Every year, since 2005, I’ve been taking a retreat. I’ve been turning my back against the world for those few precious days, and just enjoying what is. I would go away for awhile, find some place in some city, and just…sit in the quiet. I take long baths, sleep all day. Read. Write. Cry. Take deep breaths. Feel my heart and its scars. Anchor my soul to my body. Heal.

This year I haven’t left yet. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to. I thought it would be alright not to leave — I’m house-sitting for someone, and I’ve got a big room all to myself, with six windows, a big bed, a table and two chairs. My books are scattered everywhere, and I’ve been writing and drawing a bit more than I’ve done in the last few months. But it’s not the same. I feel this emptiness inside that’s threatening to swallow me whole. I’m out in the sea, and I’m drowning.

from The Spell
Marie Howe

Every day when I pick up my four-year-old daughter from preschool
she climbs into her back booster seat and says, Mom—–tell me your story.
And almost every day I tell her: I dropped you off, I taught my class
I ate a tuna fish sandwich, wrote e-mails, returned phone calls, talked with students
and then I came to pick you up.
And almost every day I think, My God, is that what I did?

Yesterday, she climbed into the backseat and said, Mom
tell me your story, and I did what I always did: I said I dropped you off
taught my class, had lunch, returned e-mails, talked with students…
        And she said, No Mom, tell me the whole thing.

And I said, ok. I feel a little sad.
And she said, Tell me the whole thing Mom.
And I said, ok Elise died.

Elise is dead and the world feels weary and brokenhearted.
And she said, Tell me the whole thing Mom.
And I said, in my dream last night I felt my life building up around me and
        when I stepped forward and away from it and turned around I saw a high
        and frozen crested wave.

        And she said, the whole thing Mom.
Then I thought of the other dream, I said, when a goose landed heavily on my head—
But when I’d untangled it from my hair I saw it wasn’t a goose but a winged serpent
writhing up into the sky like a disappearing bee.

And she said, Tell me the whole story.
And I said, Elise is dead, and all the frozen tears are mine of course
and if that wave broke it might wash my life clear,
        and I might begin again from now and from here.

And I looked into the rearview mirror—
She was looking sideways, out the window, to the right
        —where they say the unlived life is.

Ok? I said.
And she said, Ok, still looking in that direction.

This is not the complete poem, and I’m afraid I screwed up the line cuts again. But it is beautiful, and it is what I needed.

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Here is a woman who has my heart, again and again, forever and always. Her poems were extremely comforting when my grandfather died almost two years ago. Those few months I don’t know if I’ll ever be brave enough to share with the world. But here is something we both can enjoy:

——————————

After the Movie
Marie Howe

My friend Michael and I are walking home arguing about the movie.
He says that he believes a person can love someone
and still be able to murder that person.

I say, No, that’s not love. That’s attachment.
Michael says, No, that’s love. You can love someone, then come to a day

when you’re forced to think “it’s him or me”
think “me” and kill him.

I say, Then it’s not love anymore.
Michael says, It was love up to then though.

I say, Maybe we mean different things by the same word.
Michael says, Humans are complicated: love can exist even in the
      murderous heart.

I say that what he might mean by love is desire.
Love is not a feeling, I say. And Michael says, Then what is it?

We’re walking along West 16th Street—a clear unclouded night—and I hear my voice
repeating what I used to say to my husband: Love is action, I used to say
      to him.

Simone Weil says that when you really love you are able to look at
      someone you want to eat and not eat them.

Janis Joplin says, take another little piece of my heart now baby.

Meister Eckhardt says that as long as we love images we are doomed to
      live in purgatory.

Michael and I stand on the corner of 6th Avenue saying goodnight.
I can’t drink enough of the tangerine spritzer I’ve just bought—

again and again I bring the cold can to my mouth and suck the stuff from
the hole the flip top made.

What are you doing tomorrow? Michael says.
But what I think he’s saying is “You are too strict. You are
      a nun.”

Then I think, Do I love Michael enough to allow him to think these things
      of me even if he’s not thinking them?

Above Manhattan, the moon wanes, and the sky turns clearer and colder.
Although the days, after the solstice, have started to lengthen,

we both know the winter has only begun.

Writing poems about my grandfather. My heart still breaks a little each time.

The Boy
Marie Howe

My older brother is walking down the sidewalk into the suburban
    summer night:
white T-shirt, blue jeans— to the field at the end of the street.

Hangers Hideout the boys called it, an undeveloped plot, a pit
    overgrown
with weeds, some old furniture thrown down there,

and some metal hangers clinking in the trees like wind chimes.
He’s running away from home because our father wants to cut his hair.

And in two more days our father will convince me to go to him— you know
where he is— and talk to him: No reprisals. He promised. A small parade
    of kids

in feet pajamas will accompany me, their voices like the first peepers
    in spring.
And my brother will walk ahead of us home, and my father

will shave his head bald, and my brother will not speak to anyone the next
month, not a word, not pass the milk, nothing.

What happened in our house taught my brothers how to leave, how to walk
down a sidewalk without looking back.

I was the girl. What happened taught me to follow him, whoever he was,
calling and calling his name.

I would ask my friends what I should do, but I know what they’ll say: You’re stupid, T., let him go.

———————

My Dead Friends
Marie Howe

I have begun,
when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering question

to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.

Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive a child
in my middle age?

They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling—whatever leads
to joy, they always answer,

to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy’s ashes were –
it’s green in there, a green vase,

and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and he says, yes.
Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,

whatever he says, I’ll do.