Poems, Uncategorized

Lifting the dead

When I switched from squats to deadlifts a few weeks ago, I have to admit I was a little sad to give away one metaphor–carrying myself out of a burning building–for that of another–lifting the dead. But I got over it pretty quick, metaphorically at least.

And I could say that my efforts are wrapped around notions of becoming a new, better, stronger person by disposing of that old, “dead” self. I could say that with every lift I’m fighting off the terrors of a bleak, immobile future. I could say that weight lifting allows me to lift away a yolk of self-doubt and emerge, 82.5 pounds later with superpower insight and unwavering badassness. But that’s not the case at all.

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You won’t believe me, but I do it for words.

Squat: to “thrust down with force,” (modern English) from the Old French, “esquatir” (to flatten) by way of Latin “cogere” (compel).  Crush, crouch in hiding.

The origin of “deadlift” apparently dates back to the Roman empire, to soldiers lifting the dead off the battlefield.  A literal origin, we could say.

Lift: from Old Norse “lypta” (“upper room, sky air”) and Middle English “luft” (“air, sky, heaven”).

And also this: Dead:  of water, “still, standing,” from Proto-Germanic.

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I do it because poetry is strong and words matter. So, this too:

Fitness

On a good day the bar is clear, cage
empty, uncluttered. On a good day
I have to stack my own black disks
and clip them tight. One solitary
bough waits for me to strap it onto
my back and climb the mountain
of steel and circumstance.

I brace, measure my grip, shoulders
strong and lithe, and command muscle
to contract. No chalk, no gloves, no talk,
no audience of men, no breath besides
this one. In the mirror I see her,
the one who devours concrete,
chase the past away with stinging arrows.

The Comet's Tail, Uncategorized

Award winning medical narratives

Thanks to poet Cortney Davis for her review of The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory posted in LitMed: Literature Arts Medicine Database sponsored by NYU Health. This is an excellent database which curates the human condition. Cortney’s poetry collection Taking Care of Time is also featured on LitMed. I’m proud to be included as one of the featured authors. Here is an excerpt:

This little book (little both in page numbers and in its 4×6 inch dimension) is a beautifully written contemplation not only of what happened to the author’s memory during and after illness, but of memory itself, its twists and turns and mysteries.  Is memory reliable?  Nawrocki notes how the memories of family and friends sometimes didn’t jive with the official documents: “I toggle between the subjectivity of other people’s memories and the objectivity of chest x-rays and EKGs” (page 27). And if eleven people write about an event are they all telling the same story? “At least eleven people tell the story of Amy on June 18th when I arrive in ‘soft restraints'” (page 19).  At book’s end, the author writes, “Memory is a thing; remembering is an action, ongoing” (page 46). In these pages she gives us a wonderful story, a memory of a time with no memory, in poetic language, with compassion and eloquence.

In other news, The Comet’s Tail was awarded the Mind Body Spirit Gold Medal from Living Now Book Awards, which celebrate the innovation and creativity of newly published books that enhance the quality of our lives.

Purchase a copy of The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory at Homebound Publications, Amazon, or your favorite independent bookseller.

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The Comet's Tail, Uncategorized

Scars and How We Wear Them

 

“I’m looking for a soap dish. . . . ” This is how I begin “Giving up the Chokehold,” an essay about searching and about finding. What I find first is a necklace, actually a bunch of them, “chokers I haven’t worn in years.”  One, is woven into a braid, “a thin zig-zag, like trim binding from an old sewing kit. I try this one on. As it’s supposed to, it chokes me.”

Scars, no matter where they lie on our bodies or if we can see them, have a way of silencing us with their visibility. At the very least, they shape who we are. Sometimes we wear them as badges of pain; sometimes we wear them as badges of victory. How to get from one endpoint to another is what that found necklace helped me discover.

When I think back on it, most of the time spent on cover-ups and self-consciousness is rooted in a worldview that I’m not ashamed to hold. There are others in the world whose scar stories are much more heroic. I don’t think my story is heroic because everyone has scars . . .

Hear the full account, here

“Giving up the Chokehold” picks up about 28 minutes into the third part of the Episode One of The Vanguard Podcast.

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Photo by Ibrahim Nasouf on Pexels.com
Poems, Reconnaissance, Uncategorized

Why We Walk

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Byron and Shelley

As we trudged along the varied paths
of the Highland Way you did not let go
to cry, though legs ached with pain
and skewed nerves slipped out of place
screaming for you to stop.

Our last night before we go home,
I read Trelawny’s Recollections
of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron:
Percy’s funeral muddies my mind,
but I cannot unhinge the sable-eyed rival
or the torture of a lame and disfigured foot
that shamed Byron all his days. How skilled
we are at pushing our deformities into
the deepest alcove then turning away from them,
lest they outpace and overcome us.

A red-haired boy—more than a boy—
a young man—travels with us
on the flight back home. His father
who is grey and wears glasses
accompanies him. I see that the boy
is blind, and think he is—how
to say this kindly—lame of mind,
though as I watch him and his father
pace back to their seats, I see that he is
purely sightless, and I feel cruel for thinking
it was something more. All this time

I thought that it was me we were walking for,
the mess upon me and the volume of days
yet unwritten tensing with uncertainty,
smudged with hieroglyphs of caned figures
and the imposing arc of wheels.
Waiting out the rain in Philadelphia
my head slumped in exhaustion, your legs
extended in a futile stretch, I grasp
what it was we were really walking for:

the German girls whom we’ll not see again;
for Gerry, our sturdy guardian, agile as a buoy,
flecks of white in his hair and a harness of years
on his back; for the moments between the rain;

what every boy’s blindness wants to possess;
for Byron’s feet and the contents of Shelley’s coat pockets
washed up on a shore we haven’t yet visited
and may not ever walk upon.

The poem appears in Reconnaissance, published in 2017 by Homebound Publications. Louis Édouard Fournier, The Cremation of Percy Bysshe Shelley, oil on canvas, Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Reconnaissance, The Comet's Tail, Uncategorized

Invitation to Stillness

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It’s been over twenty-five years since I wrote these lines:

The doctors invited me to be still.
Then the X-ray revealed
one of van Gogh’s sunflowers
dying inside me, just beneath my ribs.
Not enough sun, they said,
prescribed antibiotics and suggested
lemon juice to ease the pain.

A few of the remedies worked; stillness came, then awakening. Just beneath my ribs, the sunflower lives, and so does the everpresent need to be still, to suggest bright petals and brave possibilities. Thanks, Vincent for this yellow.

Still, ever-spiraling.

Find the complete poem in Reconnaissance and more about doctors and prescriptions and journeys of other sorts in The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memoir.

 

Poems, Reconnaissance, The Comet's Tail

New Release

Just released, the first episode of The Vanguard Podcast featuring writers David K. Leff, Katherine Hauswirth, and me, along with musician Lys Guillorn. Join these conversations at the Forefront of Creativity with hosts L.M. Browning and Kelly Kancyr.

See also The Vanguard Podcast to subscribe (or listen on iTunes, YouTube, and more).

This episode includes a conversation between me and L.M Browning about my poetry, teaching, my inspiration for writing, and finding my way into prose. My essay “Giving Up the Choke Hold” is a tangent to The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory, so I’m excited the podcast is available now. Both start at about the 19-minute mark.

Here’s a poem from Reconnaissance to celebrate The Vanguard Podcast’s release.

Birdsongs

Having forgotten
what a line looks like
on a page, I unwrap
a notebook and tune
to Charlie Parker. If I Should
Lose You, wait for the record,
metal now and shiny,
to hiccup into
its grooves. Scattered
over an unseen stave of five
parallel lines, the blue
narcotic notes from
a saxophone scatter
like debris
in a wind tunnel.