I am not who I used to be. I am forging a new life.
Last night’s dream was powerful and wonderful. I had a baby boy, an infant, with thick black hair. I was trying to get him to nurse for the first time, but he couldn’t latch onto my nipple. We thought we would have to get bottles and formula but my deceased mother came to me and said, “Try again.” I thought maybe I didn’t have milk in my breasts, but maybe I did. In the dream, I tried so many different positions to feed that baby. I even tried getting him to latch upside down. I woke up at that point and immediately sensed it was my creative life (the hungry infant) that I needed to feed, however possible. The dream was enlightening and not disturbing.
I am honoring my creative self by re-ordering, re-positioning myself to feed the hungry Writing Life that has been nearly starved over the past year and a half of mourning and Limbo. My determination to nurture new creation is palpable. I may be too old for a baby but I will birth a second book.
The title of this post, “There is enough milk in my breasts for you, my glass infant,” is a line from a poem I am working on. Thank you for reading.
I forgot who I was. I knew the age spot on my left cheek. I knew the sagging breasts and the overlapping belly. I knew my feet; my unusually small toes. I knew my eyes and what they had seen. I knew my lips, now shaded in regal purple. I knew my place in the bed next to the dog, and further away, my husband. I knew him; his wants and needs. I knew the losses: friendships, a friend forever, my father, son and now, almost seven months ago, my mother. I knew something of my values, but not as clearly: my own value. I had forgotten the tools of my fingers; except to inconsistently pleasure myself, wash my face, shave the stubble here and there, or grip a steering wheel. I knew my daughter; but already this knowing is an ocean away. I knew the reason I withdrew from an outside life that filled others more than myself. I knew the shame of saying one thing and doing another. But I had forgotten myself.
I know that in the past six months I put words on paper. I know that as soon as those words were written I forgot them. I forgot the thrill too, and felt only dislocation. I forgot the feel of words in my mouth, as though my tongue had been numbed for surgery. I forgot the clicking taps on a keyboard except for inane mumblings; wretched gloats and ambiguous streams of babble. But back to dislocation: my writing setting has been unsettled. There are two sofas in this room. One does not belong here. Things are unplugged that should be plugged in. There are china cups wrapped in newspaper in boxes that haven’t been unpacked. One curtain hangs and another needs to be hung up. Where is my grounding? Files and files and no skeleton for them. Unopened mail. Books unread. I became dislocated in the aftermath of death. I do remember the tenderest parts of me and the kisses they received.
Before I progress, I need to familiarize myself with myself. Yesterday, I wanted to disappear. I wanted to drive on a road I’d never traveled and tell no one if I was going north, south, east or west. Instead I went to a bakery and bought my favorite dessert. My husband ate half and my daughter the other. The yearning I have is to be left alone. JUST LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE. That has been my mantra, but I do want to engage. Those closest to me understand. I have enough time. I just need awareness of the ever-presence of the opportunity of solitude and the will to delineate myself into its holy grasp.
Drained. I have been drained. Lately, I have related an adage that came to me: “If your own kitchen is on fire and your neighbor’s house is burning, put out the fire in your kitchen and then bring water to your neighbor.” This is how I must live my life, for now, until the fire is put out, until the long task list is accomplished. I do not feel guilt for saying no. I do not feel remorse for expressing wrath when only wrath, justified, would accomplish the necessary. I had forgotten wrath. Wrath can be useful. I accept my own blamelessness.
God help those who elicit my wrath. It is life-stopping in a metaphorical way; and profoundly affecting. Good, good, good. Now you know. Now you will pay attention and show me respect. Wrath: a wolf in defense and defiance for survival. It is necessary for the continuation of my living with no ill intent at all.
I talked to a friend today. It was nice. She offered refuge and calm water. I cannot do for others outside my closest family and my core friendships. Loss. We have lost so much and I am in transition. Part of what I forgot or tried to unburden myself from was writing; what it had come to mean for me. But what it meant, or what it was starting to represent for me was obligation and burden. Yes, there is a burden to carry as a writer and almost always I carry that with joy, but the elements of operating in a society of writers was what I felt trapped by. I came to a conclusion to only write when I feel like it and to not submit my work to journals anymore unless I am solicited to do so. It is not because I feel I have reached a level of status that it is beneath me; it’s just that I am not hungry. I do not have the time to write, submit, write, submit, etc. I think of the John Lennon song’s “Watching the Wheels” because it expresses how I feel about my career as a writer.
What is it about writing that brings me joy? I am no longer playing the game. I am vitally more interested in growing my family, as we have lost so many of our blood and kin. If I can solidify my core family, blood or not, I will find that inner resolve to write something worthy and authentic. I will write words with blood-worth, with the meaning and impact that has always been my fiercest intention.
As a poet, I have been given gifts of perception and the tool of language. As a poet, I have an almost clairvoyant apprehension of things seen and unseen. I embrace my “self” as visionary and humbly identify as such. Protecting our sacred space is difficult when you are entangled in toxicity, but small comforts, tears and self-nurture can help re-forge our beings. It’s not necessarily walls we need to construct, but a temple. This is something I learned over the weekend of October 18th and 19th when I attended a healing retreat at Tranquility Point Sanctuary in a woodsy location in Ville Platte, LA. I can see with more clarity and perspective how the seemingly incongruous events of the past led me to that revelation.
I believe we are on this planet to give and receive love and to spiritually grow into our most holy selves. This has been what I have believed since I was a child. I believe in a Creator, the “Divine Whatever” which is what I speak with awe and reverence for that unknowable Force. I believe God is in all things. All things. All experiences. In each and every living thing on Earth, Earth itself and the Universe beyond our little speck in space.
We use and overuse the word love. But I believe that we are loved and loving beings. We were born to love and love is our natural state. Unfortunately, everything in contemporary society and in our history for a long, long time has been commandeered by human greed to misdirect us from our spiritual selves and hence our openness to the Divine Whatever is denied and vilified.
I have many friends who are “devout” atheists. We get along fine, unless they try to undermine my beliefs with theirs. And atheism is a belief and a choice not to believe in a God, because really if we put the question on the line there is only the weak human mind that cannot grasp what is unknowable, until death, perhaps. I respect that these friends are for whatever reason convinced of the non-existence of a Creator, God, Divine Whatever and I don’t try to change their minds.
Most of the people I have encountered recently have a fierce aversion to religion and may not have really considered a grander idea God at all—many try to direct me to the harm that organized religion has and continues to perpetrate on this planet. I get that. I do not subscribe to a single religion but I do believe in Something. We can point to a million reasons why a God wouldn’t exist, because of all the prejudice, injustice and evil in the world. This is the world, however, and the humans in it, and not what I can only dimly imagine God is.
I went to Texas at the beginning of October to read poetry at an opening of an art exhibit Degrees of Separation/Degrés de separation http://www.degreesofseparation.org; a project in which I was one of four Louisiana poets who worked with visual art from artists from Louisiana and France. We writers were tasked with writing ekphrastic poems inspired by pieces of visual art. The project is being documented at the web site above.
It was a thrilling time and I am so honored to be a part of this project. I was lucky to be able to manage the trip and I broke through many fears to get there. My daughter and my friend, poet, healer, minister and navigator, Bessie, joined me. I was able to see my best friend from college, Wilhelmina for one night as we traveled through her town in Texas. I had not seen her in twenty years and we were gleeful at our reunion.
It’s kind of funny that as she holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Willie, back in the day, proclaimed herself an atheist and had all of the arguments to back her stance up, but her life experiences have led her to a deep, grounded faith in the Divine Source. She and I laughed about that because we used to debate the existence of God all of the time, and now we just talk about the miracle that she and I are still alive and rejoice in all the blessings in our lives. What a wild trip. Unforgettable and the experience teaches me still.
What do we know?
Let me assure you, we know less that we think we do and the sum of all human knowledge is minuscule. The smartest humans can only theorize or try to present logical arguments for the proof of God or construct theories of disproof. The humanistic point of view is very popular now and to me it is not sad, because that doesn’t stop God from doing God stuff. Someone gave me a phrase over the weekend of the retreat that has stuck with me: “We are tools in God’s toolbox.” I believe this to be true. Even if we are crowbars, nails, hammers, drills, a two-by-four etc. in some way we are tools or instruments to reveal some deeper meaning and growth in our own lives or in someone else’s. We only have an intimation of what God has in store but I cannot even voice it because—hey, I don’t know. Something grand I am sure.
Part of my reason for attending the healing retreat, which I plainly cannot put into words what actually transpired, but can express that it was profound and led me to great joy, was that I had a negative influence in my life that was blocking The Good from coming to fruition. It troubled me greatly because to be free, truly free, I had to sacrifice something I loved. My intention for the actual healing session (which was miraculous in all ways) was to not be entangled in negative energy battles and to become more discerning in my choices and actions.
The healing session was administered by a healer and Reiki Master; a Lakota medicine woman, healer-teacher and elder; and a Buddhist practitioner of Reiki/healer. I have never, ever, ever, ever experienced such a powerful intercession on such a deep spiritual level in my life and the whole experience brought me to a wholeness of self that I only hoped was possible. It was a complete surprise to me.
My grandmother was a traiteuse, a Cajun Roman Catholic healer. She was unable to pass on her “gift” before she died. This always fascinated me and I would have requested that she teach me but it was a very secretive thing and I was at the time unworthy for many reasons. After the healing session at the retreat, I wondered about the Cajun folk tradition and where it originated and looked into ties between Native American medicine and the folk medicine of the Cajun people. There is much more that I want to learn but the deduction I surmised was that the cultures intertwined in their shared histories in early Acadian life and out of life and death necessity there was likely a real sharing of knowledge for mutual survival. I plan to look into this further and talk to people I know to find stories that may illuminate my understanding. But for me, whereas at some point I may have been a true skeptic, the firsthand experiences of the retreat weekend blew my mind wide open.
The night I came home from the retreat, my mind and spirit were so open and so clear that I “heard” the voices of my French ancestors trying to speak to me emphatically in French. A spirit I recognized as my grandfather was trying to “translate” the Cajun French into English so that I could receive the message but it became confusing and I fell asleep astounded but also a bit lost. I need to brush up on my French!
I am much more grounded, and some of the doors that were open are closed a bit. As I write these words some people might think I am just a kook, but I don’t care. One day we will glimpse at the things of this world seen and unseen and acquire an intimation of that which is incomprehensible Divinity and Wholeness. This is my belief. I believe in angels. I believe our beloved dead are near to us. I believe there are repercussions for ignoring or deflecting what they have to say to us, or what life urges us to pay attention to. Life is not all that is on TV. Life is not all war and destruction. Yes, these things are real, but if we allow a transformation of consciousness and connect in positive ways seen and unseen, I devoutly believe we can revolutionize the current state of affairs. I believe in spiritual evolution: a loving flow which can heal humanity and the planet, in service to The Divine Whatever which breathed life into us, and which will take that breath away, too.
May we turn inward, to the deepest we can plumb, and know within and without that life, here and now and beyond this, is holy, infinite. Each moment holds meaning. Each moment we have a choice to be our faith, a living prayer, and be in the revelation of the miraculous. In the darkest hour, if we choose to open our minds to the Divinity of all things, light can break through.
When my son died ten years ago, I dedicated myself to The Writing Life. When my dad died seven years ago, I began the manuscript that became Eating the Heart First. I am directed now to express music, because it has been my longest love; and one from which I was parted, on the deep level I consciously and unconsciously sought.
My path of healing in this grief journey, after my mother’s passing, is to follow the music.
My mother and father sang to my brother and me all of our lives. Singing was a happy time with us as a family. I believe I was singing before I knew words.
My mother worked for many years at Lafayette Drug Company which was also a record store. She had quite the collection. I spent all of my allowance on records. I played them constantly. I would set the phonograph to continually play one side of a record while I slept, by swinging that arm out, or would stack as many records as could be held on the turntable, depending on the stereo I had at the time. I went through quite a few.
Once, my dad found a small electric organ in the trash and brought it home. It still worked. I tried to teach myself songs from a songbook my mother had kept from her childhood. Any time I was near a piano, I asked to play it, even though I had no knowledge of it other than to strike the keys and discover a melody that was summoned from my heart into my mouth. I would la la la or make up lyrics and sing out, likely annoying everyone in the house. My nanny, our Aunt Dee Dee, gave me a harmonica one year for Christmas. She put it in a toothpaste box inside a large cardboard box. I was ecstatic when I figured out it wasn’t toothpaste! I spent many hours of my childhood here at my grandparents’ home swinging and singing my own made-up songs under the oak tree. These are some of my most cherished memories of early life.
I was given 3 guitars as presents growing up. One got broken, one I still have, and another I traded for an acoustic I still own, too. I played devotedly for about four years, from age seventeen to twenty one and then let it go—
Music is an integral part of my daily life, whether it is for enjoyment, inspiration, or if it helps to facilitate mediation and sleep. In my book of poetry, there are poems written after dreams of playing instruments (in the dreams only), and the music that was produced in those dreams was unlike anything I have ever heard. Astonishingly beautiful and complex music. The palpable longing in the poems “Her Body Desires the Instrument” and “What I Long for In Dreams,” collected in Eating the Heart First, is the ache of necessity to be able to create the music in me. I can barely do this at this point, after not playing for nearly 25 years. I have forgiven myself and let go of the guilt and heartache produced from staring at my guitars for decades, as though playing them would never be a part of my life again.
I made a choice just a month or so ago to buy a new guitar and it was one of the best decisions of my life. If I had not bought it, I would either be in a mental hospital or dead, and that is not an exaggeration. It has been a salve to my soul and I am caring for it as an extension of myself, a necessity to my living being.
I identify as a creative. No other labels will suffice. A plus of being a poet, calling myself that for ten years, is that I have an edge with lyrics and an ease of process in creating them. Now to explore the instrument of my choosing, which for now is the guitar. Who knows where it will lead, but all I care about is this healthy, healing outlet, creative satisfaction and joyful pleasure. My family seems to be enjoying it and I have their support and respect.
My own excitement is almost excruciating. I am having a blast! When I see friends or meet new people, I ask them to give me the inside of their wrist, so I can gently rub my callused fingertips on that spot. Call me crazy, but watch out—I might be a one-hit wonder. I might get paid royalties for a song I write. I actually was in communications tonight with a person who has a connection to Nashville recording businesses. Not ready for that but everything worthy starts with a holy dream and that is how I see this new direction, this new exploration. This guitar costs me nothing but the intial price (not very much) and the time, care and attention I give to playing. I have found that playing cycles healing energy and recycles negative energy into a positive.
Maybe I will only share my music with with my closest family and friends, but I am doing it and loving it at a time when I could have completely fallen apart. It is also leaving a positive impression on our daughter–the lesson that you can dream and you can commit to learn something new every day of your life.
And thank God for that.
What I hope to achieve in the nine sessions of working with women clients of Acadiana Outreach is to give participants, through a structured, weekly creative writing workshop, tools to strengthen their ability to name thoughts and emotions and convey them artistically, and poem-making skills which may lead to positive breakthroughs and life-happenings by tapping into the resilience of the creative mind.
By offering skill-building creative writing exercises and prompts, sharing empowering literary works, and allowing for free-writing time, I hope to inspire participants to be able to create something beautiful, honest and uniquely their own through the craft of poetry. By creating a safe and nurturing atmosphere in our group sessions, I hope the participants will have the assurance to reach into their creative minds to find deeper self-awareness, keys to success, and possibly true healing.
In my own personal experience, creative writing has led me out of despair, allowed me to express joy and love in sensory, beautiful language, and come to a place where I feel honored to be me. It is my hope that participants will find their “true voices” via new creative skills that may give rise to creative problem-solving in circumstances they face in their everyday lives.
Art is vital and necessary, and creative acts are transformative. We can transform. We can rise above and live in hope. The positive effects of writing our very lives can lead one out of places of darkness. I believe that through creative writing, through the process of discovery and poetic documentation, we can find our way, recover and thrive.
I am committing to this project enthusiastically to be able to interact with these women, lead them to new awareness and appreciation for poetry as a vital tool of self-expression. I am committed to the work, and have great hopes for this project.
Clare L. Martin’s debut collection of poetry, Eating the Heart First, was published fall 2012 by Press 53 as a Tom Lombardo Selection. Martin’s poetry has appeared in Avatar Review, Blue Fifth Review, Melusine, Poets and Artists and Louisiana Literature, among others. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web, for Best New Poets and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net. Her poems have been included in the anthologies The Red Room: Writings from Press 1, Best of Farmhouse Magazine Vol. 1, Beyond Katrina, and the 2011 Press 53 Spotlight. She is a lifelong resident of Louisiana, a graduate of University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a member of the Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective and a Teaching Artist through the Acadiana Center for the Arts. Martin founded and directs the Voices Seasonal Reading Series in Lafayette, LA, which features new and established Louisiana and regional writers.
The monsters of a thousand years tried to demolish me. I was left in want, desolate and afraid. Friendship comes into and out of life, but I relinquish myself to love. I will never let love go, even if I am discarded. I will keep holding fast. I will keep seeking the beautiful and exquisite selves of caring humans. There is nothing that would turn me away.
Only love banishes fear; fears this precious life also summons.