Monday, May 30, 2011

The House That Was My Muse

The Story Behind the Poem

A house was once my muse. How can that be? Most houses are about keeping out the rain and the noonday sun.

From the outside the house was a shoe box—upended—with plain redwood siding. But from inside the house was all eyes: eyes on the western hills where the fog flowed in, eyes on the inner valley where blazes of trees announced the changing seasons, eyes on the long view out to a distant reservoir, eyes on the setting sun as it swung along the hills— north to summer, then west and south to winter. It was a poetry house, a muse house.

Most poetic of all was my poetry porch—a small glassed in deck off our bedroom—and the house gave me new eyes, or rather, it gave me back the eyes I had as a girl. Birds flew below us. Hawks were at eye level, making slow circles until their eyes caught motion and they dived. Once, I saw a golden eagle perched on the nearby power pole—watching me watching him. The poet I’d been as a child in the mountains of Vermont, in the ivy woods of Princeton, returned to me in that house. She had room to play in a structure that cultivated the contemplative, the imaginal, the wild.

Sometimes, at night, we’d wake to the uncanny “hoo hoo” of an owl, perched on a corner of roof, staring at us. Often, after work, Dan and I would stand on the living room deck, pour drops of red wine on the distant earth, say “Pacha Mama”—thanks to our mother—the earth.

Our houses shape us—they orient our senses, teach us what matters, give us our outlook on life. Before the muse house Dan and I lived in a strong warm maternal house in the city, with dark wood interiors. In those days we paid scant attention to what was happening outside. It was a house that sturdily embraced our complicated family: Dan’s three kids, my three kids, a dog, a cat, the custody dance of every other weekend vs. Dad’s week, Mom’s week. How many for dinner? When the kids grew up, we wanted a house just for us two.

The muse house on the ridge was a blessing of light, a lesson in the circles of life. It sang to me in the hot tub. It whispered fragments of poetry. I wrote and I wrote.

The house was also a headache, a money suck, a catastrophe waiting to happen. It leaked in the rain. We replaced the roof. It still leaked. We replaced the windows. It still leaked. The drip drip drip woke us in the night. It was water torture.

It needed to be painted frequently, for it stood three stories tall on that ridge and was beaten by weather. It cost a small fortune to paint because it required scaffolding. The house, Dan said, would keep him from ever retiring. It was making him crazy. Slowly, sadly I came around to Dan’s reality. We needed to sell the house. That was when I heard the lament of the house:

Lament of the House

How can you tear me apart, empty me out?
Haven’t I stroked you with fingers of light?
Haven’t I gentled your eyes? Filled you to brimming over
with the green world? How it goes
golden and brown? How it loses

its leaves and goes bare? Haven’t I given you
joy— shown you the setting sun
with streaks of purple and orange,
with white fog like sea foam
flowing over the western hills?

Haven’t you stood on my deck, you and Dan
poured red wine unto the earth
said praises, said blessings?
Haven’t I held your clay goddesses, your dancing
Ganesha, your gathering of Zuni frogs?
How can you tear me apart, empty me out,
get me staged to be god knows whose
fantasy house on a ridge? I who’ve been source
of your source, sanctuary, sacred seat
from which you’ve seen clouds form, hawks dive…

Haven’t you sat in me—on that old yellow chair—and been visited
by poetry? Haven’t you stood in me—naked,
moonstruck— in the gaze of the great horned one?
Will you send your gods into exile in cardboard boxes?
Will the soles of your feet forever be gone from my spiral stairs?

Where will your wild enthusiasms go, your wrestling
angels, your love cries? “Nasty,” you called me
when I thrust that long redwood splinter under your nail.
How else can I say it? You and I are inside one another.
How can you tear me apart, empty me out?
(This poem was first published in Poppyseed Kolache #2, Summer 2010)

Some time ago we learned that the young couple to whom we sold the house had to walk away from it. They were under water. The Great Recession had devoured their livelihood, their equity. And my magical house, my poetry porch, my glorious views hung desolate, abandoned, on the ridge— a foreclosure notice flapping on its front door, under the bare, late fall, wisteria which—I can see it in my mind’s eye—will make fervent purple blooms overarch the entrance, come summer.

The other morning Dan looked up from his newspaper. “It’s been sold” he said. “What has?” “Our old house.”

And indeed, we drove by to see trucks and cars parked in front of the house on the ridge, and work being done.

Thank you, whoever you are, who bought that magical house. Please take good care of it. May it bless your lives as it did ours.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

5-Star Review of Adagio and Lamentation

In his May 21, 2011 Malcolm’s Round Table review, Malcolm Campbell gives Adagio and Lamentation 5 stars (out of 5) and imagines the poet working “…with a pen so sharp that it tears the paper, cutting through the desk’s polished veneer to carry ink and light deep into the primary wood.”

Campbell writes, “…the poems live and breathe on their pages, and when experienced together, comprise an ever-new song about long-ago wars, colors, shadows, moments and people…. Lowinsky’s words—written with “a flicker of serpent’s tongue in her ear”—tear through the paper-thin present and drive their way deep into the underworld of the unconscious where the inspirations of her muse are fiery, erotic, earthy, transcendent and whole.”

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sun Singer,” “Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey” and “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.”

Friday, May 6, 2011

Some Reflections on Loss and Grief on Mother’s Day

On a recent Thursday my friend Cathy and I were having lunch—as we regularly do— telling each other stories from our lives as we have done since we were girls. There was a sudden commotion across the street from the restaurant: a procession of many children and some adults had turned the corner of Alcatraz Avenue and was marching down College Avenue. They wore blood red T shirts, and carried placards that read: “Peace. Non Violence. Adam we love you.” Sad children, weeping children, adults with solemn faces. They chanted: “Adam Adam Adam. We want Peace.”

We who had marched against wars and other atrocities, we who had been washed down the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall while demonstrating against the House Un-American Activities Committee fifty years ago—when we were students at Berkeley High— watched this procession with amazement and wonder.

What was being protested?

Who was Adam?

Adam, we learned, was Adam Williams, a young man, 22 years old, who worked as an aide and mentor in Peralta Elementary School’s P.E.A.C.E. after school program. He was shot outside Sweet Jimmie’s at Jack London Square on the night after Easter—an innocent passerby during an attempted robbery. I found his photo on line—such a beautiful young man.

Cathy has a son named Adam. I have a step-son named Adam. My children and step-children, including Adam, went to Peralta in the 70s. It was a wonderful school, diverse, challenging, creative. I gather it still is. I learned from the Peralta School Website that Adam Williams went to Peralta in the 90s and that his mother has worked on the support staff for years.

I don’t know Adam Williams. But I know something about how loved he was. The children whose lives he touched, touched me with their tears, their passionate protest against his senseless death, their hand written placards. One read “Be treated as you want to be treated. Mr. Adam, I miss you.”

I don’t know Adam’s mother, but I do know something about grief. My grandmother lost her two sons when they were in their early 20s. They had gone skiing. Their young lives were buried in an avalanche. This was many years before I was born. But her grief was my companion growing up. I learned that a mother who loses her child never stops grieving, never stops remembering, needs to keep that child’s memory alive by telling the stories. I wrote about this in my book, The Motherline.

Terrible loss, sudden death, unbearable grief are part of all our Motherlines. Go back far enough in your Motherline and you’ll find children who died too young, mothers who died in childbirth, fathers killed in war or on the streets.

Cathy and I stood at the corner of College and Alcatraz in the throngs of blood red T shirts whose slogan was ”Adam’s March for Peace.” We looked at each other with tears in our eyes.

One can think of this terrible story as an example of the mysteries of fate. Or one can see it as a symptom of a violent and gun crazy culture. Either way it is unbearable.

Cathy and I know that grief is part of every mother’s experience. Whether it’s grief for your baby growing up, grief for a child who is disabled or sick, grief for an adult child who is suffering, the capacity to grieve is part of being human, part of being able to love.

This Mother’s Day make room in your reflections for mothers who have lost their children. They do not stop being mothers. Remember the mother of Adam Williams. Remember how much he was loved.