Good medicine

It was a busy, busy week. OK, a busy, busy three days–Monday through Wednesday–and then I crashed and burned. I’m writing this on Thursday morning, in migraine fog, planning to skip my pain management class today because it (so far) triggers me every damn time. And getting triggered in a 2-hour Zoom meeting while on meds is something I’m just not going to subject my neural pathways to. (I’m writing on Thursday because we are going to be away for the weekend–a small trip I’m much wanting to take, but even good stress is stress, right? You know how anticipatory grief is a thing? So is anticipatory stress.)

In spite of all that, I wrote. Or, I played with words, which counts.

The past few years, I’ve created a calendar with my words and photos. I pull both from this blog and from Instagram posts, tightening the words a bit. I give the calendars to my parents and a few friends. I wasn’t as pleased with last year’s effort as I had been with earlier ones, and just last week, as I changed the calendar to November, I thought that maybe I would let that project go.

Then I received an email from one of those friends:

When Ed turned the page from October to November on your 2022 calendar, he said, ‘I really love Rita’s photographs and her poetry.’ The love word this engineer rarely bandies about.

Well, if that’s not a sign from the universe, I don’t know what is. (Who am I to deny Ed–who I love because he so well loves my friend that I love–something he loves, especially when he uses that word sparingly?) So I sat down and started noodling, reviewing the year’s photos, pulling snippets of language from posts. I never thought of the calendar words as poetry, but the words there are distilled versions of those that I share here. Maybe they are.

For several hours last Sunday afternoon, I played with words and images from the last year, and it felt good. Really good.

I’d been struggling a bit with my second Dive into Poetry prompt (an invitation to write about shame), but Monday morning, my pump primed from Sunday’s play, this came out:

Usually I Reject Shame

Call it out as the abuse I’ve known
it to be, but not today,
having so recently escaped from an October 
where smoky air kept us sweltering inside, 
and the leaves–the ones that didn’t turn ash-gray–
stayed stubbornly green. 

The crows called when we stepped out 
the door, their caws sounding like castigation 
for our collective sins, a thousand jagged “shoulds” 
raining upon our heads. 

“I know, I know!” I bleated back at them, 
eyes down, my words
flying away in the hot, hot wind.

Then, another prompt was about collections, and one suggestion was to collect words for a poem from other texts. I went back to my blog posts from November of last year, thinking I might pull words into a poem about the month. I copied and pasted snippets of language, and then I rearranged them and polished them and glued them together with some new words into something that is about late middle-age/early old-age, our current moment in history, and, I suppose, November:

In the November of Our Lives

One day it’s all sunshine-sharp air and leaves blazing against blue skies; 
the next, it’s wet sticks and relentless wind, 
our pumpkins on the front porch gone suddenly garish.
The bedrock upon which we’ve lived shifts 
and breaks, and there is no mending the fault lines, 
no way around canyons of looming catastrophe.  
With our children grown, our dogs buried, and our bodies 
both softer and more brittle than they’ve ever been, 
my missing is so deep it’s not even an ache.  
It’s something I don’t have a word for. 
There are moments I want to last forever, the wanting 
turning them to memory before they end. 
I thought surely we’d have more,
but darkness descends before we’re ready for it,
and something inside turns toward candlelight,
toward small flames still burning, hunkering down for the long haul of winter.

I’ve long liked writing cento poems (poems I’ve thought of as verbal collages), and I’m finding that using my own prose as source material might be a way into writing poetry again.

In a week where I could feel myself melting on Monday afternoon, where a Wednesday doctor visit resulted in referrals to even more appointments, where the work of healing feels like a mountain too steep to climb, this kind of word play was good medicine.

One foot in front of the other. Even if the step is sometimes a wonky, sideways sort of thing.

Also, I use Shutterfly to make my calendars, and I like the 12×12 version. They are on sale right now, if you’d like to make your own.

6 thoughts on “Good medicine

  1. Ally Bean says:

    I’ve never made my own calendar, never even thought about doing it. Yours looks beautiful and meaningful which makes it even more special.

    You said, “where the work of healing feels like a mountain too steep to climb” and I thought YES! That’s exactly what happens when you get into medical [what I shall call] situations and suddenly there’s too much to do to get well. I hope your migraine has passed– or at least abated some. Happy weekend, may your adventures be fun.

    • Rita says:

      Thanks, Ally. Unfortunately, my dad tested positive for Covid this morning, so our visit got canceled. Migraine is still with me. I’ve been working to make health a priority, but appointments, a class, therapies of several kinds, lifestyle changes: It’s feeling a bit much. Nice to know that someone else gets it.

      I hope you have a good weekend, too. I’m going to use some of mine working on that calendar. It’s easy creative fun. I first made them for my parents when my kids were growing up, using photos of them. I think favorites were the years I used old family photos. Shutterfly’s interface is really easy to use, if it’s something you’re at all interested in.

  2. Kari says:

    I came to comment and then read your reply to Ally. I’m sorry about your dad. How is he feeling?
    I’m also sorry about your migraine. Those unshakeable migraines are the worst.
    I used to make calendars on Shutterfly! I haven’t created one in years. So much fun.

    • Rita says:

      My dad is doing OK. Symptoms are fairly mild, and he’s been given an anti-viral medication. So far, my mom is still negative. (Both are fully boosted.) In early October, I drove in a car with Cane for 6 hours when he had Covid but we didn’t know it yet, before I’d gotten the latest booster, and somehow I did not get it. I’m hoping my mom has whatever magic kept me well.

      Migraine seems clear today. It was OK. They are not the debilitating, knock-down events they once were, for which I am grateful.

  3. Kate says:

    I read the above comments about your mom and dad and hope she is staying healthy and he his getting there more and more each day. Glad he was able to get the antiviral. I think it helped me a lot!

    What an awesome gift idea, Rita! And a wonderful way to celebrate the picture and words you’ve collected over the year and carry them forward. I’m glad you’re continuing the project (yay to Engineer Ed for providing the push.)

    Finally, I hope YOU are feeling better. When you said the mountain feels to steep at times, I got that but it also sounds like you’re resting along the way so you can trudge forward more later.

    Finally “my missing so deep it’s not even an ache.
    It’s something I don’t have a word for.” Yeah. That.

    • Rita says:

      I’m so thankful for the vaccines and medications! Such a different situation than it would have been early on. Are you feeling fully recovered yet? I know you said it was a hard experience.

      As for my own health mountains, I just hit a little wall this week. Had an appointment with my primary care doc, who specializes in integrative approaches. I chose her because I have so much stuff, and I want someone who looks for the connections. But, that means when I’m seeing her, we’re talking about ALL the stuff. I finally have the time and space to focus on health–for which I am so, so grateful–but it’s a lot of appointments and life changes and bringing up long-buried stuff. You are right; pacing is everything. She and I agreed that tackling some dietary things can wait until after the holidays. Doing enough other things, and why do that at the time of year it will be most challenging to do?

      Thanks for being here. I’m glad we get each other.

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