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Blue Sky

How I Got This Way: Everyday Magic, Day 1088

Updated: Jan 27


Late afternoon in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where I'm writing

Today is my Beatles birthday ("Will you still feed me? Will you still need me when I'm 64?"), and it turns out I have a birthday poem of sorts to share, or to be more accurate, a poem I started a while ago that it seemed timely to go back into to revise and finish. I'm full of gratitude for all of you who have supported and inspired me. Thank you for your presence.


How I Got This Way


Start in the old country: Brooklyn.

Enter a teenage couple with New York accents

heavy as potato knishes, an old Rambler,

an early spring night, and whatever makes

something or someone happen.


Add a brother, a sister, a TV, a bicycle.

Start drawing as soon as you can hold a crayon.

Move from a Williamsburg apartment,

an East Flatbush triplex with a hand-sized

stained-glass window of a sailboat, a pizzeria

on the corner, occasional hurricane remnants

then the long/short drive to the Jersey burbs.


Land in a Levitt house planted in what was

a cornfield, add another brother, then subtract him.

Aim the bike toward the brook, the semblance

of the wild there along not-yet-colonized fields

and the all-too-colonized mall. Add another sister.


Still walk lower Manhattan like your backyard.

Hide in your actual backyard. Go to summer camp

and carry candles up the hill with the others on Shabbat.

Throw pots, draw snakes wound around themselves,

paint with acrylics, stain your fingers with pastels.


Come home to more fights, louder volumes, breaking

everything apart with a divorce but hold onto the house

with its overgrown backyard, perfect for hiding

to draw pictures and read stories of lost girls.

When everyone but the father leaves, try to be

a good daughter wife. Fail completely.

Wonder to what to do with all your bruises.


Join the synagogue youth group. Meet Phil, the advisor,

who says you’re not crazy. Find the school thespians.

Find drawing is not enough anymore. Start a poem

about loneliness, then another. Keep going

until the notebook is full. Get another notebook.

Fall in love with T.S. Eliot and e.e cummings.


Work at Englishtown, the biggest flea market in the world.

Sell double-knit polyester pants to large, grateful women.

Write about them. Write about the smell of subway heat

from the grates on city sidewalks. Imagine being loved.

Turn the bruises you can’t tell anyone about into poems.

Take baths. Stay up later with Cousin Brucie’s Top 40.

Fall hard for Joni Mitchell. Love Bruce too.


Keep writing when the new family moves in.

Laugh at the bagels hanging from the Christmas tree.

Go to midnight mass with them. Learn to polka

with a 6’8” man who also works at Englishtown.

Bring a poem each day to your English teacher

who believes in you. Listen to the ones who say

to go far away as soon as you can. Alienate

the stepfamily. Think it’s your fault for years.


Go to a community college. Join the radio station.

Read news, write copy, get a first boyfriend.

Eat in fancy Italian restaurants down the shore.

Miss your mother. Fail math. Excel at poetry

and Russian history. Decide to leave for a cold,

faraway place, which turns out to be Missouri.

Get on the plane with your friend also leaving her family.


Try to land in a blizzard. Fail and head to another city.

Get on a bus at 2 a.m. to Columbia, Missouri. Arrive

with seven pieces of old luggage and two feet of snow.

Figure out how not to be so on guard all the time.

Learn to talk slower and not reveal everything at once

except in poetry. Fail journalism school. Become

a journalist anyway for labor unions in Kansas City.

Live without any furniture because you have none.

Get fired. Get another job. Write poems on the bus,

at work you’re supposed to filling out reports,

and in the statehouse between lobbying legislators

on energy conservation. Sufi dance. Sleep with

all the wrong men. Live with a big hippie family.

Learn to make carob brownies and grow peas.


Go further west. Get lost. Stop in Lawrence, Kansas

to dance in a park. Eat enchiladas. Climb porch steps

to a bungalow in the dark. Hear a voice saying this

is where you’ll live the rest of your life.


The next day, fall in love with a bunch of people,

including the one you’ll marry. Move here, scared

and poem-writing in bathrooms at parties, on roofs

before thunder storms, in bed while he’s sleeping.

Try too many jobs that drain you of your writing.

Quit them or get fired. Go to graduate school. Read

and teach. Write about myths, blue herons, sex,

losing everything and being lost. Write about love.

Marry on top of a hill with everyone you know.

Dance Dodi Li in an old barn. Eat a lot of cake.

Give birth, then again, and once more.


Get cancer. Fall in love more with people

and animals. Do chemo, surgeries, fear storms.

Eat casseroles and soups others make for you.

Fall asleep at odd times with the cat.

Lose body parts and people over the years.

Write the body back together. Write the grief

into a reflecting pond and watch what it shows you.


Read time’s pages, the bark of ponderosa pines,

the murmurations of starlings, the chill of late night

prayers and pacing on the back deck. Love the land

where you live so much that it loves you back.

Write it all down, whatever comes: another cancer,

two favorites aunts dying in a season, the kids grown

and packing cars for other places or returning here,

the friends walking broken sidewalks or wetlands

with you in surprising wind and red-winged blackbirds,

the love, the love, the love that endures with all

its homecomings and homestaying. Remember

yourself back together in words that catch

the glint of rooftops in late light or voices

catching on the tender, hard-won presence of life.


Keep walking the road of the poem.


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2 Comments


Nancy Hubble
Nancy Hubble
Dec 04, 2023

What Erin said! Sending you much love on you special day and all your new 64th year long!

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Erin McGrane
Erin McGrane
Dec 04, 2023

Happy day, dear spirit! You are so precious, Caryn and we are so lucky to have your bright heart with us. loverin

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