Around my house, we’ve been wondering recently how the grass stays green(ish) all winter. We haven’t looked it up, though we’re normally a look-to-science-for-the-explanation bunch. Instead, we’ve just enjoyed that little reminder of green life that keeps finding little patches of sun to shine in. It’s like a nice, deep breath. Speaking of deep breaths, have you ever heard of chi gung? There are other ways to spell it, so you may have seen it spelled qigong. I was taught some basics while I was studying in Scotland in college, and it is a fantastic meditation that reduces stress. Plus, you can pretty much do it (well, my interpretation of it) anytime because, at its core, it’s breath control.
Here’s what to do: stand with your feet a little wider than your hips, and sink down into your body. Let your knees bend, your shoulders fall forward, your arms dangle, and your head tilt down. Close your eyes and exhale completely, falling deeper into your relaxed pose as the air leaves your body. Next, inhale slowly but as deeply as you can, letting the air inflate your whole body. Picture something good hovering above and in front of you – something that brings you joy, peace, strength, or whatever it is you need or want, and rise to it as you breathe in. Soft focus your eyes into the space in front of you, and lift your arms gently straight in front of you (zombie-like…but maybe try not to think of zombies). When you’ve inhaled as much as you can, you should be standing straighter, head up, eyes up, arms out front. Hold the breath until it feels time to let it out, then slowly let the breath back out, deflating your body as it goes, bending your knees, letting your shoulders roll back forward, letting your eyes scroll and head roll down, until you’re back in your original limp position. Stay in that sunken pose until you feel it’s time to take another breath. Then, repeat.
The only thing that will change each time is your arms. The second breath, they rise straight in front of you again, but this time, they’ll go above your head, until your arms are almost to your ears. The third breath, let your relaxed hands come together in front of your pelvis, then raise your hands, tracing the air in front of your belly until they get to your solar plexus, straighten them in front of you, then open them, straight now, out to your sides (so you’re standing like a lower-case t), then exhale as your arms lower back down. I think of the third breath as the offering breath: pulling up through yourself anything you have to offer the world, extending your hands forward as if you’re starting to hand it out, then opening your arms as if you’re sharing a whole armful of yourself with the world. This sense of giving makes always makes me feel as if I’m getting something important – what we do has such an effect on the world that it effects us, too.
The fourth breath is the accepting breath: the reverse of the third breath. Raise your arms straight out to your sides (so you’re standing like a lower-case t), then slowly move them to the front of yourself (still extended, straight but relaxed arms), then bend your elbows to the sides and leave your hands together, drawing your hands palms-down to your solar plexus. When it’s time to exhale, let your arms return to your original, limp pose. This one always feels to me like I’m taking in anything the world has to offer me. It is a grateful breath. The fifth breath, pay attention to that good thing that’s still hovering above and in front of you. Raise your arms, palms up, straight out to your sides and keep going until they’re reaching just in front of and above your head, palms in. Picture your good thing between your hands. When you’re ready to exhale, turn your palms out and lower your arms to the sides.
The final breath is a respectful thanks: as you inhale, put your palms together in a prayer-like pose in front of your pelvis and raise them to your solar plexus. Remember, with each breath, you’re still inflating your body and looking up. When you’re ready to exhale, simply let your arms slowly fall back down. I recommend doing this whole routine a couple of times – I can always breathe much more slowly and deeply the second time through. The breath control, combined with the giving and accepting, the respectful gratefulness and the focus on something that makes you feel joyful and strong, is a great stress reliever. It’s empowering and calming, partly just in the knowledge that, sometimes, you can have control over your life just by controlling what happens to you with each breath.
Alrighty. Now that we’re all relaxed, let’s relax into some poetry. To start the column, Associate Editor Julie Brooks Barbour brings us strong poetry and a wonderful interview with Vandana Khanna. The language in these poems is stunning, and I love the life (or lives) told through breathtaking images and powerful words of desire. These poems are saturated in the best way, like rich photos saturated with color, and I can return to them over and over. Of Ms. Khanna’s work, Julie writes:
These persona poems by Vandana Khanna feature a speaker who struggles with her desires. Since I first read these poems about Parvati, I haven’t been able to get them out of my head. I had a delightful conversation with the poet about the themes of these poems, the background of the speaker, and how the work included here fits in to a new project Ms. Khanna is working on.
Next up, we have four fine poems and an interview with Jim Boring to share with you. Jim’s poems, about momentary connections with people the speaker doesn’t really know, feel to me like the heartbeat rises on an EKG reading, the poignant spikes of each day that make life. As Jim writes in his interview, these connections are “the fabric of the universe.” The connections are sudden, unexpected, and powerful, and they remind me of the profound influence we have on each other, even on those we barely cross paths with.
Julie Brooks Barbour, fantastic as she is, has much more work to introduce to you this month. The wonderful Ms. Barbour writes:
I have been a fan of Sally Rosen Kindred’s work for years. The music of her lines and the striking emotional power of her poems always leave me chilled. These two poems reflect one of the many things Kindred does best: they shuttle us back to a specific moment while heightening the emotion of the situation through a brilliant use of imagery. We rely on poems to deliver an experience, and this poet’s work never disappoints.
Maureen Sherbondy’s poems are gorgeous and difficult, chilling and stark. In “Cousins I Never Met,” we follow the speaker back through history by way of a family tree, and as the lines unfold, we find ourselves in a horrific place. But Sherbondy doesn’t leave us there. In both poems included here, she frees us by movement while never erasing memory. Every moment remains with us to create a history we retell.
In Natalie Giarratano’s poems, we dance “because that’s what souls waking up have to do.” In “Thump,” music might heal us and help us “make some sense of each other” even as the darkness of the world persists. In “Throat Circus,” bright objects would rather “float a grave / to sleep than glisten in wind.” Our lives are full of dark spaces, but these poems offer hope with music that sings out.
Wendy Neale Merry’s poems are beautifully haunting. These lines send our hearts to military school, put them through “morning bucket duty” and make their rhythm “sound/ like Taps.” Her words reflect a landscape of loss, a “dark so tight it’s hospital-cornered.” These poems take me to achingly emotional places, but with such lovely imagery I’m willing to go along.
The landscape of Patricia Clark’s poems is lush and deep. It’s been a long winter and I’m more than happy to spend time where “the forest floor / blooms.” The darkness of the forest envelops this brightness quickly, but Clark allows us to see its glory before we notice the “dusk slipping in.”
Associate Editor Paul Scott August also introduces us to lovely work this month. He writes:
In her poem “Train of Thought”, Stacia Fleegal sets the place and the mood in the first line for the reader. All the action / thought occurs in the time it takes for a train to pass, and the reader is made to wait along with the speaker. This is a poem about memories, feeling somewhat nostalgic for a hometown the speaker hasn’t actually left. One memory is brutally violent, the next less so, but still “cautionary tales abound / for little girls walking home from school.” Ultimately, like the train, memories are found to be without mercy.
In the three poems we have from Jennifer K. Sweeney, we see the way bold flavors and a bountiful meal made from whatever ingredients are found left in the cupboard, such as “burdock root gnarled to boar knuckle,” can be a simple blessing upon a family. We next get an actual blessing, filled with unusual wishes for the reader and their horse, but really filled with longing and memory. And finally, we end up in The Year of the Ox, a poem filled with wonderful colors, images, and sounds. Tiny howlings indeed…
Christine Kitano lends a stunning poem to the column this month. Her poem, “Earthquake Drills”, gives me a chill every time I read it. I love the speaker’s need for control for comfort, and her simultaneous acknowledgment that she cannot ever be in control, really. Comfort must be found elsewhere, or in smaller things that can be controlled. This is a poem not just about earthquake readiness. It’s about the way life will shake you anytime it wants, and about how we can deal with living on that fault line our whole lives.
Here’s to deep breaths and earthquake preparedness. Cheers.