Every morning my alarm goes off at 4:57 am. I pad downstairs in the dark. Pour my coffee. Close my eyes and breathe for ten minutes. Then, I read a smattering of poems from Ross Gay’s Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude, Ada Limon’s Bright Dead Things, and Larry Levis’ The Selected Levis.
I begin to handwrite a poem on a piece of loose-leaf paper. After ten minutes or so, I quickly type it up, print it out, cut it into shape, tape it onto a decorative postcard, affix a stamp, and place it in my mailbox. By the time I finish, it is 6:30 and time to wake my children for school.
Born from an assignment I had to complete for my yoga school studies, the postcard poem writing project became a daily ritual. For every day of January 2016, my friend Mary Lynn and I wrote a poem, pasted it on a postcard, and sent it to each other.
Looking back, I realize how my poems were (and are) about what it means to live under the always-open umbrella of breast cancer.
The discipline of this postcard poem writing practice was freeing, and the morning’s rhythm became something to look forward to. Along the way, I had to learn some difficult lessons. Many of which I apply to my life now, living with MBC.
- Some days, the words came so quickly. I’d draw from my yoga notes and title poems, “All This Just to Stand,” which my teacher had said in class one morning. Or “Fire’s Type A Personality,” which another teacher had mentioned in her lecture on the gunas, nature’s three fundamental forces. I’d feel electrified.
- Or as I was writing, I’d think about my physical asana practice and write about what seemed to be living in my body. Some days, that was terrifying.
- Some days, the words came with tears and much sadness. One poem, “For Amy in California,” was written for my friend, who died of breast cancer at 45.
- In my ten-minute meditation, I had to learn to quiet the monkey mind that wanted to thumb through a Rolodex of images, events, and places, wanting to begin writing the poem before it was time.
- I had to learn to harness the mind, so I could focus and concentrate before I sent my poem’s energy out into the world.
- I learned how to catch the language of the moment, let it go, and not be attached to the outcome.
- Like coming to my mat, I was often confronted with my own fear, sadness, joy, self-doubt, and blankness. And like I did with my physical asana practice, I had to train myself to keep showing up. This time in the glow of my desk lamp. I had to try again every morning.
The postcard poem writing project invited us into an intentional practice of connecting with language, noticing the beauty and wonder of the world around us, and opening us up to more than what we thought was possible. Even when we wanted to give up or give in, we kept writing.
Giving and receiving poems transformed into a loving and generative cycle; her poems inspired me to write more poems and vice versa. To know that words were traveling across towns–directly from me to her and her to me–was exhilarating. Just as I let go of one of my postcard poems, one was in my mailbox.
Then, when January 31, 2016 arrived and we knew that February was peeking around the corner, we learned another powerful lesson in the cycle of nonattachment: letting it all go and beginning again.
If you have a practice that has helped you weather difficult circumstances, feel free to share them below. Also feel free to share any thoughts, or reflections, or ask any questions.