Blessings of Benches

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My daughter and I recently started a little tradition of walking together through our neighborhood. It is a neighborhood made for walking;  a sprawling collection of nestled neighborhood villages; each with its own fantastic name, like Esmerelda or Faberge’ or Landora.

I struggle to keep pace with her. At 13 years, she is taller and stronger than me, and those long legs command me to almost jog, until I remind her to slow down a bit. We talk of nothing and everything. We comment upon the crows and ibis and mockingbirds, the antics of feisty miniature dogs yelping and yanking on leashes, the piercing, predatory eyes of cats slinking under cracked garage doors. It is good, this time we share; in conversation, laughter, or silence. We are being, together.

She has explored every nook and cranny of this conglomeration of glamorously-named suburbia. She shows me places that my mom-mode-driving-in-the-van eyes have often overlooked. So many hidden gems; little ponds, favorite trees, deserted houses, noted houses that always decorate for the holidays, noted lawns smelly with mounds of ignored dog poo. Brilliant.

Recently she took me down a new street. The moment I stepped upon the first slab of sidewalk, I could feel it. It. What was It? Something. And I could just feel it. We both could. This was a good street, a great discovery. Now, it looked much like every other street. It was short, ending in a cul de sac. Really, in this masterpiece of housing development, just a simple handful of homes. The cul de sac held a little island, with a few old trees, and a bench. She insisted we sit on this bench for a while, and we did. Just a lovely space, a lovely walk.

A few days later, we returned to this special spot. A gang of little boys, maybe aged 10 or 11, were playing basketball in a driveway; shouting, laughing, and occasionally running between lawns and in and out of front doors. As my daughter and I neared the special bench, we noticed the boys grew quiet and vigilant, sometimes shooting us sober glances. Perhaps they think we are creepy strangers, I ventured. One boy approached us, and with a shaking voice, yelled out that we were sitting on his friend’s bench, and to please get up and leave. This was odd behavior, but was likely caused, I thought, by a whispered dare from a conspiring, mischievous friend. So, we held our ground, or should I say, our bench, and continued on with girl talk.

Some minutes passed, and again, the boy approached us, this time with his friend in tow. In a stronger voice, he repeated his earlier demand. The friend behind him seemed to take this whole debacle quite seriously; and in his large, brown eyes, there was pain, and sadness. Thus, a bit befuddled and uncomfortable, my daughter and I relented. We stood, and the boys shot off down the street. I offered to my daughter to speak to the boys, but I got the infamous Mom no! Gawd your so embarrassing! eye roll, so again I relented, and we were off, to try to find another street of gold.

When we’d nearly reached the end of the street, a woman came out of one of the front doors. She was beautiful, in a bright colorful dress, with these large, captivating brown eyes. The same brown eyes I had seen moments before. This was momma. She approached us with a smile.

“I just want to tell you, to please sit on that bench whenever you want. Please. That’s what it’s there for.” She almost sang it. Maybe she did sing it. It was like Amazing Grace, really.

Something in her voice caused me to confess everything. The feeling that embraced me every time my foot met her sidewalk, the sweet air of this little street, the magical space of that bench. Her eyes glistened a bit more than they had before. There were tears in them.

That bench was her husband’s bench, her late husband. The little street’s homeowners had purchased it and dedicated it to him when he died, and placed it in the cul de sac. No one ever sat there, she said, except for her family, but it was meant for everyone, meant for sitting, it was meant for being together. Every morning she prayed, every morning she blessed her little street and the bench upon it. Sometimes, she said, it felt like going through the motions…but not really. No, it was just her routine. And now someone could feel it.

She held me with that voice, that low, sweet singing voice. And there we were, blubbering on together, celebrating together, laughing and tears together; two souls communing, marking a special time when two strangers became sisters somehow.

On our walk home, my daughter and I were giddy, surprised, enlivened.

That was a good walk mom! Yes, sweet girl, that was a good walk.

So much magic all around us; in all the ordinary, hidden spaces. So much magic within us; in the ancient, forgotten places.

There are benches of the heart, waiting for us to come and sit and visit a while. Just waiting, patiently, for us to come and be with ourselves. There is wisdom in these spaces, overgrown perhaps with the dense ivy of checklists and goals and worries and achievements. But that quiet wisdom is awaiting your sweet warm body; waiting for you to settle into it without expectation; waiting for you to listen to the thumps of its old wooden heart. You will find, the wooden slabs sing to you, songs of the little pieces of you, if you are quiet. A hum, a chant, a lullabye, a whisper of how very precious you are.

But there is ever a guardian at the gate, a child perhaps, with soulful eyes, who’ll brook no disrespect. You may enter only with love, and love every last inch, every knot in the grains of your glorious wood. The knots hold the magic that is You, if only you give them a little caress.



Deer form
From out of the night
Silence holds the soft angles of their bodies.

Totem trunks
Of three sister palms
Gaze at me with shadowed, magus faces,
Savage fronds of hair erupting
In electric, chanting silence.

Silence holds the secrets of all sound
No words can surpass her power.
Darkness holds such possibility
Stars given voice
Only in her deep graces.

In silence I come to you.
In darkness I hold you.
In this hidden womb of all things,
I see you and love you.



The equinoxes are beautiful markers of growth, death, and rebirth, both in our inner and outer landscapes.  It is also a day that is equally balanced in its light and dark aspects.  I wrote this poem with both tears and stars in my eyes; it is a reflection upon my inner landscape, and my ability and courage to share and mirror it; a quick burst of poetry fueled by the heart and translated by the mind.  It is something I would usually keep tucked away in an old, beat-up notebook, but I decided, what the heck, it’s a holiday.  It is my sincere wish that the coming change of seasons brings to all of you the same inner alchemy of change; harvest, cocooning, seeding, sprouting.  Happy autumnal equinox! 

Flowered crown, orange-blue bright strands
Ash and blossom in my hands
Backwards walking, through time’s sands
Home to reap the fertile lands

Growth and beauty fill my basket
Taste the fruits of season’s magic
Juice of life, so lovely, tragic
Blessings grace the crib and casket

Now sow my blossom in earth’s womb
Fed by ash of inner tomb
Caressed with sunlight, watch me swoon
Hear me sing, and feel me bloom

My roots dig deep in dark domain
Feel the swell in moonlight’s reign
Burn the mask to feed the flame
Stomp the feet to shed the tame

Bare soles, bared souls upon the pyre
Lift me up and I’m on fire
In your arms I’m rising higher
Spirals spin me tighter, wider

Wolves are howling, starlights swoops
White bunnies leap loopdy-loops
Chanting, sweating, I’m the Dancer
Stag rubs velvet from his antlers

So feed me sweet saps of your story
I am listening, you are for me
Soft and green or brown and thorny
Hand in hand, we are the Journey.

Front Step Fellowship

I’ve recently returned from a workshop entitled Knowing the Mystery, hosted in a lushly forested retreat space in Rhinebeck, New York; complete with vibrant vegetable gardens, hiking trails, beachside hammocks, and roaming woodchucks. This class marks my third year of attendance.  The workshop and its teacher, Neil Kramer, were, as always, nourishing, enlivening, inspiring, and provocative.

But this year was different, because my focus shifted a bit. This year, I really tried to make friends. You know, in the flesh; face to face, geometry to geometry. Other earthly wanderers similar to me, brought together by an attraction to this teacher’s interpretation of the Grand Mystery of life. We are, as the saying goes, few and far between, and I noticed, just before leaving my home for this workshop, how heavily I relied upon the stale platform of Facebook or meandering website links to ultra-fluffy but meatless new age advice columns, searching in vain for fellowship.  You know, the powerful quote of  the day, or the rebellious blogger refuting the mainstream with dreamy imagery, or the lists of the ten things spiritual people do, or the five things strong women do, or step-by-step guides of how to reignite your inner goddess. Now, it wasn’t all bad, but it certainly wasn’t alive. These articles were epitaphs of concepts buried deep in the earth of my being, and I wasn’t going to reach them through a keyboard and screen. If I wanted these things; strength and inner growth and a more substantial resurrection of that beautiful goddess within, I was going to have to get my hands dirty and dig for them. Those stone epitaphs, perhaps I can concede they were markers for my interests, but they were heavy and stone and in my way. No, one cannot grow by memorizing an epitaph, no matter how lovely the prose or holy the author; one must dig, dig dig, to resurrect what is deep and hidden and fertile and alive for herself.

So, I budgeted and planned, even conspired and coereced a bit here and there, and landed myself in Rhinebeck, among other great humans, and pushed my comfort zones; opened up, reached out, tripped a few times, and kept on going.

There was an exquisitely beautiful woman, very careful with her words, a powerhouse of rhythmic energy, soft and thoughtful. I have seen her before, and have always been intrigued by her gentle yet profound presence. During one of our class breaks, I noticed her stretching outside. Basic stretches, not fancy inverted yoga postures or anything. I could tell, through observing her, that she was deeply tuned into her body, that she was doing what it needed, and that she was rather unfocused on all the people bustling and chatting around her.  She was very…individual in that moment. Very strong. Honoring herself and what she needed. I felt the shyness rise up within me, but I approached and asked, simply, if I could copy her. Of course I could. She continued. I began. It felt really, really good. Later on I got the opportunity to speak with her more, and felt, by her presence and words, a little piece of myself wake up. Yawn and stretch and smile in my heart. She woke something up in me, a strong, quiet, intuitive, playful, powerful part of me.

Another woman, my roommate for the weekend, and with whom I already enjoyed a deep friendship, held me with her strength, kindness, patience, and humor.  We talked a lot, about many things, emotional things. We exchanged crystals, gifts with which we had both planned to surprise the other. We laughed, and laughed, and laughed. She taught me about Milkweed and butterflies, kept me from getting lost on the wandering trails, and was an ace at spotting woodchucks. I can think of few things better than the richness of our growing friendship.

I was introduced to a woman whom I immediately wanted to bear hug. She was just that ….yes. Just that. Wisdom flowed from her like a clean mountain stream, refreshing and rejuvenating. After speaking with her under the showers of that wisdom, I think I could have climbed the highest peaks.  No terrain was too tough for her sharp navigation, not even Table Mountain.

And finally, there was a man, the type of person with whom one can always exhale, relax. He had a funny accent with the most cheerful and light intonations, that I adored. He told me it was a working class accent, and then I loved it even more. I think I could have shadowed him the entire weekend, just to hear him talk and make jokes. He has a nice life. Doesn’t work too hard, doesn’t need too much. He likes to sit on his front steps with his dog, and smoke a bit, and visit with neighbors a bit, and contemplate a bit, and watch a bit. Sometimes he sits for hours. How brilliant.

I want to do that.

I want to sit for hours. I want to stretch. I want flowers and butterflies. I want wisdom and deep inner confidence and I even want cultivated, playful, harmless, mischief. I want to relax. Somehow, these things have stengthened within me, fortified by being in the presence of people who embody them. I am not happy with reading the epitaphs, though my inner taskmaster might have it be so (she’s a real piece of work, my taskmaster, skilled in the arts of guilt, shame and work ethic).  As my beautiful Table Mountain friend would say, I fully reject you taskmaster. I am going to do what I love, and my life will be just fine, and everything that needs to get done will get done, because I am a strong person. Thank you for your service, but you are released now. (I then hand Ms. Taskmaster a pile of discarded epitaphs, just for good measure, and suggest she put them in alphabetical order. That should keep her busy for a while…)

Since my return home, I have decorated my front step with several tough little flowering plants; Penta, Lantana and of course, Milkweed. Every morning, before I leave my bedroom, I stretch on the floor. It feels very very amazing. I then sit on my front step with my coffee, another new ritual, and watch the sun brighten, the birds awaken, and eventually the children gathering at the bus stop across the street from my house.

The first to arrive this morning is a thin little girl with shiny brown hair, thick glasses and a massive bulging backpack drooping almost to the back of her legs.  She keeps her head buried in her mobile device, earbuds strung into her ears. She never looks up, but simply plops down on the sidewalk. Still, there is something about her that delights me…something is in there, I can sense it, from behind my brigade of butterfly plants. I can sense it. Next to arrive is a boy, about the same age as the girl, maybe 12, and he seems to care for her. He sits next to her, cross-legged, and closes his eyes. His hands reach in front of him, and he massages a few blades of grass between his fingers, without plucking them. He seems to be holding space for her. She is still engrossed in her device. Slowly more children come; three girls sit together, they gossip and squeal, a couple of boys are dropped off by a minivan. One boy has bright blue shoes and a backpack trimmed in neon green, adding a bit of pizazz to the rather drab school uniform they all wear; black collared shirts and khaki shorts at the prescribed school-approved length. This brightly adorned boy is the only one who chooses not to sit down. Good.

The bus comes, the stop sign flips open and the lights flash, and the kids all clamber inside. A gush of autumnal affection overwhelms me, and I am momentarily captivated by mental images of falling leaves and football games and pencil shavings.

These students here in front of me, I was once one of them. The students with me in Rhinebeck, we were all once of these students on the bus; awkward, unsure, growing, caring, squealing, gossiping, bright. There we all were, and here we all are. The tenderness of it all enchants me, and my insides warm with a palpable gratitude for the new friends I made, my fellow students of the mystery, both mentioned and not, who have added color and awakened beauty in my life.  A school bus of selves, perhaps one could call it…

I glance at one of my milkweed plants. I saw a monarch butterfly on it a few days ago. Today there is a yellow jacket. The flower doesn’t seem to mind, butterfly or yellow jacket, it simply blooms. Even the stingers pollinate.


I get up, collect my son Nicholas, and pile his flailing and happy limbs into his wagon for our morning walk. He is eight years old, but with a mental development age of about 8 months old. Some might see this as a tragedy, but it doesn’t seem to bother him in the least.

As I pull him, he giggles almost constantly. He is content with, or actually utterly delighted with, watching the sidewalk pass under his eyes.


What a rush! I see written upon his round little face.

What a brilliant earthly phenomenon, this flying of the sidewalk concrete! He reaches his arm over the side of his wagon to let a little blue stuffed elephant in his hand dangle onto the roughness below, letting the vibrations sent up his arms from the bumps and cracks enhance his sensory experience.

Oh yes, sweet child, little student of the Earth.

What an experience!

What an adventure!

The Rapture of a Mockingbird


I have recently found myself wrapped in a late night love affair with a mockingbird. He begins his balllad-ing, both intense and dramatic, around 11:30 pm, and doesn’t stop for hours. Initially, I feared he was a mother bird frantically chirping for her attacked or injured chick. However, after several nights of these dramatic sonnets, I realized this could not be the case.

With a little research, I found that in springtime male mockingbirds croon in this way, sometimes even at night, to keep their mates (who are liable to go flitting and flirting around, checking out other males in the area, as to keep her options open and, well, not all her eggs in one basket, so to speak…)

So this love-crazed male, outside my window, professes his undying love for his sweetheart.  Or he might be a bit more mischievous.   His motives may also be to either win her from another male, or…well, to attract another female, as to keep his options open and avoid keeping all his eggs in one basket.

So even here, in the middle of suburbia, in the middle of a cookie cutter neighborhood, in the middle of the night; love and romance and passion and virility and battle and music are wildly alive! And this excites me so much, that the artificial human impulse for sameness and civility, tameness and sanitization and sharp, clear boundaries, has been completely overthrown by a fury of little birds who chatter under the stars, who are ready for war and passion and parenthood, all at the same time.

And this is largely a secret. After much tossing and turning and attempts at being a responsible mother who should really get some sleep, I finally tip toed outside with a flashlight, audience to this glorious creature, giggling, holding myself back from knocking on every neighbor’s door to join me, or shaking my children or husband awake, so that they might too delight in this beautiful production. But windows were dark, lights were all out. My sweet husband must wake so early, and the children breathed so peacefully. And so, it was a show for only the birds, and for me.

The next day I found myself outside with the garden shears. I must trim the bushes, as tidy bushes are good for property values and home owner associations. I notice myself holding tears in my eyes as I cut the new growth. Pruning, I tell myself. Pruning. Yet I feel that I am stifling the bushes, snipping off the fresh, glossy, unfolding, reddish green leaves of new growth. The babies. Does the bush sing for these fresh green stems and tender leaves in lullabies undetectable to my ears? Do the leaves dance with their leaf-lovers, so subtly that my eyes cannot catch the movement?

There is a truck across the street. A pool cleaning service vehicle, equipped with all manner of chemical cocktails and algaecides, to keep the pools blue. A pest control van is parked a few houses down, then further a TruGreen truck, and I wonder if it should be called FalseGreen.

And yet here I am, pruning the wild out of my own bushes. What a funny place my heart occupies. I remind myself, this is a good neighborhood, nice people, lots of children, stable property values, whatever that means. Unfortunately, I am not very good at normal, though I sometimes try for the sake of my children, who, despite their healthy senses of humor and strength, can become utterly embarrassed by the antics of their mother.

Thus, I brush away my silly tears, and prepare to start normalizing the bushes again.

And that is when he finds me. The mockingbird, at the very tippity top of a tree across the street, with his head held high, singing out his nighttime love song, smack in the middle of the day. As if this is not quite showy enough for the ladybirds, lucky as they already are, in my estimation, he finishes each verse with a flurry of acrobatics, wings and beak and tiny legs launching in perfectly executed movements, and ending with a steady landing on his branch.  Within moments, he begins again.  I decide, with all that mojo in such a little body, he must not need sleep.

I am enraptured. I am completely and hopelessly in love with him. I realize, staring up at him with sweat and tears salty on my face, he is not only a Romeo, he is an alchemist. A real magician.

You see, his song was not originally his, it was borrowed from the environment around him. He is copying the sounds of other birds, of frogs, of insects; it is hard to identify each contributor to his melody. He has picked up what was around him, molded it all into an orchestra, and made it new, fresh, different, unique, breathtaking.

I am reminded that no matter where I find myself, whatever my circumstance, there is always the curious opportunity to alchemize, to mix a little bit of my own magic into it all. Add a little color, a little spice, a little melody, into the world around me. Give and receive, flow in, flow out.  To be as free and resplendent, yet as giving and natural, as this mockingbird.

He is just doing his job, after all. Being fabulous and beautiful and amazing and passionate and mischievous. But most of all, inspiring.

I shall try to do the same.

(If you are looking for me, I am in the house with half the hedge tightly manicured, the other half with glimmering branches outstretched in beautiful chaos toward the sun.)