As I grow older, I want to make myself a better person
I want to put down my ego — my self ego and my human ego — and see the world with wide wonder and compassion
I want to stop taking sides, stop needing a defense or a logo or a standard, let go of my attachments, my fear, my uncertainty, wear my age loosely
I want to open my heart, let love in in big, scary ways so I am full up
so instead of dying maybe I just burst like the jewelweed flowers that explode with seeds along the trail
seeds of love and curiosity seeds of magic and dreams
seeds left to flower in the oneness when I am gone
This is a response poem because yes, some products are made in China, but so are Pandas and Snow Leopards, so grow up. Photo by Terry W. Johnson, Georgia Wildlife Resources Division. Poem @2023, Jen Payne. If you like this poem, you can read similar in my books and zines, available from Three Chairs Publishing on my ETSY SHOP. They come autographed, with gratitude and a small gif
She seemed lost or tired (or both, like me) the carpenter bee sitting in my driveway hot in the midday sun, and while she wasn’t too keen on being seen, or moved, for that matter, I shuttled her onto a notecard — Post Office, Library, Lettuce — and sat her down safely on the cool peaty mulch in the shade of shrubs in full purple bloom, left a small puddle of water in case she was thirsty, then said a little prayer so small and so large in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, Amen.
It’s been five years since my dear, sweet friend Mary Anne Siok died. I haven’t re-posted this — her eulogy — for a few years, so I thought this would be a good time. And a good reminder. I don’t say YES nearly enough, but I say it much more often because of her.
Mary Anne and I met in a freshman English class at UMass in 1984. We were just joking a few weeks ago about how it’s been 30 years since we graduated. I said “How the hell did that happen?” and she said “Because we’re old.”
But the MA I knew – the one we all knew – was never old. Very often her texts would go on and on about what she was doing and where. (Even her cousin Katherine couldn’t keep up!) The weekend before she died? On Friday, after a full day of work and a train commute home to Rhode Island, she went out for sushi with Billy. On Saturday, she and I spent an entire day walking around the mall, shopping, talking, toasting her birthday with bloody marys. On Sunday, she was with friends at Foxwoods to see the Hollywood Vampires, and then on Monday she celebrated a gorgeous spring day with a drive along the coast and lobster rolls.
THAT, in a big long-weekend nutshell was our Mary Anne.
MA was my best friend, my secret keeper, my sister, my person…and the most fabulous yin to my yang.
Me ever so cautious and worried, the introvert full of specific plans to her come what may, live life to its fullest, hell yeah we’re doing that extrovert with an absolute love of life.
She was inspiring.
So much so that in recent years, I’ve taken to asking myself WWMAD? As in: What Would Mary Anne Do?
What would Mary Anne do? Mary Anne would say Yes.
YES to the next concert, the Red Sox or Patriots game, the fireworks, the dive bar, the music festival, the movie night, the road trip, the matching tattoos, and one more Hallmark Christmas movie.
YES to the beach. Always.
YES to anything in black, the sales rack, the sparkly earrings, the extra glass of wine. And YES to Dunkin Donuts. Of course.
YES to dancing … anywhere, drinks at the Hard Rock Cafe, going to the symphony, enjoying a home cooked meal, taking a spinning class … or yoga, cheering on her boyfriend’s band.
YES to shopping at the outlets, seeing an art exhibit, wandering a museum, getting tickets to a play, or a long full day at the Big E.
Jump off a 3-foot ledge into the ocean while a crowd cheers? Yes. Help you check off something on your bucket list? Yes.
YES to coming to your BBQ, your daughter’s dance recital, your campaign event, your nephew’s first birthday, your sons’ soccer game, your girls’ weekend, your wedding, your holiday dinner. Probably all on the same day … usually with a gift … always with that big, sweet, joyful smile.
A smile that said YES, I’ll move in with you. YES I’ll meet you at the winery. YES I’ll be at the party. YES let’s go shopping.
YES, we have to do this again soon.
Not everyone can do that — be so wide open to life and love and friends and experiences. No holds barred. Fearless. Hell yeah, we’re doing that!
And so, in honor of the blessing that was our wonderful, bold and brazen, brave and beautiful Mary Anne Siok, I challenge you — all of you — to say YES a lot more often.
And I thought we could practice right now…ready?
In memory of Mary Anne Siok, May 31, 2018. Click here to read her full obituary.
Taking center stage in the felt and fiber exhibit was a shrouded human-size figure, death wrapped in yellow — the color of butter and bees — but called Chrysalis to imply resilience
resilience in the face of everything
OMG, the everything we face sometimes feels like death — its foul smell invading even the simple pleasures
it’s hard to ignore the crises in woods that are dying it’s hard to ignore the crises in the violence of a Sunday drive it’s hard to ignore the crises when even my favorite characters are battling hate and headlines
every thing of the injustice
I long for the days when my favorite characters could just fall off ferry boats and have sex in on-call rooms.
When their soundtrack was mine on a Sunday drive that didn’t require white knuckles and a prayer.
When the woods were lush and fertile, the promise of the butterfly born from the Chrysalis, color and light and HOPE.
It makes you want to lie down, wrap covers around your tired body, and sleep a deep and dreamless sleep,
because these days even the dreams are pockmarked and ravaged
and you wake gasping for breath, the bile of it all burning your throat,
a burn that nothing will assuage…except the last Jiffy corn muffin dripping with butter and drizzled with honey,
a final gift from the bees, who swoop and swarm en masse, before leaving for good.
Preparing herself for the inevitable, the sandpiper — usually found along the coast makes her home now by a small pond in the woods three miles from shore. It’s quiet here, most days, except when the wind carries clamor from the south, and she’s been welcomed graciously by the turtles and frogs, the heron and wood ducks. They’ve come here, too, this protected space with ample shade and shallows to share with anyone who needs asylum from the rising conflict. You might say we are refugees, displaced from the familiar by forces not of our making finding exile here, making life despite the storm, saying grace for the bounty
The moon all but a ghost this morning faces the sun with eyes tilted and welcomes the day. From the trail below I watch them greet each other in the sky and at once I am celestial, nothing but atoms and poetry in a cosmic breeze, whirling in space, witness to miracles.
This morning at 4, a tiny gray mouse looked up at me, somewhat frightened, and said “I-I-I think I took a wrong turn. I-I-I was supposed to go left but I went right and wha-wha-what is that orange creature scowling at me through the window?” “Shhhhh. It’s OK,” I whispered. “Please don’t be scared. Just turn around slowly and go back the way you came. That’s always best when you get a bit lost. Look for something familiar and hold on a while, take a nap, then try again when you’re back to feeling brave. It always works for me.”
Today’s warm breeze is not the first sign, of course, it started weeks ago when the clocks moved forward and the sun shifted, when I folded my favorite sweater for the last time and the wide windows welcomed the cacophony of spring sounds — motorbikes, lawnmowers, chainsaws, barking dogs, the hammering, hammering, hammering — soon the shimmery waves of heat will rise from the pavement, the mass throngs of people will congest on sidewalks, beaches, street corners, town parks, the hallowed trail I call Heaven, and the endless days will unfold hour by hot, humid, buggy hour while I stock up on iced things, hoard stacks of library books, move to the cooler part of the house, give praise to the window machine beneath which I’ll spend the months dreaming of those long and silent winter days, their fertile ground for contemplation and undisturbed peace.
I may as well be invisible in this library of ghosts only the manager sees me tells me I am early motions to the chairs by sunlit windows where flowers bloom my shadow cast long against the dusty floor it, the only other notice of my presence… conversations collide around me old friends embrace offer bouquets of smiles brush past without excuse so I step back, meditate on book spines pretend they are company enough until the show begins and I listen to stories and laughter my chair rocking slow — I bet they think its haunted.
I sit on a Noble bench in the woods it’s barely 7 — the shy ones’ hour we come early to this place the humming bird at the apple bough the rabbit among her clover the timid turtle poking its head from the pond to see who and what is about so I respond with a whisper We’re safe to float in Eden a little longer as two herons fly overhead and it’s so quiet we hear wings beat, heartbeats even this morning before the fray.
It’s been a long time, love — my inspiration — since we’ve enjoyed such leisure, these moments before the sun and you, noting birdsong, the call of waves, our morning folklore or you, calling me to the yard, to feel its damp grass underfoot, stare into the night’s stars while you run your finger along the moon, those cloud myths etched in dreams transcribed and holy, somehow, these long, sweet days of April, and I am more grateful than you can know.
In my next life, I want to live here in this crazy loud city where everything feels iconic and ordinary all at once, where pavement steps aside for flowers and small spots of cool grass, and trees carry the sound of musicians and pigeons, where the ordinary walk side-by-side with the out-of-this-world and I, anonymous, don’t care about reflections in buildings made of glass, where everyone arrives at the park by noon and it doesn’t matter who or what you are, because you leave soon, for a few bucks careen through the underworld, arrive somewhere else entirely, like magic, knowing where you were, and every place else, goes on without you.
I promised you a diamond he says of our courtship, but never a ring — and he laughs with that smile, like I’m in on the joke. We make a contract — verbal, never signed, then I invite them in and tell them my stories.
I’m charming and kind, in just the right ways, endearing and fun everything they want, until it’s time for me to leave. That’s the hardest part, as they forget the agreement, so I do it slow to start.
I pack up my interesting bits, then take back my affection, I pull at the threads of what’s left until there’s nothing to hold onto. That’s when they leave — THEY end it and the contracts breaks by default.
He sees me crying then and shapeshifts to the one I remember, pulls me to his chest and holds on as tight as that first embrace years ago, the perfect fit, the smell of old books and cedar, then a devilish laugh and I wake to the sound of tears pouring down, midnight thunder and wicked, wicked lightning.
This is to be expected. I don’t come with a pedigree or a PH.D. I don’t wear laurels or titles well I haven’t kissed ass (or any of you), and I know, I know I should have bowed low and deep before the queen but I’ve never been one to follow the rules or jump through hoops of anyone’s making but my own.
and the people went thirsty and the animals died and the viruses spread and the innocent suffered and the kids were slaughtered and the fires raged and the books were burned and the idols were worshipped and the empires crumbled
and the people argued and the people took sides and the people hated and the people judged and the people fought and the people cried
My path along the ridge this morning gives the impression of sky walking the fog heavy in branches that burst in cumulous tufts of the palest spring green like clouds, to be expected here meeting eye level with birds who suggest I should be singing
Val-deri, val-dera Val-deri, val-dera Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha
It was New Hampshire for God’s sake and I hoped it would imprint us how could it not? those ridiculous mountains their shock of snow and sharp air so fresh your lungs get greedy — But you were miles away ghosts on your lead line climbing summits of regret a backpack full of memories bitter and sweet stuck to the roof of your mouth — which explains the dead silence yours and mine as we watched the snow fall covering over our footprints on the path outside.
The half-life of Uranium is either 4.5 billion years, 700 million years, or 250 thousand years depending on how you examine its primordial isotopes, that which remains of its interstellar medium its stardust — like us, formed inside of stars when stars collide so what then is the half-life of love? its biochemical chain of events a Big Bang complex interplay of pheromones, dopamine, and oxytocin elemental does it decay more or less quickly than that which lights up the sky? does it leave traces? its luminescence still seen sometimes its volatility, too rapid and unpredictable change just another reaction, expected meltdown, its core damage
I love these places of waiting this quite axis of the world a point around which things spin he on his way there and she on hers there they, together, embrace and part or run, race, return and I, here, silent silent and of no consequence to their what-comes-next nor to my own, really I am here-and-now, a great pause a smudge of time a nothingness into which pours everything peace, poetry, god
before the painted parking lines and engineered bridges before the pervasive blazes that welcomed every one before the storm that created a war zone there was a trail in the woods a simple trail that wound from an unpaved lot up a long, slow incline and down, slowly, into Eden or Shangri-La or Paradise or whatever you call the place that brings you back to yourself without contortions without effort except for moving and breathing and letting go and paying attention to the song of white pines, and the path of the pileated, to the fetal curl of spring ferns and the sweet Spring Beauty so small but significant you get down on your knees like a prayer whisper your apologies for the trespass weep at the loss of her secret spot, there at the base the Oak now fallen, our heavy footfall her sure demise
He makes headlines now and then one book and then another false tears and faulty claims a prophet for profit. How do you know for sure, a friend asked. It’s posture, I explained. No, not how he sits — though his aggressive leaning and pointing are tells, for sure it’s how he postures his point twists his words like he twists his face pushes his prophecies and perversions like he pushes the energy in a room hand gestures feign truth like magicians or priests at the pulpit, predator preaching his Rules, his black and white dogma with a heavy fist to the table so it must be true, and you must believe God Damn It.
From the fascia that constricts — wants my body fetal some days — I cannot extract the kamikaze pilot, tweeze him from his destructive path save those who drowned or the family of survivors who struggle, still, some days, to keep their heads above water.
I cannot extract the boy in the photo unawares and smiling while sea battles raged and mothers wept eyes blind to the the hard fist of the drunk who pounded on doors and broke happy spirits.
Some things float, you see, carry on despite the damage.