Author: <span class="vcard">Gudrun</span>

I remember a mountain hike with my daughter. Before we reached that remarkable Santa Barbara County ocean view from over 3,000 feet, we saw the remains of cattle on a summer dry meadow. There was not much left but shrunken hides and separated bones. We stopped. We did not speak. The sight relieved us of words.

Many years later, I am still haunted by that scattered sight of death. I do not know why this vision has emerged now. I don’t remember having written about this particular experience before. There has been a silence around the subject of death that has imprinted itself over the years—a silence that appears to ask me to look more deeply.asianclouds

Once, a fellow middle school student questioned me, “Have you ever seen death?” I answered incorrectly, “No.” It took a long time for me to acknowledge out loud the truth of my early life. Even now, it often seems easier to address my early exposure to death through my writing.

My last public reading, before the Wife of the House book release, was at the behest of my friend, Perie Longo, who was Santa Barbara’s poet laureate at the time. At that reading, I shared a poem that addressed some painful recollections:

 

The Quality of Light

Exploding bombs saved my grandfather
from the Auschwitz train; the town hid him,
and we who had been marked to follow the fate
of rejected religion fell like blessings in the snow—
my first memory, cold at my back
and the sharp glint of a bayonet.

Inside one of those other camps
filled with ghosts of humanity
and alcoholic Russian guards
who came to hate their lives
as much as they hated us,

my second memory was light—
outside the screams, shots and beatings
and that stench of death and dying–
sun through a damaged roof
spread inside me like a healing balm.

The “Quality of Light,” speaks of a subject that is explored in my forthcoming poetry collection called Frozen Souls. Such poems depict an intense and difficult history in order to invoke transformation, which seems to me to be a natural part of the process of birth, death and dying.

Wife of the House, on the other hand, is a collection about the process of learning how to connect the details of one’s every day life to a sense of presence and mindfulness in order to experience an expansion of consciousness. “Truth is One; Paths are Many,” was one of my guru’s favorite mottos, which brought home to me the value of tolerance gained through the exposure to different life experiences, cultures, belief systems, etc., a tolerance that can ultimately help us to be more whole as human beings.

Gudrun

A Poem Forthcoming Work

I apologize, the comments option has been turned off. My daughter has just updated the last two posts so comments can be posted. Thank you.

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When it was suggested I address the alcoholism issue that is so much a part of the foundational background of Wife of the House, I was reluctant.

In the poem, “Dream,” I created an imaginary camel ride in order to release anger about the disease of alcoholism in my family:

…grinning he humps towards a steep bank
for a drink at the bar

I pull in reins urging
don’t leave the caravan…

It was a long time before I achieved the detachment it took for me to write the poem near the end of the book, “Song to End Estrangement.”

How private pain is
may it heal and and soften
the rough grain
of our lives…

…may I be freed from that aching need…
healed from that heartbreaking pause
before I depart.

When my ex-husband was on his death bed due to alcohol induced neurological failure and before he could no longer speak, I came to the hospital to visit him. He grabbed my hand and said, “I have always loved you.” Years of pain eased in this one encounter; still, it doesn’t mean I have forgotten the terrible damage the disease of alcoholism has caused the entire family.

My personal journey consists of releasing guilt, shame and regret to a power higher than myself. From the intention to surrender and to accept the things I cannot change, comes relief and the space to practice gratitude. Gratitude was not always easily available to me, but now that it is, I much appreciate its tremendous healing power.

During the time I was writing the poems in Wife of the House, I remember a water heater accident when my hair caught on fire. By the time I arrived at a twelve-step meeting later that week, I had accumulated a long list of complaints about how much misery I was experiencing. It was gently suggested that I might try to practice gratitude. My mind did not respond well. Gratitude? Gratitude? How can I be grateful for the terrible things going on?

It took years of persistent effort to realize how my judgments and opinions about my problems were the problem. For me, to be mindful, to be a yogini meant changing what I needed to change with wisdom and also finding a way to be with what I am not able to change, rather than losing myself to reactivity.

Gudrun

Personal Updates The Process of Writing

lavender

It’s chilly today and very windy. The native sage bushes fling up. The English garden building comes alive with moving shadows on the siding. Lavender blooms burst forth purple from every stem.

Spring swings with constant movement, yet I am content to sit. I am happy to sit inside the house, and the house sits inside me. I am the house. The house is me. Walls feel porous. Ceiling are higher than they appear, and the floor tingles under my feet.

I am happy to swim this conscious stream. My father’s paintings do not make me cynical. The drumming angel from my daughter’s Mexican travels stands quietly overhead surrounded by the oldest living indoor plant I have ever had. This is the place to be. Here. Now. Strongly. Tenderly…so that a painful subject may arise and be healed.

I am reminded of the professor who said to me, “You are an immigrant. English is not your first language.” He looked at me skeptically. “You are an English Literature major? You want to be a writer?” He shook his head. He said worse, but my mind had already shut down. I considered changing my major to philosophy. In the end, I did not.

I finished my BA and MA; afterwards, I spent many evenings in the university library reading the tragic lives of numerous writers who rarely published during their lifetimes, or were sadly handicapped, or undervalued in some way. I worked as a substitute teacher during the day; eventually, I found a college teaching job.

I am partly retired now and can afford the time to contemplate the odd twists of life. Where does stubborn persistence end and creative inspiration begin? How is it that in a state between two languages I often find something strange and new and interesting?

I look outside, and the hills, the pine, the oak, the grasses and the sandstone do not name themselves in any recognizable language. They present themselves just as they are, unadorned, free, unencumbered by anyone’s judgment.
Gudrun

 

Personal Updates


After my first public reading from Wife of the House, someone said, “I felt so present during the reading. I went into an altered state.” That’s what it’s all about, I thought, remembering from my literary studies how poems are best when they “poke holes in consciousness.”momblog

Before I read the poem, “Dream,” I said that it was about the nature of what I had heard the Buddhist meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, call “the wanting mind.” The poem begins:

I wanted to ride the elephant
but got the camel instead…

The audience laughed, because we recognized how the wanting mind can place us in hilarious predicaments if we let it.

I also read, “Paradise Canyon” which begins:

Wind for weeks you’ve had your way
with air you won’t bed down
and be satisfied…

We also know that aversion such as the hatred of wind can function as a friction to bring us higher lessons. It felt meaningful to share those moments (when poems poked holes in my consciousness) with a larger audience at the book release reading. It is healing when we honor our common humanity with laughter and also with tears:

…he switches on the light
he returns to the center
of loneliness
holding the dark
at four corners.

from “At My Window”

After the reading, I woke up at 1:00 am. It was my birthday. I woke up to a poem. I was tired and yearned to go back to sleep, but I could not for 3 hours because the poem seemed to need to make sure it made a strong enough imprint so I would not forget. So, eventually, I went into a quiet, deep relaxation practice that my students do at the end of yoga classes, and the poem remembered itself with ease.

Birth-Day After the Age of Reason


I think I may be
falling apart.
Is that a problem?

The mind goes quiet,
the body still.

Hurrah!
I am the stars,
and the stars are me.

 

Gudrun

The Process of Writing

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Reading the Wife of the House Proof


I meet myself some 30 years ago,
so many sharp edges
and plain language
familiar as a blank page
about to tell what has been hidden.

I don't know whether to be
astonished or ashamed
of who I imagined I had been.

The ash tree rains leaves
ten days to the end
of yet another month waiting
for the slightest shower....
I jubilate when a damp, night fog
feeds gratitude

after the sudden death
of delusion,
and as deer pluck the garden
back to the heart of green,
I am glad to help.



Gudrun


 

A Poem

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