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.
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.