"I Will Not Be Afraid of Women" and Other Dar Williams Inspired Poetry: Everyday Magic, Day 886

xrm4tiidlrvud8m074mkTonight, I have the delight of opening for one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Dar Williams, in her performance at the Lawrence Arts Center. To get ready, I wrote a bunch of new poems, all inspired by Dar’s lyrics from songs on her Mortal City album since her current tour is a 20th anniversary celebration of that groundbreaking album (“Iowa,” “The Christians and the Pagans” and lots of other Dar classics are on it).  While I’ve spent the last month writing these poems, the one I’m sharing here — dedicated to my sister-friends — came in a rush while taking a break from revising other poems). If you’re in Lawrence, come on down tonight to the arts center at 8 p.m. and join us! This poem steals lyrics (italicized) from two songs — “As Cool as I Am” and “Iowa.”

I Will Not Be Afraid of Women


Because I learned early and often that when it comes

to all those falls from great and gruesome heights,

there is no one like a sister, and it’s worth driving all night,

ten miles above the limit, and with no seatbelt,

to sit at her table and drink her tea while she agrees

that we’re here to dance out of the lines even if it means

we singe our hair in ways we can’t remember the next morning.

I will not be afraid to go to her, and to her, and her, and her

my whole life: the ones who hold my stories

like Christmas ornaments, careful not to drop the glass ones

or make fun of the ones made by my children’s baby hands so long ago.

I will hold her 3 a.m. phone call, when she says,

“it’s all broken or it’s all better,” and when I call,

she’ll remind me why we’re lucky in this life,

sistering me away from hoarding the horizon, and toward

the new song we’ll write, then sing over and over until we’re sure

it always existed, just like this friendship, and this one, and this one—

each made of of cedar and wind in the long walk at dusk,

lukewarm coffee we drink anyway because it makes us laugh,

or a long nap on her couch in the middle of a December day

when I didn’t know where else to go, so I went to her

with my tattered heart and shining breath, to say, “please,

gather me up,” and she did. I will never be afraid of the mirror

she is or holds up, and the real life beyond that mirror

where we get in her car and drive for the love of motion.

What DOMA Repeal Means Up Close and Personal, and How I Got a Kitten Out of It: Everyday Magic, Day 715

936492_10151731767950907_14429982_n“Courtney and Denise went to Iowa, and all I got was a kitten,” I joked to a friend, riffing off the old, “My parents went to Paris, and all I got was a t-shirt.” But what really matters here is why Courtney and Denise went to Iowa, and what this says about change that seemed decades away just a dozen years ago as well as changes sorely needed right now.

The wedding procession in 2001

On May 6, 2001, I conducted my very first (and so far, last) wedding for my dear friends and our kids’ godparents. Courtney and Denise had been together for years already, and they were ready to wed. “But I’m not official,” I told them when they asked me to do the ceremony. “Like it matters,” Denise answered, and we all laughed. When I think of that moment now, I feel like crying because it should have mattered, and actually, it now does, at least in some states.

1003435_623354997676929_1330304895_nBack in 2001, the notion that gay marriage would be legal anywhere relatively soon was beyond what I thought possible. I thought that maybe in my life time, like when I was in my 90s and pushing a walker, marriage rights and privileges would be extended to my gay, lesbian and trans friends. But when change starts its road trip to justice, pit stops aside, there’s no stopping it. When I told a very elderly relative, who previously opposed gay marriage, about Courtney and Denise getting married in Iowa, she said, “Of course they should be able to do that.” Who knew how fast such opposition would transform itself? An insightful article in Time Magazine, “How Gay Marriage Already Won,” released weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision to throw out DOMA (the mean-spirited and unjust Defense of Marriage Act) illustrates the speed of our current culture shift.

With that Supreme Court decision, however, change crossed state lines just as my dear friends Courtney and Denise, who drove to Iowa, where gay marriage is legal, on Tuesday to get officially hitched. No matter that they have a son (our godson), a family business, a house, a stand at the farmer’s market, and a whole bunch of goats, dogs, and even some new pigs at their ranch. Married as much or even more than any married straight couple I know, they were now getting a marriage certificate so that they can partake of the kind of benefits straight marrieds like Ken and I take for granted (such as health insurance and federal tax benefits).

1045174_628850360460726_1634515464_nThey drove, along with their son and mine, and my son’s girlfriend, to Sidney, Iowa for the courthouse wedding. The official marrying them told them how brave they were and said many other wonderful things while both of them cried. Afterwards, everyone went to lunch (oddly enough at a place called Whips) and headed back over the border to Kansas.

downsized_0709132200But a funny thing happened on the way. At a truck stop near St. Joseph, MO, they happened upon meowing under their car: a hot (it was 102 degrees), thirsty, abandoned kitten. By the time they back to our town, I had a new kitten with the proud name of Sidney Iowa Lassman.

More importantly, Courtney and Denise have a new legitimacy even if it’s quite possible that Kansas may be the 49th state or so to acknowledge gay marriage. This, for them and tens of thousands of others, is far more than about health insurance, survivor benefits or tax breaks. It’s about collectively shedding the cloak of invisibility so that people can live out loud as who they are. It’s about acknowledging that love cannot be put in a box and labeled legitimate or not, and that the mystery, challenge, craziness and strength of committed relationships crosses all manner of boundaries, even state lines.

Eden of Autumn in Iowa: Everyday Magic, Day 413

When I confirmed plans to join a bookclub for a light dinner in Iowa on the way to see Natalie in St. Paul, I wasn’t expecting more than a sandwich, short discussion about The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community and Coming Home to the Body, and a sparse bedroom where Ken and I would bunk down for the night. Instead, we landed in paradise, the Iowa version of Eden in autumn, and no wonder. The home of Karen Weir and Doug Jimerson is a haven of gardens and animal life, bursting with color, blossom, three jumping but sweetly calm Irish Jack Russells, a bevy of border collies, grazing sheep in the field near horses and donkeys, and about a dozen roaming cats, most of the sturdy six-toed variety.

I soon discovered that Doug is the garden editor for Better Homes and Gardens, a magazine I’ve loved forever (who doesn’t love lush photos of gardens and meals without those pesky articles on how to lose weight juxtaposed against triple-fudge brownie recipes?). Karen is a writer and vibrant creative soul who imbues all she touches with color, texture, whimsey and depth. Together, these two are true artists of the home and garden. A gate led to raised beds of overflowing flowers and vegetables towering and expansive with purple string beans, giant red hibiscus, sprawling roses, pale violent crocus and more. Through another gate, and a water garden featured giant goldfish dart around lily pads surrounded by rocks climbing through flowers and other greenery. A weathered table and chairs, close to the backdoor of the house, was surrounded by hanging white and golden tiny lights, so fairy-like that I couldn’t help but linger later that night at the window to watch that space in the dark. A brook runs through the property along a round walk.

The book group met in an old chicken house, reborn into a dining building with soft yellow walls, long antique benches around the table, and soft lighting. There we dined on vegetable soup, fres French bread, cranberry tart, a meat tray, and various spreads, not to mention the oreos passed around as the hours unfolded. A simple discussion turned into questions about the book, how we’re doing, our collective cancer stories, tales of floor refinishing and interspersed readings I did from parts of the memoir and also from some of my poetry.

After hugging everyone multiple times goodbye, Ken and I were delighted to spend time with Karen and Doug, learning that they, like us, loved the film Babe, sharing stories of college and post-college-age kids, weather fiascos and near-misses, and places we loved. The house was as alive and artful as the gardens: a former four-square expanded out both sides, one side of the house mirrored the other, and all of the interior was furnished with antiques: an old pale green armoir from New Mexico that weighed a ton, a dozen multi-color Fiesta ware pitches on top of a cabinet, weathered tables great for putting our feet on, and comfortable deep leather chairs to sink into before we climbed the stairs to a high bed, the wood floors around us gleaming in the cloud light.

“This is my new home, and these are my new parents. Go on to St. Paul, and I’ll see you later,” I said to Ken, especially finding out about the horses, but logic and family ties took hold and led me to the car, saying goodbye to the six-toed cats and the Jimersons, the gardens around us saturated with lush and fading color on this cold overcast morning.

When Iowa is Heaven: Everyday Magic, Day 282

Iowa has a rap for being heaven just like Kansas is forever wed to The Wizard of Oz (as the opposite of Oz). Although I traveled Iowa a little too weary to appreciate its heavenly qualities fully, now that I’ve been home a few days, I’m looking at photos of Iowa and remembering how I spent too much time on I-80, but also how I found some lovely roads leading back west days later. In between managed to get just a little lost, find the tastiest asparagus of my life in a little restaurant (thanks to Laura), and sleep in a pink big-flowered room, on a pullout couch among big and loving cats, and in a boy’s bedroom where James Bond posters interrogated my dreams.

I also saw a lot of boldly rolling hills although no cornfields with dead White Sox players emerging to tell me how much they missed the game. Maybe this was more due to the season, a full month behind Kansas (yet very much ahead of Vermont, where I hear it snowed last week), reminding me of past and future. The skies tumbled, the cold shot right through my coat, and I was lucky to find a decent parking garage in the right place more than once.

Mary Swander is in the dark pink and Walter Bargen is leavning on the sink

The highlight of the trip was doing a reading with the other Poets Laureate of nearby states — Mary Swander of Iowa, Walter Bargen of Missouri and Denise Low of Kansas — in the Kalona General Store in the Amish country where people crowded the aisles to listen attentively. Afterwards, we gathered in the old school where Mary has made a home in the middle of the Amish lands. The sun returned after many days, and we helped ourselves with a table heavy with locally-made, home-grown delicacies, the rolling sky visible through all the windows.

On the way home, I traveled places I had never seen before, letting the rhythm of the drive and the motion of the land bring me home to myself. It may not be heaven, but it’s close, and I’m grateful for the trip.