Stephen and Me

We did not care about convention or time. We would spend hours on the cool floor of the coop, chickens long gone, watching the light filter the dust.

And then Stephen stopped coming to school. Although he lived just across Collier Street, I did not know what had happened until he returned in the fall, 

a beanie covering his head and the laughter gone from his eyes. I was never to recapture those carefree days. At ten, I learned the true nature of things, that nothing remains the same. 

Emily Florence

 

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Everything Is Beautiful and I Am So Sad

This is how the heart makes a duet of wonder and grief. The light spraying through the lace of the fern is as delicate as the fibers of memory forming their web around the knot in my throat. The breeze makes the birds move from branch to branch as this ache makes me look for those I’ve lost in the next rooom, in the next song, in the laugh of the next stranger. In the very center under it all, what we have that no one can take away and all that we’ve lost face each other. It is there that I’m adrift, feeling punctured by a holiness that exists inside everything. I am so sad and everything is beautiful. 

Mark Nepo

Voices

Voices

Single One Way Trip—North Ferry Co.—Amount $4.50

The ticket was in my poetry book. It could have been from a trip to Cape Cod. Or maybe that trip to Shelter Island where I wanted to stay with you forever, isolated by the sea and the storm-beaten pines.

My love was enough but you were ill at ease and I did not interpret what your tension meant. I could not see what would come. 

The ticket was yellowed and creased. Time had faded the words and worn the edges. The North Ferry—now so unfamiliar a name.  

Emily Florence 

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Fourteen Black Paintings

Fourteen deep purple and velvety black Mark Rothko paintings hang within an octagonal-shaped chapel in Houston, Texas. The Rothkos were made for an interfaith sanctuary dedicated to spirituality and human rights. In her vision, Dominique de Menil who conceived the chapel said, The Rothko Chapel is oriented toward the sacred yet it imposes no traditional environment. It offers a place where common orientation could be found—an orientation towards God, named or unnamed, an orientation towards the highest aspirations of Man and the most intimate calls of the conscience. Peter Gabriel was so moved after visiting the chapel, he wrote the song Fourteen Black Paintings. It is my wish to visit this sacred spot and meditate with the profundity of the work.

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To an Athlete Dying Young

The time you won your town the race we chaired you through the market-place; man and boy stood cheering by, and home we brought you shoulder-high. 

Today, the road all runners come, shoulder-high we bring you home, and set at your threshold down, townsmen of a stiller town. 

Smart lad, to slip betimes away from fields where glory does not stay and early though the laurel grows it withers quicker than a rose. 

Now you will not swell the rout of lads that wore their honors out, runners whom renown outran and the name died before the man. 

So set, before its echoes fade, the fleet foot on the sill of shade, and hold the low lintel up the still-defended challenge-cup. 

And round that early-laureled head will flock to gaze the strengthless dead, and find unwithered on its curls the garland briefer than a girl’s. 

A.E. Housman 

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The Masai have reported to the district commissioner that many times at sunrise and sunset, they have seen lions on Finch Hatton’s grave. A lion and a lioness have gone there and stood or lain on the grave for a long time. ...The ground around the grave was leveled out to a sort of terrace. I suppose that the level place makes a good site for the lions. From there they have a view over the plain and the cattle and game. Denys would like that.

Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) from Out of Africa

Whispers From England — A Short Story

Pre-dawn and cold, I come before her — Kanzeon, Goddess of Compassion, sculpted with the oils and energy of my hands — light a candle, settle into my posture and sit in meditation, the sane part of my day. As I rise and bow, I feel the balance which eluded me for so long. I pull on layers of clothes, my coffee steaming in a friendly way. My boots sit alone in the mud room. The rain of Saturday has frozen on top of the snow. Even the sea grasses are imprisoned in hard stretches of ice. As the sun rises, I try to chip a narrow path to the truck with an old hoe but give up any hope of reaching town today. The sassafras branches strain and then snap, the pieces scattering like cat’s eyes in a marble game. The old pines in back are stronger and more naturally sloped to bear the weight of storms, reminding me of shoulders used to toil and harshness.

 Kira pads softly after me and rests her head on the edge of the bathtub as I sink into the hot water and watch the submerged part of my body slowly turn pink. I gaze at the silvery stretch marks low on my belly that were to bring only joy. His cry, urgent and strangled, comes through the walls and I see the three of us crouched over his tiny coffin. Sara wore grape lipstick that day, her slender face so pale. She was nearly fifteen then, her eyes constantly searching my face for answers. I tried to be those shoulders for her. I used to wake from dreams of him at my breast, pulling at something deep inside of me where, for that instant before my sleep crumbled around me, I lived in a sand castle. The sea of reality has dissolved all of that. There are no instants left.

The stone fireplace never did draw well. At my feet, Kira intently watches me shell peanuts. One for her, two for me. It seems important to share equally with her. My hair dries slowly in the spaces of silence, some broken by the splitting and crackling of the fire, others expanding in the coolness at my back. I light a cigarette — the first of the day. Yesterday, only two. Henry would find it ironic. Did I continue to smoke while we were together only to defy him. Passive-aggression was the only way to be heard. The screaming inside me always covered with a smile or a blank stare.

We looked the perfect couple. I remember a businessman stopping us after a flight to St. Croix to comment on what a beautiful family we were. Pristine beaches which we wouldn’t walk on. Henry didn’t like the feel of sand on his skin. We ate local seafood and drank mai-tais, Sara swam in the pool while we watched her, in a tropical-flowered bikini, her slight body beginning to mature. She was proud and embarrassed at the same time. I was overjoyed and then saddened when I realized I had become pregnant on that trip. A new life — a sibling for Sara — a deeper bond with Henry, more to extricate myself from.

[To be Continued]  

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Like Children

My hands and cheeks stung from the March wind and the yellow light beckoned

through the skeleton oaks, yet I could not bring her in and end my child’s game. 

The wild bobbing and swooning of my crimson kite to currents I could not know

made me understand that my creation, once in flight, was no longer mine. 

Emily Florence 

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#metoo

I was fortunate. I was believed. Newly married, living in Miami Beach, I was so very young. I worked at a law firm with two partners. One of the partners asked me if I could stay late one night. He called me into his office, dictated a letter, then as I was leaving, pushed me onto a couch and jumped on top of me. I was so stunned, I froze for a few brief moments. He was a little guy so I was able to get away and leave. The next morning, I told his partner what had happened. He apologized to me and immediately confronted the other partner. He ended the partnership and continued my employment for a few years though it was a financial hardship. Some men are heroes.

A young mother with a toddler and an infant, I was in the basement of my apartment building doing laundry when a man in a ski mask came in carrying what looked like a gun under his jacket. He said he wanted to feel my ass and if I made any noise, he would kill my children. The children sensed the danger and froze. He briefly put his hands on me and then ran. Shaken, I called my husband who immediately came home from work and scoured the neighborhood looking for him. He was not found. I will never forget his eyes. 

At the age of 32, I had extensive oral surgery followed by a week of Percodans for the pain. I had a lingering uneasy feeling about the surgery, the surgeon, I lived on a quiet street with no outlet. When I saw him drive past my house a few weeks later, I realized that something had happened when I was under anesthesia.

At the age of 44, divorced after a 22-year marriage and dating again, I met a man at a club. We went out a few times but I decided this wasn’t something I wanted to continue. I told him this after we had gone out and we were in my house, a mistake I will not make again. He was silent for a few minutes, then he threw me onto the couch and got on top of me. I was frozen, thinking of my daughter sleeping downstairs. He stared at me for a few agonizing minutes and then suddenly got up and left. I ran to the door and locked it behind him but I didn’t hear him leave. After 10-15 minutes I did hear him leave. The next morning I discovered all four of the tires on my car had been slashed.

These things change a woman. A barrier comes up. It remains for the rest of one’s life. It protects. It also isolates. 

 

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Atom Bombs

 

The red hills of Salina were reflected in her hair. Nearby, under government’s eye, a cold ugliness grew. 

It was covertly released into the air and entered the bodies of all who lived there. 

When forty years had passed, her black hair now white, she was awarded a sum to compensate for her life.

Emily Florence

 

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The Cowboy

Ruddy from Montana winds he straddles his painted pony and braces against the cold.

He cups his hand to light a cigarette, inhales and clenches his chiseled jaw.

I now search the leathered folds of my father’s face for that young cowboy

on a drive to Pocatello, his agate eyes gazing, big sky and life before him.

Emily Florence

 

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Final Words

When I told him we were going to let him go, his eyes flew open, not an objection, but his only way to express the fear.

His tattered body was immobile except for his eyes, eyes that come to me now in the ragged edges of sleep. 

My words wrapped him in a shawl, a gentle rain of things I have said so often and things I could not say before. 

And in the end as I stroked his forehead, words failed me. The profundity of death has no expression. It was silent but that was enough. 

Emily Florence

 

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Kismet

The stone, tossed by a storm down the canyon’s red walls, comes to rest in a thicket of mint. Jack rabbits and wolves tense at the lonely echoes.

 The warm waxing moon fills the crevices of the canyon and washes the facets of the stone to a brilliance. 

I am the canyon. You are the stone.

Emily Florence  

 

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The Woman’s Room

In Saudi’s Arabia, women are punished for infidelity by being locked in a room constructed in her own home, soundproofed, a hole in the center for waste and a slot in the door for food to be passed through. She remains there until death, never to hear the sound of another human voice. Many go mad and all die within a short span of time. Her fate is decided by her father or her husband. Not all men choose this punishment. It is called the Woman’s Room. 

 I will be your silent subjugate, my father, your dominion I assume. Give me another way to compensate and save me from the woman’s room. 

My lover gave me a silvered mirror, the reflection showing a different fate. Your legacy to me is to corner and trap in this suspended state.  

From my cocoon I am metamorphic on wings of maroon and deepest teal. In flight I transcend the Arabic, my sisters caught in the spokes of a wheel. 

 I will scream until the truth is unveiled, until hooded eyes have been impaled. 

Emily Florence  

 

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On Emptiness

When emptiness is possible, everything is possible. Were emptiness impossible, nothing would be possible. Nagajuna

As I meditated late one night, I felt plates of armor like an armadillo’s begin to fall away. As they fell, I became more and more free, lighter, brighter. What were the plates made of? What was I shedding? The concept of emptiness is integral to the practice of Buddhism. This concept has been known intellectually to me for some time but I have struggled to attain the pure knowledge which comes through the direct experience of meditation. Thich Nhat Hahn speaks of a flower which is emptiness. The flower is color, form, petals, stem, the sunshine, earth, nutrients and water which allow it to exist. The flower is full of the cosmos and empty of separateness, not existing without many other elements. Every experience is empty of self. Nothing exists without many other elements. Emptiness is a lack of self.

Both formerly and now, I teach only suffering and the cessation of suffering. This was the Buddha’s sole interest. The truth of impermanence is a cornerstone of Buddha’s teaching. We suffer because we hold onto things that are ever changing, ever disappearing, ever evolving. Craving leads to clinging to those things which leads to suffering. This craving is known as attachment. The end of desire, the end of grasping and clinging is the end of the sense of lack. Through study, reflection and meditation and by abiding in the present moment throughout each minute of each day, the plates of armor surely fall away. I return to my original empty nature and find pure awareness. I am the silence. I am the emptiness.

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In My Garden

There grows foxglove, primrose, heather and yarrow, sage, dianthus, lavender and laurel. Each day I review, nurture and tend and wonder about that which is beneath the ground.

Some say that for strength the roots have to search, that amending the soil diminishes reach. I will offer myself to you someday and become a helix with feet of clay. The lack of amendments will not subdue my rise from decay to a skin of blue. 

But now is the time to feel the August warmth and smell the dusk drifting in from the south, to watch the play of sun on the purples and greens and persuade the brief blossoms, linger their wings.

Emily Florence  

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Her Hands

They soothed my brow, curled my hair and filled my lunchbox. My feet on cold linoleum, they made eggs with hard edges.

They did laundry in a tub that would freeze on the line and grew corn and beans to fill our hungry mouths. 

 They sewed midnight dresses for parties and dances, simple creations held with loving stitches.

They could turn into fists, blood and trust running out. Whose hands had soothed and then weaponed against her? 

At the end of her life when words had no meaning, we spoke in our tactile way, as I massaged her worn hands with creams and painted her nails the color of love. 

Emily Florence

 

 

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