Poem of the Week, by Eve Grubin

IMG_0447Every morning, soon as I wake up, I make a list of things to do that day. As the day goes on, things get crossed off, until night comes, at which point I turn into a pumpkin and can do no more. Whatever wasn’t done on that day’s list goes onto tomorrow’s list. Once in a great while –like once a year or so– the end of the afternoon approaches and it looks as if everything on the list might actually get crossed off. This is a terrifying thought –what would happen if there were nothing left on the list?– so I quickly add a couple more things. To leave this world without having done it all, I guess that’s the only thing that feels right to me. So you can see why I love this poem.

 

Unfinished

– Eve Grubin

My husband has trouble finishing things.
When he washes the dishes
he leaves at least one pot in the sink and a few pieces of silverware.
He says that my writing about this
may constitute lashon hara, speaking negatively about others.
‘Not finishing things is zecher l’churban,’ he adds,
a way of remembering the destruction of the Temple
which stood in Jerusalem nearly two-thousand years ago.
Now he’s in the other room making the bed, which will look lovely
except for a few untucked corners, a pillow askew,
strange for a man who is slightly OCD, who can’t bear
a slanted piece of paper on my desk.

Yesterday, he almost
finished his article on Ælfric’s use of Latin in Old English prose,
and he began one of the tasks on his list of things to do.
Who needs finality when unfinishing creates a longing
for what has not yet happened?

 

For more information on Eve Grubin, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Jalal al-Din Rumi

For the story behind this week’s choice of poem, click here.

Poem excerpt from One-Handed Basket Weaving, by Rumi

I’ve said before that every craftsman
searches for what’s not there
to practice his craft.
A builder looks for the rotten hole
where the roof caved in.
A water-carrier
picks the empty pot.
A carpenter
stops at the house with no door.
Workers rush toward some hint
of emptiness, which they then
start to fill. Their hope, though,
is for emptiness, so don’t think
you must avoid it. It contains
what you need!
Dear soul, if you were not friends
with the vast nothing inside,
why would you always be casting your net
into it, and waiting so patiently?

 

A few things you learned last month at the Sharjah International Reading Festival in the United Arab Emirates

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That the flight from Los Angeles to the United Arab Emirates is one of the longest nonstops in the world. And that the flight path is not over the Pacific but a huge arc over the United States, Canada, the far, far north and then south, something you figured out only when, a couple hours into the flight, you looked out your window and thought, Wait a minute, I recognize those mountains! Those are the Rockies! 

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That when given a writing prompt – write about a place you love, using all five senses to describe it – children the world over, no matter their religion or dress or gender, will write about their grandmother’s kitchen or their favorite playground or a place their family goes on vacation or their bedroom, where they are surrounded by their books and toys and stuffed animals.

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That if you are given the chance to head to the desert for an excursion that involves camels, slaloming down enormous dunes in four-wheel drive vehicles with half the air let out of their tires, a henna tattoo, a turn at a hookah, a Sufi spinning dancer and wandering around the shifting sands of shifting dunes and thinking about everything that lies beneath that shifting sand, you should do it.

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That if the quiet young driver of the car ferrying you from the Expo Center to the hotel late at night suddenly asks if you have ever tried traditional Arab tea, and you tell him you haven’t, and he asks if you want to try some, say yes. Then sit in the back seat of the car as he leaves the highway and drives here and there on the twisting narrow streets of an unfamiliar neighborhood. Think about the trust we place in other human beings every minute of every day: That our cars were assembled with care, that the pipelines and poles that bring us fuel and electricity will hold, that the food we eat isn’t poisoned, that the stranger driving you down unfamiliar streets in an unfamiliar country speaking a language you wish you could speak but don’t will take care of you. Watch as you pull into a tiny fluorescent-lit shop and a man comes out to the car and your driver tells him “two teas” or what you assume is “two teas” because the man nods and goes back to the shop and comes back with two small styrofoam cups brimming with fragrant tea. When the driver hands you one of them, take a sip: scalding black tea steeped with lots of sugar and evaporated milk, from the taste of it anyway. Tell the driver it’s delicious, because it is, and see the smile spread across his face. Drink the entire cup on the way back to the hotel and then tell him again how good it is, and thank you thank you thank you, and then accept his own untouched cup because he sees how much you loved yours, and nod and smile when he tells you his name and that if you want more tea, he will take you back to the shop.

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That you can generally count on being the tallest woman, if not the tallest person, in any given photograph.

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That the death of Prince, which struck you hard and fast when you read about it in the middle of the night, was shared by fans across the world.

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That wandering from display to display in a festival filled with books in Arabic is an experience that a) makes you wish you could read that lovely-to-look-at language and b) brings you back to early childhood, before you knew how to read, when all you focused on were the illustrations and the book cover, and how that focus is, when you think about it, as meaningful as the words themselves.

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That while you assumed that the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, might be a little taller than the other tall buildings you’ve seen –the Sears Tower, the Empire State Building– it is actually much, much taller.

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That the Museum of Islamic Civilization is enlightening and informative and also beautiful.

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That no matter where in the world or upon whose skin a tattoo is glimpsed, the story behind that tattoo is often one of life – the appreciation of it, the longing for more of it, an inked memorial to a loved one who lost theirs.

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That sometimes friendships are instant, as when, three minutes into conversation, the writer next to you asks you to describe each of your children in a single sentence that captures their essence, and you hop to because what a delightful assignment. And when another writer and you discover, during the course of a few hours spent wandering the souk and talking and bargaining for scarves together, that your similarities are uncanny.

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That the sight of a Sufi dancer spinning in the desert on a starry night is mesmerizing.

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That your shame and embarrassment and apologies over the ongoing hate speech and condemnation of Muslim people by a prominent presidential candidate from your country –as if all followers of Islam, a religion practiced by 1.5 billion people in the world, the biggest religion in the world, are ISIS– will be met, in general, by understanding and sympathy because the people you meet at the festival live in, or are originally from, countries like Iran and Iraq and Pakistan and Syria and Egypt, places where the government has often enacted policies at odds with the living and breathing humans who must live and breathe under those policies.

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That in the course of a long, intense and beautiful conversation between a fascinating Pakistani doctor /writer and her equally fascinating daughter, in which you learn that 40% of Pakistanis are illiterate, the daughter –whose English is perfect and whose love of reading seems to exceed even the hundreds of writers at the festival’s love of reading — will suddenly exclaim that when she watches British and American movies she sees houses filled with bookcases and books and feels intense jealousy because So Many Books!, you will picture your own house, filled with bookcases and books, and feel a different, unfamiliar kind of gratitude for them.

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That when you get on the plane at the end of the week for that 16-hour flight back to your own country, you will be thinking about the kindness and generosity of literally everyone you met during your week in Sharjah. And how, when you tried out the four phrases of Arabic that you had attempted to memorize, including “Peace be with you,” the phrase that came back to you was “And the same to you.”

 

My Tattoo Story: Lenore and Alison

Lenore, Hoboken
Alison, Minneapolis, Vermont and southern California

We’re both writers, and we met last month at the Sharjah International Reading Festival in the United Arab Emirates. It was one of those instant connections, an immediate friends-forever sort of thing. The week we spent in Sharjah was filled with deep conversations with writers and illustrators from around the world but mostly from the Middle East. A few days into our trip we went out to the desert together, an experience which included slaloming down steep dunes in four-wheel drive vehicles, a performance by a Sufi spinner, dinner, camels and henna tattoos. Our tattoos, unlike our friendship, will fade in a couple weeks’ time.

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My Tattoo Story: Jacob

JacobLos Angeles

My very first tattoo was what started my career. It was a determined step forward into a new life and a step toward new goals. It was a statement of commitment, whether or not I knew how far I would have to go. All of my tattoos inspire me to try to be a better person and are constant reminders to me to keep working hard and to never give up. And occasionally they make me feel like a super hero.

The question marks and bass clefs came together on the back of a book while I was on the road supporting America’s Got Talent runner-up Cas Haley on his first big tour. “Bass clefs for what I do, and question marks for the inevitable uncertainty of what it is that I do,” is what I told myself. It was something that I kept drawing on night after night after our gigs. By the time we got back home I had finished the pattern and blew a good part of my paycheck on getting it tattooed onto my self. Through the course of my career, this first tattoo has become my business logo and shows up on my website, my business cards, it’s inlaid on the front of two of my electric basses, and it’s even on the front of my first record. Don’t be surprised to see it on t-shirts soon!

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Poem of the Week

Never done before, Mary OliverI wrote this poem seventeen years ago, after watching one of my daughters standing on a stool at the kitchen sink. A few things have changed in those years: that daughter and her brother and sister have grown up, I’m happy with blonde hair and I’d settle for an eight-minute mile. But everything else still holds. My bargain with the planets remains the same.

Bargain
     – Alison McGhee

The newspaper reports that at twilight tonight
Venus and Jupiter will conjoin
in the southwestern sky,
a fist and a half above the horizon.
They won’t come together again for seventeen years.
What the article does not say is that Mercury, the
dark planet, will also be on hand.
He’ll hover low, nearly invisible in a darkened sky.
I stare out the kitchen window toward the sunset.

Seventeen years from now, where
will I be?
Mercury, Roman god of commerce and luck,
let me propose a trade:
Auburn hair, muscles that don’t ache, and a seven-minute mile.
Here’s what I’ll give you in return:
My recipe for Brazilian seafood stew, a talent for
French-braiding, an excellent sense of smell and
the memory of having once kissed Sam W.

Then I see my girl across the room.
She stands on a stool at the sink,
washing her toy dishes and
swaying to a whispered song,
her dark curls a nimbus in the lamplight.
The planets are coming together now.
Minute by minute the time draws nigh for me to watch.
Minute by minute my child wipes dry her red
plastic knife, her miniature blue bowls.

Mercury, here’s another offer, a real one this time:
Let her be.
You can have it all in return,
the salty stew, the braids, the excellent sense of smell
and the softness of Sam’s mouth on mine.
And my life. That too.
All of it I give for this child, that seventeen years hence
she will stand in a distant kitchen, washing dishes
I cannot see, humming a tune I cannot hear.

 

 

 

My Tattoo Story: Siobhan

Siobhan, London

My tattoo story begins in sadness and ends in happiness. Five years ago my partner was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We thought he had only a short time to live. At one point, early into the shock of it all, he said to me in passing, “You’re a shooting star.” It was such a beautiful thing to say, and so surprising to me, because I don’t think of myself that way. But more than that, the idea that he had said this to me in the midst of what he was coping with made me think, Okay, I can do this. I can be strong. And I got this tattoo on my forearm to remind me of what he’d said. He survived the cancer –we are so lucky–and I treasure my tattoo.

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My Tattoo Story: Dennis

Dennis, Houston

I just published a book titled “The Play’s the Thing,” aimed at young adults, with the goal of making Shakespeare something that you want to read instead of have to read. Shakespeare’s plays have been incredibly meaningful to me, and I decided to commemorate the end of the project with two tattoos.

The first is from Henry IV, Part One. Falstaff, reluctant to go to war, says, instead, “Give me life.” The second is from The Winter’s Tale, in which Leontes, convinced his wife has been fooling around with his best friend and certain that his newborn daughter is not his, orders Antigonus to take the child to a remote place and abandon her there. Which Antigonus does, but after he leaves her, the audience hears hunting horns and barking dogs, which leads to the greatest stage direction ever: “Exit pursued by a bear.” (He’s eaten off stage.)

So on one arm, there’s give me life. On the other, an acknowledgment that when you least expect it, you can get eaten by a bear.

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