I’ve made a practice which feels more like a demand, that each day I take a few moments or more and stop whatever else I was, or should have been, doing to write a poem.
There are days, perhaps this one where it seems more a short bit of prose to which I have added line breaks despite the protest of the words, condemning them to bear the mockery, and others when I take a poem, ignore its inherent rhythm and pass it off as prose, that insult remembered, the words plotting revenge but lying low, waiting for the perfect moment to destroy a poem I know is worthy of publication.
They were not optional in our family, once a week, half an hour, that and at least 20 minutes daily, the youngest got the choice of times.
He quit after a year, his sister was three years in and went on another and I was eight years staring at the 88 keys, so many of which would never get used, useless as were the pedals I couldn’t reach at first and rarely needed later.
It was upright, as I was supposed to be, but only was in sight of my teacher, and I thought Bill Evans had it right, leaning over the keys insuring that they wouldn’t make an escape.
I stopped when my parents realized how much they had spent on what they would never enjoy and I would as soon forget.
A wise Buddhist teacher once told me that anything you do, if you do it mindfully, can be a form of meditation, and I have taken this into my practice, albeit with mixed success, but that is one reason they call it practice.
Walking silently, following your breath in and out, aware of your feet, the earth, the sky is definitely meditative.
Chopping onions, carefully drawing the knife thorough the layers creating neatly incised bits is certainly meditative.
Sitting by a pond watching the sun slowly set it ablaze as the breeze ruffles the surface is absolutely meditative.
But folding laundry, no matter how mindfully I approach the task always and quickly morphs into a mindless search for the missing sock.
He is four today. He’s been practicing being four, so it is somewhat second nature. But he made a decision. Next year he will be five. He was going to be 27 next year, but decided that can wait another year. I asked him why he was delaying, he said, “You get better presents when you are four or five.” I confess his logic, but wonder what I should do with the tie and cardigan I bought for his next birthday?
He is never certain what to do on days like this one, when the winter takes a particularly nasty turn, the temperature hovers at utter emptiness, and the wind elects to try to enfold everything it can reach in a coat of frost, that bleaches life away. He walks each day, through the nearby park if the weather is the least bit cooperative, through the neighborhood when not, where at least he can take a small shelter from the wind in the shadow of houses closed up tightly, life walled away within, smarter, he imagines than he is, his fingers ill-gloved, slowly losing all feeling, but this is his practice, something he does because it requires doing, heeding an edict from an unspoken voice. And later emerging from a hot shower, feeling limbs restored, he glances at the weather in hopes the next day will be kinder, and slow in coming.
When I was twelve, I think, maybe in the last days of eleven, and in my third year of piano lessons my teacher, Mrs. Schwarting, she of no first name, and a steady hand that could squeeze the muscle of my shoulder, a taloned metronome, gave me a small plastic bust of Beethoven, told me to place it on the piano, so that he could watch my daily practice and insure my eyes were on him, not the keys. Ludwig is long gone, lost in one of our moves, one less gatherer of the dust of other activities. Now, sitting on the bench, flexing fingers demanding independence I realize that his smile was one of age, thankful for his deafness.
Previously published in Fox Cry Review, Vol. 23, 1997 and in PIF Magazine, Vol. 20, 1999.