Author Archives: Genevieve

Genevieve’s Song #1

It was the spring of the first time I had ever broken up with someone. I was still processing what the hell had happened over the past two years. I had stopped writing, stopped painting, stopped singing. I had a closet full of clothes I hated. I was raw and not yet angry but starting to learn to be angry. I don’t think I fully realized until later how important that was to healing.

I channeled all my excess energy through running, and I ran with a friend of a friend. We started talking, and soon he was telling me he had feelings for me. His kisses tasted like fresh-baked bread. He cooked me rosemary chicken. We lay side by side in a field and watched the sky overhead grow gray and thick with thunder. We were both going through some serious shit, and I think we each secretly knew we wouldn’t be together very long, but we were there to hold sacred space for one another.

He burned me a CD, and the very first song was Alkaline Trio’s “Over and Out.” It wasn’t my usual cup of tea, but something about it resonated. I listened to the CD, this song, on repeat at full blast in my basement that May, my arms streaked with watercolors, the outside world blooming fiercely. I painted a series of a girl rising from a half-shell in the sea. I painted her making a sailboat out of the shell and fishing for food, and, finally, finally finding land. In the very last painting she is on a beach, looking out at the horizon.

Every time I listen to this song I think of running, the smell of mud on the trail. I think of lightning and the musk of lilacs, light rain. And I think of the girl surviving on her half-shell in the middle of a vast ocean, and the boy who wasn’t afraid to hold her hand.

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Intuitive Eating

I’ve spent the last couple of years reading a wide variety of books on women’s health and fertility, holistic approaches to wellness, and the connection between mental health and hormones. But one of my recent favorite books is titled Intuitive Eating by nutritionists Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Simply put, intuitive eating is a way of eating that teaches you how to follow your body’s hunger and fullness signals, which brings you to a greater awareness and increased self-respect for your body. No counting carbs or calories. No monitoring your weight. No diets. It sounds so simple and clear, right? Like, duh.

Months before I even heard about or purchased the book, I was already trying to follow my own approach to intuitive eating–and for the most part, it was working. I stopped stepping on the scale. I ate when I was hungry, and refused food when I was full. I also gave in to cravings every once in a while–and this is the part that tripped me up the most. I often felt terribly guilty for eating a single fry. If I ate a whole burger, you bet I would obsessively think about–and regret–that burger for days. Even though my relationship with food was certainly progressing for the better, I still dealt with body dysmorphia relapses: periods of time when I refused to go out because I was convinced I was too ugly to be seen in public.

Intuitive Eating really is a breath of fresh air. There are no hard rules, but instead 10 principles, and each one of them make perfect, logical sense. Some of the principles certainly resonated with me more than others. The section about challenging my inner food police and critic hit home pretty hard, as did the principle to respect my body and its own unique characteristics. By the time I was done reading the entire book (which, while not boring, is lengthy and I invested a good amount of time in not only reading it, but fully understanding the principles) I felt like I had a great set of tools to help move me forward on my journey of health and well-being.

Bento box lunches add a nice touch to my work day.

Bento box lunches add a nice touch to my work day.

My relationship with food, my body, and my health has changed tremendously just within the past few months. I am no longer afraid of food. I love food. I’ve been taking serious pleasure in cafe con leche on weekends. Greek yogurt sprinkled with granola and topped with strawberries and mandarins has become my go-to breakfast on most weekday mornings. I recently had the most delicious seaweed salad and spring rolls on the rooftop of a Thai restaurant. Food has become the most wonderful, functional art, engaging all of my senses.

Sprats! They might look funny, but these guys taste delicious on crackers with cheese and sun-dried tomato.

Sprats! They might look funny, but these guys taste delicious on crackers with cheese and sun-dried tomato.

Reading Intuitive Eating in conjunction with Moody Bitches (Dr. Julie Holland) and Taking Charge of Your Fertility (Toni Weschler, MPH) especially helped me understand just how much damage I was doing to my body by restricting and starving it out. I dove deep into the different phases of the menstrual cycle and learned that I need to nourish myself each day of the month to be at my best and healthiest. This means brisks jogs during the follicular and ovulatory phases paired with eye-catching salads and light proteins. The luteal phase is a time for me to pause and ask my body what it craves most. This is the time of the month when I need salmon, hard-boiled egg salad paired with chardonnay, pasta, pilates, and definitely, definitely acupuncture. Menstruating calls for quiet. Coffee and writing, meditation. Rare steaks and red wine.

Mmm, thai iced tea.

Mmm, thai iced tea.

This isn’t to say that ever since reading Intuitive Eating, I haven’t had my hiccups. No one and no lifestyle is perfect. I’m definitely curvier now than I was when I was sick, and while some days I love it, other days I still struggle. But I can’t deny that I have more energy than before. I smile and laugh more, I’m less critical of both myself and others. When I nourish my body, I nourish my mind, heart, and soul.

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Cafe

This morning: cafe cubano,
the too-sweet stench
of platanos maduros

on the window sill.
They say I’m too white,
that I cannot lay claim
to my ancestor’s tongue

but they can’t discern
the merry clink of miniature
porcelain cups being brought down
from a high shelf

they can’t remember a land
steaming with hot soil
and a salt breeze;
Ruben at the piano,

old men singing in the streets.
I dreamed it, maybe.
Or was it a story?

Even so, most people forget
that after birth but before white or brown
or woman or man
we hunger for the nearest milk

and, years later, even after
the senna
and the pills
and the wasted time spent wishing
I was not alive

I reach for it:
two teaspoons of guava,
the thick pour of leche de almendras.

This is my story.
When I am hungry
I hold the world of my ancestors on my tongue
and swallow it.

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The Window

The window frame broke the other day
and we are rich like kings;

everything we touch turns to portraits we slip inside
our pockets and carry with us everywhere,

only taking them out for reflection,
refusing to barter or spend.

You know I know my heart too much.
It is too much and asks too much

but the day the window frame broke I ran clear
past castles, piano music

falling from their open windows. I did not stop to look.
None of it mattered

because I was running home to furnish rooms
with poems of you, poems with your portraits

and your music and your windows.

When the window frame broke we swept the splinters from the floor
and thought nothing more of it.

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Song

I have this recurring dream of listening to a song. I’m at the opera, only a few feet away from the soprano onstage, the ethereal highs of her voice backed up by a full orchestra. Or I’m driving, tuning into a radio station, and this familiar beat comes on–I remember this, I think, I know this, and it reminds me of a time and a place I cannot recall, and the name won’t come. Or sometimes I’m singing myself. I’m standing in the middle of an empty cobblestone street at dawn, the shuttered apartments around me glowing pink with the first touch of light. The wind smells like water. I open my mouth as if to drink, but instead I sing. And it’s like I’m singing up the sun.

But when I wake up, I can never remember how the song goes.

 


song

In shamanic tradition, finding your song is an integral step towards becoming a shaman. It’s only by finding, carefully listening to, and then singing your own song that you can develop the ability to truly help and heal others. Being able to sing your song is a sign that you are in harmony with yourself, and thus the natural world.

There is this beautiful quote from Kay Cordell Whitaker’s “The Reluctant Shaman,” where Kay’s teacher tells her:

“Little Stellifa, you breathe so shallow sometimes. That does not feed your life. Breathe slow now and deep, to fill yourself as though your whole body is an empty vessel, leaving no space between breaths. Make this breathing a habit. One can do many things with the breath…it is a carrier of songs and stories…[i]t is the thing we take most into our bodies, assimilate at the heart, and send out with bits of our essence in its current.”

I’ve always been musically inclined, but the energy that I used to put towards violin, voice, and piano lessons I now channel into my writing. Every poem comes to me first as song. That is a poem’s true form. Those first words have a rhythm, a certain cadence, and it is only by being absolutely silent, by closing myself off to the outer world and turning all of my senses inward, that I can accurately and successfully reproduce that song. It is a deep and beautiful meditation. As I’m constructing the poem and going through edits, I sing it out loud many, many times, trying out different tones, annunciations, or speeds. I know the right pitch when I’ve hit it. It’s a feeling of complete accordance. It’s a soft high. My body, all my cells nod, Yes, yes, and buzz with delight.

So this month, I encourage you to travel inward. Find your breath. Remember that your breath, and that the way you breathe, hold so much power. Use your breath to sing your song. Maybe your song is a mixed media sculpture, or maybe it’s a story you’ve been meaning to finish for years. Whatever it is, this month create something that is wholly, fearlessly you from the heart. Then: send it out into the world.

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Just A Cat

When I first read Jilly’s new theme, I had a thousand and one ideas. And then the week took a downturn, and sudddenly I had none. I wrote line scraps, a few words here and there, but nothing substantive formed.

Our cat’s health took a turn for the worse this past week. I could not tap into the feeling or idea of vulnerability. I was frustrated, helping to clean up our cat’s piss and liquid waste from the living room floor, waking up too early to feed him and quiet his yowls for food.

Barsik started becoming ill at least a full year ago, if not earlier. He was vomiting regularly, and when Eugene took him to the vet, Barsik was diagnosed as having a UTI. We gave him medicine, and he got better–until he started getting worse again. The earlier medications that we had given him weren’t working. Then we moved into our new apartment, and he started to have terrible liquid diarrhea. We changed his diet and put him on the healthiest, organic, vitamin-rich food we could buy. And again, the vet prescribed medication, but this time it didn’t work well at all. Barsik is eating, but he’s losing weight fast–he can’t keep anything down. He is down to half of what his weight should be. Despite regular feedings, he is starving to death. And this past week, he’s been so uncomfortable using his litter box that he’s started eliminating in the living room instead.

Yesterday’s visit to the vet revealed our options. We can cut him open to see what’s going on, or try one more round of medications. And if the medications don’t work–and they should work within the span of two weeks–he will need to be put down. No living creature should have to starve to death.

I never thought I’d be one of those people who talked about her pets excessively. I like animals, sure. They’re cute. Whatever. But I never, ever thought I’d feel a special connection with an animal. Still, Barsik is different. When Eugene and I first met, Barsik took a liking to me. He sleeps curled up next to my head almost every night, and he hops up onto my lap to give me kitty hugs and kisses first thing in the morning. Not only is he a beautiful cat, with those intense, hypnotic blue eyes, but he’s also gentle.

Of course, illness has changed his personality. He cries excessively at night from hunger, and his eyes are no longer a calm, steady blue–they are wide and wild with desperation. When I pet him, I feel every one of his bones.

Illness and death are no strangers to me. I have watched several family members grow old, their bodies succumbing to that mysterious, magnetic pull of time. I have witnessed the sweet, soothing drip and spread of morphine. I have listened patiently to frenzied hallucinations, sudden and sure glimpses of a world beyond our own. And finally, when their bodies lie too still in the bed, I have felt the almost tangible sigh of relief escape from the living. Death is the easy part.

So this month, the vulnerability is not mine. It is Barsik’s. I understand he’s “just a cat.” But no one with the capacity to experience both pain and hunger should have to navigate that expansive, confusing terrain of illness and dying alone. Eugene and I are his faithful hospice, cleaning up after him, mixing medicine into his food, giving him hugs. I’m no longer upset. This next round of medications could very well work–he could live for another few years. I have hope. But if the medicine doesn’t work, I’ll at least know that we did everything we could, and that his last few weeks with us were spent as a comfortable transition into his next adventure.

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66

5:18 p.m., on the 66 bus headed East
and everyone is cramped, close, avoiding
contact, craving space. There is a woman.

She is large, her voice, the way she flaps
her hands when she talks as if her palms
are wild birds sure of flight, her body

huge, wedged over two seats and swathed
in bundles of black fur. The woman talks
as if we are all listening, and we can’t help it,

we are, we’re listening to her talk about salad,
how she eats it every day, could eat it for
breakfast lunch and dinner and the more

polite of us doubt, the more audacious
of us snigger openly, for how could this mountain
of a woman eat salad every day, as she says,

eat it every day and not crumble to dust,
not lose her great weight and become
mountain’s shadow, half the woman she is now,

a fleshy resemblance to the greens she so
loves; wilted celery leaf, limp romaine.
I stare down at my own hands

folded like sleeping doves in my lap.
I am envious of the woman, envious of
her weighted body in all its surety;

her body, the lasting memory of first kiss,
first embrace, first grief, the limitless expanse
of all three, the source of joy and sex and sorrow.

Her body, a fierce politic. One day, maybe soon,
she will take a step and shake all of us, wake us
from our lurid dreams of Lululemon and scales

and grapefruit and salad. We will be like newborns,
mouths twisted open in fear or in awe, crying for her,
crying for a woman, a woman’s body without boundaries.

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