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{July 8, 2020}   What’s in a Purse?

Rumi and the Red Handbag

Before I read “Rumi and the Red Handbag” by Shawna Lemay, I would have answered this question in a very literal way: all the things I think I might need on any given day. I am not a fashionista; my purse is just a necessary tool of life. This book made me see purses in a new way, as a metaphor for life.

“The purse is a diary containing the scattered sprawl and patient sticky grunge of life. It’s a skin, a husk, it holds guts and gizzards. Think of the disruptive depths, the darkness of a purse! The purse is a portal, a hinged door. It’s the heavy burden to the bruised portal of our intimate murky depths, our tranquil and far-off selves. We carry these objects relentlessly, courageously, anonymously, absentmindedly.”

And there is so much more!! Those words are part of a long soliloquy about purses by the character Ingrid-Simone, or I.s. as she is alternately known in the novel. She is one of two characters working in a shop called Theodora’s Fine Consignment Clothing (Lemay had me right there, I once dreamed of owning Theodosia’s Tea Shop in Glasgow KY…it captured my imagination) . Working with each other all day they become friends of a fashion, but though the character telling the story paints us a picture of I.s. as an amazing person, she discovers she didn’t know Ingrid-Simone at all.

This book is deceivingly short or small but so FULL of beautiful language and life lessons — just like a woman’s purse can be.

I have been following Shawna’s blog for a while (Transactions with Beauty) and really wanted to read her book (it came out in 2015). I ordered it online during quarantine. For me, it was like taking a bite of a freshly made truffle, and I savored the smooth deliciousness of it. And, thinking of my own purse, it inspired me to write a poem.

Overladen

Everything in my life is too small.

The purse I lug around

fat with old receipts,

salvaged change, and

everything I think I could need

on any given day.

My apartment and closet

crammed too — bursting with

things I refuse to give up.

Yet, I am frugal to the point

of deprivation;

I clutch tight with claws

and fists and defend,

defend my junkyard life

like a vicious dog.

All my life I’ve known nothing

but making do,

worrying the same old bone,

funneling my needs and dreams

into what I already have —

the only way I know to stay full —

constricting to fit the vessel.

In love too, I’ve shrunk what I want

into you:

someone I see so little,

someone whose life

is elsewhere — you —

holder of my stifled desire,

my dear old bone.

 

copyright 2020 Susan Merrifield Desrocher

 

But don’t be distracted by my poetic efforts…read the 140-pg book, “Rumi and the Red Handbag” which is one long beautiful poem, and maybe you’ll buy a new purse, or write a poem of your own.

 



{April 28, 2020}   Pre-Pandemic Life

A year ago at this time, I thought my life was finally headed in the right direction. Besides working full-time, I was very busy doing things I loved: I was teaching a writing workshop and regularly attending a poetry workshop. One of my poems had been accepted to appear in a book, and the book was coming out. I was looking forward to an event where I would meet the author (Randy Susan Meyers) who had put the book together. And REALLY looking forward to an event that seemed to complete a circle in my life.

The proceeds from the sale of Women Under Scrutiny were going to Rosie’s Place. I was proud of that, because I knew about Rosie’s Place and thought they did wonderful things, and I had met the woman who started it, Kip Tiernan. Here’s my backstory.

When I was in my late twenties I worked with a wonderful editor at Houghton Mifflin named Edie Nicholson. She was a mentor of sorts for me and for many young women I knew. She encouraged my poetry attempts and hung one up on her cubicle wall. I have never forgotten that one time when I was feeling discouraged about the world and said I wanted to go live in the middle of nowhere in a cabin and not deal with anyone, she spoke to me passionately. “No, that is exactly what you can’t do! You need to get out and be an example!” Whenever I feel knocked down and want to run away I still hear her voice.

Well…on with the story. Edie’s long-time companion was Kip Tiernan. When Edie stopped working (she was over 80), we all missed her. One day my husband and I went to visit Edie at her Beacon Hill apartment. Kip was there. I visited with Edie and my husband talked to Kip. He was really impressed with her intelligence and political views. It was a memorable afternoon.

When Edie died, I wrote an emotional poem about her and sent a sympathy card to Kip, including the poem. Kip called me to thank me and told me tearily that she wanted to include the poem in the program for the memorial service for Edie. I was touched and happy.

My Poem For Edie

At the time of Edie’s memorial service I was no longer working for Houghton Mifflin. I had been laid-off when they decided to dissolve my department and I was a casualty. The head of Human Resources got up at the service and read my poem. Not planned–she said she just saw it and wanted to read it. I felt a softening of some bitterness about the end of an important period of my life and and a little less sadness for the end of Edie’s.

Fast forward to 2019: When the book excitement happened, a good friend at work told me to tell a man at work that I did not know that well. She told me he was involved with Rosie’s Place and might want to know about the book and hear my story. We had a wonderful conversation!! It turned out his mother had worked there for many years and he was an honorary member of the Board of Directors. He was involved with a big fundraiser gala that Rosie’s holds every May (but sadly not this year). It just happened to be coming up about a month after the book was coming out.

I could not afford a ticket to the gala ($500!), but he said he would try to get me involved as a volunteer. I was so excited! I took a vacation day from work. I worked a very long day beginning at noon doing blackboards for the restaurants that would have tables there, and that evening I worked selling raffle tickets for a diamond ring giveaway.

My Volunteer Handiwork

I could not stop thinking about how proud Edie (and Kip) would be not only for my poem being part of a book that benefited Rosie’s, but for my work there that day. In fact I felt like they had something to do with the serendipitous nature of the whole thing that took over thirty years to happen.

I was sore and exhausted the next day (I was not used to being on my feet for so many hours and I am no longer young), but what a wonderful night it was. I really thought it was the beginning of a new direction in my life. When the circle closes, it feels like some sort of pinnacle, and everything seems to make sense!

But the book faded away without much fanfare and I never met the author. The night of the publicity event was the same night my brother passed away in hospice with our family all around. There is always something more important than my own ambitions. Like a pandemic…:-(



{April 15, 2020}   Surviving during the Pandemic

A bee enjoying azalea

Keeping Busy

Being someone who needs nature for my mental health, this has been a tough couple of months. I have been out walking my neighborhood and some woods (safely with a mask, of course) whenever the weather cooperates. I have also been reading and writing a lot. This is one of the poems I have written during this isolation. This is survival for me.

 

Pandemic Response

 

This earthbound isolation is like quicksand,

survival by being still,

endless waiting, waiting,

keeping hands busy, mind empty.

 

But I need to ride the clouds spread

on the searing blue sky,

burrow myself into bright blossoms like a bee,

douse my eyes in the water of ponds’

shivering reflections searching for life –

tadpoles or tiny fish —

only this, only this

keeps me alive.

 

Susan Merrifield Desrocher

c 2020




Margaret Atwood Early Novels

My Margaret Atwood books

What better time to come back to blogging than these trying times? And who better to write about than Margaret Atwood? A Canadian Facebook friend, Sherry Galey, recently posted this, and I had to share it.

Margaret Atwood asks us to step back a bit and learn from history. Somehow she always finds a way to look at reality straight in the face, without sugar-coating, and still offer comfort and hope. (Globe and Mail today.)

In her book Payback she gathers ”the six reactions people had to the Black Death while it was unfolding. They were:

  1. Protect yourself.
  2. Give up and party, which could include drunkenness and theft.
  3. Help others.
  4. Blame. (Lepers, gypsies, witches and Jews were all blamed for spreading the plague.)
  5. Bear witness.
  6. Go about your life.

She says: “It’s not one or the other. I don’t suggest No. 2. Or No. 4 – giving up and blaming are not helpful – but protecting yourself, thereby helping others, or bearing witness by keeping a journal, or going about your life as much as you can with the aid of online support systems – these are possible now in a way that they were not in the 14th century.”

Also, an old friend recently sent me an email saying that he had binge-watched “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and also read the book. He was enthralled. He had never read Margaret Atwood before and asked me what other books of hers I would recommend. She has always been one of the first names that come to my mind when I am asked about my favorite authors. And yet, when he asked me that question, I wasn’t sure how to answer. I went to my bookcases. I realized that other than the fact that I had also watched the series with Elisabeth Moss (one of my favorite actresses of the last few years), which prompted me to buy “The Testaments,” all the Margaret Atwood books I owned were from early in her career.

Autographed copy of Bodily Harm

My Autographed Copy of Bodily Harm

This led me down my own rabbit hole (as it usually does). I remembered that I had gone to see Margaret read many years ago and had a book signed by her (not one of her most memorable ones). That also reminded me that when I saw her read, I had written a poem about it. Not a good one, but hey, I was only 23 years old! I went to Atwood’s reading and then went out to a club to see one of my favorite local bands, The Peter Dayton Band. The two sides of me…

Poem about Margaret Atwood's reading

A poem about Margaret Atwood’s reading

 

 

 

 

The first book of hers that I read was “Surfacing” in a Contemporary Literature class as an undergraduate in college. I liked it enough to search out earlier works. As I became more interested in poetry, I read her poetry and was quite taken by it. Especially this one from “Power Politics,”

you fit into me

like a hook into an eye

a fish hook

an open eye

Wow!!

Although I did read some of her middle novels like “Cat’s Eye” and “Blind Assassin,” I don’t own the books; I was mostly using the library then. And I haven’t read any of her “science fiction” novels like the MaddAddam Trilogy. Maybe it is time? (although the library is closed during this pandemic) Or maybe I have new favorite authors? Any other Atwood fans that would want to answer my friend’s question? Or mine?



{June 18, 2019}   Women Under Scrutiny

I have been pretty much MIA in the blogging universe for the last couple of years. I am busy working and trying to make headway with my photography and writing in the real world. And finally I have something to celebrate!

I had a poem chosen to be included in this anthology! I can’t write a better synopsis than this paragraph from the back of the book:

“Women Under Scrutiny is an honest, intimate examination of the relationships we have with our bodies, hair, and faces, how we’ve been treated by the world based on our appearance — and how we have treated others.” All proceeds go to Rosie’s Place in Boston, a very worthy cause!

You can purchase it on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Women-Under-Scrutiny-Anthology-Stories/dp/173209361X

 

A great big thank you to Randy Susan Meyers and Brooklyn Girl Books for putting this together! And for her wonderful new novel “Waisted” about women struggling with the issue of weight loss in our judgmental society.

 



{November 8, 2018}   SAD is real

leaves blowing

Frenzied leaves

Every year around this time I go through it. I have my reasons: feeling disconnected at the holidays, my birthday, the anniversary of my failed marriage, the anniversary of my beloved father’s death. Despite this defensive litany, I know it started long before any of that. It is the grayness outside, the darkness inside. It is an annual battle; it is my civil war.

 

Civil War

One would think after all my years
I would be better prepared for this annual battle,
but I’m never sure exactly which day it will begin.

It could be early autumn:
the first chilly day, when the north wind barks its arrival,
sending multi-colored leaves into a frenzied formation,
a whirling activity that mesmerizes me in place.
Or it could be late autumn, when the dried leaves
huddle in the hollow places before the snow comes.
Or it could be when the holidays advancing
with their flags and torches beneath gray skies
and heavy clouds, like a low cellar ceiling,
fans my fears with a kind of claustrophobia.

But sometimes it is a sudden attack —
coming face to face with another birthday,
a civil war, the most brutal of battles,
so close-up and personal,
and the best I can do is cowardly sneak
away from the fray,
and stay away from mirrors.

C 2017 Susan Desrocher



{October 2, 2018}   Mourning Petty

Tom PettyI was writing in my 10-yr journal this morning; each page contains an entry for the same day for ten different years. I saw that one year ago we got the news of the Las Vegas shooting and the death of Tom Petty. It affected me deeply. I cried at work; the woman in the cube across from me played Tom Petty songs all afternoon. It motivated me to search for this drawing I had done in my younger years. Also, it motivated me to write this poem.

MOURNING PETTY

It was already a tumultuous time:

floods and hurricanes washing away

cars, homes, and lives.

The morning of that day

brought news of a horrifying mass murder;

a sniper in sin city,

mowing down music lovers.

Then came the unbearable

cherry on top:

Petty found lifeless,

plugged in/unplugged.

The news was confused

yet clear.

He was gone.

My brother told my mother

I lost “my man,”

referring to the sketch I drew

when I was young,

and so was Petty.

For a few years his image smirked

on my bedroom wall

as I rebelled against a “normal life,”

following music from club to club,

thirsty for meaning.

His nasal voice held emotion like cupped hands;

Wildflower, listen,

there’s no need to be thirsty

when you can drink from the spring

of creativity and life.

Forty years’ worth of his music

and it felt as if he told the story

of all our lives through song.

American girl, he reminds me,

keep searching.

Copyright 2017 Susan Merrifield Desrocher



{March 18, 2018}   Thinking of William Blake

When I took a class on the Romantic poets in college, William Blake was one of my favorites. I remember watching the movie “Bull Durham” not long after that at a time when I was crazy about baseball (and Kevin Costner), and I loved the movie even more when Susan Sarandon’s character quoted Blake at Costner’s character!

Today I was getting ready for a writing workshop that I run once a month, looking through a (VERY) old poetry book (copyright 1876!) and I came across one by Blake. It is funny how sometimes the right poem comes up at the right time. I especially love when I can’t put my own feelings into words and come across words by someone else that describe my feelings or situation better than I can.

I was walking through a graveyard yesterday while out taking pictures and I was taken by two matching gravestones. Not only do they pair well with each other, I think they pair well with Blake’s poem. What do you think?

gravestones

Husband and wife headstones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GARDEN OF LOVE

I went to the garden of love,

And saw what I never had seen;

A chapel was built in the midst,

Where I used to play on the green.

 

And the gate of this chapel was shut,

And “thou shalt not” writ over the door;

So I turned to the garden of love,

That so many sweet flowers bore.

 

And I saw it was filled with graves,

And tomb-stones where flowers should be;

And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,

And binding with briars my joys and desires.

 

WILLIAM BLAKE

 



{March 7, 2018}   Fireless Dragon

House

 

 

Jackie Paper has left.

 

I crawl like a turtle,

too big and too green

to hide,

losing bits of myself

behind

on the pathway

back to my cave.

 

One last turn of my head

slow and stiff,

to see no one

skipping across

my shadow,

only the lost

pieces of me like

a moat of glass,

glistening colors

in the setting sun

that catch and pierce my eyes,

a simple explanation

for my tears.

 

Susan Merrifield Desrocher



{February 7, 2018}   Screwed Up Love

It seems I am often not patient enough to let poems percolate. Sometimes I just feel like I want to move on to something that is more relevant to my present time; after all I just keep writing more and more, and there is just so much paper!! I have been desperately trying to go through them all and put all the versions of the same poems into file folders. Another step in my never-ending efforts to consolidate and simplify.

As part of this process, I have donated a lot of clothes, books, household items, even jewelry — but not these, never these — my screw in, screwed-up love earrings.

Spiral Earrings

Lots of Screwed up Love

I was your rebound girl,
the quick intermission in the drawn-out drama
of your epic love for her.
But I couldn’t see that then.

You were that guy
across the room,
my dark handsome romance hero.
I was drawn to you
like I was to rocks when I was a child:
I loved holding them
because they felt solid,
yet could contain crystals
or layers of color
if broken open.

You soon went back to her,
and instead I had to break
my all-encompassing love for you
into manageable pieces:
I buried the jealousy and resentment,
safeguarded the memories
and held onto our friendship
dear as a first stuffed toy.

Ten years later
I let go;
I married someone
who forced me to deny
my need for you,
grow up, leave you behind.

Thirty years later, minus the husband,
I wish I could glue it all back together,
embrace the whole.
I pull out the Christmas card
you gave me when we were still
an open possibility, a hollow geode.

You had signed the card, “Lots of screwed up love.”
Back then I had clung desperately to the word, “love”
not connecting it to the gift that came with it —
a pair of unusual earrings –
crazy spirals that wound
into my earlobes,
impossible to lose without
being ripped out;
just as the shards of your smile and laugh
twisted themselves into my heart,
and embedded there.
Now I know “love”
was not the important word:
“screwed up” was.



et cetera
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