Our Breath is the Wind of Dreams

Dreams by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Covered with snow.

To Breathe a Dream by Linda Doughty

Taped to my desk and handwritten on a torn scrap of paper, Langston Hughes’s “Dreams” reminded me each day to hold fast. I was a paraprofessional, working at the Chatham College Library. I would earn $10,050 a year, with scant benefits. My title was Technical Services Assistant. We worked in the back of the library, processing and cataloging books and other library materials. I discovered the wonders of OCLC*, stumbled over countless other acronyms, F-keyed my way through WordStar, found joy in mail sorting, quashed my disbelief at the bureaucratic snarl of invoice processing and budget review, and supervised docile undergraduate students. I also learned how to find thin books to stow in the middle drawer of my desk so that I could read. Assigning fund lines for payments glazed my eyes over and there were days when I couldn’t take one more call from a vendor. My peripheral vision was good and I was adept at pushing the drawer back in with my belly. I read “The Old Man and the Sea” this way.

I was demoralized. I was holding fast to my dream of becoming a professional flute player. I’d recently completed my Master’s degree in Flute Performance at Carnegie Mellon University but had no money nor confidence. A conducting student had attached himself to me and it took years to shake him loose. He wanted me to “put my life on hold” and support his career. I made excuses for him. He was from Argentina. He was Jewish. His ancestry was Eastern European. He had childhood trauma. Surely he would understand my desire for a more egalitarian relationship and overcome all these obstacles to understanding me. Love would provide clarity in due course, of this I was confident.

I decided that he should get his doctoral degree in orchestral conducting, in large part due to a series of unfortunate circumstances that resulted in him losing his questionably appointed job at Carnegie Mellon. Basically, his mother had an affair with the new Music Department Head, who hired her son, misappropriated university funds, and lost his job in less than a year. Since I worked in a library I had access to the materials that allowed me to research our next step. The University of Arizona had both a doctoral conducting program and a library school. It seemed sensible for me to pursue a degree in library science. Tucson looked to be an active arts community. I thought we would have many more opportunities in a smaller, western city than in old-monied Pittsburgh. He applied and got into their conducting program. Then I applied and got in as a doctoral student in flute performance. We would both be graduate teaching assistants. This was my dream. He asked me, “When are you ever going to start acting right?”

I dreamed my way into a successful playing career. I burned through a couple of marriages then dreamed my way into a better life. I dreamed a son, I dreamed a family, I dreamed a life with pets. I dreamed horses back into my life.

I dreamed of retirement. I dreamed of quiet, of still, of peace, of time filled with cloud shows, of butterflies on blooms. Covid-19 opened that space. I grasped the doorknob. I let go and opened my hands. I stepped through the door with gratitude and horror.

I’ve burned. I’ve smoldered. I’ve erupted. Not proud of that part.

Dreams don’t die. Dreams drift like clouds. Breath has a warmth to melt the snow. Brokenness heals and healing breaks us open. Our breath is the wind of dreams.

“I think,” Tehanu said in her soft, strange voice, “that when I die, I can breathe back the breath that made me live. I can give back to the world all that I didn’t do. All that I might have been and couldn’t be. All the choices I didn’t make. All the things I lost and spent and wasted. I can give them back to the world. To the lives that haven’t been lived yet. That will be my gift back to the world that gave me the life I did live, the love I loved, the breath I breathed.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Other Wind

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OCLC

Canter

By the way
strides fall in threes
marking their way,
four hooves

leave the way;
I recall hoofbeats.

I can hear: words prance

on heat spirals,
circling upwards. I hesitate to

say it. Each movement
begins anew and repeats
an earworm: horses

sing the chorus. Memory
a strangling anchor
I grasp: static
white noise, spilling over
the basin’s edge – urgency
swells, moves ribs
heels and hooves
tucks tail
Don’t force. The deafness is sounding.
What is sung: we are cruel
to be kind – we are wasted
on the horses, lost
in their thrall
sweaty backs melt into blue jeans
melded, unfixed wildness
up and through, both
unfound and flowing momentum
hearing the sound
ears forward
cupping the wind,
time and bodies are broken together
my kindness carries no song.

Yellow

Yellow is exuberance loosed

from green to bloom,

bucking in warmth.


Yellow is light,

bitter spice,

surprise, then delight.


Yellow is inhale or exhale,

spring or fall,

first or last.


Yellow is small sunbursts

penetrating eyelids,

I walk on life in process. 


Yellow is straining light

towards light.

I give up.


Yellow.

Blooming Palo Verde tree

Bright Red Windblown Mane

Pale sunlight streams through bright red windblown mane.
A memory attends this pause in time.
My heart, my all soars high on this refrain.

My mind recalls a breeze of childhood pain.
Sharp wind-whipped mane enacts a pantomime.
Pale sunlight streams through bright red windblown mane.

A gallop through that field was near insane.
I feel the rush of that far summertime. 
My heart, my all soars high on this refrain.

She tripped, she fell and on the ground I’d lain.
I got back up and brushed away the grime.
Pale sunlight streams through bright red windblown mane.

It seemed beyond my grasp that she’d ordain,
I let her go and live beyond my crime.
My heart, my all soars high on this refrain.

A second act, I’m older, more humane.
My song continues, cantering in rhyme.
Pale sunlight streams through bright red windblown mane.
My heart, my all soars high on this refrain.

Sweet Al gazing out at his new pasture home in Amado.

A New Year Sestina

December rains called forth a new spring.
This is the way of the Sonoran Desert.
Yesterday, when skies cleared midmorning,
Tom hitched up the horse trailer,
and I brought forth my burnished chestnut horse,
rain-scrubbed and shiny like the proverbial penny.

I have spent many a pretty penny:
on a fancy brush to help remove shedding coats in spring,
on saddles and pads and blankets for the horse,
on supplements to balance the iron-rich hay grown in the desert.
I filled a bag with this hay and hung it in the trailer.
I haltered my horse, luminous in the golden light of midmorning.

It’s time to go now. Our midmorning
plan unfolds, like my checkbook, another spent penny.
Through the aisle of stalls, we promenade, onward to the trailer.
My horse walks with little hesitation, an easy spring
in his stride as we cross the New Year’s Day desert.
I marvel at the grace of this horse.

What is it about a horse?
It’s my good fortune to share another midmorning
in the light of this creature, a copper penny
vision framed by creosote-scented desert.
His hooves touch the rubbery incline, and he’s in the trailer,
reassured by my promise of another spring.

The door closes, held tight by a spring.
Since the days of the Iron Horse,
the Amado Ranch has existed. It’s our destination this midmorning
and the perfect backdrop for a historical movie. The trailer
might dramatize the settling of the American West, a time when each hard-spent penny
bought up land and the means to reshape the unforgiving desert.

But today, we drive south on I-19 through a refreshed desert.
Saguaros are hydrated, stately, and amused, arms embracing spring.
The sky isn’t falling. I’m no hysterical Henny-Penny.
Here is the ranch! Bienvenidos, my lucky horse!
His shaking hindquarters ease from the trailer–
his eye takes in the new horizon, distinct in late midmorning.

Spellbound by this expanse of desert, I see beyond and into my horse.
The confines of the trailer choked the brightness of midmorning.
Here, he fits smoothly and snuggly as a penny in a loafer. Eternal spring.

Crumbles

Cake on the plate.
A peaceful break to sit
with the cake on the plate.
To break sweet bread and share a cup of tea
with friends.
Crumbs will fall.

Maybe on this day I will bake an orange loaf
and give it to my neighbor.
Maybe I will clean my office.
Maybe I will wet the beet pulp pellets for my horses.
The pellets will fall apart under hydration.

Oh, I know I will take feed to my horses.
Their hayful life is good keeping.
What to give away, what to keep?
I ponder this question.

I saw one friend disintegrate,
passed out and found,
passed around and lost.
Another friend seemed to slowly remove
bits and pieces of herself
until she was gone.

Once, when I was ten, a teacher asked the class
how we wanted to die.
Maybe this was an odd thing to do.
Maybe it was brave.
I said I wanted to be there and children laughed.

Of course I would be there,
but I wanted be aware, to participate in the moment,
to bring my curiosity.
How much do we get to choose?

My plan for today:
Make the cake.
Take the horse on a walk. Hoofprints will follow in the sandy soil.
Share thoughts and cookies with my friends.
The crumbs fall away like blessings.



I’ve not been riding.

Woodshed*

I’ve not been writing.
Yesterday I blew a few barely graceful notes
on my flute.
There were lights to hang and my son could use a hand.
So I lent him mine.
This melancholy isn’t mine.
It’s ours.
We all see it.
I let it walk with me.
It keeps me out of the saddle because of a choice I made.
Our hospital beds are nearly full.
Two short months have passed at our new barn.
Though I’ve taken a ride here and there
the chance of a strong spook
from a horse
or a loss of balance
on my part
is greater now.
We are all out of practice.

Truth be told
I like the peace.

*”Woodshedding” is a term commonly used by musicians to mean rehearsing a difficult passage repeatedly until it can be performed flawlessly. The term is used metaphorically where “the woodshed” means any private place to practice without being heard by anyone else. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodshedding#:~:text=%22Woodshedding%22%20is%20a%20term%20commonly,being%20heard%20by%20anyone%20else.