Seeing stories

For Mat Hale

A camera
Is a machine, but
Behind that machine is the
Eye of an artist
Watching

Or seeing
That’s a better word
For eyes that look deeper
And find truths that
Need light

But is it
Powerful enough
For the alchemy that goes
Into capturing life
Via a lens

I need
New words for
Turning vision to language –
Maybe silence
Is best

A life
Seeing stories
Is a life dedicated to magic
Of the purest
Kind

What a gift
To see so much beauty
In the world, and to share it
With others, a marvel
Of gratitude

Note: I’ve been lucky to work with some truly extraordinary collaborators, but Mat Hale is among the most generous and hardworking of the bunch. I’ve learned so much through our work together, and I’m so grateful to have gotten to see the world through the unique perspective of his filmmaking eyes. Here’s to hopefully many more in the future.

Update: I originally wrote this poem on the 11th of June. He had learned that he had Stage 4 cancer, and was trying to get to grips with this news and what it meant for him. I was able to share it with Mat before he got really ill. I am grateful I got to articulate a small amount of what he meant to me.

I’m still trying to take in the news that Mat died yesterday. I just got off the phone, and the tears are still clinging to my eyelashes.

I feel stunned with grief, and the only thing I can think to do is to reach for his memory by publishing this poem.

This wasn’t the ending I would have wanted for him – it was far too fast, and cruelly painful. But over the past few months, as we exchanged emails about our shared cancer diagnoses, offering each other support and strength.

I will miss Mat as an artist, but most especially, I will miss him as a friend.

Godspeed, Mat – may you know peace, rest, and infinite beauty on the other side.

Photo by Gidon Wessner on Unsplash

These Hands

For Lia

These hands have held babies,
Soothed fevered brows,
Held tightly to others in excitement
And in love.

These hands have created beauty,
Shaping art from life,
Finding the line, the gesture
At the essence.

These hands have tied themselves
In imagined knots,
Working over worries and problems –
Then releasing them.

These hands have crafted feasts,
Made a thousand sandwiches,
Fed hungry mouths with
More than food

These hands have wielded flame
To transform life’s delicate materials,
Forging their own language in
The future’s kiln.

These hands have wiped bottoms,
Changed sheets, captured spiders
In acts of fearless engagement with
The necessities of life.

These hands have snapped shutters,
Preserved memories that hold
Together the souls of families,
Including her own.

These hands have wiped tears
From trickling paths down cheeks,
Sharing times of sorrow
And finding solace.

These hands have linked generations,
Providing safety, care and love,
Unbreakable links made 
By clasping fingers.

These hands have written letters
In looping, graceful script,
Giving equal beauty to words of wisdom
And grocery lists

These hands have travelled widely
On wild youthful adventures
And they adventure still: tasting, looking, feeling the
Wonder of life.

These hands have sat quietly
In folded contemplation
Holding a cup of tea, or watching the pattern
Of the rain.

These hands have knotted rugs
Built blanket forts, pressed flowers
Seeking novelty, creating magic
In constant evolution.

These hands have given gifts,
Both solid and insubstantial,
Unrepeatable, and unmatched 
In this world.

They say our lives can be read
In the careful lines of our palms. 
In these hands, the stories are infinite.
What beauty. 
What joy.

Note: This is a poem for a special woman on a special birthday. The image of the hands came quickly, but the last stanza came as a surprise – though it needed a bit of crating to turn it into the shape of an open palm that felt so right.

14 July 2021

A waterfall of tears.
A river of tears.
An ocean of tears.
Which tributaries must I follow
To come to dry land?
The water pours, pounds
Down in violent sheets
And still it is not enough
To wash away
My sadness or
This reality.
All I see is
Blue blue blue
And the mist rising
From the water wound
Where each drop lands:
A resurrected end.

Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash

Dreams of singing

Isn’t it strange
I keep having
Dreams of singing?

Or perhaps it
Is not strange
At all.

My conscious
Mind has
Forgotten how.

But in my dreams
I remember how
It feels.

Breath,
Sound,
Vibration.

Is it a memory?
More likely
A message.

Today I sat
At the piano
Just to see.

My voice was
Quiet but
Still there.

It survived
Abuse, criticism
And neglect.

Was it
Beautiful?
Who cares?

The point
Is not
To impress.

Merely to
Sing ourselves
Into being.

In dreams
I remember
How.

Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash

Dear pigeons

Based on / a true story

I’m sorry I dropped
Some wasabi peas
Down where you sat
Eagerly under my
Bench, waiting for
Whatever may come.

I wanted to tell you
It wasn’t intentional.
I can imagine that
Wasabi may lead to
Avian indigestion
And beak irritation.

Although of course
If any birds were going
To enjoy wasabi peas
It would certainly be
London’s cosmopolitan
Pigeon population.

They just slipped from
My fingers, one of the
Reasons I have always
Hated peas. They create
Chaos with a sense of
Smug satisfaction. Yuck.

Except if you coat them
In a shade of radioactive
Green wasabi, suddenly
I think they are delicious.
Who can explain the
Paradoxes of taste?

Pigeons, I know that
You are often made to
Feel unwelcome in
Your own homes by
Humans unaware that
We are the intruders.

So I thought it was
Important to tell you
This was not a veiled
Attempt at culinary
Sabotage, just the
Clumsy picnicking.

Anyway, I hope there
Are no hard feelings.
I will be more careful
The next time I place
My lunch order to
Eat above your domain.

I know we are not
Supposed to feed the
Birds but I may just
Let something slip
The next time as a
Secret peace offering.

Photo by Sneha Cecil on Unsplash

Energy: a paradox

Why is it that
The more energy
You put into life
The more energy
You get out of it?

Shouldn’t it be
That the more
Energy we spend
The less we have?
Like emptying out
A bank account.
But somehow life
Doesn’t seem to
Work that way.

For example:
The longer I stay
In bed, the more
Tired I am,
Except when
I really do need
To have a rest.
(Like this morning
When I slept through
My pre-scheduled
Sun salutations.)
A paradox within
A paradox.

Perhaps energy
Really is a kind
Of fire, just like
My yoga teacher
Says it is.
Hard to start up
But once it gets
Going if you
Feed it steadily
It keeps burning.

The thing is
I’m scared of fire.
So maybe that isn’t
The best metaphor
For me. I like those
Long-handled lighters
That let us keep
The flames at a
Safe and reasonable
Distance. Right?

But even though
I’ve never made
A fire of my own,
I know the basics.
If you pile on too
Much fuel you will
Smother the flames
More is not more,
In this case at least.

So how do I know
When it’s better to
Do more and when
It’s better to relax?
When should I try
Harder? And when
Should I sit back
And allow for rest?

Shouldn’t I know
These answers by now?
I know they must be
Right under my
Nose. Probably.
Like a pair of bifocals –
Except the bottom
Glass is a metaphor
And the top glass
Doesn’t even exist.

Both fire and people
Need breath, and air –
Not just from time
To time: constantly.
So we have that in
Common even if
One of us is a
Terrifyingly hot
Chemical reaction
And the other is
A comparatively
Unadventurous and
Sleepy person.

What a miracle it
Would be to have
Exactly the energy
We need when we
Need it, without
Having to do all
That work in the
Meantime. Alas.
The sun salutations
Will not complete
Themselves.

Really, all I want
Is to know at all
Times that I am
Doing the right
Thing in the right
Way in the right
Outfit, alright?
I just want to
Know what is
True, without
Having to figure
It out for myself.
Or handle matches.

Note: I started this poem at midnight. It started from somewhere that felt rather serious and profound, but then turned into something increasingly silly, which was actually quite fun.

For what it’s worth, I did do my sun salutations on the morning in question, but that snooze button impulse is exactly where this poem came from.

It was earlier today that the phrase hit me, the more energy you put into life, the more you get out of it – something I was thinking about while contemplating my engagement with my ongoing insomnia plan. (The basic gist is – never sleep in, don’t take it easy if you’re tired, that’s the best way to build sleep drive. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is effective!)

It seems so unfair that the only way we can build our stamina and energy is by finding some way to do the things that seem impossibly exhausting when we don’t have them. The least we can do is have a sense of humour about the whole thing – in the end, it’s basically the human condition, isn’t it?


Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash



Insomnia companion, part 7: Welcoming the Light

Perhaps it has been a long night
Perhaps, the sky is beginning
To take on a different colour
Brightening, growing light.

What if those wakeful hours
Were not a frustrated waste
Of lonely and unwelcome
Alertness, of misspent rest?

What if instead we saw
That time as keeping vigil
For unnamed strangers
Or even the world itself.

Those hours were not spent
In vain. We bore witness
To the quicksand core
Of the human condition.

We shared the frustrated
Longing of sleeplessness
With other souls adrift
On the tides of the night

And somehow, we made it
Through another night
Dark-circled and weary
But with steely fortitude.

Release the growing panic
Of seeing the day arrive
And remember it is only
The earth turning…

The light streaking across
The sky is just a reminder
That you are being gently
Carried closer to the sun.

Note: Most of the time I write for this Insomnia Companion series very late at night, in the darkness when I cannot sleep. But I actually wrote this not as I watched the sun come up, but as it went down. I can see the edges of the sunset from where I sit at my desk. Last night I was up until at least 4.15am (the last time I looked at the clock), after quite a lucky spell where the insomnia was at bay. And I can’t escape a vague feeling of dread as we slowly sink into darkness, and I know there is another night ahead, with no predicting how it will go. This poem is a little reminder to myself to worry a bit less, to take it in stride, and to breathe.

Photo by Marty Finney on Unsplash


A thought on marriage: the ingredients of happiness

It’s a funny moment isn’t it, where the blinders go on and the walls go up – where we stop thinking and go into blind action like strange little robots.

For me, it feels like my settings have been switched, instead of operating calmly and reflectively, I just blindly charge ahead with whatever it feels like I ‘should’ be doing, or will reduce my panic most.

I used to think this was a sign that something was wrong with me – but now I think it’s actually pretty common to the human condition. And I can recognise the cycle – trigger, release.

But that release usually only comes with connection. We need people who can make us feel loved, while helping us reground ourselves.

Last night, as we were getting ready for bed, I said to Zach, ‘I had a thought about marriage.’

And he said, ‘oh yeah?’ (And he deserves extra credit for this response, not knowing whether it was going to be a quick check in, or the kind of lengthy philosophical rambling that is not entirely welcome when one really just wants to focus on trying to fall asleep.)

Climbing into bed beside him, I said:

‘Marriage is 50% getting the other person to stop acting crazy. And 50% having them help you stop acting crazy.’

He laughed. And he said, ‘YES.’

Photo by Taisiia Shestopal on Unsplash

the space between

between the question

and

the answer

there is a space

whether it is
the blink
of an eye

or

an
interminable
stretch

this is the place
where we all
live


every birth
is a question

every death
is an answer

and life
is the state of
joyous uncertainty
that hovers
in the air
between every breath
of our universe

Note: I normally love using standard capitalisation, but somehow it didn’t feel right to have a hierarchy of typographical importance for this poem.

Ever since I was introduced to the idea of liminality (essentially, a state of in-betweenness) in grad school, I have loved it. It’s a beautiful word for a beautiful idea – not to mention that it made me feel rather clever to understand what people were talking about.

The idea for this poem came from an initial set of three lines that came to me while writing a journal entry: ‘Between the question / and the answer / is a liminal space’.

But when I sat down to actually flesh this out into a poem, it felt somehow pretentious to use this word. Leaving that emptiness unlabelled felt better for the poem, and more authentic to the universality of this experience.

As someone who loves words, I always like finding the particular, perfect descriptor. But it also fascinates me both within poets and lyrics how sometimes taking out that word can open even more profound possibilities.

Photo by Nick Grappone on Unsplash

I finally know whether to buy light or dark soy sauce

Growing up, I had no idea there was more than one kind of soy sauce. It simply wasn’t part of my world.

As an adult, I started to notice the ‘dark’ and ‘light’ soy sauce designations. I never knew which one to pick, so I would just grab one and work with that. (And I would always have forgotten to look it up by the time I had gotten home.)

Well, this week I actually googled it, and learned some really interesting stuff!

The reason my stir-frys took on a musty colour? I was using dark soy sauce when I should have been using light.

And dark soy sauce? Well, it’s clear there’s a whole wealth of culinary possibility with stew-like dishes.

I know I’m only scratching the surface of this amazingly complex foodstuff. And it does feel embarrassing not to have learned about this until now, but I’m sure I’m not the only one with this critical knowledge gap. (Honestly, it feels a bit eye opening about the subtle ways in which Asian culture is overlooked in the US and UK.)

I recently signed up for an online Japanese cooking course, so hopefully our kitchen will be branching out into some new flavours. (And thank goodness I got a bit of soy sauce 101 before then!)

Photo by GoodEats YQR on Unsplash