Category Archives: Poetry

To All Women on Mother’s Day

To All Women on Mother’s Day

To the infertile woman.

To the daughter whose mother has died.

To the mother who has miscarried again.

To the mother whose baby has died.

To the women who hate pink flowers and pink ribbons.

To the mother whose children cannot afford to buy candy and flowers.

To the daughter whose mother isn’t loving, understanding, kind.

To the children who have no mothers.

To the only childless sister.

To the woman who isn’t sure she wants children.

To the woman who is getting older and doesn’t know if she has time to have children.

To the teachers, nurses, caretakers, aunts, and all women who mother throughout the year.

To the children who desperately need mothers.

To the homeless, destitute, addicted, incarcerated mothers. To their children.

To the woman who does not get a flower at church or at work or at home, because they think that she is not a mother.

To the mothers of paintings and sculptures and poems and essays and collages and all art.

To all women, let us unite this day, because motherhood should not divide us.

 

 

Living in the Layers

 

 

 

Once I was  married to a man who was having a psychotic breakdown, and in my distress I opened Stanley Kunitz’s poetry book, as some people open holy texts, to the poem “The Layers.”  I was on the floor of my small apartment feeling such heaviness and despair and fear, that I did not know how I would live another minute, let alone another day. This poem saved my life.

 

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

I heard Kunitz read this poem at the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival when he was in his nineties. Many people gathered under a tent one autumn in New Jersey, and when Kunitz read the line “I  am not done with my changes,” many of us cried. If he was not done, then those who are younger  have much work to do. This April, which is National Poetry Month, I want to share “The Layers” with you.

April has been filled with troubling news on the national and international fronts, while many of us celebrated our spring holy days of Pascha (Easter), Passover and Ridván. Our world is precarious and sometimes appears to be teetering on the brink of darkness. During Holy Week, the week before Pascha, I began attending church at a local Orthodox mission parish. It has been years since I attended so many services because I have not lived close to a church for decades. In the dark, gathering with people who read and sang hymns by the flickering candlelight, I remembered my ancestors. For 400 years my people were enslaved to the Turks. Somehow they kept their religion for future generations by practicing their faith in caves at night. Those were dark torturous times, but somehow my people survived.

For those of us who have lost close friends and family members, especially children, we know darkness. The dark night of the soul lasts much longer than one night. But Kunitz’s poem tells us that we can live despite the litter, by embracing the layers and multidimensionality of life. We can face our challenges and walk through them breathing in light and hope, even when those around us cannot see it.

As April comes to an end, we are expecting snow in Colorado. Earlier this month the snow fell on trees that had already blossomed. Snow and flowers and cold in spring. In our feast of losses I am grateful that we can continue on as we process the many layers of our sacred lives. Thank you for being part of my tribe.

 

Grief Diaries Poetry & Prose

Following is my introduction to Grief Diaries: Poetry & Prose and More reprinted with permission of Lynda Cheldelin Fell and AlyBlue Media. As we close one year and open the next, our poems and words can be a great source of comfort. Wishing you blessings this 2017.

Stories and poems began with the first humans. Before there was a written language, we painted on the walls of caves and told stories around fires under the night sky. Some of this artwork survives to this day. We still read the earliest Sumerian hymns to Inanna written circa 2300 B.C.E.  We sing ancient hymns in our temples. We pray the same words people have been praying for centuries, because words can transcend a lifetime.

The contributors of this book find hope in writing. After facing tragic losses they turned to the blank page to process trauma, remember loved ones and offer their words to comfort others. Writing memorializes our ancestors. Words help others going through similar challenges. Poems become a healing balm for our own souls as we remember the ones whom we can never forget. As time passes, our words change. We never “get over” our grief, yet we transform our grief into the art of poetry and prose. We create a story about the lives of our daughters and fathers, even as we tell stories about our moments together, about death, about who we now are. We speak stories of our own illnesses, and the illnesses of those around us, and these stories become a light we offer to others. These stories say We survive. You can too.

When I was married to a mentally ill man who had a psychotic breakdown, I studied poetry therapy and bibliotherapy with Dr. Sherry Reiter in New York City. I drove Downtown from Connecticut one Sunday each month and listened to this inspiring mentor teach us about archetypes, therapeutic devices, symbols, metaphors, poetry, stories, but mostly about life and how to cope with its constant changes. Her own husband had suffered a stroke at a young age. When she looked into my eyes and told me that I could survive my husband’s unemployment and illness, she spoke from her own experience.

Twelve people gathered in a circle at Dr. Reiter’s Creative “Righting” Center. Throughout the training I volunteered to bring this therapeutic work to people in nursing homes, underserved communities and HIV positive women in a public health clinic. When participants told me that they could not write poetry, I promised them a poem at the end of our time together. I especially loved watching senior citizens write their first poems. One woman in a nursing home was blind. She told me that she would like to write, but couldn’t see. I invited her to stay, and when I gave the class their writing prompt from the poem that we had read, I wrote her words down for her. She clutched her paper afterwards. “I can’t wait to show my daughter my poem,” she said.

The beauty of writing is that it offers us an opportunity to transmute our pain into something beautiful. There is a turn in every good poem that surprises the writer first. We are taken somewhere unexpected. Writing therapeutically gives us a cognitive, spiritual and emotional modality to turn our grief and pain and suffering into something else. We release some of our pain through catharsis. Our writing which is often accompanied by weeping, allows us to change and grow and heal. And as that sweet woman in the nursing home, we too can show our work to others, if we so choose.

When I was 21 weeks pregnant and found out that my unborn daughter would most likely die soon after birth, if she was born alive, I wrote. I wrote in my journal to process my deep emotional journey. I wrote to save my life. I wrote to be the best mother I could be for Mary Rose. After 9/11 Americans shared poetry and stories. We wrote. We dug out a poem by Auden that resonated with that time period in American history. We write and we read poetry and stories, especially at tragic crossroads, because it is a part of the human condition. We are born with poems in our souls. If we allow ourselves the space to release these words, they often become prayers.

In poetry therapy, as in homeopathy, like cures like. For a grieving client we offer a poem on grief. After reading and discussing the poem, the facilitator will take a line or image from the poem and have the client write her own poem from there. Whether we write a journal entry, a story or poem, words heal. This book offers the stories and poems of its writers to you, Reader, as medicine. I would like to invite each of you to join us in this healing journey. Choose a line from a poem or an essay or blog post and write your own work. Honor your ancestors. Honor your own journey through illness and grief. You can do it. We did. You can too.

To purchase Grief Diaries: Poetry, Prose & More CLICK HERE

#IHadAMiscarriage

miscarriage cardMy friend writes to me and tells me that someone she loves is miscarrying right now. As she writes to ask me to pray she tells me that the mother is twelve weeks along with her first pregnancy. I have never met this new mother who will not hold her baby, but I send her Sindy’s card “Healing Companion.” What do we say or do when someone miscarries? Our American culture tells us to do nothing. Say nothing. We do not send sympathy cards. We do not bring soup. We tell the woman who is bleeding You can have another or You already have one child or It’s for the best.

What I want this new grieving mother to know is that it is okay to cry. It is okay to stay in bed and weep and bleed and know that your child’s physical form is gone with every cell of your body. It aches. It changes everything. Please know that your baby has a soul that is perfect and intact regardless of the miscarriage. You are your child’s mother still. And when you are ready to get out of bed and look at the sky again, and think about another pregnancy or wait, that will be okay too. You will not betray your miscarried baby by  moving forward with your life.

I want to encourage each reader to open her heart to the bereaved mothers and families dealing with miscarriage and infant loss. No one stays in the initial intensity of grief forever, but while the loss is fresh I hope that we can offer support and bear some of the grief together. Elizabeth McCracken reminds us grief lasts longer than most expressions of sympathy. As the bereaved family gets to milestones and anniversaries, it is so helpful if someone remembers. There is the baby’s due date, the six-month milestone, the one-year milestone. I am thinking particularly of our parishes where there seem to be so many pregnant women and newborn babies. Is there a space to hold the sad mother whose arms are empty? Can we embrace both the pregnant families and those who bear much loss? I hope that there is room to show compassion and love to both. No one has to say anything profound. Following are a few suggestions:

1. I don’t know what to say but I am here for you.
2. Can I stop by and bring some supper?
3. May I share a cup of tea with you?
4. I’m emailing a poem that got me through a tough time.
5. Just checking in. I’m thinking about you.

When a woman miscarries she finds out that there is a vast sisterhood of others who have had a pregnancy loss or whose sister or mother or friend also miscarried. These babies are gone at five weeks, as my two were, or at eight weeks, 12 weeks, 16 weeks. Once a woman reaches the 20th week of pregnancy instead of miscarriage, we use the word stilbirth. Language doesn’t change the reality that we were pregnant and then we weren’t without the baby we had longed and hoped for. The sad thing about the sisterhood is that it is mostly silent. We don’t have a network of support readily available to us. Women don’t usually talk about their miscarriages. We hide them and cry silently and privately. Please create a space where we can be whole and acknowledge our birth stories and pregnancies and children regardless of the outcomes together. No woman needs to be alone as she faces her grief after a miscarriage or infant death.

I recently met with the poet Nicholas Samaras and he reminded me of his poem to his miscarried babies. These words comfort me so I send them out to you, Dear Reader. May the memory of our miscarried babies and our babies gone too soon be eternal!

I Think of My Children in Heaven (49th Psalm)
by Nicholas Samaras

Gone before we had a chance to give them names.
Gone before we could glimpse the grace of their faces—
like smoke and the lingering fragrance of smoke.
I sit in spring light and think of my children in Heaven.

How is it possible to give color to this absence?
How I pray for their lives, miscarried and missed.
My only comfort is faith their souls are full in conception.
How I feel their fledgling presence for the rest of my life.

Father of souls, I swallow hard to commemorate
each still day that is not a birthday.
Through each hour, I am a father who raises
my remaining children in this life we have left.

Nightly, the meager stars grow scant and fragile.
The stars still tremble in their glimmering light.
I hold my son’s hand that is so slender and trusting.
Tucking his tiny body into gentle sleep,

I check on his breathing throughout the dim hours.
Each breath in is my relief. Each breath out is my hope.
I imagine my children’s brothers and sisters equally
growing in Heaven, and pray they watch over us.

Gone and remaining, I hold their nameless names
deep within the hole in my heart.
A song for the reunion of our pulses in rhythm.
A psalm for our lives touches and lives imparted.

 

Photo from Dr. Jessica Zucker’s store at drjessicazucker.com. Dr. Zucker created a line of cards specific to miscarriage and infant loss.

Sources
Samaras, Nicholas. American Psalm, World Psalm. Ashland, OH: The Ashland Poetry Press, 2014. Print.

she is transformed

angel light 2

she is transformed

for mary rose, august 2014

 

i walk to my daughter’s grave

the day after her birth

(she isn’t suffering)

 

my milk     her milk     isn’t leaking yet

     it will demand the newborn’s open mouth

 

my breasts will ask where is my baby?

again and again

 

i pick up a grey feather from the grass

 

her soul soared out of her broken body

 

heal me now

my angel, mother me

The Blessingway: A Poem

blessingway hair

The Blessingway

After the blessingway
roses fall from my hair
white and pink – in each room of the house.

We dreamt of this as girls:
flowers braided into our hair.

The artist paints with henna
on my swollen belly:
roses and dragonfly
my skin loose this second time.

My daughter is dying inside me
her heartbeat strong inside me
where she is safe until labor

my womb the sacred space
between worlds: dark and light
contracting for 21 days.

All that, to hold her for a moment,
her broken heart and defects
body limp in my embrace, her blue eyes

and me in this pool as it fills with blood.
I hold her to me and whisper We love you
We love you, We’ll always love you.

Go, I say, do your work, Sweet Baby.
The placenta is birthed and she slips away
so quietly I can’t know the exact moment.

I carry her body wrapped in a blanket with pink roses
for hours, hungry and exhausted, I don’t leave her
until that moment, the coffin on my bed.

Mother and I dress her in her christening gown
and lay her down, arms stiffening
body cooling…

The Master asks What now, Strong Woman?
Then answers Your milk will come in. You will awaken
for weeks listening for cries never made.

And the child? I reply The daughter?
The one I longed for for decades?
She does not desire one drop of your milk.

With the angels I still weep and cry
Holy, Holy…

 

Photo Credit: Sindy Strosahl

 

My Daughter, My Angel

IMG_9851My angel grew inside me until my womb swelled and my body opened. Then she surrounded me with wings and love. My daughter, Mary Rose, lived one sacred hour. I held her in my arms and had to let her go.

Why am I still here a month later when my body is heavy with grief and milk? How do I answer the question “How many children do you have?” Dead babies and miscarriages are taboo in our society where positive thinking cures all. But this angel…

Her energy is with me. I carry my daughter in my heart.

Mary Rose’s portrait was painted months ago. In the painting I hold my pregnant belly and the angel holds me from behind. Her wings are my sanctuary. Prints of Healing Companion comfort mothers with infant losses.  Now I write to heal myself and others. We women need each other to survive and bless this planet-in-transition. We are standing on stepping stones to higher consciousness. My heart is shattered and open. I will not hide my third-eye sight and intuition any more.

Mary Rose, bless us. Thank you for sending roses and feathers as you illuminate our path.

Dianna Vagianos Armentrout

published in 365 Days of Angel Prayers edited by Elizabeth Harper and Cathleen O’Connor
© 2014