This healing and awakening is “tacky,” i.e. real, human

Being more human, not more perfect can be so tacky: I have to mind the gap between the uncomfortably real and the idealized. Just now that means grief and anguish.

MIND THE GAP: I have always loved this sign that populates the London Underground, warning against a misstep between platform and train. The GAP I most need to MIND these days is the one between my Idealized, cleaned-up version of healing and awakening, and the Real Thing. I misstep daily, often without realizing it, as this rare dream illuminated for me a few nights ago:

I was in a cavernous, empty building, industriously erecting a sweet human-sized structure, well-proportioned, using high quality materials – there were four sturdy corner posts of well-turned and polished wood, a roof of shimmery colorful fabric overhead, some ethereal walls that left it open to a welcoming entry on all sides, until….

It abruptly collapsed…

And I found myself in the same cavernous, empty building, erecting – all higgledy-piggledy – a tacky little structure, a jumble of unidentifiable discarded materials, where everything was askew but managed to stand serviceably enough.

As I woke with these two images in mind, I could only shake my head at myself, recognizing the small structures were, respectively, my idealized image of a healed and awakened Sara, and the actual harum-scarum, raggle-taggle, hobson-jobson (to borrow again from the British), healing-awakening hot mess that I am.

As I woke, I was saying to myself: this is so tacky. Being more human and not perfect can be so tacky.

My dream was reminding me to be real, to reconcile myself one more time to my imperfect humanity.

Being real right now means I am awash in grief and anguish.  It means…

my cells are weeping

my nose is snotty

my sleep and defenses are shot

my invisibility cloak is inoperative

my frozen interior is melting

my fasciae are gaining in tensile strength and fluidity

my own hand resting on my thigh is penetrating comfort itself

anybody could find me and kill me off with a bit of kindness

I am finally, deeply, feeling a healing version of vaporous unseen and unnamed forces that have shaped every relationship, my very view of the world. Have propelled my movements through life, at times inflicting on others the very same neglect from which I suffered.

It is almost four years since I wrote the first drafts of these poems out of the shape of the relationship with my mother that I could sense kinesthetically with my whole body: a difficult yet mentally idealized picture. Now these poems are more vivid and alive:  salty, wet, and full of feeling.

So this healing and awakening is truly tacky, built of all manner of imperfections, mine and my mother’s. Uncomfortably real. But sturdy and not prone to abrupt collapse.

language is on my face

by Sara Eisenberg

language is on my face, Mother is un-lettered, i, an apple fallen close to her trunk, just beneath her tree, flat, looking up at her, a moon circling in a distant galaxy

 

Mother

by Sara Eisenberg

i am a world suspended upon

nothingness

 

launch myself on the wind

of my own arid breath,

mingle materially with

emptiness,

tract upon barren tract

until i

come up

up against

push up

up against

push,

push,

not landing,

push

against cloth black against darkness:

the shape of my mother,

herself bereft,

a mirror covered

against mourning,

swallowing light.


For more poetry:

https://alifeofpractice.com/daily-practices/an-exaltation-of-particulars/

https://alifeofpractice.com/poetry/women-friends-come-bearing-gifts/

 

Refresh yourself, or sulk, in my garden – apparently I’m on spring break

Come on in. You are welcome to refresh yourself  – or  sulk, as you wish – in my woodland medicinal garden,  nestled under a sky-ward leaping linden tree. My writer’s mind and hand are apparently on spring break,

In Perpetual Spring
Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies
and trip over the roots
of a sweet gum tree,
in search of medieval
plants whose leaves,
when they drop off
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they
plop into water.
Suddenly the archetypal
human desire for peace
with every other species
wells up in you. The lion
and the lamb cuddling up.
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,
queen of the weeds, revives
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt
there is a leaf to cure it.

Source: Bitter Angel: Poems (1990)

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Shade canopy: Linden tree

Top row: Black Cohosh, Greater Celandine, Solomon’s Seal, Wild Ginger

Bottom row: Twinleaf, Dwarf Comfrey, Golden Ragwort, Black Cohosh

We are all strangers in a strange land

My memory of the brief exchange is so sharp that, some forty-five years later, I can picture the layout of the livingroom, just where I was sitting – a stranger in a strange land – among a group of a dozen or so women. 

The ceiling of the old Victorian was high, the walls a creamy white, an oriental rug spread out over a worn wood floor. The lighting was soft. A woman seated diagonally across from me on a damask-covered sofa spoke: “I always thought that if anyone got to know me, really know me, they would see me for the fraud I am.”

At that moment, hearing another woman speak the words I had so often furtively whispered to myself, I realized how alone I had truly felt, a stranger even to myself.

I was flooded with relief to have found my tribe.

This memory sprang back to life during the Passover Seder a few nights ago, as I reread a slip of paper I had tucked into my Haggadah – the text that tells the story of the Freeing of the Israelites from slavery.

God may have reached into history with “His long arm and outstretched hand” to free our bodies from forced labor. But our Exodus from Egypt is ultimately about getting the Egypt out of us: freeing ourselves from our sense of estrangement from one another and from God or Reality. 

It is  up to us to free ourselves of misunderstandings and beliefs that destroy the promise of intimacy.

My scribbled note lists three kinds of estrangement:

feeling ostracized in one’s environment

feeling displaced among one’s friends

feeling estranged from one’s own soul

That sharp memory of finding my tribe? Encoded within it are remnants of every one of these themes of isolation and alienation. Sometimes they still ache, like a deep old scar. Occasionally they bleed freely and bright red, as I am wounded afresh.

But this tribe around our Seder table is full of good will, deep listening, intentions for the world to not destroy itself. And full of  the wisdom of having devoted themselves to the study and practice of bench science and glass art, history and philosophy, theology and nursing, Afghani tribal and US government versions of conflict and diplomacy, helping others re-write the stories of their lives and writing for herself as a necessity, the art of guiding traumatized children and families through the education system, and the new political science of identifying two outworn regulations that can be dispensed with for each new one proposed.

So much engagement with life, so many hearts hands and feet finding ways to offer welcome and solace to the ostracized, a refuge for the displaced, and soulful connection to the estranged.

So much engagement – with one another – that our guests lingered for the better part of an hour after we concluded the Seder at 12:10am, reveling in the freeing intimacy of the evening and the nourishment of hospitable and welcoming hearts.

Even as we struggle with how we may harbor one another,  relieve the desperate journeys and living conditions of those who are even now physical outcasts, we strengthen our capacities to be of true service as we heal our own personal estrangement.


Banner photo from The Passover Haggadah, illustrated by Raphael Abecassis

Passover Paradox: Freedom given, yet must be earned

This is the season of the epic freedom story of the Jewish people: our Exodus from Egypt.

We are told: we were taken out of Egypt.

That this was an act of pure Kindness on God’s part, executed by His Mighty Hand and Outstretched Arm.

That there was nothing we had to do to earn it.

That there was no inquiry to determine that we were deserving.

That the sea parted before us and closed over the Egyptian chariots, mired in mud.

That on the eighth day, Miriam led the women in dance.

We are told: after we were taken out of Egypt, we wandered in the wilderness for another 40 years, long enough for the enslaved generation to die out.

That is how long it took to get the Egypt out of us, to gain the freedom freely bestowed.

At any given moment I can find myself the recipient of gratuitous and enormous Kindness, and slogging wearily through a wilderness, where my personal history refuses to give up the ghost.

I belong to the tribe of freed people who nevertheless have to claim liberation by dint of persistent effort, in the face of temporary defeat, in the arms of temporary refuge.

Every year we gather to tell the story.

We are advised: live the story, don’t just tell it.

We are advised: the more we elaborate in the telling of the story, the better.

Our elaborations over our family seder table have included over the years truth-tales of the Holocaust, of the Russian Refuseniks, of the lost and the survivors of the Middle Passage, of the slaughtered of Darfur, of the countless losses of Mother Earth.

At one point in the story-telling we open the door of our house and invite in Elijah the Prophet to sip at the wine we have set aside for him.

We are told: in this season it is Elijah the Prophet who may turn the hearts of parents and children towards one another, thereby holding off total destruction of the earth.

May we in this of all years take in upon ourselves to turn our hearts towards one another, both trusting in the gratuitous Kindness and dedicated to persistent effort on behalf of one another’s freedom.


 

Banner photo from Passover Haggadah by Raphael Abecassis