at the heart

“Though fairy tales end after ten pages, our lives do not. We are multi-volume sets. In our lives, even though one episode amounts to a crash and burn, there is always another episode awaiting us and then another. There are always more opportunities to get it right, to fashion our lives in the ways we deserve to have them. Don’t waste your time hating a failure. Failure is a greater teacher than success.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estés

There is a center to each moment, something at the heart of the seconds we spend each day. This past week, we wrote about them, we drew about them, talked about them, ran through the images that represent, to us, each potent moment in our pasts and presents.

I’ve written about our senses before – how each of these moments are composed of what we perceive. Inside the prison, there is a kind of sensory depravation where the uniforms and walls achieve a similar palette. There are no trees. There are no birds. Flowers are confined to the pages of books and lines of poetry. What excites us, what sets us on fire, melts us down, and welds us anew is limited. The doors need to slam. There is no budget for the inspiration found in a curled petal cradling sunlight.

Continue reading

the sometimes fictional me

becomingyourself2Two weeks back, we wrote about our perceived imperfections, based on the poem of the same name by Elizabeth Carlson. Her opening line is “I’m learning to fall in love with my imperfections,” which set the stage for writing about how each woman’s perceptions of and feelings about herself have shifted over time. While many women chose to write directly from the poem, even incorporating specific lines or concepts from the poem, others used the ideas as a jumping off point for writing that might have gone in a different direction.

The interesting thing about the weekly practice of creating a ‘found poem’ from the lines written in group is putting these disparate and often unrelated writings into one coherent context. It is a challenge. It is also a delight for the women to hear their own words mingling with one another’s in unexpected ways. As often happens, this particular poem elicited squeals of delight as women recognized their own phrases and leaned into a new interpretation of them as a communal effort.


I don’t think I could have wished my life as me,
let my needs be trampled by my need for equanimity,
in love with people who abused me,
the empty pit in my heart
suppressing my spirit –
a girl who didn’t know how to ask for help,
for freedom from jail, DOC, snow, oppressive heat.

Reality is impermanence,
something missing in my life.
I have lost my family.
I used to be quiet,
knew what to say and when
as if in perfect command.
Now I am lonely and insecure
not who I used to know, but who I know now. Continue reading

my heart, my well

Credit: Deborah Koff-Chapin

Sometimes, when I read over the writing done in our inside circles to transcribe them, I find it hard to believe – even though I was there! – that these words poured out on the spot, without revision or premeditation. They tumbled forth onto the page just as you read them here. In this case, prompted by the image (left), part of Deborah Koff-Chapin’s “Soul Card One” series.

Women love writing in response to these cards. As was true for tonight’s writer, quoted below, pain and despair live so close to the surface. Given the opportunity to write, she pulls the words straight from her heart and drives them home to ours.

My heart is a deep well
turned copper from too many pennies,
every hope, every dream.
Hope and love splatter my insides.
Hate and regret live there, too.
Dark scars from Self spread thin
unable to recognize myself.
Looking deep within
there’s barely a trace,
a faint glimpse of me deep in that well.

It’s me splattered everywhere,
everything I once believed in worn out.
Self fading. My well filling
with something I don’t recognize. Continue reading

always wanting

Each week, I create a ‘found poem’ from lines written and shared by women in the writing circle. It is always a surprise to see how the lines will weave together, forming a meaning entirely new/different from that of the original writings. At the same time, women delight in seeing their lines transformed, supporting one another’s meanings and words in fresh and surprising ways. Each week is different in content; but this element of delight is a common experience week after week.


I’ve battled with my own fear
to give you whatever you wish —
your heart or your mother’s dream for you,
need for open space unfilled.

The bucket of my open mouth
is all I’ve ever wanted —
only wanted love and acceptance

How can anyone resist
your smile from ear to ear?
Stories and laughter abounded
until my demon pushed everyone away.

Through miles and miles of cold,
you lit small worlds into being.
I heard that voice years ago,
every minute of me and you.

Then things got really tricky,
unknown, unplanned;
I peel myself off the ground
hungry for myself, hungry for you.



‘the golden road’

One of our writers, who has been a regular member of our writinginside group since February of this year, left prison just prior to this week’s circle. We are so proud of her ongoing hard work to heal herself through treatment before she returns to her home community. As a parting gift, she left the following poem asking us to share it with the group:

One last poem
as I prepare to go:
your words like gems
mean more than you’ll ever know.

So goodbye to you, my trusted friends,
people I’m lucky to have met;
my time is at an end
but you, I won’t forget.

From you I’ve learned so much
with all your sweet and funny ways –
you girls have got the touch;
in my heart you will stay. Continue reading