loving minutes

valentine background

credit – bistro39sandiego

Last week, anticipating Valentine’s Day, I went inside prepared to embrace or diss the Hallmark moment based on the mood of the group. Good thing. Although most of the gathered eight women professed varying degrees of dislike toward the fabricated once-a-year commercial lovefest, it was clear that some residue of longing clung to the date.

So I offered a two-part challenge. First was to write a love poem in a tight and limited form: three stanzas of four lines, where the first line held eight syllables, the next three just four each. The sum total of syllables equals 60 – hence called ‘The Minute.’ This was an admitted challenge for several, involving as it did some fundamental concepts of math and grammar. But they slogged through; two of them produced precisely the form suggested.

For the final half hour, they eagerly glued red silky ribbon, white doilies and pink plastic hearts to purple or lavendar cardstock, penning their messages of love in white opaque pen with a singularity of purpose. Sadly, I cannot share images of this work, as cameras are not permitted inside. Suffice it to say, some heartfelt messages and extremely creative artwork left the room, along with broad smiles and shared sadness at the group ending. Those were some loving minutes spent together!

With all the cells of my body
those cells love you.
Once I die, and
turn into ash

my love is so strong, anyone
who comes near you
will know how much
I love you, and

nobody in the history
of love ever
loved someone more
than I love you.


*   *   *

I never imagined this love
til I knew you;
sharing yourself
opens my heart.

Know that I’m yours for you are mine
x’s and o’s
for you, lover;
our hearts belong.

You’re a gift that keeps on giving
our love above
‘tis forever.


vantage points of love


Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes. – Antonio Machado from Last Night as I was Sleeping


After echoing these lines back and forth one of the women wrote, Love: an ancient concept. Love don’t love nobody. From our differing vantage points, we wrote on love from its sharpest angles. We each sat on the keen lip of prism side looking in, waiting for whatever light would shine through. Machado made us believe that kind of fire was possible and with every written breath we questioned it, reveled in it.

In the writings below you will find the grind of love, the painful bind of love, the hope for freedom that breeds self-love, the challenge love offers, and the gauntlet these women are willing to take up. And further, in the negative space between the words, you’ll see what was created: witnessing as an act of love. In the split between love and fear, here, fear feels derivative, a feeling only felt when love is threatened or taken away. In the end, it is all love. It is just like she said: Love loves everybody.

So what if he eats his ice cream upside down or his mushy oatmeal by turning over his spoon just before it gets in his mouth? Why does this irk me? And if he doesn’t like the same music as me, is he somehow defective?

These may seem like small things, but when repeated they feel like pushing fur backwards on a cat with tacky glue on my hands. Something in my nervous system has taken notes for year and tells me he’s weird. I judge him. Then I pull away. My soft heart becomes cooked, hard-boiled. And I don’t give the extra hug or speak with open eyes.

Continue reading

bitter twisted lies

Bitter & Twisted (album)

This piece about lies is hard to read. Consider yourself forewarned.

It is also – most unfortunately –  not atypical of the kind of heart wrenching history that propels many women into prison. While the specifics shift in kaleidoscopic variation, the fundamental pieces can sound searingly similar: absence of basic safety, protection and nurture in early years; lifestyles that lead to early independence without healthy models or boundaries; the list goes on.

What is hopeful is how, in the course of writing and sharing their words, these women come to understand and accept how the past played out. They develop determination for living differently going forward. This is the true kernel of why we do this work of writing inside with Vermont’s incarcerated women.

Lies, Lies and More Lies

With your bitter, twisted lies
I stay and await a darkness that’s unknown.
We first met on a bright lit midway
and you told me you’d take care of me.
That was your first lie.
You brought me to a traphouse filled
with every addict ever known.

Your second lie was you loved me,
couldn’t live without me.
You loved me so much you wanted
to pass that love among all your friends. Continue reading

reach for more

'Winter Beauty' hybrid honeysuckle

‘Winter Beauty’ hybrid honeysuckle

As is my custom, each week I create a ‘found poem’ from lines written the previous week by women participating in the writing inside circle. This is a particularly interesting challenge for those weeks when I am not present as facilitator. Reading these lines ‘cold’ and out of context simply prompts me to find the thread that will tie them together. Perhaps the result is a narrative, or perhaps, a mood-setting vignette of condensed and coalesced memory. Either way, I am as eager as the dozen or so expectant faces turned toward the reader of those combined lines to gauge the pulse of the resulting piece. Did I capture something? Does it speak to them? Does it resonate with their original intention(s) or distort their individual voice so much they cannot even recognize their own words?

It is important to understand that, for these women, this is much more than an exercise. It is an opportunity for them to shine; for their words to mingle into a mixed message of hope, longing, despair; for them to see themselves, through their words, as part of something bigger than their own thoughts and feelings, to become part of a communal tapestry of experience. A slice of life, if you will.

So when a long-time writer with the group pronounced the following ‘found poem’ “just beautiful” as she asked to read it last Thursday, I listened with extra attention to sense how it would hit her sister writers, now prepped to receive with her assessment. What I heard was the gentle hum of mmm’s around the table as they recognized both their part and the whole they had become part of creating, a brand-new expression of love, loss and longing that started with individual’s writing on Valentine’s Day one week prior.

Hear the clock –  tick, tock –
it’s time I must go
retrace the steps of everywhere I’ve been:
the drugs, the crazy nights, the binges;
back to the 15-year-old version of myself
I was taught and shown in a strange way.
If I were able to erase all the scars,
I’d be able to open my eyes and see
we outspent the repercussions. Continue reading

i am waiting for me

Marilyn Kalish

One of the most anticipated moments in each inside writing circle comes near the end, just before the final chime signals the close. It is the moment when one of the 14-plus women around the circle hopes to be the one to read the week’s ‘found’ poem – a weaving of words written, spoken and recorded the previous week by the women in the circle. These words find their way into a poem that is in the truest sense a community creation.

The resulting piece is wholly new and different from any one of the previous week’s writings, at the same time as it contains the seed and memory of each woman’s individual writing. It is a gift to us all, both anticipated and cherished around the circle. In fact, last night one of our long-time writers emphatically declared that these poems are so powerful in their own right, they deserve to become an independent publication. Duly noted!

Some days I am emotionless
my heart waiting for me
to get rid of being scared
to be carefree;

waiting for the months to pass
to embrace life in a new context
bring truth from my past forward.
It’s OK through my actions to change,

for love’s gravity to pull me close to center
plant her foot firmly in my life.
My past may creep up on me –
always felt like I was in a cocoon,
a prisoner to my addiction –

my truth is, it’s time to let loose. Continue reading