staff pinned the clothes to fit his frail and unusually small body.

I have said this before, that writing has saved my life. But even more so, the people in my life have saved my life. My parents did not abandon me. They supported me through my pregnancy and saw me through college. They cared for Adam when I could not and that in itself is a miraculous thing.

Adam had many caregivers from the time of his birth and the four months in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, through the years he lived at home with us and from the special human-angels on staff at Louisiana Special Education Center in Alexandria, Louisiana. I know that each and every human that came in contact with Adam was guided by the Divine to see his special and loving nature. Adam taught us more than we could have ever taught him. His disability brought us to understanding, humility and tenderness. We are better for having known him. I am better for having been touched by his gracious life.

Ten years of dedication to the Writing Life. Ten years from March 15th, 2004, the day Adam died. My husband and I were on our way to the hospital to attend to him when I got the call from Dr. Buck that Adam’s heart gave out during a procedure to place a medi-port in him to give him antivirals that were maybe going to save his life.

But we knew he was dying. Adam suffered the last several months of his life with pneumonia and septicemia. The last time I saw him he was surrounded by ice because his fever was 108 degrees and rising. My God! How did he live for as long as he did in that horrible state?  A few days after he died, I wrote the poem “Ice to Water.”  That poem was the most difficult thing to conjure, and was written through tears, but it saved me.

My being is attuned to love. Even when I am fighting I love my way through the pain. I have had to fight all of my life for self-love, for personal justice, and for reclamation. Ten years of writing and seeking mastery of myself through the work. Ten years of working through grief, working in grief—astounding and excruciating grief. I have gone so far on the path but I am still here mourning.

I was just lying in bed talking to my husband. We were talking about his work and my work. I have made very little money in all these years, but the small amount I have made has been spent on my family. We struggle but my poetry money has made a difference when we needed a tank of gas, a pizza, or a few groceries. As I was talking, my sorrow arose and I cried. Something new is causing me grief, a new disillusionment as I continue on the path.

I have put out so much energy to write, to get published, and to grow a career in a field that does not reward in the ways we recognize as success in this world. That didn’t really bother me all along. My perspective was that this is a holy vocation and I was honoring my gifts but somewhere along the way I got conned. I began thinking of commerce and exchange—what was I getting in return? This led to a deep sadness and more tears.

In this moment, as I reflect on the passing of my son, as I write about just a few details of his incredible life, I am brought back to the reason I committed myself so deeply to this path. Honor. I wanted to honor Adam’s memory, honor my gifts, and honor the people in my life. That I was able to succeed in gaining an audience was gratifying but the whole and holy purpose was, is and always will be for me is the “creative love” in the act of writing itself. I say creative love because my creativity/love is what brought me this far and I will not lose sight of it again.

There are many projects that I bring my energy to and I will continue to do so, but if these projects become grueling or dissatisfying, I will give them up. It is not a difficult thing for me to do at all. I am not paid for any of it, except the money I might receive from selling a book here and there. I am not concerned with a “career” because what is that? I am concerned with the creative act and the product, not so much my stature anymore. I am concerned with leaving a legacy of love, and my energies will be focused from this point forward on projects and people who are aligned with this mission.

Peace.

Word by Word

I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.  –Anne Morrow Lindberg

Writing saves my life every day. Word by word, I have clawed my way out of myriad hells. Tragedy after tragedy, writing has brought about resolution and clarity for me.  In more peaceful times writing has centered me, shaped my living, brought my self into greater focus and allowed me to express passion. I am writing it all out, at any cost. I do not believe it is sacrifice. It is necessary and vital for my survival. Without it I would become completely undone.

Writers investigate this life. We follow words wherever they lead: to the seaside houses painted blue, to the lioness teaching her cubs to hunt, to the paper cut, to the oceans of grief within us, to the dying star. The greatest gift a writer can give another human is truth. It is a mysterious thing to “get there” via language. I am not sure I can explain it. There is a path, though, and I can point you to it.

You need:

1) a comprehension of a language
2) certain instruments with which to write
3) the will to do the work
4) the curiosity to investigate what is below the surface
5) time

Believe you have something to say and go forth. Your skill will improve and you will perpetuate a habit. Your investigations will produce evidence of what I speak of, that elusive but very real thing: truth.

About process: I start with a blank page and put words on it. That is it. I don’t get bogged down. Sometimes I play creative games. Whatever works. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I don’t give it credence. Write. Do it.  Respect it and respect yourself for doing it.

Need

I saw a photo. A man casually reclined at the prow of a small sailboat in a harbor on the Nile. The man’s easy-way was obvious. His contentment was too. His sins were not apparent. He looked uneven, as though one leg was longer than the other or that a shoulder was dislocated. But it was the slanting light of Egypt and he was in white; his shape almost blinding, like an apparition shimmering against the thin blue paint of the boat.

I saw in this photo the seventeen year old boy who took it all away from me.

After we smoked the joint, he begged to put it in. Just let me feel the softness, the wetness…
I pretended I was in another room, a room with no mirror to realize I was merely the highway he traveled. The half-forced insertion, the bit of blood—what was the spell he cast? It caused me to melt into him like softened wax.

I saw another photo. The man was with a woman. She was beautiful and the sunlight made her more so. They were at Stonehenge. The woman and the man wore colorful sweaters that seemed well-made and warm. They smiled brightly. I could only think: How thick are his memories and do they penetrate bone?

There was another photo from Istanbul, but I do not want to remember it.

I bore the death of a child. I bore the death of a child. How many years of have I lived in hope for the one day to execute my hate? But all the fires I set are doused and forgotten. My hate has worn to a pebble; I have thumbed it so much.

The light in this room is like tea or rust. The scent of patchouli and orange cloys. The man in the colorful sweater, smiling with all the energy of a sun, persists even with my eyes closed.

I step into the bath. Hot water reddens my skin. I mouth the word ‘release’ and cry without sound. I swallow the moon so it will never rise again.

CLM
1/23/14

Wonderful news!

I am exhilarated this morning by the wonderful news of this review written by Blood Lotus: An Online Literary Journal editor, Stacia Fleegal, of my debut poetry collection, Eating the Heart First.  I am so grateful for these words. I read the review over the phone to my mother and she just said, “Wow. That is mind-blowing.”

Even if I don’t sell a million copies, I have experienced, and continue to experience, great joy and pleasure from the response of so many readers. Stacia takes great care in her reading and her words are considered, inspired, and gracious.

Please read her review, and if you are so moved, buy a copy of the book, available from Press 53 for your summer reading.

Thank you!   

~Clare

Summer Day, 1984

fishframe

I am pregnant; fifteen years old. I am fishing with my father. The bayou is a darkened mirror. Father stands in the slow-dancing boat and draws back effortlessly to cast the line. Water silvers; streams like snakes. There are snakes, too, black ones that appear plastic and fluid: shadows of water.  There is a faint stream of motor oil—a finger-trace in the water which rings a floating Budweiser can. Cattle egrets in breeding plumage float above the bank. Father pulls in a sun perch. Its iridescent tail fans the light. We cast again, again in silence.

After my son was born my daddy told me he made a wish for me as he rolled his wrist to reach the spot where the mysteries of fish exist:

To not regret, to hold to the promises I make.

Shadow

I have a ring on every finger. The wind is blowing from the north.  I got this blanket at the truck stop.  I wrap it around me like a poncho. I drive through Colorado with the windows rolled down. My knuckles are ice.  Cold pain keeps me awake.  At every exit and entrance to the highway, night empties and refills with light. The U-Haul in front weaves two lanes into one.  My eye’s on white lines and snowy mountains shining in the blue descent of night.  You are always in memory. One thunder clap and then another.  I look to the clouds and the moon for a clue.  What key will unlock you? You in memory, in that black leather motorcycle jacket—you roughed it up good. What you did in it was death-defying, legendary. But you were a young man then. Moments were angel-grace upon you. You grew too thin for it when—it came on like a disease.  It moved up your spine, hooked your brain.  The pain in your mind was bad as cancer in the bone, in the marrow. Oh it was bad pain and it ate you. I’m driving through Colorado and you’re dead five years.  I’m driving like a son of a bitch, freezing my tits off, crying. Fuck you. You disappeared yourself. There were pills that could have fixed you. They sure fixed me. I had worse shit going down than you ever did and I am good. The last months you looked dead before you died. Fall-down-drunk, broke-boned, hacked-teeth—we could see your skeleton through your shirt. Your pants hung on somehow.  You had the haggard look that kept people away.  Didn’t you get tired of that–that running gag? Didn’t you get tired of that look? The look we, the living, gave you? We wished for you, but it is a lame effort to wish. All our wishing didn’t pull you up and out.  I’d like to remember your boy-smile, your waterfall eyes, before being drunk took you. Did you ever dare to believe an infinitesimal spark of your self could ignite new fire?  Maybe you hoped a little and lost that littlest bit, and that is what killed you.

A Loss

I found out overnight that one of my bridesmaids, who remained a close friend for years, but who was also very troubled died in August of last year.  I loved her dearly although we had troubles that we could not surmount in our time. This is a difficult thing to grasp–that although we made a mutual decision to not be in contact, she is truly gone from this world. I don’t know how she died. We had not been in contact since my daughter was little. So many distressing thoughts come to mind but ultimately the fact is that I loved her fiercely, and I believe she loved me too.

In respect of her memory I wish her peace and comfort to her loved ones.

Wings

Image

I want my ashes spread at Cypremort Point, Louisiana. To me it is a place that I have loved visiting all of my life. I continue to make memories there with my family.

As a child, my imagination was continually sparked by my mother’s nature-games, spotting hawks, Kingfishers, cranes, and other birds who inhabit the area and also her fun stories about Bear Country, a sloping area near the Weeks Island turnoff.  When we drove through Bear Country to get to the point, my mother’s voice would always drop a bit in tone and volume and she would tell us to be on the lookout for bears. As an adult, I finally saw a Louisiana Black Bear there and my mother’s evocative tales all became so wonderfully real again.

We had the use of a camp on the point for many years when I was very little until I was maybe ten years old. We would stay weekends out there with family. We would fish, crab, play in the water at the beach and then pack up at the end of that seemingly endless time and go home. I always liked Cypremort Point better than home. I do not remember much of the home on Sixth Street I began life in, but I vividly remember Cypremort Point.

Once I was allowed to steer the boat out in Vermilion Bay. I turned the wheel hard left and we circled dangerously. Once my father “caught” an alligator on his fishing line at Marsh Island and I shrieked in fear that the alligator was going to “get me” as he reeled it closer to the boat. There was an illusive, enormous sheep’s head fish that all of us tried to catch. It lurked under the wharf and we would see it swim slowly in and out of sunlight. There was a day when the sun was full and high that I saw a thunderous strongman lift a sea turtle over his head on a shrimp boat. I was stunned by the exotic creature and the strange man who seemed to appear from a Sinbad the Sailor movie.

This brings to mind the dead winged monkey that I saw in a pile of shucked crab shells.  It was stinking and scary. I saw the wings. My brother didn’t. Its dank and wet hide was encircled by flies.  I looked closely for evidence of breath but there was none. It was my first up close experience with death.

I held onto that memory for years, the wonder of it and the improbability. I protected my illusions. I saw a winged monkey like in the Sinbad movies, like in The Wizard of Oz. These creatures were real even though the one I saw was dead, rotting, and half-buried under red-boiled blue point crab shells.

It was more real than anything.

I have told this story to only the closest of friends, or after a long drunk.  It didn’t do much to jeopardize my reputation because my reputation has always been at risk. Saturday at Acadiana Wordlab, I wrote about the dead winged monkey and we all laughed. The truth perhaps spilled out that I had imagined it, that likely the monkey was a pet on a shrimp boat, not Sinbad’s ship, and the pet monkey had died and was discarded.

But I really want to believe, to hold fast to the magic of its existence; the idea that we do not know all that we think we do. I want to believe in the strange and unfamiliar, the existence of secret things of this world. How would you know that this creature does not exist? Our knowledge is fallible, limited. You may say I am a silly woman, and I am. I am in my heart still that silly, shocked and awed girl; a child of wonder. And I reside in that one, and perhaps many other, glorious illusions.

VOICES IN WINTER—A BEAUTIFUL NIGHT

MATT

Matthew Hardin Hofferek reading at the Voices Seasonal Reading Series, Feb. 16th, 2013

[Photo courtesy of Tracy Board]

So many people have done extraordinary things for me all of my life that the only way I could ever pay them back is by giving back to others, in ways within my power and ability. It is my joyful duty. That is why we started the Voices Seasonal Reading Series.

The first ever featured writer for Voices was Patrice Melnick, a dynamic, loving and gifted woman who shares her many talents with the communities within Acadiana and beyond.  As a personal friend and colleague she has taught me well how to grow joy within myself and share it with others. She has taught me to be brave in so many ways.

Patrice was my inspiration for planning the first Voices in Winter event at Carpe Diem Gelato – Espresso Bar in Lafayette, LA at the beginning of 2012. It was a great success and we have had six very successful events since. We are already booked through 2013 and I am putting out feelers for 2014.

I met Matthew Hofferek at a Starbucks drive through window. His personable manner, humor and keen wit engaged me and we hit it off immediately. On our second meeting at the drive through, he told me he was a writer. I was so happy he was upfront about it.  I said I was too, and we exchanged information. When he shared a few short stories that he had written, I was immediately struck by the power of his voice, his unflinching honesty and the gracefulness of his language. We have become great friends, lifetime friends, I hope, with all my heart.

I offered to him to read at Voices and he did so last night. It was his first reading and he was nervous. My friend Jonathan and I took him to Pamplona and we each had a good, strong drink of our choosing and toasted THE WORD. By happenstance, we met two other writers who are moonlighting as bartenders. It was great synchronicity, a force that flowed through the entire evening.

Joining Matthew at the Voices in Winter event was internationally-acclaimed poet and collage artist, Camille Martin. We were very lucky and honored to have Camille read for the series and she was enlightening, brilliant and moved the audience with her stunning work. Camille is from Lafayette and has lived in Louisiana for many years but finds her home in Toronto now. She was in town visiting family. We were lucky to be found by her and hope for deepening connections with her in the future.

I was so proud of Matthew. My dear friend affected us, his audience, with a deeply moving story, “All Wars End Alone” that was written with great “honesty and a little invention.” This young man served our country and is home. His somber and difficult tale was so well-written, so well-crafted and affecting that it brought tears to my eyes to hear him read it, even though I had read it before last night.

Whatever burdens we carry, there are miracles that can lift them from our hearts. I was so honored to have Camille and Matthew read and both of them dedicated their readings to loved ones. The emotion was palpable and my prayer is that by sharing their words they were lifted up, as we all were.

Thank you, Matthew and Camille for trusting us.

Thank you to Carpe Diem, Silvia, Erik and their staff, and to all our guests. To Matthew and Camille, I sincerely say thank you for your bravery, dedication to your respective arts and for the honor to present you to the community of Acadiana.