sunrise

I don't recall if I ever told you
     how the sunrise
          reminds me of you

as it breaks through the clouds
     signaling a new start
     signaling a new day
          just as you are
     the start of something wonderful
     the dawning of a new day

as it warms the brisk morning air
     waking the songbirds
     who sing to their lovers
        just as I am
     awakened by beauty
     and seduction, and grace

as it shines into the darkness
     illuminating hidden corners
     returning color to the world
          just as we
     illuminate each other
     one coloring the other

but in this very moment
     as I write these words
          I realize
     that all along
          I have had it wrong

for it is not
     that the sunrise
          reminds me of you

          but rather
     that you are
my sunrise

ritual.

Growing up in a relatively strict, but by no means dogmatic, religious household, I was raised to follow and respect various rituals. We attended church on Sunday morning and Sunday evening, as well as Wednesday night. There were youth groups and youth retreats and summer jobs at youth camps.

In addition, there was the ritual of school – lessons and tests and homework and after-school activities, five or six days a week.

When I joined the Air Force, almost a year out of high school, the rituals shifted but became more prevalent. Inspections and marching and even more classroom time, followed by active duty assignments that required pre- and post-activites, as well as active participation during.

As I entered my 30’s, I begun to shun anything that smacked of ‘ritual.’ I became, almost overnight, a student of the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants school of living life. I was still punctual for appointments, still a dutiful employee that would show up early and leave late, still a doting husband and father (to varying degrees, depending on which ex-wife or child you ask). But making plans was something I had no taste for, no interest in.

I became very much a go-with-the-flow partner and friend, always happy to be along for the ride, but rarely engaged in making plans myself.

Don’t get me wrong; nobody would consider me a “free spirit” or anything like that. I like to have a plan in place, and follow it as closely as possible. I just dreaded the work of having to come up with a plan myself. I much preferred having others do that dirty work for me.

However, now that I am well into my 50’s, I am learning to appreciate, and even love, more structure. Over the last couple of years, the importance of (secular) rituals has begun to resonate with me again.

It’s been said that in order for a ritual to truly take hold, you have to repeat it for anywhere from three weeks to two months, depending on which scientific study you’re reading. The best illustration I’ve seen of this is from the author Sarah Bakewell, who compares the process of learning a new habit to digging ditches in your brain that allows the thoughts and habits to flow freely and without effort, as rain water drains from a field into a river.

Some have been easier than others. At the insistence of both my son and my girlfriend, I have quit drinking coffee and switched to black tea in the mornings. I’ve noticed no ill effects from the switch, and my stomach seems to appreciate the loss of the acidic quality of the dark French roast that I so loved.

More complicated is my relationship with the meditation practice I began nearly a year ago. That continues to grow in fits and spurts; I’ll go a week or two with my daily practice, then slack off for a few days until I realize that I’ve become tense again and need to realign my perspective.

As the weather has begun to warm, my current favorite (begun at the end of last week, and by no means a ritual yet) is to spend an hour on the back porch first thing in the morning, listening to the birds, completing my daily Duolingo lessons, and reading. I find it to be very calming for me personally, and both the language learning and book reading feed my intellectual needs quite nicely.

Rituals, it turns out, are not such a bad thing after all. They are just another tool to help me navigate the daily grind.

knowing

I breathe in
     and know that I am breathing in
I think
     and know that I am thinking
I hear
     and know that I am hearing
I breathe out
     and know that I am breathing out

I taste
     and know that I am tasting
I listen
     and know that I am listening
I feel
     and know that I am feeling
I breathe in
     and know that I am breathing in

I eat
     and know that I am eating
I touch
     and know that I am touching
I drink
     and know that I am drinking
I breathe out
     and know that I am breathing out

I breathe in
     and know that I am breathing in
I am distracted
     and know that I am distracted
I breathe out
     and know that I am breathing out

I begin again
     and know that I am beginning again

Parles-tu quelque chose?

I’ve been thinking a lot about languages lately.

Looking back over the last few years, I can divide my interests and efforts into generalized, annualized categories:

2017 – my Finding My Roots phase
2018 – my Making Music phase
2019 – my Writing A Book phase
2020 – my Writing A Book Of Poetry phase
2021 – my Math And Philosophy phase

This year – actually, it started at the end of 2021 – I began delving into languages. My obsession with French philosophy in the second half of 2021 lead me to want to be able to read certainly philosophy books by Camus and Sartre and de Beauvoir in the original French. I dusted off my Duolingo account from early 2018 (where I’d been learning Spanish as a result of my ancestral search) and started the French language track.

Then, when a close friend of mine told me she might have a chance to visit Italy at the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023, I convinced her to start learning Italian on Duolingo, and promised I’d support her in her efforts. So, now the two of us are imparando a parlare italiano even as I continue to aprendere à lire le français in my spare time.

As I’ve worked a bit ahead of her in Italian, and this isn’t my first language-learning rodeo, I have been trying to give her tips to help her internalize some of the lessons we’re learning in Duo. And as I’ve been engaged in this process, a thought struck me.

For French, it’s important (to me) to really grasp the written language fully, in order to be able to read the literary works I’ve set my sights on. So while vocabulary is very important, being able to accurately conjugate verbs, use the correct pronouns, and agree the possessive pronouns with the object of the sentence are all necessary in order to fully grasp the language.

To be certain, I won’t be there by the end of this year, or even the end of next year. This is a language project that will extend well beyond Duolingo and the YouTube videos I watch every day. I can see a point in my near future where I’ll require the assistance of a tutor of some sort in order to reach the level of French fluency I believe I’ll need.

For Italian, though, it seems to me that our goal should be more about being able to communicate – the technicalities of the written language aren’t as important as being able to express thoughts, needs, desires, etc. So, agreement is not so important, especially when native speakers (of both languages) tend to slur words together – and not just due to the French liason!

As long as we know the basics – Voglio… (I want…), vorrei… (I would like…, much more polite and respectful), hai… (do you have…?), dov’è… (where is…?), and a wide assortment of vocabulary words for different foods, beverages, and places, she should be more than prepared to spend a few days in the beautiful north of Italy.

So, I’ve modified my approach for each language. En français, I am primarily focused on getting the grammar down and mastering sentence structure and various literary devices. In italiano, my focus is on vocabulary and being able to form structurally sound sentences that would make some sort of sense when spoken to a native speaker.

So, here’s to 2022 – my Foreign Languages phase.

c’est comme ça.

tu as beaucoup souffert,
     comme nous tous,
et je prends ce que 
     tu as à donner,
gracieusement et 
     avec gratitude.

pleinement conscient que 
     je ne suis pas le seul,
mais plutôt celui 
     en ce moment.

j'ai été à ta place,
     où tu en es dans la vie,
alors, j'accepte pleinement 
     mon rôle dans votre vie 
comme votre rebond.

c'est comme ça.

sentir les roses.

je suis à nouveau 
     sur quelque chose 
          de nouveau
et je me dépêche de le 
          faire fonctionner
     quand je devrais 
          prendre mon temps

Rome n'a pas été 
     construite 
          en un jour
mais me voilà 
          avec mon marteau 
     et une poignée 
     de clous

j'essaie de construire 
     le Colisée
quand je devrais m'arrêter 
          pour sentir 
          les roses

mais je m'arrête 
     pour penser à ce que 
          tu viens 
          de dire
     et prends-le à cœur

je pas confondre 
          vitesse 
          et précipitation

la construction continue 
          à son rythme 
          en son temps
     et je m'arrêterai 
          pour sentir 
          les roses

En aglais (In English):

I'm onto something 
     new again
and I hurry to 
     make it work
when I should 
     take my time

Rome wasn't built 
          in a day
     but here I am 
          with my hammer and 
          a handful of nails

I try to build 
          the Colosseum
when I should stop 
     to smell 
          the roses

but I stop to think about 
          what you just said
and take it to heart

I do not confuse 
     speed and haste
construction continues 
          at its own pace
and I'll stop 
     to smell 
          the roses

moth.

try as I might
it floods, unabated
not enough fingers
too many holes

if consumes and subsumes
my every waking thought
how can I stop it?
why would I want that?

and I've no-one to blame
it is my fault alone
I've constructed this dam
in the lowest of plains

I am a foolish architect
for building such a structure
using the best of materials
in the worst of locations

leaving it unguarded against
the vandals and thieves
who would breach its walls
destroy what they could

and those untrustworthy souls
to whom I gave the key
only to tear the place down
I guess those are on me

I'd gladly accept my fate,
my part of the blame
if only I could find respite
if only I could find peace

try as I might, though
I cannot give up
I'm the idiot moth
to your bright, burning flame

and while I have few regrets
I have earned every scar
each lesson I cherish
but this one, above all:

I should not have bothered
with building this structure,
this dam to encompass
my damn heart.

winter comes too quickly.

a beautiful jet-lagged day
with a snowy forecast
     on the horizon
     that will not dampen
          these feelings of joy

it's been far too long
we've been too far apart
     my soul craves yours
     as yours does mine
          winter comes too quickly

temporary displacement of
my everyday life is what
     my soul craves
     as does yours
          the days ending ubruptly

the smiles and giggles
the conversations in whispers
     of subjects so unbecoming
     those of our maturity
          but I value this above all

I see my future self
          in you
do you see your younger self
          in me?
are we each other,
     out of place,
          out of time?
               can we dream of
               what the other has?

is this how it is now?
will we always be reaching,
     me into your future,
     you into my past?
          is that even an issue?

for I have other minutia to attend to
other itches to scratch
     for me,
     for now,
          this is enough.
     

deafening.

          this silence is deafening
     your presence in 
     your absence
the heaviness in the clouds
the whispering in the trees
your name written across the sky

          this silence is awakening
     your absence in
     the present
sunlight just over the hill
illuminates the cold morning
bringing warmth to a new day

          this silence is transformative
     this daybreak in
     the evening
like a thousand voices singing
like a thousand bodies dancing
like a thousand words unspoken

          this silence is transfixed
     time frozen in
     this moment
anticipation of movement
where no movement exists
only stillness, only turmoil

          this silence is burgeoning
     demon unleashed in
     this barren forest
no hope of rescue
no hope of escape
no hope of salvation

          this silence is beginning
     and ending
and beginning again

not wanting to get burned.

to say that I couldn't live
          without you
     is certainly an overstatement
     is definitely crossing a line
     is 100% true

even as I close my eyes
          to sleep
     I know I will wake up to you
     I will feel you and taste you
     and that makes me smile

do I dream of you?
          who's to say?
     it is no one's concern
     it is nobody's business
     but mine, yours, ours

to say that you are my only
          reason for living
     sounds odd, in a way
     but like you and all you are
     it is strangely satisfying

your scent awakens me
          in the morning
     the aroma of you beckoning
     the longing to taste you on my lips
     hands warmed by your very being

and while I am still half asleep
          and groggy
     you are already downstairs
     getting ready for the day
     and you call to me

feeling my way in the morning
          half-light
     into the kitchen
     following your siren song
     to where I want to be

I can't help but smile
          once again
     you are sitting on the counter
     ready to be taken
     and so I do

reaching out for your warmth
           your beautiful scent
     hitting my nostrils
     my eyes widen
     my mouth waters

your warmth a deception
          for you are burning hot
     and so I very carefully
     tenderly and gingerly
     pour you into my cup

and we sit together on the
          back porch
     watching the dogs play
     listening to the morning birds
     you in my hands, against my chest

and touching you to my lips
          gently blowing
     wanting you in me
     but, as with everything
     not wanting to get burned.

Trending away.

Great minds speak of ideas
          average minds, of events
     small minds, of people and things
But me? I speak
          of the idea of us
     two people
          and what we did
          and what we had

Blatantly ignoring the signs
          I assumed it was me
     and I was wrong
But on the drive home
          that February afternoon
     you asked for forgiveness
          that wasn't mine to give
          I gave it anyway

Trending always away from
          what I thought we meant
     of what it meant to be us
But I was confused
          there was no us
     how could there be?
          there was only me
          there was only you

We played at 'us' as best we could
          never breaking character
     always saving face
But when it was time to leave
          there was always 
      someone else
          waiting for you
          waiting on me

And looking back now on it
          it shouldn't surprise me
     although it always does
But if I had it to do all over
          I know in my soul
     that my heart would be
          yours to break again
          forever and ever

You will always come first
          you will always be the one
     yes, that surprises me, too
But the past does not lie
          nor does it tell the truth
     it just is
          and continues to be
          never changing

Trending always towards
          what I thought we meant
     which was nothing
But I am confused
          and to tell the truth
     you never chose me 
          it was always someone else
          it was always somewhere else

So I should pour another drink
          cheers to us
     and what we never were
But the bottle is empty
          and it's far too late
     for me to brave the cold
          of this Autumn night
          for another drink.

Another Day by Debbie Vandenberg

A good friend of mine, Debbie Vandenberg, shared with me this beautiful poem she wrote this morning as she was enjoying the sunrise from her porch, and has given me her permission to share it with you...
Another Day

Sunset gently waking me
Kissing away the night before
Wiping sadness out of my eyes
Then teasing me
To play some more

I take a sip
    hot
    strong
    creamy
I can taste the opportunity
In the warmth
Cup to my mouth
Toying with me
As I hold it in my hands
To make the best of this day
That is all it knows
And this, too, I understand
My clothes hit the floor
I need to be ready in an hour
So the shower takes me in
Washed away
Every ounce of sorrow
Then like a mad man
I let the water go cold
As the shower
Boldly reminds me
It is up to me to decide
Hold on, or let go

My chair wants to be one with me
It is the softest
Space I have
So I bring my legs up from the floor
And relax every muscle that I have
My breath I begin to watch
Breathing in, then I release
A sweet sense of joy surrounds me
My chair shows me how to find peace

It is time now for the mirror
Without the above
I could not face
In there I see lines of wisdom
And eyes that have seen
What it is to find grace

Now I am walking out the door
The world is mine to
Explore
I thank the
     sun
     shower
     chair
     mirror
For waking me,
Cleaning me,
Holding me,
And letting me see the truth
Now I have the power
To face another day.

-Debbie Vandenberg, October 2021
©2021 Debbie Vandenberg