Where does inspiration lie? Everywhere!

This is my attempt to pounce on and then shape the words I breathe.

Please join me with your comments and make this a dialogue . . . and visit Susan's Poetry!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Free-writing with Jen: Knots

Getting inside the mystical experience that occurs when I get to the end of my rope:

Knot components

I am at cliff’s edge and God catches me. I think I am going to fall but float instead. I think I am going into the dark but it’s bright with light. I think I’ll cry until I die but smile instead.  I feel my back too bent over but it straightens and lets me take a few dance steps.  I find I can wash the dishes and don’t have to throw them out. And I am glad no one calls because I want this time for myself alone.   

[I stop writing to check the cat because she is too quiet. I take off my pants because they are too tight. And my knees hurt. I have to learn other ways of doing things so I can sit and write without excess discomfort.]

Today is not a mystical day.  I am plodding along with words and breath and sips of water.  My hand, a fist around a pen, produces small scratchy handwriting and not my third grade all-American classic slant.    

One of my performance characters, Alice—who is now the main character in the novel I am writing—has all my ailments and more, but she wouldn't write about them.  Prude and loner that she is, she'd rather talk about lust.  She remembers audience reactions when she said that Helen of Troy had told her she would rather sleep with books than with a man.  While performing Alice performing Helen, I lay down in a pile of broken books and rubbed my body with them. The audience found this titillating, strange, even disgusting.  But was it?  Neither Alice nor I think so, though we may agree that the truth of it is nobody's business.

So what is the knot you are writing about today?  The moment when you realize that you ran out of paper and you are writing on the table instead. [I remember doing this when typing on a manual typewriter.]  Oh!  The moment when you realize you are seeing the sunset but the sunset isn’t seeing you.  The moment you realize, I mean, that the sunset has shown itself but I have hidden.  That moment of bewilderment followed by its opposite: I’m not falling apart.  I’m falling UP! 

[The phone rang, but I was too UP to answer it.  I hear construction sounds from outside, but the soft smells of winter don’t match its thud and mud.]

What is the knot I am writing about?  Passion.  Do I ever write about anything else? 

Do I ever write about anything but the absorption in the wait-a-minute, as in Wait a minutesomething’s moving and alive out there.  Is it a squirrel or a seed? a sibling? a lion?

Bring it on, God!  Plant something alive in the expiring light so it’ll be there when I am ready to see it; when we are ready to see each other.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Susan's Poetry: Self-Reliance

Susan's Poetry: Self-Reliance: Girl on a Swing by Winslow Homer (1879)

           My poem grew as a result of an evening weeping and sobbing like I have never had before.  My friend Helene suggests my experience might be explained by the Hebrew lament tradition--for which she has resources and she has run workshops with a wise friend.  This interests me.  Yet, I fear that taking it into lament tradition will intellectualize it before I have learned all that I can from it.  So here, before I pursue that direction, I will try to put the experience itself into words as raw and true as the moments in which I lived it.
          This writing is a step forward, a capture, from which will most likely come a death and a scientific dissection of the body.   Let us call this phase getting to know the live animal in the wild, finding out where it will lead me or if it will eat out of my hand.  Is there another option between me going wild or me taming it?  If so, I hope I will discover it.
          This poem was my reaction on the next day:

File:WLA hmaa Winslow Homer Girl on a Swing.jpg
Girl on a Swing by Winslow Homer (1879)


Crying for hours with no
hope of rescue created
the river I needed 
to swim out to sea.

Who knew what blessings
your absence would bring? 

Now that I have descended cliffs,
leapt into currents, breasted waves
and tasted the sea, your little 
rope swing and your caution
have no more appeal for me.

These are the parts as I see them prior to writing.  This means I am trusting first instincts to have meaning in the narration of an event.  I don't know how I would approach this if I hadn't written this poem which suggests form or structure: 

  1. Situation of the crying
  2. Hope of rescue
  3. River  (a) cliffs, (b) currents, (c) waves
  4. Sea

I will write out each of these sections.  
Until I do, here are the notes I have on each:

1.  Situation of the crying:  Pain.  Spasms with follow up burning and inability to escape into sleep
2.  Calling Nancy and asking for her company.  Being turned down.
3.  Crying actual wet tears.  Not being able to stop. Calling out "O God!" and realizing I wanted God's help--a God I tried to visualize but could not.  Perhaps that is the cliff that needed ascending/scaling descending, but what are the currents andthe waves?  What is the experience of letting go and riding naked?  Of trying not to?
4.  Going there anyway.  Crying in that place.  A vast sea of Godness expanding me-ness, removing the boundaries of me-ness, absorbing me, rocking me to sleep.  My cat was present.
 And there is a 5: Waking refreshed and changed with the sensation of love and possibility.  Spending the day working on my body lovingly with each exercise.  Writing this poem.  Creating my notebook and calendar gifts.  Talking on the phone to Avis.  Talking in person to Nancy.  Rounding the day with sleep.
 And there is a 6:  In a phone call Helene asking me to talk about "going to that place"--literaly and figuratively her call was a wake-up call.  This is something to spend more time with.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Free-writing with Jen: Thinking about Mystical Experience

Pendle Hill above mist photo by Dr Greg
As we travelled, we came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.
George Fox: An AutobiographyChapter 6

Mystic River
Mystic, Connecticut

There is no magic in these words applied so widely.  Was Mystic, CT named after a divine mystical experience?  What of Mystic River?   I can imagine a river being mystical—as in self-aware of existence on more than one plane that is accessible—when its garbage is out of the way.  I would imagine that for a river this would occur closest to its source. 

I have read about famous mystics and have read work by famous mystics—those who were natural or religiously inspired or induced by peyote: Carlos Castaneda, Kahlil Gibran, Omar Khayyam, Rumi, Gurdjieff, Starhawk and Susan Griffin, Hildegard, St. Francis, Meister Eckhart, William Blake, Whitman, Jesus and lots of Quakers and poets and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and also Archery.  I imagine the Bible was written by mystic types whether they knew it or not.  I suppose that priests have access and awareness whether or not they use them. 

But I never noticed that I myself had mystical experience until I had my first few experiences as a Quaker.  After that I could look back over my life and question experiences I had before I knew the concept of mysticism.  And I still wonder if by its very nature the Religious Society of Friends—Quakers—is/are a mystical faith.  Does having mystical experiences make someone a mystic? 

I first met Quakers when part of the planning collective for the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in the early 1980s.  It wasn’t long before I started attending worship with them at Albany Friends Meeting, attracted by two Quakers—a mother and daughter team—who always saw the positive in each situation and smiled while others frowned and struggled.  One day while sitting in Meeting for Worship, I thought I was mind-wandering because my eyes were open and I was looking at each individual in our circle.  Their outlines began to blur until I saw blobs of flesh stuffed into clothes with facial features and long stringy arms and legs.  What the Hell?  But I wasn’t mind-wandering.  As I squeezed my eyes open and shut to shake free my vision, I heard—maybe—what was a voice saying: See?  People are all made of the same stuff, but they are shaped differently with different skills to do different tasks.  So if one of you does it, you all do it—no need for competiveness or jealousy.  That took some unpacking.  It was months before I told anyone.

Another instance from the same time period again appeared in the form of a voice in Meeting for Worship, this time with an added push to it:  Anyone can sit in front of a tank.  You make theatre.  Why aren’t you making theatre?  That should have been clear enough and I did make a piece—a collective piece for the Peace Encampment—letting go of my organizational involvement and other protests.  But it took clearness committees and eldering before I left Albany for graduate school in theatre.  It wasn’t until 4 years later in my third year of Berkeley, California’s PhD Director-Scholar Program that I received the vision that made me realize I had been having mystical experiences.

Again, a voice came in Meeting for Worship, but this time it felt Job-like in give and take.  I remember that I had been absent from meeting for two weeks because I had fallen down 9 concrete steps and had been laid up with a concussion and a cracked thumb bone.  I was saying Thank you for saving my life and for not giving up on me when I am such a bungler, constantly miss-stepping and that in the theatre of all places instead of doing your work.  I was rambling prayer-like, eyes tightly closed when I heard words that made me shut up and stand up: No.  Thank you.  Thank you for Being.  Thank you.   I protested and heard the words again:  Thank you for Being.  Thank you. And I felt overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude enveloping me—not only mine for God but God’s for me.  I was lifted up quite literally into a mystical experience.  I felt my eyes opened as I re-applied myself to my studies, trusting that even if I didn’t see the connections right away, I was doing God’s work.  With my passion for work, that I now saw as God’s passion, I moved forward to become a professor, travelling where that took me until that changed. 

The more I experienced God, the more I yearned for God and the society of others who knew for what they were longing: other Quakers.  Quakerism is a mystical religion, waiting on people to be wanting mystical experience and moved into action by it.  Whether those people are mystics or not is for each participant to judge.  I think I am not a mystic though I now recognize I have had a life full of the kind of experiences that can be called mystical because they included awareness of and interaction with life on another plane than earth.  I think now of my experiences with folk and mythic creatures from tales and stories when I was young and then storytelling in my entire life.  This led to performance years ago and poetry now, wherein I often feel moves and words come from another plane that I interpret boldly.   If this is not God or my Buddy Jesus, it is certainly not of devils or anything evil but an opening of a way to healing for me and/or others.  In contrast, when I am self-aware, I am shy, doubtful and hesitant.  And when I don’t experience God for lengths of time, the depression feels like withdrawal from a fountain of light and drive, a forgetting of what joy and fun are. Fun: a God-given rush and state of being not unlike love, an experience as important as belonging and compassion and contentment.

It is possible that my experience and conclusions have nothing to do with mysticism, that if I had never felt alienated I would know they were merely what humans have available to them daily.  But as a Quaker, I experience other people’s recounting of their experience and therein I hear enough AWE to know these experiences are about our relationship with God. 

Everyone has access to spiritual relationship with God, but few dare to follow.  Isn’t that odd?  To have access to Joy and to refuse it?  But some of the Passion is of the Burning-Bush variety, and—say what you might—few people want to go that far from their comfort zone.  The ones that do are the subject of books, and I am not one of those. Not yet.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Have a Heart: a poem about Racism

Why don't I write poems about racism?  It's hard and it takes courage and other impetuses like rage and loss.  Which I have, and which now are surging.  So this is a beginning to a cycle.  It is itself a circular poem: when you get to the end, start again at the beginning.

Have a Heart

My heart developed abnormalities
absorbing years of antidepressants.
HahahaHA!  having absorbed years of
antidepressants, my heart’s abnormal!

I am in the USA privileged
classes.  And now no reason remains not 
to address class ism and race ism.  
Does reason exist?  Reasons don’t exist.

Neither in my heart nor yours.  Take courage.
Courage: from the Latin cor meaning heart.
Heartache follows.  I don’t choose sadness
and outrage, they chose me as whiteness did.

Choose me!  I called out again and again
while growing up a poor white Jewish girl
too dumb to notice everyone’s pity.
So poor that poor victims befriended me.

Why didn't you tell me that she was black?
I just thought she was beautiful, my friend,
name begins with an M, we jump rope and
whisper and giggle while boys call Heifers!

And that was that.  Discovering systems
that separated and divided  in
binary codes has taken my whole life
and double that to dis-empower them:

boy and girl, adult and child, rich and poor,
white and black, white and color, suburb and
city, city and country, teacher and
student, English speaking and not English

educated and uneducated—
where I jumped all class expectations with
the help of sixty thousand plus dollars
accumulated school loans, I paid off

though it took thirty-five years privilege—
white privilegeto be eligible
for loans, lower-priced housing in pretty
neighborhoods, loan extensions, credit, jobs

though it took forty five years to learn how
to say no and took trial and error
to become part of community—I’m
human now with a heart worth living.

Have a heart is a meaningful statement
to those of us who are healing our scars 
from race ism and class ism and who 
make dismantling both our privilege.  

Posted at Poets United   Poetry Pantry # 215

Copyright © 2014  S.L.Chast

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Native Seeds

Native Seeds

What’s in a seed? Literally, I mean—
Since it is the final line between life and death.

Seed crops are big business in the Twenty-
Teens, as modified chemical commodities.

Who will buy unmodified seeds? Take a
Chance on root rot and visually imperfect fruit?

Go native, eschew “intellectual
property” and find unadulterated seeds?

Look in your backrooms and deepest pockets.
Look in the guts of frozen stone-age animals.

Look in green houses of rich new-agers.
Look in backyards of impoverished survivors.

Before it is too late, look in our wombs
where eggs and sperm await science’s benefits.

Question farmers and cooks, keepers of lost
sciences of harvesting food and next year’s seed.

Ask them what is native to the land and
what’s in a seed?  Literally, and soon.

The final line between life and death
Seeds famed as movie stars, as the best game in town.

Copyright © 2014  S.L.Chast

Note:  For a critical response to Vandana Shiva see "Why Vandana Shiva is so right and yet so wrong " by  in Grist.org (20 Aug 2014).

Monday, August 18, 2014

Watch live: The Autopsy

Michael Brown Preliminary Autopsy Diagram
A partial image of Dr. Michael Baden's preliminary autopsy report 
obtained by NBC News from attorney Anthony Gray, 
who represents Michael Brown's family.

The Autopsy

The national guard arrives to quell pro-
tests outside while medical agents test-
ify to Brown family survivors:
Six bullets struck him:
shown on generic
male outline, front and
back.  No color. 
No blood.  Yet, diverse
scenarios are
suggested based on
wounds of grazing, ex-
its and reentries.
Standard passive voice
admits no actors:
scenarios are
suggested.  Marks of
ground abrasions  on
his face are the signs
of struggle, none else.
No outlines are shown of the officer
who shot the bullets. Any signs of fight?
Signs of flight?  No one asks. Hands up.  One more.

Copyright © 2014  S.L.Chast

Saturday, August 16, 2014


An SUV blocks my driveway
an obstacle
to the ease of getaway
from my house and garage
near a busy church
in a gorgeous black suburb. 

Call the police and
don’t wait,  interrogate
everyone and the flowers too
white rose of the church
red rose of mine and
one stubborn navy SUV. 

Stewardship and right-of-way
entitlement with mortgage
and school tax and
insurance and interest
with no parking no trespassing—
or else why bother?

Such an asshole, I swear
too close to a church member’s  
daughter and whoa!
colors swirl around me
muddying the red rage
flowing from my ears. 

I am white and
my house is brick
as the church and
my car is Korean
a robin’s-egg blue
stick-shift standard. 

The day is yellow
and redder than red
as frustration grows
I cannot remember why
I wanted to get out
just the inconvenience. 

Offensive to defensive
my fence protects all
but my driveway and
I don’t even wonder
how privileged I ought to
be because I am me and

Lucky living in this locale
that uses words instead of
bullets even when I am
the mean one and—looking
around— see nothing
but kindness and thoughtfulness. 

Calming down, calm
down the lady, calm—
and as if on cue
a neighbor woman emerges
and drives her car away while
we—them and me—we
who look on are speechless. 

She had no right!  We reach 
consensus without even trying
as the red rage retreats to my ears
and I see through clear 
brown eyes so when someone
laughs I sit near and smile too.

Posted for Corey's 

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb.....

at Imaginary Garden with Real Toads.

Copyright © 2014  S.L.Chast

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Racism or intolerance, that is the question.

    I live next to a very active church and often come home to find the street filled with cars and my "normal" parking spot gone.  How grateful then, I am to have a driveway that I can pull into, no loss, no foul, no long walk from the car.  However, over the 10+ years that I have lived here problems arise when my driveway is blocked and I cannot get OUT of my driveway.  
          That happened again yesterday.  Rather than sit and pray about the situation, I determined to call the cops ... then decided to ask in the church first.  A young lady said she knew who belonged to the car and would get them--but I was too angry to wait.  Again, I didn't pray.  I said to the teen not to bother, that I guess the asshole deserved a ticket and a tow.  
          I went outside and called 911, but the cell didn't complete the call, so I went inside to use my land line.  When I came out, the sidewalk of the church was lined with people angry at me for interrupting their party, angry at me for swearing to and abusing a child, yelling at me that the car was not one of theirs.  Again I didn't pray first which would/could have turned the entire moment around.  I could have asked them to pray with me--though arguably they were too angry.  The teens mother wanted me to apologize to her child.  I wouldn't and the incident accelerated with words on both sides until I called the mayor and the police arrived.  
         The police calmed me down.  They found out who on the block owned the car.  A neighbor I barely knew (contradiction in terms, right?) came out to move her car saying she'd only been there a minute (an hour?)  and that her own driveway was blocked. They gave her a warning--but I walked down the street and noted that her driveway was not blocked.  Again, instead of praying and rising up and letting go and letting God, I insisted she be cited for blocking my driveway. I called her a liar, (a word I had also applied to the teenager from the church).   The police said they would send her a citation, and they calmed me down. While I walked back up the stairs to my second floor home, I saw the policemen--three now--go over to talk with the crowd.   
          I went inside, collapsed weeping, cursed myself for my part in the incident, and began to fear that the people of the church would sue me for a racism that I don't have, reversing a life that has worked against racism in every way I knew how.  Finally I was praying.  But I could not let go of my hard heart, and so I went to bed weeping.  I forgot to look at the amazing full moon of the night, forgot to call a friend, forgot all about the amazingly good poetry reading I had had at a Friend's meeting earlier in the day.  What a waste.
          Finally I woke up with a softened heart, able to note all the times I could have prayed, hoping to find a way to make amends. This is the first thing--to write about it.
          In the entire situation above, I am the only white character.  I realized that last night.  I realized that by the time the policemen arrived and realized I was scared that I had reacted as if I was just an angry woman and not in a potential racially charged situation.  I think, though, that I am the only one who thought about race in that negative way--none of the crowd had said the usual things I was used to from being a teacher, an early 1970s feminist and an activist.  I said to the policemen that I was scared, that I was white and---they stopped me and said don't go there.  They knew me.  I had lived int the area for a long time.  They had come by for a break and entry.  As I said, they calmed me down.
          I feel humble, softened and ashamed.  But I am also still afraid that it was a racial situation and that the group will sue me for everything I did wrong.  That they will say I wouldn't have treated them that way had they not been black.  That I am racist.  That I am racist.  That I live on privilege.  All my life I have worked to understand privilege.  I fear that one incident when I acted from anger will make my entire life a lie.  
          I am waiting for the shoe to drop.  And so I am praying that I overcome my distrust, that I can cure my anger.  I did not expect to bump up against this fear.  I thought I was beyond that in self consciousness.  I know I have a problem with anger, but I am seeing that I still have racism lingering in my heart.  This is how we find out about the vestiges of racism, when we bump up against them in our hearts instead of opening the door to pray together with whoever is there of any race, in any situation.   
          My BFM tell me that this is a leftover 70's overzealous guilt--that my real problem is intolerance of imperfection and quickness to anger. 
          So let us pray.

[addendum:  The church facilitated a meeting between the mother and I which was positive in so many ways that I was in tears again. She had sent her number so I could call.  From her first enthusiastic response to hearing it was me to the final words she made me feel blessed,]

Friday, August 8, 2014

Let's Talk About Prayer

Two books that helped me expand my idea of prayer and develop daily practice of prayer are The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris and The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.  I read both during participation in Spiritual Formation retreatsfour years with Baltimore Yearly Meeting and one year with Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  

The following poem resulted from talks with other poets about prayer.  

By Prayer, you mean memorized ones with
institutional seals of approval
and I admit—as warm ups and stretches—I
find them to be openings as useful
as candles in flame and windows ajar.
After such warm-ups, prayer for me is
opening my heart to God, spending time
in relationship with It.  Words come from
gratitude and need, intercession and
sorrow, forgiveness and discovery.
We dialogue in liquid silences,
wait for more there-ness, expectant but un-
knowing whether God will respond today—
that is, if It will answer directly—
though It speaks through others, even you, now.
I know you laugh off this prayer from non-
monkish lay persons like me, but I have
strained to gain this presence minute by inch,
drop by second, trial to success all
these years, intentionally reaching out.
So I "waste" my time planting flowers in
vegetable gardens and roadways, a
dialogue with holiness, replacing
death with life and plain with ornate beauty
simple in its gratitude and welcome.

What do you mean by prayer?  How and when do you pray?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

31 Words Seeking Poetry

From 7-23-2014, an unfinished poem, from me and my Aquarius rising, posted today for Isadora's Poems in Progress at Imaginary Garden with Real Toads:

Whether to expand or shrink through prayer
is surely a problem of semantics
of small experiential interest.

Are flowers obstacles to a garden?
What of their soil, water, air and sun?

I cannot remember why I was thinking of questioning prayer's growth-inducing properties or thinking of prayer as a flower or as an elements needed to support the life of flora, bees and anything that grows.  I cannot remember why I stuck to 8-foot lines that have no metrical integrity.

I don't have a next line; I have no experiment or experience to suggest.  One or the other or both would save this would-be-poem from extinction!

Thank you.

Note:  As we write this poem, help me by visiting more than once! 

One solution, Thursday at 7pm: 

Prayer doesn't change anything
naivete says, and I sigh.
Intangibles like insurance
charge sky high for certain returns
which prayer cannot do, for sure.

But the hand of prayer holds me—
it has my back.  And being held
in the Light does something like that.
For a meeting, the sure attention
means guardians on our path.

But I still want to try character as suggested below!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

In the Red Tent

For Children The Gates of Paradise

From the red tent under the sycamore, amid the hustle
of Science Square and spirit-led Quaker community,
we poets hear “The Circle Game” play in the distance.   
A caterpillar line dances down my arm.
Our feet are in cut grass, dead leaves, broad-leaf plantain and clover.
The sessions sit in us; I feel God’s presence in my belly.
We are, as our incoming General Secretary said:
“a powerful, needed, gathered people.”
We are, as our Clerk noted, the same
on both sides of the podium.  We do
the business of our meetings where
no one thinks to minute Trayvon Martin.
See where new actions must begin
to re-direct our great body?
Our transforming outer skin is
a slow-moving giant who needs its muscle and heart,
its expanding lungs, its roots in the earth,
its molecules alive and ready to dare.

Posted in Poets United Poetry Pantry #211.

  Copyright © 2014  S.L.Chast

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

World UFO Day

Today at Poets United, I included a poem of mine in Midweek Motif ~ Half Year and also World UFO Day.  

Consider the poem I wrote:

UFOs exist
only if we see them
which makes themquite
different from God and leaves
and friends and hearts
which cannot be

Once seen
even the worlds
of fiction are aware of
us watching and comparing
but UFO’s can even leave
alien visitors invisibly—
without a story they
cannot exit

Versus the one I revised and published as part of the prompt Midweek Motif ~ Half Year and also World UFO Day:

What Exists

UFOs exist
only if we see them
which makes them quite
different from God and leaves
and friends and hearts
which cannot be
locked up.

Even worlds
of fiction have properties
of reality no matter how far-fetched
but UFOs from afar and their
uninvited guests—
(we are told) do
  not exist. 

What do you think?  "Hidden" or "Locked up"?  "Once seen" or "Even worlds"?  "Aware of watching" or "reality"?  

Which is more ironic?

What's your UFO story?