what it means to remain in stillness

During my long trek through undergrad, sitting in a range of undersized desks housed in campuses spanning from NJ to CT to NY to CO, I found myself in classes that stretched my mind in directions I never expected to go.

Two communities colleges, a college in Brooklyn and then a university in Boulder, Colorado. Years of searching through my mind to find myself. To remain sober. To challenge myself. To fall in love. To fall out of love. To lose my mind. To gain parts of it back. To disagree with professors. And then, to become one myself.

During one semester in Boulder, Colorado, I took a meditation class. I always wanted to be that person with a practice. One who could turn off life and the voices in my head in order to sit in stillness.

We began each class sitting in a large circle; there were many of us. The instructor, a strikingly beautiful older woman with long brushstrokes of grey hair, would guide us into the meditation. There we sat, trusting the space and trusting each other. In silence. Recognizing the infiltration of thoughts and allowing them to flutter past like buzzing butterflies.

I was the one wearing frizzy red hair, housing a gut of frustration, with my eyes open.

I meditated by watching.

I know. This is not the way it is done. But I have a difficult time with rules and being in groups and being still.

Watching humans being alive in this meditative state is so calming. I was envious of their lack of fidget. Each time I closed my eyes, a strobe light of trauma arrived in my mind. My panic would force my eyes open, as I realized that everyone else was far better at keeping to the rules.

I grew enamored by the array of skin, folding of limbs, welcomed palms resting on knees. I watched the sun pour in from the window and highlight the dust particles floating around us like auras of spiritual awakenings.

The teacher asked us to keep a meditation journal. We were expected to meditate outside of class and write about the experience.

What came up? What were some challenges? Any moments of enlightenment?

I remember a particular journal entry of mine. It was during a time when I felt very displaced from my body.

After handing my paper in, my teacher took me aside after class and asked me if I was okay.

“Yeah,” I said, trying not to fondle her hair with my eyes.

“I was taken aback by what you wrote. You seem so young to have had a hysterectomy.”

I didn’t know what to say. I quickly traveled in my mind to remember what I had written to make her think I had had this procedure.

“I….I didn’t,” I said to her. “What made you think I had?”

“The way you wrote about your body. The pain. The [gutting].”

Now, I realize why I feel so much more comfortable writing over speaking. When I write, what I want to say is far more direct and articulated than when I just talk it out.

At that time, I didn’t spend much time thinking about hysterectomies. Now, many years later, I’ve begun researching them, realizing a desire and need to actually get one. It’s far more complicated than this white box, which welcomes my text. It’s about gender. It’s about that displacement. It’s about pain.

But this is not about that.

This is about ways to be still. Maybe meditation is not quite for me. Yoga does it sometimes. Though there is movement, there is silence and stillness within each pose. There is recognition of life and strength with each stretch.

Biking does it too.

And writing, of course.

Often, it is just about reminding myself that I can be. Still.

located between violet and green.

Dear Kazim,

Do you know how many offerings of blue there are in the sky? I call them offerings because these hues arrive and they remain as a gift to our sight. There are many things that we forget to notice, such as what exists beneath our feet or the vast field of water’s reflection above us.

Kazim, there is a red hook. It exists in a watermarked area of Brooklyn. My soul sister and I follow the trail of salt and orange-scented horizon welcoming in the evening. Our toes twist into strands of grass that tickle and tease our summer calluses.

Here is where I collect thoughts. I ignore the scab on my shoulder from the weight of things I carry from borrowed home to borrowed home and feel gratitude toward the one who holds me on a night I feel my insides attempting an escape. I’ve been carving love letters to Brooklyn into benches and brick walls. I haven’t received anything back or perhaps I have……I’ve no mailbox anymore.

Let’s call this color squashed blueberry or sorrow’s lust. This sky is our rooftop and suddenly I feel home. 



Today is a day is a day is a re(memory) of AIDS

Two Mays ago, I dressed my body in heavy backpack full of fabrics to wear and an empty notebook to fill and I flapped my wings toward Amsterdam. I was looking to write poems with strangers; I was looking to get over a lost love; I was looking to drench myself in a place I spent years dreaming about and needed to explore alone.

On my last day there, I volunteered at Dominiscuskirk, a nearby church on Spuistraat. Stained glass replaced wallpaper or paint and angels flew all around in corners and around pillars. I was there to help set up the giant quilt panels honoring those who died of AIDS. I took in all the photographs sewed onto various colors and textured patterns. When all the quilts had been hung, I sat watching candles grow illuminated.

A thin man, curved into a wheelchair, moved beside me. He introduced himself as Steven. When I told him that I was visiting from New York, he announced he had been there twice before 2001. “I listened to jazz music then,” he said. “And I went to Central Park.” I told him that I came to Amsterdam to write poems. Will you write a poem with me? I asked him.

Steven smiled. I wanted to cry out medicinal band-aids and heal him. We write:

poetry is religion
there are lots of angels here
a lean into bowl creates a hum:
the sounds of bells

So many red ribbons twisted against shoulders, around candles, against hips. I was asked to light a candle for all those who died in North America from AIDS. Several others joined me, representing other continents. During the ceremony, I went up to the microphone and said, This candle is for the memory of all the people who have died because of AIDS in North America.

When all the candles had been lit, attendees were encouraged to call out the names of loved ones who had also died. We stood there, facing a sea of names, called out into the air, illuminated by the shadows of light. I cried, fearing my wild salt would blow out the light of my candle, but instead it just tumbled down my face.

Steven, I wanted to tell you that you’re a poem.
Your skin, plowed away from this disease, is a poem.
Your breath, pushed out by melted musculature, is a poem.
Your smile lit the church organ on fire, pushing pipes into sheets of enflamed music.

You said, “Goodbye“, after we each grabbed a white balloon and walked our way through the church, outside past several canals. And when we were given the signal, we all let go of our balloons. Many had names attached. These hand-written names floated toward the moon. Bag pipers played and I should have told you how beautiful you were are.

I left the next day, still lovelorn. Before I arrived in this magical land, I thought maybe Amsterdam would help me “find myself”. Humans do this; we go places to find the selves we think we’ve lost. I’ve been searching for my lost self for decades. I do not need a passport to find it. And I certainly don’t need love to validate it. Poems, maybe. Light, yes. Music, definitely. Breath, always.