“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer,
it sings because it has a song.”
Last year my friend Stacey Hill told me she’d begun a ritual of gathering herself up three words to guide her for the year. She challenged me to do the same, and I did. But, by 2015 I’d already forgotten our new “ritual”. Stacey, of course, was on top of it, and I found a good old-fashioned letter in my mailbox: She announced her three words–“C” words.
“What are yours?” she wrote.
Finally, weeks later, mine woke me in the night–“R” words this time.
In the morning, they were still in my mind, so I texted Stacey. (No time for the old-fashioned letter, I wanted to tell her NOW.)
Only minutes after I’d sent the text, my phone rang–or, rather, sang.
“I love your words!” said Stacey. Which made me happy, and I asked her about her own, and we talked about the mountains of snow that kept her home from school for yet another day–as she drove her car home.
“Hang on a minute, Deb. The plow truck’s in my way!” Her driving in post-blizzard Massachusetts had me feeling nervous–but that’s another story.
Yes, in 36 inches of snow, this New Englander was talking to me (hands free, of course) while she drove home from a cafe!
Most mornings, Ludger and I sit together as we sip lattes he’s brewed from the stove-top espresso maker, and we talk about the day. Once in a while we read together, from Just One Thing by Rick Hanson. He usually reads to me. He says it’s easier to stay with the ideas when he is the one reading the words, and I enjoy hearing his voice and love the luxury of having someone read to me.
Since Ludger had the crud–sniffling and sneezing, coughing and wheezing–I read: “Take Refuge”. On these pages, Rick Hanson–neuropsychologist and Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author–suggests having at least three things that are refuges, places we can go for shelter each day.
“Refuges include people, places, memories, and ideas,” he writes. This can be “anyone or anything that provides reliable sanctuary and protection, that’s reassuring, comforting, and supportive, so you can let down your guard and gather strength and wisdom.”
My “R” words are a sort of refuge: Risk, Reveal, Relate.
These are words I can return to over the days and weeks and months when I need to resettle myself. They can remind me of what I’m “up to” in my life: I want to take chances, to share–and to connect with others because this connection makes it all more meaningful. These words can help me when I lose my way.
We are four women who gather every other Wednesday in the early morning and write together before the buzz of life and other duties call. We meet at 7:30 and finish by 9. We’ve been writing together for two-and-a-half years–and I’m the late-comer: Peg, Esther and Sarah began writing together five years ago!
These days to Manzanita were our first-ever social gathering outside of the “refuge” of the early-morning Poetry Circle. To tell the truth, several of us were sort of nervous. After all, when you’ve got a good thing going, what happens if you go away together and things don’t go well?
Plenty of stuff comes along when four women meet often and write openly. Over the days at the beach we talked about pain, about dying, about birth. Between the four of us, we’ve lost our parents, lovers, husbands, babies, parts of ourselves through illness. We’ve changed jobs, cities, traveled to ghettos and worked in homes for the dying with Mother Teresa. We’ve taught and pastored, parented, counseled, been counseled.
When we Risk, Reveal, Relate we are not so alone in the world.
When I showed up to join the group for the drive on Sunday, I was feeling sort of a mess. Just because. Stuff. Worry. But, they took me as I was–and we do that for each other.
Truthfully, when I arrived to go with my friends, I was feeling locked-up. You might know that feeling, when you can’t figure out what the angst is all about. You might have an inkling, but you can’t say it in words–and you’re almost afraid to be with other people in case the wrong words come up.
I learned, there is a freedom in a schedule even between a bunch of poets: From 9 to 9 we gave each other quiet time. Though we sat by the fire together, read from our books, wrote, nibbled breakfast and walked the beach, we didn’t talk until meeting to write at 9.
It was so peaceful.
The long sessions to write gave us plenty of time to muse and share. Because we had the quiet, we arrived into each others company ready and rested. We leisurely talked about each others lives. We didn’t critique, and we grew to know each other in new ways.
We could relate more deeply. We had no where we needed to be by 9:30.
I consider The Poetry Circle one of the greatest gifts since moving to Portland a few years back. It was synchronicity how I met Peg, and I was grateful–and am–that they took me in.
What I love about this writing group is the invitation and presence, witness and sharing. We each bring prompts: Poems we love, photographs, inspiring lines. It can be anything–even words we pick randomly from a bowl or phrases on strips of paper.
During 2014 we aspired to write 100 poems to honor the centennial of the late-poet, William Stafford’s life. From those poems we’ve each contributed toward a first collection: Poetry From the Circle: Voices We Have Heard.
You can find a few poems below, written in the circle–our first of 2015. We invite your voices to respond and to write your own poems! Thank you for being here–and may you be well!
Think the Best: Believe She’ll Be Alright
Tonight, when I zip myself in,
turn heat low, puff up my pillow
and switch off the light,
I’ll ask my dreams to tell me
how to feed myself in the morning
not just steel cut oats or scrambled eggs
but so I can offer more to those I meet.
I’ll ask my dreams to remind me,
to tell me stories and present
characters who lead me to a well
of fresh water that will cleanse spirit
touch pain gently and notice
if it has shifted, and accept
It will be this way until it isn’t.
Nothing is forever, and so
I would ask my dreams
to show me secrets,
give me a glimpse of what I miss open-eyed,
to stick me with a syringe of kindness
words of what’s real.
Plus, make me laugh.
Lift me up.
Deborah Brink Wöhrmann
Therefore and Etcetera
Up until six or so years ago
I seldom, perhaps never,
Worried about money
About ageing and dying
And what would happen when
It never occurred to me that the God
I trusted all these years to have my best in heart
Would suddenly abandon me as I aged
I never worried about having enough
Even when I was two paychecks away from the streets
Or when the non-profit was only a few dollars in the black
I have never had a 5 or 10 or 20 year game plan
I just assumed all would work according to how it was supposed to work
So what happened
That shifted the scale
Towards angst and puzzlement
Regarding the future about
Where to live
How to live
And therefore and etcetera
Recently I asked Fred, my semi-homeless friend
If he ever worries or wonders where he would live
Should he become incapacitated and no longer
Eligible to live in the single room housing complex
My people, Fred began,
My people, he emphasized, don’t think of such things
Only the privileged give non-stop attention to fear and worry
Only the privileged have the luxury of so many possibilities
© Esther Elizabeth [unedited version]
Tell me again
what I missed last night.
I know you keep telling me things,
knocking on the door
I can’t find in the morning.
Tell me in puns
and tell me in colors.
I will try to wake into them
and honor your efforts.
Leave the bad men and long knives out,
the murky water and slithering black things,
the vultures and the crying babies.
Leave all that out tonight and
I will speak at breakfast about you.
I will butter the toast and sip the tea
with you on the tip of my tongue,
coming out in whole words,
the story intact.
I will entertain my friends with your wit
and deepen our wisdom with your complexities,
Just let me know
what I missed last night.
UC Berkeley’s Rick Hanson’s Writing at Greater Good;