Riding the my-will train

riding the my-will train to a
destination of my own creation
located nowhere on reality’s map
rocketing down the wrong track
hoping to pull a magical switch and
end up where I want to be

train stopwhat I need to do is pull the emergency cord
bring this insanity to a lurching stop
would I ride a real train to the
wrong destination
again and again
year after year
bewildered when I arrive
finding no welcoming arms
no expected outcomes

yank on that red cord
tell the conductor I want off
run to the station master
ask for direction from the one in charge
who knows all the best routes
including the one created just for me
take a few short trips at
his suggestion
regard it as an adventure not a
chore

smokey trainget off the train to self-destruction
head safely in a new direction
even if I have to wait in the station
be patient and let that
smoky false desire chug on by

read the wisdom of ancient passengers
scratched upon the walls
plato’s advice that
time will change and even
reverse many of your present opinions
refrain, therefore, awhile from
setting yourself up as a judge of the
highest matters

or elizabeth barrett browning
whom you greatly admire
a woman of letters and love who scribbled
God’s gifts put a man’s best dreams to shame

The garden path

garden pathshe tippy toes down garden path
mid fragrant hedge of self-deceit
his idle words writ on the net
form stepping stones beneath her feet

she stops to browse a wall not hers
photos of his other life
a stunning bit of azure silk
the glint of diamonds on a ring
shout wedding day
in deafened ears

a look content upon his face
at family table fed with smiles
slows her merry made-up pace
turns hopeful moments into miles
of unfulfilled and foolish chase

she grabs the dagger by the hilt
and draws it from her broken heart
her wound will heal if given time
and a willingness to part
with journeys down that garden path
that leads to nowhere from the start

My life as a novel

An entry from my daily meditation writing from four years ago and still something to consider each day:

pulitzer prizeI feel better when I think about my life being like a great Pulitzer Prize winning novel—each chapter a new adventure or misadventure, each turn in plot clever and unexpected, and no cliched happy forever after endings. A novel that is an epic journey, chock full of interesting characters, whose lives unfold in mysterious ways. Plot lines that are wild and crazy, dramatic and suspenseful.

This is exactly how I should view my life. A future that will surprise me. A journey that will not turn out as I assumed, expected, or perhaps even wanted. I need to live and pray my way through this epic journey of mine. I hate novels that have predictable endings. So why would I want to live a life that turns out that way? I don’t even want to write a novel like that! And I haven’t. Watching my homemade trailers for Degrees of Obsession and Mother Tongue reminds me of how much effort I put into having story lines that both surprise and satisfy.

In my own fiction writing, I seek to create stories with a gritty realism and surprising plot twists. Ones with real meaning at the end, not just pat “happy endings”. I want my characters to learn something from the difficult experiences they go through, especially those of their own making. As an author, I know that what they learn is more important than what they originally wanted.

Every time I start boo-hooing over the fact that I don’t have that formula romance in my life, I need to remind myself that my life is indeed a great novel, one worth reading. As a reader of that life story, I don’t want the ending to be predictable, and I especially don’t want to read ahead and see what the final outcome will be. I just want to read each page each day and be filled with neither anticipation nor dread about what the next page will bring.

If I consider each day another page and not get ahead of myself or keep re-reading the past pages, I think that I will find that my life is interesting, unpredictable, and worthwhile. If there was a particularly sad or disappointing page in the past, re-reading it a thousand times won’t make it less so and, in the meantime, I won’t be focused on the new page for the day which might very well bring happiness beyond my wildest imagination. And if I miss the new page by dwelling on the past, hoping those past chapters will change their shape or character, I will never catch up—by then the new page will have become history and I will have missed experiencing what it offered.

Nor do I want to read ahead and skip pages because my story won’t make sense and again I will have missed the page for today. My life has been a great novel—pathos, excitement, romance in small doses, challenges, overcoming abuse, helping others, changing lives. The author of my life, whom I chose to call God, has drawn me as a main character with intelligence, humor, creativity, wisdom, the ability to figure things out and to adjust. He has provided juicy subplots and fascinating minor characters who have swept in and provided plot tension and then disappeared—but the protagonist (me!) has always survived and lived on.

As a reader I need to be interested in HER! She’s still here waging the war, having new adventures, being herself. Sometimes she’s sad and I can cry with her. I can hope that in the next few pages she’ll put it all into perspective, that she’ll realize that the author of her story has something much better in mind for her. She has been up against worthy antagonists—ones that added particular tension and suspense to her story. Will Dad come ever care? Will Mom be able to protect her? Will brother turn out to be sorry? Will so-and-so ever come back?

one pate at a timeThe author of my life story hands me just one page at a time. There is no other better version available at the next bookstore. After all, He wrote the Greatest Story Ever Told. Hey…I’m living in a best seller. And, to boot, He’s given me the talent to write myself. Do I want some sappy ending with a minor character that was written out of my story pages and pages ago? No, I want to see who comes into my life in the future. And I have to keep doing the footwork in the meantime. I can’t sink into inertia. I can’t stop looking for the opportunities for growth and happiness that are at hand. So, keep reading, Karen, and live out this day God has written especially for you.

Mimi’s morning

IMG_0896pitch black
door squeaks open
four little feet at the
bottom of sturdy legs
wrapped in Frozen flannel
pad over to my bedside
turn off my c-pap
can’t breathe
can’t sleep
peal covers off my
reluctant body

clock says 6:36
“get up, Mimi”
down two flights
bananas in hand
turn on Sophia the First

up two flights
gather outfits
pink stripe
polka dot princess
down two flights
distribute same
stern warning to get dressed or
TV off
clamber into shower
try not to slip on
treacherous tile

everyone dressed
up one flight
breakfast
cheerios for one
toast for the other
orange juice
sipped through snout of
dog…bear…whatever

assemble lunches
daddy fixed the night before
line up
backpacks
water
jackets
shoes
water down hair
slick back into
ponytails

clock ticking
mommy says 7:45
ready or not
everything on
down four flights of
red brick steps
van seat still blocked by
boxes of whatever
beyond my brain to
figure it out
mommy helps
off they go
chattering in French

up four flights of
same dangerous brick
gather garbage
theirs…mine
down four flights
stuff in cans
up four flights
count as exercise
dishes in dishwasher
down one flight to my
Provençal pink lime
hideaway
strangely quiet
writing time
8:01

gratitudes
children here and afar
productive
loving
grandchildren
smart
healthy

prayers for women
who have not my
blessings
whose exhaustion comes
not from hectic mornings
but from mourning
lives without
little ones to
pry open their eyelids at
6:36

Love words

love words
love words slide from my lips
evaporating into barrier of
thick unforgiving air before
intended ears can hear

others ooze from
ink-soaked nibs or are
tapped into existence
laying useless
unread by
hardhearted eyes

I am neither heard nor seen
except by those who
hang on my thoughts out of
desperation or
devotion

Cinderella revisited

cinderella1

POEMS FOR RECOVERY by DR. KAREN STEPHEN AKA DOC FLAMINGO

sitting by the hearth
wearing soot dusted clothes that
beg to be washed clean

stirring gloomy embers with an
iron poker of obsession
hoping to relight passion in
dark dead coals

memories of bright flames
sear my brain
forgetting how fast they
consumed reason
turned ardor to
conflagration
leaving blisters on my
soul

fire that burned
more than warmed
then died
leaving me even more
alone in the
chilled solitary night

can I take my
cinderella self and
search the garden for my
fairy godmother
armed with wand and
pumpkins

not to find a prince
but to take
just one ride in the
golden carriage of
my life

Courtesy of the heart

To the reader: This poem was created from an incredible page published in a 12-step daily meditation book, which in turn was based on a quote by Goethe:

Goethe It gives me a goal to aspire to when my thoughts and actions are quite determined to go in a destructive direction.

courteous

POEMS FOR RECOVERY by Dr. Karen Stephen AKA DocFlamingo

courtesy of the heart
akin to love
out of which arises
pure courtesy in outward behavior

courtesy of the heart
seems detached
lacks the fervor of the vengeful heart
the disappointment of the longing heart
the envy of the seeking heart
the pain of the broken heart

courtesy of the heart
interferes not with the
life decisions of others
neither plays games
nor passes judgment
declines to give advice
has no need to seek approval
does not accept guilt
nor lays blame on others
appreciates
rather than criticizes

courtesy of the heart is
never snobbish
nor superior
finds no difference between
a president or a busboy
learns from everyone
welcomes new ideas
embraces strangers

courtesy of the heart
feels joy
instead of fear
sees with fresh eyes
even through tears

Mama’s boy

breath held to fend off the
whiskey vomit stench
his small fingers inch the bottle from her
limp grasp
like a deadly game of pick-up sticks

empty jim beam bottlepours the dark liquid down the drain
buries Jim Beam in a
garbage grave

then dashes out leaving
screen door ajar

garage peeling paintporch steps breached
sneaks along the lee side of the
garage
dressed in peeling paint
tears through
old man Smith’s petunia patch
lungs on fire

blackberryreaches his secret place
on the far side of the
blackberry hedge
hits the ground hard
squeezing back tears

her voice
too distant to be heard
still clack clack clacks
in his ears
mean drunk helicopter words
slicing through his brain

the same small fingers
pluck dark berries from their
prickly cocoons
liquid stains his
fingertips
blood or juice
it doesn’t matter

The notebook

IMG_0764vintage palms
suggest a
British empire hazed morning
a prim ruched bodice
gossamer covered arms
pen held delicately
scribbling a memoir of the
raj

five ninety-five price tag
on the back
speaks bargain store

if I remember correctly
(five years dim my memories)
a valentine’s gift
when I had a valentine
who celebrated my
writing

I meant to write on the
palm-shaded pages

IMG_0765but the end came before
a single letter was formed
before even the germ of a
literary thought
found its way from
my brain to the
virgin folio

which still lies unspoiled by
regret or rue
the void an
homage to
dreams unmet

Reunion

old lovesa tight spot in my chest
aches from the inside out
I want to
rock my heart
sing it a lullaby

revelations slip out
roused from dark places
deep hurt
flash frozen at eighteen
unthawed after fifty years in
cold storage
singed by freezer burn

past bliss
squints in the bright light of today
losing definition
more chimera than
substance

a whiff of his cologne
provokes an intimate connection
did we breathe the same air
share the same bed
touch skin to skin
or was it all
illusion

bodies
changed with age and wear
connect
snap together with the strength of
opposite polarities
he startled by new feelings
me saddened by the irretrievable

serendipity joins two bare wires which
spark as eyes meet in
air charged with expectation

selves are turned inside out
frayed inner seams exposed
mine more than his
healing and disappointment are
stitched together in a
bitter-sweet quilt

my higher power watches
seeing if I can find my way
force myself into real choices
not hypotheticals

every desire is coated with the
plain truth of distance
age
health
lives rooted in different soils

old obsessions are defused
left lifeless on the floor
swept away by the stiff broom of
common sense

new understandings of the past are
shared
separate lives
filled with choices
some good
some lousy
thankful we didn’t visit those choices
on each other
we never divorced each other
a gift in and of itself
never fought over money or children
never nagged
never closed our ears

can we accept it was all meant to be
exactly as it occurred
paths ordained to diverge
amid pain and misunderstanding
predestined now to intertwine
just long enough to
uncover buried secrets

we part with a body memory that
no one else will share or
understand

our futures turn
practical
more in keeping with our
current lives
but this reunion
this unexpected reconciliation
lingers to sweetly
flavor reality