Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Thoughts on Utopia

Two years ago, the women's literary journal Sinister Wisdom invited me to submit work for a theme issue they were planning on the topic of utopia. I felt flattered to be asked, and wanted to honor the request, so spent several weeks asking myself these questions: "What is utopia? Is it possible? How do I envision it?"

I finally drafted a poem about my imaginings of a perfect day. As much as I worked on it, though, it was dry and lifeless. It had no spark, no la chispa or creative ember, as writer Clarissa Pinkola-Estes refers to it. What was missing? Then my closest friend, also a writer, looked it over for me. And she said, "It's missing the dark side."

I knew immediately she was right. There was no shadow here, no imperfection, no texture. I tackled the poem once again, adding in all the elements that I had purposefully left out the first time: the moments of doubt, the life and death struggles in the animal world, the sharing of a friend's pain. Instead of a utopian ideal, it became something real, reachable. I did not call the poem "The Perfect Day" - I named it "The Good Day." Because, I realized, thanks to the wisdom of my friend, thanks to the time spent at the writing desk...that is what I want, just a good day, one with all aspects of life, the suffering as well as the joy, the hurt as well as the healing.

Here is my version of utopia - life on life's terms.

The Good Day

Your alarm sounds first. I hear shower water,
doze, then feel your soft lips on my cheek,
saying good-bye just for now, as you head off
for another round of belabored union talks.

In morning’s filtered light, I make coffee,
scoop earth-dark grounds, add water,
fill the kitchen with aromas of two worlds,
home and a distant Guatemalan plantation.

Sipping from my cup, I gather three bowls,
serve breakfast to the other early risers in the house,
my knees bumped by wagging tails as dogs
circle, always famished, always fed.

I peel damp sheets off the bed
after summer night’s heat, float new linens
softly through the air, smooth coolness
into each crisp corner, tuck and straighten.

Picking up pen and notepad, I sit down
with yesterday’s perfect metaphor. It falls flat.
Scratch it out, roll new sounds around
on my tongue, picture the polished poem.

A blue belly lizard skitters under the couch
and across my toes, its tail sacrificed to the cat.
I can save this one, scoop the wriggling body up in warm hands
and release it to the relative safety of the rosemary bush.

The garden needs water. I pace between verdant rows,
touch thigh high corn, spy new potatoes poking
through rich soil, brush bugs off jalapeño plants,
watch the leaves unfurl as moisture seeps into the ground.

The dogs bark at the mail truck. We trot together
to the box at the end of the driveway.
I finger through bills, down to the surprise of a postcard
from Puerto Vallarta, friends on vacation, hola.

Back in the cool of my office, I escape to India,
taste chutney in the kitchen of a novel,
prepare for a Hindu wedding while parsing
each paragraph with the eyes of a poet.

The phone rings. A friend struggles with her marriage’s end,
asking for answers. I make my words a mirror
of her own wisdom, know I cannot predict
what will grow in someone else’s garden.

The mercury keeps rising. I fill the wading pool
with fresh water, call the dogs, take off my shoes and splash,
dodge and play, adding the outline of my feet
to the damp paw prints scattered across the deck.

Hungry, I open the crisper and pull out fresh
broccoli, asparagus, heirloom tomatoes.
I rinse soft tofu, slice and toss the medley into an iron skillet,
ready to sauté as you come in the door.

You say the union may strike. With good food
and love, I try to soothe the day’s tensions,
listen to the details of conflict with management,
provide a haven from the stress of the world.

We wash the dishes by hand, and move to separate corners
of the house. You unwind with a book about dragons,
and I open up the past in my journal, look for healing,
remind myself I am now safe and almost whole.

At day’s end, you and I savor one more cup of coffee,
watch the full moon spotlight nearby vineyards,
bittersweet sphere that shone on my father’s last night
two years ago, his hand in mine, my other hand in yours.

I turn back fresh sheets, snuggle in close to you.
Touch turns to passion, and we merge our two histories,
create a third that is ours, both bound and free.
When I cry out in my sleep, you will be right here.

dedicated to Sabrina, with thanks to Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Published Winter 2007-08, Sinister Wisdom

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