September 27, 2010

I recently got a tattoo, something that M and I have been talking about doing together for 3+ years. The idea of what I wanted to get done has been with me for twice that long. Copper Canyon Press uses the Chinese character for poetry (shi) for its trademark. It’s comprised of two parts: “word” on the left, “temple” on the right. Jack, the tattoo artist, called the line surrounding the character a cartouche. I just today looked up what a cartouche is: in Egyptian hieroglyphics, it’s an oblong enclosure with a horizontal line at one end, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name. My cartouche lacks the horizontal emphasis, but I love this added royal dimension to the permanent mark on my skin.

Dimensions, meanings, symbols—whatever I want to call them, there are several. I’ve always been enamored with poems, and this tattoo symbolizes that love. Poems often feel sacred, even if the subject is ordinary; so the literal meaning of temple of words rings true to me. My body is fearfully and wonderfully made, and with all of its flaws—or perhaps because of them—it is a temple. Despite the frustrations and doubts I have when I consider my faith, Christ still is impossibly, paradoxically, the Word to me, and so this tattoo is a nod to that mystery as well.

I don’t write much poetry these days, but I try to read as much as I can. It is like a friend I can still have intimate conversations with, but who no longer lives next door, and I miss its presence. I miss this friend, and so having its beauty on my skin lets me carry it around with me at all times.

When people ask, I usually tell them the truncated version: it means poetry, literally temple of words. Sometimes I don’t even want to say the word poetry, because many people have bad experiences with the genre. (Where was it that I read someone felt like their brother was holding them to the bottom of a pool whenever they tried to read poetry?) To me, it’s not even a genre, it is life; my child is a poem, that movie is a poem, this floor scattered with crumbs is a poem, that dumpy bar in northern Wisconsin is a poem, this silence in the house is a poem, the way the grocery bagger packs your Chilean grapes and cage-free eggs is a poem.

Looking at the tattoo straight on, it is perfectly centered and perfectly straight; when I raise my hand to wave, or when I twist my wrist ever so slightly to type or stir the soup or pick my kid up, the upper left corner of the cartouche slightly tugs itself up, and the bottom right corner tugs down in the opposite direction, so that it almost resembles a parallelogram. I watch this malleability in the mirror, as I raise my arm to and fro, and marvel at my skin, how it glides across the tissues and ligaments so freely. I remember sitting next to my grandma when I was little, when she would smooth her soft fingers up and down my forearm. I’ve unconsciously repeated this soothing gesture with Marshall, and he always stops me because it’s too ticklish. I’m looking forward to soothe my grandchildren that way. My tattoo will be 40% blurred by then; even something as permanent as ink in my skin can’t escape the breakdown of age.

I didn’t intend to talk about my grandma, or even include the following poem. But writing about my forearm and my skin there makes me think of her. A lot of things have been reminding me of her lately. I miss her. I wish she lived next door.

Why We Don’t Die

In late September many voices
Tell you you will die.
That leaf says it. That coolness.
All of them are right.

Our many souls—what
Can they do about it?
Nothing. They’re already
Part of the invisible.

Our souls have been
Longing to go home
Anyway. “It’s late,” they say.
“Lock the door, let’s go.”

The body doesn’t agree. It says,
“We buried a little iron
Ball under that tree.
Let’s go get it.”

—Robert Bly


vera pavlova

July 13, 2010

I’ve written a couple of posts that include poems by Vera Pavlova, so I think it’s obvious that I like what she has to say. I’m going to keep sharing them.

I first read her work in my email inbox from Knopf Poetry’s Poem-a-Day, and placed her book on hold through the library. If There is Something to Desire consists of 100 poems, translated from Russian by her husband. As she’s said in interviews, there are many poets married to poets, but rare is the poet-translator marriage. This is how she describes a good translation: ” the same dream seen by two different sleepers.” This woman’s mind is amazing!


A beast in winter,
a plant in spring,
an insect in summer,
a bird in autumn.
The rest of the time I am a woman.


Why is the word yes so brief?
It should be
the longest,
the hardest,
so that you could not decide in an instant to say it,
so that upon reflection you could stop
in the middle of saying it.


June 22, 2010

Marshall and I have a company. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do so!

Look at our library:

Visit our new blog!:

“Like” us on Facebook:

What are your favorite classics?

I’d really like to start a regular exercise routine. But I haven’t. And I think I’m in the company of millions of people. I’ve been thinking a lot about what deters me, what holds me back.

First of all, I’m a creature of comfort. When Marshall proposed to me, he told me I had 7 great loves, and they are what made him love me so much. One of those loves was comfort. He likes when I’m in a sweatshirt or wrapped in a blanket. Last Christmas, InStyle had an 8-page article on gift ideas, categorized by general personality types. The page I was attracted to instantly was the one that oozed comfort: ear muffs, tea kettle, flannel button-up, bathrobe, checker set, etc. etc. I like to be cozy. My favorite part of Everett’s favorite sign language video is when the host talks about sleep, pajamas, and then turns off the light in a bedroom, where two little kids softly snore and crickets sing quietly. I love rest and regeneration.

So the idea of moving my body so much I sweat through my shirt (eww) goes against my grain, you could say. But I long to be stronger, healthier. I know it doesn’t take much. I know little steps will lead to bigger strides. And a couple times a week, I do go on walks, pushing a few dozen pounds in front of me. I discovered that new tennies, a visor, and non-denim pants or shorts make the experience easier. I discovered that plugging my iPod into a cheap tiny speaker, dropped into a pocket in the back of the stroller, helps me from getting bored.

But I want to be more consistent. I want to get up at 7 and walk in the early morning hours, all by myself. Marshall and I run our own company, which means we make our own schedule. Which is great. But it means we have to work a lot to get our business off the ground. So time taken away from work can sometimes make me feel guilty, even though both of us have agreed multiple times that it is totally okay to spend a small part of our day exercising. It is showing respect to our bodies. We try to not refer to it as working out or exercising anymore, as those words connote boredom to me—we’ve dubbed it physically heightening experience, or phe (pronounced phay). (“How can we incorporate more pheing in our day-to-day life?” we ask each other.)

If I wake up before my boys are up, I’d rather have some tea and read. (Gosh. Reading. I love reading. When E naps, there is nothing I’d rather do than read. If I go a few days without reading, I physically feel the lack.) I recently read a fitness expert’s findings that some people get more tired from working out than energized, so they should work out in the evening (while other people are the opposite—they become energized, so working out for them is better suited for the morning). This makes total sense to me. However, when my mind thinks about pheing after supper, my body thinks about reading on the couch. And my body almost always wins.

I know that my preferred form of working out is a dance or some other low-impact cardio class, walking (sometimes boring even with music or a friend, though—I don’t know why), or biking (my bike sorely needs a tune-up, and I get nervous about biking in Madison, even on the paths). I know these are things that I can do. The problem is seeing them as a priority. How can I change my perspective, to view exercising as a must-do? As important as putting food in my body and getting rest? What do you do? Keep in mind that your answer will be more relevant to me if you have at least one child in your household. :) (Eating, resting, working out, showering, connecting, thinking, and all other necessary life-giving activities are always complicated by the presence of a kid in your life.)

My grandma died last Friday, on my birthday, 3 weeks after the cancer diagnosis. I was told the window in her room was open, a perfect June breeze gently blowing on her as her breathing eventually stopped. I was told my grandpa, when informed of her last breath, cried, and cried, and cried.

All afternoon, all evening, I marveled at the expanse of the summer sky. I have never seen it so wide, so open…it looked like it had just been created and separated from the earth. A newborn sky.

We are rich: we have nothing to lose.
We are old: we have nowhere to rush.
We shall fluff the pillows of the past,
poke the embers of the days to come,
talk about what means the most
as the indolent daylight fades;
we shall lay to rest our undying dead:
I shall bury you, you will bury me.

Vera Pavlova

as if it were enough

June 2, 2010

A girl sleeps as if
she were in someone’s dream;
a woman sleeps as if tomorrow a war will begin;
an old woman sleeps as if
it were enough to feign being dead
and death might pass her by
on the far outskirts of sleep.

—Vera Pavlova

Death and sleep have been occupying my mind a lot lately. My grandma is swiftly dying of cancer, but unlike the nonspecific old woman in Pavlova’s poem, she’s ready to go. When I visited my grandma, she was as chatty as ever, but rather abruptly she became tired, and her eyes closed, and she warned me that she was about to drift off on me. It was the way my baby used to sleep, in his early months—the swift change from awake to not awake—his limbs active, then stretching, then still; his cooing suddenly stopping, replaced by sweet, even breathing.

My baby is 17 months now and this week we decided to start teaching him to fall back asleep on his own after partial night wakings. The thing is, he hasn’t cried at all in the middle of the night for the last 2 nights. Go figure. He must be sleeping as if he were in someone’s dream. As for me, a woman, almost 27 years, I snooze just fine, a deep and restorative sleep. But bedtime is the tricky thing, the thing when I feel a kind of war approach me. Grief overthrows me like a coup d’etat.

oldies but goodies

March 1, 2010



snow bunny

February 16, 2010

I’ve found the solution. Winter hats just don’t work for me unless I keep them on all day. Hat hair isn’t great for straighties, but for curlies it’s just—well, bad bad bad.

I thought the calorimetry hat would work, but it still is too much coverage.
And so…I figured earmuffs may be an option. After trying on many a pair, I spotted these super soft ones at TJ Maxx, stared in the mirror for a long time, taking them off and on, off and on, wondering if I could wear something so…large. The opposite of demure. I like fashion but don’t take many fashion risks.

Turns out, I LOVE them. I feel like a koala bear (only I smell much better) with a touch of glam.

And my ears stay freaking warm. And the top of my hair warms the rest of my head. And it does not get squashed.


Even Everett approves.

Ben Larson was a Luther ’06 graduate—two years behind Marshall and a year behind me. I considered him an acquaintance; Marshall knew him better. He died in the Haiti earthquake. Marshall mentioned this article (from LaCrosse Tribune) to me tonight. It has been keeping him up at night.


He spent his last breath singing; wife, cousin remember Ben Larson

The past week for Renee Splichal Larson and Jonathan Larson has been filled with danger, uncertainty, heartache and deep pain as they mourn the apparent loss of Renee’s husband and Jonathan’s cousin, Ben Larson, 25, in the earthquake in Haiti.

The two Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) seminary students, in Port-au-Prince at the time of the disaster, returned to the United States Jan. 15. They spoke to the ELCA News Service Monday.

Renee and Jonathan told of their escape from the collapsed St. Joseph Home for Boys and their unsuccessful attempts to rescue Ben. They also talked about the suffering of the people of Haiti, their strong feelings of gratitude for the ELCA and the positive influences it had on Ben throughout this life.

“All he wanted was to be a pastor in this church,” Renee said.

The three senior students at Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa — one of eight ELCA seminaries — went to Haiti to teach Lutheran theology to members and pastors of the Lutheran church during the seminary’s January term. Renee, who grew up in Garrison, N.D., was also doing interviews with local people for a master’s thesis about the emerging Lutheran church in Haiti.

That all changed on Jan. 12, when a severe earthquake struck Haiti.

At the time of the quake all three were together in the St. Joseph Home for Boys.

“We were all together on the same floor,” when the building began to shake, Renee said. “We all kind of panicked and started running. Jonathan and I were together. (Ben) was hugging a pillar in the middle of the floor. I turned and I saw him, and I saw concrete starting to fall on him. I called for him and started running toward him.”

At that moment the two floors above collapsed on them. Jonathan and Renee were trapped for a short time, but managed to squeeze out onto the roof of the building and called for Ben, she said. The collapsed building continued to shift as the aftershocks continued, Renee said.

The two went back to the place where they had crawled out and called again for Ben. Renee said she heard Ben’s voice. He was singing, not unusual for Ben who loved music. “I told him I loved him, and that Jon and I were OK, and to keep singing,” Renee said. But the singing stopped after he sang the words “God’s peace to us we pray,” she said.

“If he was alive, he would have been calling for help desperately,” Renee said. “Ben spent his last breath singing.”

In the chaos of that night, Renee and Jonathan stayed nearby with local residents displaced by the quake. One of the people they were with was Bill Nathan, director of the St. Joseph Home for Boys, who injured his spine after jumping from the roof of the building to the ground. ABC News featured Nathan’s story on “Nightline.”

The next day Renee and Jonathan went back to the building, managed to get their passports, and did what they could to locate Ben, but could not find him. “Getting off of that roof was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said.

The two were advised to go to the U.S. Embassy, which they managed to accomplish with local residents’ help, and seek assistance to rescue Ben, but there was no team to rescue Ben.

They met up with a Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville (N.J.), medical team at the embassy, who cared for Renee and Jonathan. The students managed to get text messages to their families, asking for advice about what to do. Their families advised them to return home to the United States.

“It was so sad to go. It took all of our strength to get back to our families,” Renee said.

read the whole article here

what got me through the year

December 18, 2009

Of course, the love of God, my man, my son, my immediate family, my extended family, my buddies. Love is what gets me through. But the following are some bright spots of 2009.

The lake shore of Indiana.

Following the (modified) Curly Girl method and discovering Since switching to sulfate-free shampoo and cutting out all silicones, the tangles that made me drop f-bombs in the shower for twenty minutes have improved by 80%.

A glass of red wine above the Root River, Minnesota.

My fifth time seeing Over the Rhine. To steal another fan’s line, I felt my soul getting pieced back together as I listened.

Muscle Release Technique and carpal tunnel syndrome relief through an excellent masseuse, a petite woman with chocolate eyes and pixie hair and professional compassion for my aches and pains.

Song Up In Her Head. Cease to Begin. And more.

Forever21 setting up shop 5 minutes away.

Getting referred to a really great dentist of short stature and chocolate eyes and professional compassion for the health of my chompers.

An 8-month marathon of the entire 8 seasons of Scrubs.

The power of Benjamin Button lingered with me for days. Aging has always held a particular interest for me…

Mommy tea dates in Mt. Horeb.

Eating acorn squash from fields 15 miles away.

Picnicking and listening to the symphony on the square on a summer evening with a couple of our favorite Madisonians.

Anna’s and Matthew’s garden-party wedding shower. Ivy seeds scattered like rain from the corner of the brick house. A slender outdoor glass chandelier hung above a table heavy with food. We passed the dessert pies around and around and around.

Poising and concentrating and gathering grace to my body every week during a belly dancing class.

Late-night romantic page-turning escapism.

Marshall’s and my resolution to always have beer in the fridge.

E and I both losing interest in breastfeeding in a gradual, painless, peaceful way.

The Perfect Baby Handbook. Reading this made me fear loss of bladder control.