Maya Angelou Still Speaks to Me

hubble_share“In the flush of love’s light, we dare be brave. And suddenly we see that love costs all we are, and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free.’ – Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou left us here three years ago today. That is to say her body passed on and out of our shared mortal coil.  Her voice and her words, her indelible honesty, her dauntless hope are not going anywhere.  Her legacy is bright, solid as stone, smooth as truth, infectious as forbidden laughter.

I read her biographies, devoured her poetry, understood her silence at heart level.  I wrote a poem for her a long time ago. For her,  like her, about her. It is a small thing. Not so much a great work of greatness. It is a small piece of love to be added to the patchwork quilt of kindness and rememberance; the network of loving words spoken about someone when they leave us. It is the muffled muttering of minor stars when a supernova in their constellation flickers out.

FOR MAYA

Sleepy limbs, naïve time

Waiting to heal or to smile

Tethered star, worn out string

Breached scars, my hope still sings

 

Whispered hope, dial-a-prayer

Hoping God answers there

Weary lungs, heavy sigh

Raw-mouthed, my voice will rise

 

Paper skin, purple veins

Ache with cold, shake with rain

Vision weak, mem’ry sweet

Thoughts awake, my heart beats

 

Wisdom-rich, money-poor

Faith mighty, body sore

Free to give, free enough

Happy too, my gift is Love.

 

 

Momento Mori

Sir_Edward_The_Mirror_Of_Venus_1898

(The Mirror of Venus by Sir Edmund Burne Jones)

Tonight’s blog is about food for the eyes and heart.  The Mirror of Venus, shown above, graces one of our many studio books. This book on the Pre-Raphaelite painters is special to me.  It was a gift from the man I love. My eyes trace the outline of the group of girls, their wistful and hopeful search for their own beauty within the rocky pool.  But I always come back to the girl standing tall in light blue – the one who disappears and is replaced in the water by round black rocks over white forming a rudimentary skull.  A Momento Mori in the heartspace of all the beauty.  A reminder that we, our bodies, our vanities are temporal – the bare bone gleam of mortality begs us to remember that each moment alive and in love is a gift.

In gratitude, for being both alive and in love in this extended moment of beauty, I offer up this poem:

Momento Mori

In all the richness of color captured by my eye

In all the spectrum of love, hues burning vision down to the scorched cone

Of nerve and illusion, I stop here

I stop here and rest my fingers on the white carbon star at the base of your throat

Where the valley of your breath and flame of your heart trade secrets.

I stop here and wonder at the machines we are, the spirits that drive them

Where ghost and grim are one and the hum of my brain finds its rhythm

In the insistent, deep pounding of your heart.

In all the dreaming and wrestling with lucid night

In this shadowed hour full of knowing, embers glowing dark in your iris

Of myth and story, I stop here.

I stop here and catch my breath, tracing chalked magic circles around your shoulder

Where you carry the day and the dream and desires pure and secret

I stop here and call upon every god I ever knew, the love that drives them

To be awake, present in every single moment, to love the fine dust of you,

And its resident soul without fear, without hesitation

In all the universe, I stop here and for the sweet breadth of a second

Time stops with me.

 

 

 

Chocolate Bread & News of the World

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“The chocolate bread belongs to John.” My mom would repeat always followed by “you wouldn’t like it.” Even at eight years old, I KNEW that was a lie. John just didn’t want me to have any “chocolate” bread.

Mom and John would sometimes go out on Saturday afternoons. He would go golfing and she would go to her ceramics class. I was left alone for about 2-3 hours. Usually, I would be so engrossed in my Legos or drawing that I wouldn’t even notice when they came back.

But Saturday, October 29, 1977, my life was thrown into chaos by three cataclysmic events.

Hallowe’en was Monday. Mom had made me this really cool and creative Queen of Hearts costume from a cardboard chest frame covered in white contact paper.  On the front box lid, she had drawn and glued cutout felt and glitter. She had copied the Bicycle playing card design.  I had black tights, a scepter and a tiara. Plus the box hid my gut. I actually heard her friend Paulette say this when she was helping cut out the red and black stripes and hearts.

As excited as I was about the costume, being on my own around Hallowe’en was lonely. And the idea of not really being alone was worse. I dreaded the basement. There was a dark patchy corner between the laundry chute and the furnace where the air swirled and wheezed. The film “the Sentinel” had come out in January. To me, the entrance to Hell from that movie had a sister gateway right in that basement corner. I could hear it whispering open in the quiet when there seemed to be no breeze from the outside. Movies playing out in my head where Hell’s inhabitants, grotesque and full of evil intent, came through that corner and up through the laundry chute. Some of them took the stairs to savor their journey of malevolence and meditate on my destruction and how tasty I would be.

To combat the silence and all its devils, I would turn on the WUAB Channel 43 and SuperHost. For 20 years, Marty Sullivan dressed up in blue tights and a red cape, sometimes donning a blonde wig and claiming he was “Rula Lenska”.  Short skits and running gags cut in between horror classics. SuperHost was my transitional horror classics mentor bridging the gap between Creature Feature and Chicago’s Son of Svengoolie played by Rich Koz.  I can honestly say that I owed nearly all of my happy childhood moments to these shows and my dog Rosie.

So there I was battling basement ghouls, surrounded by my protective circle of scattered Legos, plotting for my chance to taste the chocolate bread when the drums started.  Terrifying, definite, sharp, angry. Bump-Bump BUMP! Bump-Bump BUMP! I dashed to the top of the stairs over razor blocks and green shag carpet, all the way up. At the top, heart pounding like a cage animal, I turned to look at the screen. On my television, there was a giant robot with bloody fingers holding a dead man.  The camera panned up its body and into its face driven by the visceral deathbeat of those drums. The robot seemed confused, angry, disconnected, sorry, questioning and murderous all at the same time.

I was petrified. Nothing in my life had prepared me for this actual terror. Giant freaking robot gouging the guts out of four men with this square robot fingers. This manmade nephelim caused blood and death no apparent understanding that he was the cause. And the men in their frilly shirts and tight white pants reclining lifeless and falling like beautiful empty shells. Those drums hooking into my brain and driving home the image, the story, the fear.

And then simply “Queen: News of The World.”

Then it was over. Commercial ended. I had to pee and catch my breath. When I came back down, SuperHost was back on. I was safe. And I wanted chocolate bread now!

I figured if I took a slice right in the middle of the loaf, no one would know. I was careful to tie the red wire the same way and put it back exactly on top of the fridge as I had found it. One slice of coveted chocolate bread and it was all mine. But what do you do with it? What do you put on it? I decided to maximize the experience and make a sandwich.  I cut it in half and opened all the cabinets.

Ok – Peanut butter made sense. And banana. And ooh marshmallow fluff!  And why not a sprinkle of cinnamon?  And cinnamon sugar. And raisins. Oh yes. It was a skyscraper sugar masterpiece delight. I poured myself a glass of milk and took the largest bite I could manage.

As I started to chew, I immediately felt myself gag. I sat there, eyes wide and watering, absolutely disgusted at the lump of poison-bitter, sickening-sweet lump of fresh hell sitting in my mouth.  I spit it out in the trash and continued to heave even after it was all out. I was shaking. Traumatized by the truth that “chocolate” bread was really dark rye. My mom lied about the bread being “chocolate”.  But she told the truth, I wouldn’t like it.

I sat on the floor by the trash can, shuddering and hugging myself. This was a horrible day.  Eventually, I cleaned up all evidence of my thievery and punishment for said thievery. I lay down on the couch exhausted, planning to nap until they came home. But then, the drums started again.

Queen’s News of The World commercial terrorized me until I bought it with my birthday money three weeks later. I was my first 12” vinyl. I played it all the way through until it was a warped, scratched dysfunctional version of itself. My favorite song from it is still “Sheer Heart Attack”. I played it until somewhere in my head the robot came apart and couldn’t hurt anyone. “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” got the most radio play. But every time those drums start, I still fight a phantom twinge of nausea from “chocolate bread.”

Food Fight: Omelets

This morning I made myself an omelet.  It was an unhurried, conscious act of self-care. I’ve been eating a vegetarian low-carb diet.  I still eat eggs and cheese because no one has to die for those. I’m not getting preachy about it – I just never really liked meat.

But this omelet – 3 large eggs, butter, pink Himalayan salt, herbe de Provence and 2 campari tomatoes wrapped around a triangle of garlic herb Laughing Cow cheese. “Vache Qui Rit”.  The Cow Who Laughs.  This omelet was everything right with the world.

The process is meditative. Waiting for the butter to melt just so. The soft sound of the whisk whipping eggs to a golden froth. The patience of letting everything rest in the small, shallow pan until it is ready. omlet.jpg

I cleared the table and ate slowly and alone in quiet.

I cook for everyone every day. I embrace and thrive in the role of being a creative nourisher. I’m not a chef. I’m not a professional. But I understand what keeps my little family happy and strong. We eat dinner together nearly every night and we rarely go out.  Omelets are special to me. Omelets are the doorway.

I didn’t grow up around my mother for most of my life.  But when I was 18, I moved in with her. I was away at college most of the time, but when I was home I would make her breakfast. She always wanted an omelet with everything – which meant whatever we had. Ham or bacon, onions, mushrooms – light on peppers and cheese. Buttered toast. Hot chocolate.

And no matter what passed between us before or what was going on, the world would just stop so we could eat our omelets and talk and laugh. We’d sit in the living room of her little trailer, forks clicking against pink plates with little blue bonnet-wearing geese painted on them.  There was no formality. Nightshirts and bare feet on the couch. Usually a B horror flick from Showtime running in the background or MTV when MTV was actually music videos.  Making fun of celebrities and singers. One time she asked me if David Lee Roth had a potato in his pants and I shot hot chocolate out of my nose.

Omelets are a barometer of the heart for me as well. As I fell in or out of love with men I cooked for, the omelets would reflect it.  I know that still to this day I cook with emotion more than skill. I may know the techniques, but I follow intuition and bend the recipe rules. So when I would start to feel caged or diminished by someone, any dish I made for them would be derailed. The omelet would be too salty, overcooked, flavorless and once ended up on the ceiling hanging there in a drippy, sad metaphor.

But this morning’s omelet was about me and this moment in my life when I choose to nourish myself with my favorite things. Solitary joy.  Creating something with love. Savoring it with gratitude. I’ll be cooking for everyone else later.