The layering of place & memory


“The Garden”

I always find myself here

(In the presence of God)

In this place

That is immediately quieter than

The chaos around it

Inviting me to still

The chaos within me

At important moments

I find myself here

(In the presence of God)

Consoled

Reminded

Renewed.


I’ve lived in New York City for three years. My third year anniversary passed without much recognition except to myself that it had happened. In these last months I’ve returned again to different places that after three years have layers of memory and meaning. What happens, I suppose, from living in a place and it becomes home. 

I’m here in a place within this place of New York City where I first felt consolation. First felt, ‘I don’t yet know why but I am meant to be here.’ And God is with me. Breathe. I found my breathe here. And I returned again and again in moments of transition and not knowing what might be next – to breathe. Be here. Again I find myself suspended in a lot of unknowns and not knowing where I might be going. In this place though I can simply be here. Breathe. Be. 

On my mind 

“Councils”by Marge Piercy

We must sit down

and reason together.

We must sit down.

Men standing want to hold forth.

They rain down upon faces lifted.
We must sit down on the floor

on the earth

on stones and mats and blankets.

There must be no front to the speaking

no platform, no rostrum,

no stage or table.

We will not crane

to see who is speaking.
Perhaps we should sit in the dark.

In the dark we could utter our feelings.

In the dark we could propose

and describe and suggest.
In the dark we could not see who speaks

and only the words

would say what they say.
Thus saying what we feel and what we want,

what we fear for ourselves and each other

into the dark, perhaps we could begin

to begin to listen.
Perhaps we should talk in groups

small enough for everyone to speak.
Perhaps we should start by speaking softly.

The women must learn to dare to speak.
The men must bother to listen.
The women must learn to say, I think this is so.
The men must learn to stop dancing solos on

the ceiling.

After each speaks, she or he

will repeat a ritual phrase:
It is not I who speaks but the wind.

Wind blows through me.

Long after me, is the wind.

“I am from…”

Where I am from….now that is a complex and simple question. I am from Michigan. I am from Metro-Detroit. From a lawyer and an architect who stopped practicing to raise me. I am from her. From her sacrifices.

I am from wealth that was fought for and the benefit of stepping onto the bottom stair of an escalator of public policies that brought families like mine from working class to middle class to upper class. Yes upper class.

I am not from Harlem. I live in Harlem. I live and love and have been broken and picked myself back up in Harlem. In this city. I am not from here. I can never claim that. I love here. I’ve loved and love here. I am not from here.

I am from Metro-Detroit. Not just Detroit because to leave out the metro obscures the reality that yes my family’s history and mine is bound up with the city’s and that means it’s bound up in the ways it’s developed as a metropolitan area. How it’s been divided into urban v suburban and suburban areas became urban as soon as they became black.

My roots don’t run deep in the geographic place I’m from. My family’s history does. 

The way I move and breathe and seek to live in this world is rooted in constant learning that started at Mercy high and continued at (university of) Michigan. In workshops with men I was taught to fear and instead I created with. Laughed with. Cried for. My roots are communities I happened upon and communities I created.

I can never claim to be from Harlem. To be from the city. To claim being from means an early shaping by that place and those people. Shaping that unfolds and is lost and unearthed as early memories are.

Two and a half years. I’ve been shaped by the city. But I’m not from here. I’m from Michigan.

Ive been sitting on this piece for a while. About 6 months — as it states I’ve been in the city only 2.5 years when I just passed my third year anniversary August 13th. I shared it aloud for the first time this weekend while on retreat with the young folks I work with (who live all over New York City and are from all over the world) as an example of an “I am from” poem. Take 10 minutes, write your own – what comes up? 

  

Midnight musings

In Time

The first time I took it slow

At times fast but reminded 

The journey would be long 

Take my time

As I was taking my time

More time

In New York City

I took time to breath

That was my intention 

And my legs my body my breathe

Climbed rocks

Balanced over cliffs

That almost froze me

I breathed

Pushed on

To the end when to my amazement

I realized I could do it again

And I did 

Another year

In New York City I grew 

And watered roots that started 

Like a tree out of rocks

On the side of the mountain

I climbed again this time

More urgently I scrambled 

Methodical yet impatient

Faster bc I knew the

Way to go as I knew how to

Go through a city

I never thought 

I’d call home

And I paused in wonder and spoke 

Of dreams I dared not have the first 

Time I climbed. 

Another year gone and the place I never thought I’d call home

I can’t imagine leaving 

As I look out at each ridge

I’d been too before but never been the same at twice

I’m reminded 

By heat and sweat and not enough water 

The harder path isn’t always 

the right path

And the journey continues 

Ever the same

Ever different 

I’ll take my time. 

this night

rupi kaur

Police just roared down my block.

I’ve been home tonight. I wasn’t able to go out

to stand in the streets with my body and my rage though

this night is not about my body or my rage.

#Blacklivesmatter #WhiteSilenceIsViolence

The helicopters hover above 125th

Where 100s, 1000s before and maybe

still now,

gather

in mourning, in rage

to hold one another

knowing

It could have been them or their brother or

tomorrow their sister, their mother.

It wouldn’t have been me.

#BlackLivesMatter #WhiteSilenceIsViolence

—-

I wrote “if all you see is rage, you aren’t looking hard enough” more than a year ago. It’s come to mind today. More important than reading my thoughts though, seek out black voices. And not just in these times of death. Support Black leaders and organizers – seek out their voices and support their work. This isn’t a moment. It’s a movement. Inheritors of those that came before.

To my friends in this work, agitation is taken care of this night, educate, organize. And take time to hold one another. Care for yourself. I will too.

broken thoughts on the fourth of july

Keep writing. Someone I met now some time ago but not too long ago and already respect and admire told me this. I haven’t been writing. Well, I’ve been writing but not sharing much here. So I’m trying again.

I’m working on being more courageous. Practicing courage. Practicing being brave. Starting with this blog. I’ve been finding it difficult to write honestly. Especially of late. My days are too often spent masking my feelings it takes time just to peel back the layers to know what I’m feeling at all. Let alone risk sharing it.

It’s July 4th and I hear folks out enjoying the sunshine and their loved ones. I’m “supposed to be” celebrating too. I’ll get there. I’ll get to meeting up with friends to celebrate each other and these complex lives we live. I’m not there yet. I’ve been jarred the past week. Enraged. A bitter, vengeful righteous anger that I haven’t felt in a long time came up full force. This weekend I sought, with limited success, stillness amongst the chaos of this city and within myself. I’ve sought to honor yet still the anger that could consume me.

I found a post I started and stopped some time ago, which collected the broken thoughts that have come up over the last few months. They’re from the ‘notes’ on my phone, a place I jot down thoughts impressions, ideas, and document quotes & prayers that move me. Like a previous post said I often find myself having a hard time holding onto thoughts before my attention is distracted elsewhere. It’s done me good to (again) review all these broken thoughts. And to sit for a moment in my wholeness.

These days trying again and again seems like the best and most I can manage. So I’m trying again to share. Here, a glimpse of my thoughts, some old & some recent, unedited from the train to the sidewalks of New York City:

[Daniel Berrigan]

Daniel Berrigan. Died today.

Wow.

Lived across the river from him for three years and never met him

Yet he impacted my life

Challenged my Catholicism

By living a Catholicism that deeply resonated at a moment I needed it.

Inspired me to write a paper that lead to a project that’s one of the things I’m most proud of and grateful for.

 

[Man on the train]

He looks battered

Condensed and

Containing whatever brought him

Here to my assumptions and

Observations about his worn form

Squat. Sturdy yet worn

Worn down like a sharp rock pummeled by ice and water

A mountain peak

Worn down to a hill

 

[Attn:]

Four lives intersect

At a table

On a train

All attention elsewhere

 

[city impressions]

Cities have a particular feel to them. I didn’t think this was a thing before I lived in a “major city.” I was wrong. It is true. And as varied as they are amongst themselves and within themselves, cities most certainly have different energies.

Step off the train into NYC morning, noon, night. The place emotes energy. Admittedly it can be an exhausting energy. It’s simultaneously invigorating and exhausting. The city is always to be contended with. Like a very complex relationship. She has her moments of quiet. Green spaces carved out by racist city planners worried about people’s souls’ being lost to the chaos of ‘urban’ life. She fights with me and acceptance is the only way to walk through the crowd.

 

[NYC Impressions]

This place is making me hard

Resistance makes me hard

Giving in I’d die to self.

I just want to be

A shell I put up to protect my inner self

From pushes

Hip against hip on the train

Positioned just so

That I’m uncomfortable

yet question my own discomfort

And different ways of being

 

[on work]

Teaching my kids professionalism but that just means old ways of being. White ways.

 

[on aloneness]

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn that anything and anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.”

 

[questions]

From what am I doing to who am I being? What am I building?

 

[Attn]

Fingers spread wide

Hands stretch

Jump back

Not just hands

But whole bodied

 

[NYC Impressions]

I am a small

Piece in this moving

Neighborhood

Attentive to the man I pass

On my way home

From yoga

 

[Wine shop wisdom]

“There may be more beautiful times but this one is ours.” -Sartres

 

[remembrances]

I remember playing on a jungle gym and seeing some girls and seeing some girls playing and thinking to myself I’m better than them. How did I think this? It alarmed me when I later remembered it. Privilege was the air I breathed and I had no idea. It seeped into my lungs.

 

[attn:]

I arrived in a shiny place

Fully of shiny faces attentively turned

Toward someone whose attention

I once desired

But no longer desire

As where I desired my attention to be lay behind me

As I walked away looking back

While walking forward

Away from those who hold my attention

Toward people who are supposed

to capture my attention

No longer.

Walk in the doors that clamor shut

But no one pays attention

As their attention never falters to the front

Others with me think too

Of food that’s in front of us

Not who’s in front of us

While I focus on food that’s in front of me

To nourish me truly

To distract me

From who’s behind me

Who I walked away from

Rode away from while my attention

Remained far from who’s in front of me

My attention divided

I want something or someone or some thought to wash me away.

 

[attn:]

Attention divided between

All the faces

Of the ppl on this train and

All the thoughts in my head

Coming together and

Falling apart

 

[Attn:]

Things that keep one’s attention on the train:

Wildly drunk dude next you verbally harassing everyone.

Keep your head in your phone.

Don’t acknowledge.

Don’t avoid.

Just be.

Keep an eye out the side

Well no

Keep an ear out.

Eyes draw attention

Only dare to when he’s turned away

Quickly assess from under downturned eyes

Won’t bat them

Won’t raise them

Stay awake.

Folks keep an eye out

And keep going

Just another night in the city.

The Neighborhood

Walking through

I see

Rows of blue limousines ready to honor a life headed to the next journey

I see a red sports car I can’t name

That’s ready to drive through headed out of here

I see church filled and black women in black and white

I hear

Spanish

Gospel

Chit chat

I see insistent waving across the street

Vendors with earrings that catch my eye

I hear what comes close to stillness

As I too pass through

“Know where you stand and stand there”

 

Knowing

I wore all black

Unintentionally

I realized my subconscious

Knew as it does

Today is a day of mourning.

 

——————

 

Gathering

Music pounds my eardrums

As my heeled boots pound pavement til I

Snatched out my headphones and ascended stairs that

slowed me down to meet a crowd of voices of

Lots of ladies with long white hair

Equally many short like mine

Slowed by a man old as he was no doubt

Friends no doubt

And who am I?

In this space of lively voices mixed with held back tears

Reverence and irreverence

Like the man in the front

We all came for.

 

Note: Wrote these in the moments after leaving Daniel Berrigan’s wake a few weeks ago. So many gathered. How many family? How many friends? I floated through the crowd. Exchanging smiles and feeling out place yet knowing I needed to be there to give my own witness to this man who I never met yet altered my life. Inspired questions and learning. Still inspires and challenges me to “know where [I] stand and stand there” (Daniel Berrigan, S.J.).

The Joins

461 days ago I saved a draft of a post about Kintsugi and the below poem. The last week my individual brokenness and our collective brokenness has surfaced again and again in my mind, heart, reading, at work, and outside it. In a debrief a coworker shared about the art of Kintsugi. Her sharing called to mind an email from my dad about this unique kind of pottery. And that I meant to share it. So now I’m sharing it. 

Don’t forget to breathe from your belly. And in the words of a coworker, remember there is beauty in your brokenness. I’m reminding myself too. 

The Joins

What’s between us
often seems flexible as the webbing
between forefinger and thumb.

Seems flexible, but it’s not;
what’s between us
is made of clay,

like any cup on the shelf.
It shatters easily. Repair
becomes the task.

We glue the wounded edges
with tentative fingers.
Scar tissue is visible history,

the cup more precious to us
because
we saved it.

In the art of kintsugi, 
a potter repairing a broken cup
would sprinkle the resin

with powdered gold.
Sometimes the joins
are so exquisite

they say the potter
may have broken the cup
just so he could mend it.

“The Joins” by Chana Bloch. Text as published in The Southern Review (Winter 2014).

Curator’s note: Kintsugi is the Japanese way of honoring and repairing broken ceramic objects with a special lacquer mixed with silver, gold or platinum. It’s an embracing of the flawed or imperfect, honoring it as essential. As the artist Barbara Bloom writes, “[Japanese kintsugi artists] believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”