Getting Back on the Horse

… or something. This morning I walked down to the train and rode to work. Yes, I did tell my mother last night that I’d probably take cabs today, but the fares were all crazy elevated today, so it was the MTA for me. Which was better in the long run. Better to get right back on the train and not let myself get nervous about riding because I’m always going to need to be on the subway. This isn’t the time to let fear take me out.

So I took the train to work this morning. And, of course, it was fine. And it was also awkward. The tension — mine and that of the riders around me — was practically a solid thing, prickling on my skin. But we were all okay. There were some knowing and understanding smiles exchanged here and there, and everything went smoothly.

A strange day. Every meeting started with a recounting: your proximity to 36th Street and 4th Avenue, people you know who live in Sunset and where they were yesterday at 8:30, shouldn’t it still be called terrorism no matter who did it and why, did you ride the subway this morning, did you get the alert on your phone at 10:30 telling you to be on the lookout for Frank James? (Because somehow not everyone got the alert, even though it’s supposed to go to everyone, like an Amber Alert.) Did you sleep last night? How are you feeling now?

Sigh. I am happy to know that James has been found and arrested. Why was I surprised to know he was found in the East Village? My surprise amused me because it was so odd. Maybe I assumed he’d find it easier to disappear in any number of other neighborhoods.

Now we all try to settle back into something like normalcy. I guess? Yes, I guess. For me, that means turning my attention back to the ghazals.

Yesterday’s poem came surprisingly (not surprisingly?) easily. Writing the post took much longer, a total reversal from the norm.

My little system — sampling different refrains and rhymes before I start writing — is helping, but it by no means guarantees ease or success. Having a theme in mind is, of course, the critical thing. And those have proven elusive. Tonight I had nothing. Total blank. I think my brain is tired.

But then I met a friend for dinner, an amazing, dynamic, beautiful Black woman friend, someone I met at my old job. We have taken a very surface, in-the-office friendship and begun to turn it into something real, and I’m so glad. There are always people I am so close with at work but then they fall away when one or the other of us moves on. I know that’s natural, but I hate it. Happily, that isn’t the case with every person I love at work. That would be awful. Some of my dearest friends are people I met through jobs.

So I thought about my lovely friend and how we’ve made a concerted effort to see each other regularly, now that we’re feeling safe to be out and about again. It made me remember an incredibly irksome motivational speaker I had to endure at a training years ago. Mixed in with the annoying jokes and BMOC energy, he talked about how we build and maintain important contacts, how we can’t just meet someone and expect the connection to stay strong with no work on our part. He said we should think of those relationships as empty barrels we’re trying to fill … using an eyedropper, told us to imagine how many eyedroppers of water we’d have to use to fill such a big container and how we’d have to be committed to staying on top of it if we hoped to fill that barrel … and each drip, drip, drip of liquid from the eyedropper was the effort we were committed to making to build a real relationship.

And, while I do have some friendships where our interactions are few and far between but the love we have for one another doesn’t waiver, of course that irksome man was right. Relationships are work, and we have to actually be willing to put in the time if we want them to continue. And of course I know this and knew it before hearing him say it, but at one point tonight my friend was filling our water glasses, and I thought of that eyedropper and thought yes, she and I were committed to doing the work to make sure we stayed friends.

And then I had a theme for my poem.

Reward

Each time we meet, we weave a thread -- connection.
Our laughter loud, our heartbeats deep, seal connection.

What makes the different, makes our friendship stay true?
There's work we put in, layers we peel -- connection.

We do and don't know each other's stories, secrets.
The denser the weaving, the more idea connection.

You see me well. I hope you feel my vision, too.
Being seen sets us on an even keel, connection.

And I, Stacie, am buoyed by warm, soft gratitude,
clink glasses lightly, cherishing real connection.

National Poetry Month 2022: the Ghazal

As I’ve done for more than ten years (what?!), I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April … and I’m saying that boldly, knowing that I’ve already failed. I couldn’t find my way through to a poem on Day One, but I’m determined to continue.

The “Ghazal” is the form I’ve chosen for this year. Here is the structure and a little backstory (thank you Poetry Foundation):

“Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love, medieval Persian poets embraced the ghazal, eventually making it their own. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif), and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the qafia, which appears twice in the first couplet). The last couplet includes a proper name, often of the poet’s. In the Persian tradition, each couplet was of the same meter and length, and the subject matter included both erotic longing and religious belief or mysticism.”

Should be interesting!

Upended

You may know that I live in Brooklyn, that I live in south Brooklyn. My neighborhood has probably been in your news today because I live in Sunset Park, the neighborhood that was the site of the subway shooting during this morning’s rush hour.

I wasn’t there, and I’m totally fine. My train stop is one away from the stop that is captured in all the videos and photos. I am in that station all the time, of course, because it’s on my way to work, on my way home. Sometimes I transfer trains there.

This morning I went to work late. I often try to avoid the height of rush hour if I can. Too many people, and too many of them without masks these days. So I was behind the violence this morning, got stuck not being able to move forward and no idea why. Transit staff told us there was a “smoke condition” at 36th Street, which was true as far as it went. When I got back to the street, I contemplated the bus, but a brief chat with a woman at the bus stop told me that no trains were running at 36th Street, and the only buses in the opposite direction were out of service.

I stood in the rain a while, then decided my best option was to declare today a work-from-home day. And I fully acknowledged and appreciated that I have the privilege to do that when many many people do not.

So I walked home, and that’s when I found out what had caused the “smoke condition” that frustrated my commute.

*

I’m devastated by the shooting on the subway. How could I not be? Violence like this is always horrifying and devastating. And being trapped in a subway car with someone bent on killing you … I mean, it’s the worst iteration of a fish-in-a-barrel scenario.

I am heartened by the news that none of the injuries are life-threatening. I’m also heartened by the news that there is at least a “person of interest” in the case. But that comes along with the awful awareness that the shooter is still at large.

When I was washing dishes tonight, I realized something that this incident has to mean for me. I’ve written about disturbing and frightening encounters I’ve had with strangers. And each time I’ve thought not only about my own feelings, my own safety. I’ve tried to have empathy for the other person in the story.

So isn’t today the real test? Can I have empathy for the man who attacked the people on the N train today? I think I’m failing here … and I’m not feeling inclined to try not to fail. I can have empathy for people with untreated mental illness, but I’m not ready to paint today’s shooter with that brush. We don’t know anything about him. Yes, I can decide that anyone who would commit such a heinous act must be mentally ill … but I don’t actually believe that. I think mental illness gets a bad rap, gets blamed for all sorts of things for which it’s not responsible.

But this is still the test, isn’t it? Tonight, I re-watched the “Empathic Civilization” video that I first saw 10 years ago that got me thinking in a very intentional way about empathy. I can acknowledge that man’s humanity. I can acknowledge his anger, his pain. But empathize with him? Why would I want to?

The purpose of empathy is to help us understand how other people feel. Having that ability to understand others’ feelings is supposed to trigger generous or helping behavior in us … “generous” in the sense that we want to give of ourselves to other people. Empathy helps us build social connections.

So why have been telling myself all evening that I need to empathize with the man who carried out that attack? I’m not interested in working toward a world where we welcome in the people who want to kill indiscriminately, people who are comfortable striking at the peace of mind of millions of people, destabilizing a city’s equilibrium.

Maybe what I want is something else. It probably is good if people can understand the feelings of someone who would carry out an attack like the one in the subway (or any other mass shooting). If we understood the feelings of those people (I am struggling not to say “those killers,” but really, that’s what they are), maybe we could figure out how to help them so that they never reach the point of terrorism. So someone needs to be striving for empathy, but I’m not sure it’s me.

So where am I left? I don’t only want to have anger and horror as my responses to this man. My compassion is for his victims, and for everyone who has been traumatized (and re-traumatized) by his actions. I have anger. I have horror. I have disgust. I’m trying to find some room for something more, something more overtly constructive, something that lets me feel hopeful for change, let’s me feel hopeful, leaves me with hope.

Upended

Chilled, rainy morning. Nature fussing, showing now.
She twists your plans, could have it be snowing now.

But this isn’t about nature, it’s about anger,
about violence and the wind that’s blowing now.

When did we get here, this disregard for others?
But it’s not new. Our disdain is flowing now.

On days like today, that flow breaches the levees,
knocks us back from the line we should be toeing now.

I, Stacie, watch my neighbors wander – cold, confused.
what we thought we knew, understood, all going now.

National Poetry Month 2022: the Ghazal

As I’ve done for more than ten years (what?!), I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April … and I’m saying that boldly, knowing that I’ve already failed. I couldn’t find my way through to a poem on Day One, but I’m determined to continue.

The “Ghazal” is the form I’ve chosen for this year. Here is the structure and a little backstory (thank you Poetry Foundation):

“Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love, medieval Persian poets embraced the ghazal, eventually making it their own. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif), and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the qafia, which appears twice in the first couplet). The last couplet includes a proper name, often of the poet’s. In the Persian tradition, each couplet was of the same meter and length, and the subject matter included both erotic longing and religious belief or mysticism.”

Should be interesting!

Um … where did this go sideways?

Last month, I read The First, the Few, the Only: How Woman of Color Can Redefine Power in Corporate America. It came out last month, and I only knew about it because it was on the “front page” of my library app when I was ready to look for something random to read. It’s by Deepa Purushothaman, co-founder of nFormation, a company that describes itself as “a vetted, yet welcoming membership community created by women of color fo women of color, that seeks to reimagine traditional power structures to not just help more WOC take their seat at the table but to change the way the table is formed.” That’s a mouthful, as is the title of the book.

I’ve never worked in anything that could be considered “corporate America,” not in a serious way, anyway. I worked briefly at IBM a thousand years ago, and also at a company that called itself an ad agency but which, in truth, printed coupons. Neither of these jobs had any true value for me, other than paychecks that could add up to my next vacation. Neither of them represented a low rung on any kind of ladder I had any desire to climb. No shade to IBM. It just wasn’t where I saw myself beyond the time it took to save up for my trip. And, while I have plenty of shade for the “ad agency,” I met lovely people there, and it paid for an excellent trip and, eventually, the security deposit and first month’s rent of my first apartment. After those jobs, I worked in some corporate environments during a long stint as a temp word processor leading up and into the start of my time in grad school.

None of that work had anything to do with who I was. I won’t claim that I had a developed sense of who I was back then, but I was entirely clear that I wasn’t cut out for corporate America. And look at me today: I was right!

But I liked the sound of Purushothaman’s book, so I borrowed it to see what she had to say. It resonated with me on a lot of levels even though it’s really not about me and there were moments when the writing irked me. I hope that legions of the women who are absolutely the audience for this book find it and read it. It’s new, only out about 5 weeks.

It’s getting positive reader responses: “should be required reading in all industries.” “Really hit home for me […] I found it comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one as a woman of color struggling to ask for what I want, pushing back, being in toxic environments and knowing when to leave when it no longer serves you, unlearning to be quiet and conforming, and learning to build my self-confidence.” “My story is captured within these pages […] I do believe that there is a better, proper use for power and WOC are well-positioned to demonstrate what that new use of power could look like to reshape our nation into conscious capitalists.” (All these are from goodreads.)

But of course, all that positivity grinds to a halt for me on that last bit, the “conscious capitalists” bit. I’m not going to dive into all the reasons capitalism is the devil, not tonight and maybe not ever. I’ll just say that a system that grew in large part off the enslavement of Africans and which continues to thrive on the exploitation of the global south and the destruction of the environment isn’t really the consciousness I’m interested in investing in.

*

Um … talk about wandering WAY off course. I started writing about Purushothaman’s book because, when I opened my library app tonight, I saw that the hold I put on the audiobook is about to come in. I want to hear some of the points again, so I’m looking forward to listening.

Having the title in my head is what led to tonight’s ghazal … and, clearly, to a lot of other thoughts that I slapped up against one another above!

These last couple of poems have followed the same pattern for me. Once I have an idea of what I want the theme to be, I come up with the refrain and then try out a few different rhymes to do with it. This system doesn’t necessarily make for quality poems, but it decreases my frustration during the writing process, and that’s a welcome change. The form is still eluding me, but coming up with this (should have been immediately obvious) system helps. Tonight, I took a little liberty with the rhyme in the second couplet and with the inclusion of myself in the final couplet. Sometimes, it can be a sign of getting closer to a breakthrough when I start fussing with the strict confines of the form. We’ll see.

Half as Much

No shoulders to lean on when you’re the first, few, only.
Made to stand alone, unsure – the first, few, only.

“Trailblazer” sounds strong … it’s built on your exhaustion,
every question to answer for, the first, few, only.

Back of your neck prickling, weight of observation,
on the microscope slide forevermore, the first, few, only.

Work to be done, microaggressions to swallow,
make your face right – necessary chore – the first, few, only.

And we, your sisters, follow your steps, still learning.
Each of us – one foot in the door – the first, few, only.

National Poetry Month 2022: the Ghazal

As I’ve done for more than ten years (what?!), I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April … and I’m saying that boldly, knowing that I’ve already failed. I couldn’t find my way through to a poem on Day One, but I’m determined to continue.

The “Ghazal” is the form I’ve chosen for this year. Here is the structure and a little backstory (thank you Poetry Foundation):

“Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love, medieval Persian poets embraced the ghazal, eventually making it their own. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif), and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the qafia, which appears twice in the first couplet). The last couplet includes a proper name, often of the poet’s. In the Persian tradition, each couplet was of the same meter and length, and the subject matter included both erotic longing and religious belief or mysticism.”

Should be interesting!

My Heart in Motion

Yesterday I posted the poem I worked on during the day, written because I was inspired thinking about an artist whose work I went to see in the afternoon. I had this grand idea that I would write that poem and write my annual it’s-my-niece’s-birthday poem and publish both, making up for my unsuccessful poem-less start to the month. Then I remembered how awful my schedule was today, and knew I’d likely not have time or brain space to sit and think about ghazals. So I held onto the birthday poem until today, yes, a day late, but also the day when I actually got to see my niece (over zoom, alas), so still fitting.

No, it’s not getting easier, but something is starting to change. That change sharted with those hyacinths that tickled my nose on my way home Friday, making that day’s poem my most successful so far this month. I am far (FAR) from cracking the ghazal code, but something changed.

Did I just calm down a little? Maybe told myself that I didn’t need to break my heart over these poems every day, told myself that I could find a refrain that resonated and somehow build a poem around it. I don’t know the exactness of what changed, but Friday felt very different. Yesterday, too. My niece poem feels closer to successful than not.

The secret door to this form is still eluding me, but trying to write no longer feels like a punishment. That’s definitely a move in the right direction. I’ll take more of that, please.

Djinn

You shine, iridescent glow within, all your wonder.
Magic simmers beneath your skin, all your wonder.

Twenty-three years, learning and refining, each year new,
each year adding to who you’ve been, all your wonder.

Your confidence and strength have always wowed me.
Your easy calm, that inner yin, all your wonder.

We are different, yet share the same wavelength
you keep me focused, out of the din. All your wonder.

And I, your Aunt Stacie, watch you grow, change, become --
my best-beloved niece, go, begin all your wonder.

National Poetry Month 2022: the Ghazal

As I’ve done for more than ten years (what?!), I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April … and I’m saying that boldly, knowing that I’ve already failed. I couldn’t find my way through to a poem on Day One, but I’m determined to continue.

The “Ghazal” is the form I’ve chosen for this year. Here is the structure and a little backstory (thank you Poetry Foundation):

“Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love, medieval Persian poets embraced the ghazal, eventually making it their own. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif), and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the qafia, which appears twice in the first couplet). The last couplet includes a proper name, often of the poet’s. In the Persian tradition, each couplet was of the same meter and length, and the subject matter included both erotic longing and religious belief or mysticism.”

Should be interesting!

Look Again, Look Deeper

So yesterday was a light in the dark with the ghazal. The poem I wrote yesterday felt … almost … like it did what I wanted it to. It still had its share of awkwardness, but it didn’t feel like a piece of mangled metal I’d been pounding with a sledgehammer. You know, the way all the other ones I’ve written have felt.

But that was yesterday. Today I’m back to sledgehammering. Maybe not entirely, but much more like sledgehammering than writing a poem.

Today I spent some time in a part of my city I generally avoid. It’s a part of the city that has, in recent years, been transformed into something shiny and new … and alien. Or, to be most accurate, it’s been transformed into a place in which I feel like an alien. It feels like a place that was created very specifically not for me or anyone like me. I came up from the subway and felt as if I’d entered the Epcot Center World Showcase of New York City, rather than coming up into the actual city.

Not a comfortable feeling. Maybe that’s part of why my writing didn’t feel comfortable tonight, either. I was thinking about the artist whose work I went to see this afternoon, the work that carried me to that alienating spot, work that drew me all the way in and felt as if it was being spoken from the center of me. My poem doesn’t do what my heart was doing. So it goes.

How You Dig In

Patterns bold and subtle through your pen investigate.
Never flinch or turn but open, investigate.

I've seen the haven you've built -- peace in chaos.
Quiet and green surround as you then investigate.

You are fearless in your push toward seeing, showing,
flinging wide all the doors we've hidden, investigate.

You are quiet and clear, no coy mincing of words.
Bring us all, too. As you, again, investigate.

I, Stacie, hear with new ears. Every word a gift. 
You carry me through (amen!) -- investigate.

National Poetry Month 2022: the Ghazal

As I’ve done for more than ten years (what?!), I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April … and I’m saying that boldly, knowing that I’ve already failed. I couldn’t find my way through to a poem on Day One, but I’m determined to continue.

The “Ghazal” is the form I’ve chosen for this year. Here is the structure and a little backstory (thank you Poetry Foundation):

“Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love, medieval Persian poets embraced the ghazal, eventually making it their own. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif), and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the qafia, which appears twice in the first couplet). The last couplet includes a proper name, often of the poet’s. In the Persian tradition, each couplet was of the same meter and length, and the subject matter included both erotic longing and religious belief or mysticism.”

Should be interesting!