Old Woman in the Retirement Building Across the Street

April, 2022

Her bedroom curtains are always open and I can see when the light beside her bed is off

or on.

5:00a.m. Her pillow askew. The sheets thrown back. The slippers gone: I know that both of us are once again awake before dawn.

Then I get sick.

I’m sleeping around the clock. Until one night, I get up a lot to have a pee or take a pill.

I see her light is still on, her white head asleep on her pillow, curled on her side towards the window.

And I still don’t stop to wonder about her because I’m so sick.

Maybe the day after or the one after that. I finally stop and see she’s gone. Along with everything in her room.

The windows are open.

The light of the sun sweeps across the bare floor.

Until someone comes, and her curtains for the first time, are drawn.

Every moment is revolutionary.

Yesterday, after a whole year, the shadow of my potted plants was cast upon the wall.

I thought I was going through stuff, and here an entire planet was tilting towards the sun.

“Wight Christmas” an Anthology of Christmas Horror

The “Wight Christmas, Holiday Horror and Seasonal Subversion” is available from Amazon and my story “The Selfless Gift” is included.

My story grew out of a writing exercise where the words “velvet silence” were a prompt.

I have spent part of my life traveling through places covered with snow returning to family homes for the winter holidays, in various states of mind, through different eras and phases of my life.

The thing I like most about snow is what it does to sound, so, the words “velvet silence” could only mean for me a snowy night. From there I saw a lonely road driving away from one difficulty towards an uncertain tomorrow.

Christmas, for many, can be the most difficult time of the year. Birthdays can be ignored but Christmas punches a hole in the calendar and threads wishes, family, love, longing and regret together through the years until it can almost seem an entity in itself. I tried to capture those traditional pains and joys in a short story.

Was there ever a better story than a Christmas ghost story?

Woman Poem

Woman Poem
by Rio Murphy

When she was my child 
I paused at the perfect curl of her earlobe.
She was a comma in my diatribe
about laundry and bills,
my aching back,
the sticky handprints everywhere,
the runny noses and endless nights of fitful sleep:
The Joy of Her.
#
When she was myself,
if I looked away
and back again
just in 
time, 
She was a blinking cursor.
#
When she was my old mother
with her tissue paper skin
and brittle bones on which it hung,
one black pupil 
narrowing within
the colourless iris of
her one sighted eye
—the spoon suspended halfway to her lips Like a question mark—
she was the poem
I could not write.
#
A woman poem is a ribbon in a river flashing underwater, 
It catches on an ankle,
Then slips away over black river stones, unknown.

LOVE AFTER LOVE
by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

This reading is part of On Being’s altogether wonderful poetry archive.

Today I Will Make Bread.

I won’t worry about my grown children,
or think about why I ache when I think of them.

Today I bake. 
Inhale the frothy smell of yeast rising like magic.
Throw the dough on to the board, flour filling the air with clouds.
Wipe my hands on my apron then
put my shoulder into it,
Kneading. Kneading. Kneading. 

My mother would kiss the dough and tell me as she formed it into buns, “Like babies’ bums”.
When I close my eyes I’m in her kitchen.

The smell of baking filling the house.

And then the timer chimes and I wait like a child,
impatient for the bread to cool:
My own mother now,
my own child.

The Moon

I find writing excruciatingly difficult but it feels so good when I stop. And just having someone take the time to read something I’ve written thoughtfully is huge for me.

The idea of making enough money to live on from my writing is like comparing me, stumbling along with my bundle buggy to the grocery store, to an astronaut in a rocket shooting for the moon.

HOWEVER, I don’t think there is an astronaut who doesn’t see the same moon as I see when I am happy to sit by my window and stare at it.

It’s Going to be Uncomfortable Not Impossible.

And is that going to be what decides how we respond to the challenges we face? I worry that we are getting tired and want comfort above all.

I’m tired.  But I am also clear eyed. Some where recently I read, when we are uncertain of the future, take smaller steps. The truth is we are always uncertain of the future. If someone tells you they know what it holds be clear enough to see their self-delusion before you make it your own.

I take smaller steps because I am older, my knees are bad and I am not as fast as I was in catching myself from a fall, but I am clear eyed and I am accustomed to what is uncomfortable. I also have a history of what seemed impossible becoming possible.

I have an idea of what the world can be because I have known love, I have witnessed courage.  So my small steps remain on a path towards a world we can live in because it’s possible.

I am ashamed. But not paralyzed.

I owe a lot to many black people. In the last century, the one I grew up in, some of the greatest writers, activists and leaders, political, artistic and religious, came up against the odds and made us better as a species. Made me a better person.

It hurts to learn how black people have suffered and continue to suffer in ways I can barely comprehend.

Sure I had my troubles, I had to learn to swim hard but it wasn’t always against the current day after day. And I was so ignorant that at times I thought myself better, stronger and braver than I really was. I really was not aware how my white skin was the current carrying me.

So it hurts and some of that hurt is shame.

And that’s okay. Being ashamed of privilege is point of attention. As humans we should always be thankful for these reminders to pay attention.

It’s how we learn to live in a world worth living in.

Awareness is always an opportunity. When you see this you can see that it is continually arising As Your Life.

And all fabrications will wear out.
There is no separation between self and other that is not a fabrication. All separation is a lie, a covering, an obscuring of the essential truth.

So what are we humans to do?

Don’t hide in a comfy nest of made up stories of us and them. Answer all suffering with compassion and continue to practice. Do what ever you can when you see an opportunity to end suffering.

Easy huh?

This is the Last Day of April is Poetry Month!

I sat “virtually” with the sangha last night. It’s becoming a regular Wednesday night   thing with the Oak tree in the Garden.

A “sangha” is a gathering of Zen practitioners.

I am finding myself slipping in to some very dark places, and not the actual ones that  I should, like the one under the stairs that could use some cleaning and reorganizing. Instead I am slipping into a place where I get lost in thoughts that propagate really paralyzing inertia and despair.

It is good to commit to practicing with others. I doesn’t matter the context. The important thing is to just sit practicing Zazen.  Which is the context of ‘NO CONTEXT’, (forget about getting your intellect around that!)

I’ve done a lot of sitting lately, lounging actually.

But sitting Zazen we gradually gain (or regain, again and again) the ability to see thoughts arise and dissipate.  We learn how to return to this breath and this moment.

And you can also clean out the space under the stairs this way, although, dust bunnies, spiders…that homemade mask is going to come in handy.

Here is one last poem for the month, rewritten.

Sadness Haiku

Awakening
the jeweled dew glistens
in the morning light.dew-on-grass-janet-rockburn