On my Facebook feed, I look forward to reading poems by Frank de Acosta and finding how he pairs his poetry with art.
This image, by Mayan artist Paula Nicho Cumes knocked me back, shook my eyes awake. Life so vibrant, I am lost in the colors, desiring to run up and roll down the hills, feel the blaze of sun, dip my toes in flowing waters, lay back and watch the migration of rainbow clouds journey me to dreams.
The poet’s words inspired me to be mindful during my own walk, to listen, and understand that the “soul of this life,” is something to seek.
With Frank’s permission, here is today’s poem (line breaks are mine):
Whispering Beauty (Reprise)
Rather than walking blindly through my day,
I will seek out the resounding beauty that waits in whisper before me.
I will humble my eyes to recognize blessings;
embracing the beauty taken for granted in my relations, creation, & changing rhythms of life.
Sharing humanity, compassion, & tolerance along my path,
I will walk in the spirit of gratitude, integrity, & purpose.
Exposing my heart in acceptance;
allowing space for love, laughter, understanding, forgiveness, & reconciliation.
Today is for listening intently to the soul of this life;
remembering that resounding beauty waits in sacred whispers before me.
Yesterday, I visited with a young couple. The young man has undergone six rounds of chemotherapy and will soon start on another round of six ‘treatments.’ I single quote that word because chemotherapy drugs are so harsh it’s hard to think of them as treatments.
First, a disclaimer: These ways of healing are what worked for me during and after my cancer treatments eight years ago. Two methods are what works for another cancer patient. Discuss your use of any pain relief methods with your doctor.
The young man looked so much better than I expected, he still had some hair, his eyebrows and mustache, his face wasn’t gaunt. I expected him to look like I did after chemo–bald, pale, tired. Different types of cancer, different chemo treatments.
We talked about how he felt, both physically and emotionally. I think it was hard for his fiancé to hear us talk, but she knew he needed to talk.
He asked me how I dealt with the physical pain, especially the tenderness of the scalp, fingers, palms, the joint pain that doesn’t let you sleep, the stomach distress. The pain meds the doctor prescribed did very little to ease pain.
We shared our stories.
These are some ways that helped me heal and cope with the pain of cancer and healing from cancer.
Meditation music temporarily helped, especially with stress, but also with pain . I slapped on earbuds, played pleasurable music (I seemed to prefer water sounds) and zoned out for a couple of hours. Many hospitals, community centers teach meditation and mindfulness. Dr. Lisa Rankin talks about this and more in her book, Mind Over Medicine.
Reiki (Rei which means “God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power” and Ki which is “life force energy”). This was offered at the cancer center I attended. I was a skeptic, but now I’m a believer. You can find more about reiki here.
“Whatever you do, don’t take Marinol (concentrated THC in pill form). It didn’t help at all with my nausea, just gave me the munchies,” I said.
You should have seen the expression on his face, hearing that I ingested Marinol (under doctor directions) and wished California had medical Marijuana back then. He smiled and said he tried an “Edible,” which is marijuana baked into a food like a brownie or cake pop. It dulled his pain for a couple of hours and didn’t hurt his stomach like the pain pills.
This is legal in California if you have a medical marijuana card. In Colorado you don’t need a card (other than proof of age, 21) and they have strains of marijuana that are lower in THC and higher in CBD (Cannabidiol)a major, non-psychoactive component of cannabis that helps shrink inflammation and reduce pain without inducing the euphoria effects of THC. Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks about this in his CNN program about medical marijuana. Several studies are researching placing marijuana into a pill for pain relief.
There is an old remedy used in Mexico, and here, where a liniment is made from soaking marijuana in alcohol for a couple of weeks and applying it on painful joints. (I know of a couple of elderly people who use this for their rheumatoid arthritis and they say it works.)
4. Juicing vegetable and fruits. I wanted to heal myself from the inside out. The dietician at the cancer center emphasized 6-8 servings of vegetables/fruit daily. It was so much easier to drink the juice of carrots, apples, celery, spinach than to eat them, especially when you’re nauseous or don’t feel like eating. I still juice a few times a month or buy a vegetable and fruit combo at Trader Joe’s or a health food store.
5. Positive affirmations and prayer, every day. During my cancer recuperation I bought a deck of 64 Wisdom Cards by Louise Hay. The card above and quote below resonated with me.
“The moment I say positive affirmations, I step out of the victim role. I am no longer helpless…I’m taking the next step for my healing.”
Healing really comes from a mind, body, and soul connection. I’m not saying it will cure your illness. For me, I became more holistic in my ideas about healing. Dr. Deepak Chopra has a wealth of information about holistic healing.
6. Hope: This couple made a bucket list of places and experiences they want to enjoy when chemo is completed or on the young man’s ‘good days.’ They look to the future, believing the cancer will be healed. They have hope. Together they tackle the pain of the present and look to the future.
I left our visit hopeful for this young man’s full recovery. I look forward to his marriage, the creation of a family, and the end of cancer appearing in his life ever again, or mine, or your own.
This past Sunday my family and I attended a celebration that stirred memories of our young adult lives and childhood. We attended a “Bautismo” or baptism. It is one of the seven religious sacraments of the Catholic Church where an infant is initiated into the spiritual community of the Church.
It has been many moons since our own children were babies and now that several of our extended family are not Catholic (except for my mother) we don’t attend baptism’s as often as we did in our childhood and young adulthood.
Cultural traditions remind us of who we are and where we came from. That is why we were delighted that the young couple, college graduates, third generation Mexican American’s, followed the traditions of their culture and religion.
Mexican and Mexican American baptisms have their own baptism rituals. The parents select godparents, or compadres, who traditionally have the duty of raising the child if the child’s parents were to die. This isn’t a legally binding contract, but more of a moral obligation or promise to bring up the child as a Catholic.
After the pouring of the water on the baby’s head, the priest invites the parents to light a candle from the main candle at the altar. Prayers are said, the blessing of the oil takes place, and then the baby, parents and godparents are presented to the congregation.
The next ritual is the throwing of bolos. When we were children we lived in a predominately Mexican neighborhood, so bautismo’s and the ritual of the compadres throwing bolo was frequent. This is a gift of coins thrown to all the children attending the baptism. Bolo is said to symbolize prosperity and good luck for the infant.
Usually bolo was done on the steps of the church after the baptism ceremony. Pennies, nickels and dimes rained upon the heads of children scrambling for coins. In those days you could buy nickel candy bars, so bolo was quite the event. You could imagine that children from all over, and some adults, frequented the church steps on Sunday late afternoons after baptism ceremonies. In our neighborhood, everyone knew that twenty something Petra, would be at every baptism. She was mentally disabled so she was given a pass. But now bolo is thrown at the reception party.
A party takes place after the baptism, usually a backyard barbecue, for the family and friends of the parents. This is an opportunity for the extended family to get together and bring each other up to date. For us, the ‘old parents’ it was a time to reminisce about the baptismal parties we threw, how the years fly by, and how glad we are that the traditions we grew up with have not died out.
Jimmy Santiago Baca, an award-winning writer and poet (National Endowment of Poetry Award) does it again. Singing At The Gates is a collection of new and previously published poems that reflect back over four decades of Baca’s life.
This selection of poems includes his early work as a budding poet, written while he was 18 years old and serving a five-year prison sentence, poems drawn from his first chapbook and recent pieces on family, nature and the environment.
“What an achingly beautiful collection this is. So split open, so raw, honest, vulnerable, real. Spanning Baca’s life in poetry, you feel the enormity of his heart and intelligence.” —Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones and The True Secret of Writing
When I read poetry, it’s usually two or three poems at a time. I’m partial to shorter narrative poems that are rich with description and weighty with a single word. My favorite poets are mainly women but sometimes I’m drawn to a poem by a male poet such as Jimmy Santiago Baca.
Baca’s voice captured me at his introduction and I didn’t want to stop reading until I was exhausted.
“I love the growl of poetry, the staggering crash of idols and the burning of literary pacifiers…writing was for me, everyday-me snatching memories and writing them down before the fire of forgetfulness and trauma relegated them to the dark chambers of amnesia…I take only what I can carry and what is most meaningful to me-and that is the narrative, the story, the poem.”
The rawness and vulnerability that Baca writes about in the first half of the collection is so heavy, at times, that my emotional exhaustion came after five or six poems. Many of the poems are viscerally descriptive:
“I wear the moon like yanked out roots
in my heart’s fang as I search for secrets
in my life”
Approximately halfway in the collection we come to poems of awakening, growth, family and celebration.
“The reason I wake this morning
is because those people who’ve lived
through tragedies and loneliness and
anxiety found in their shattered-pottery
hearts fragments that fit perfectly
into the puzzle of night stars,
into the joyous cry
of a child at dawn
dashing out on the playground,
into the hands of men like me
who rise and dress and walk
out the door, culling from winter night
residues of summer
to dream a bit more
of the growing season.”
The last third of the collection is from 1998 to present. In Baca’s poem “It Makes Sense To Me Know,” he writes about his time as a volunteer teacher of reading and writing. He asks the children to write a letter poem about their journey to America and describes a shy little girl asking him to sit on the floor next to her as she stood on a small stage in a bookstore.
“When she uttered that first word/a glint of light sparked across her brown eyes into the world, as if it were/golden/speech without sound. I sat amazed/at the light in her eyes, igniting a memory/in/me–when/I too recited my first poem. The intensity/and/radiance of/a child reaffirmed my original reason for/writing, one I had forgotten along the way./Suddenly/I knew, keeping the light intact,/not teaching writing, not to mold or direct,/just to keep it burning, blowing on the /embers so hope doesn’t go out…”
I cannot name one favorite poem but I have a top ten list of Baca’s poems because there are so many touching, gripping, slap you upside the head words of poetry in this 254 page collection (for Kindle).
Singing at the Gates debuts in January 2014 but is available for pre-order through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other bookstores. I read the collection as a participant of NetGalley.