Turning, by Barb Asen

Turning

Don’t get mad
at the mauve brown trees,
furry on the hillside,
sticks up close.

We all have to host
the wind and weather,
a knock on the bones
of new November.

Don’t be sad
when winter rules,
claiming every roof
in her white way.

The days that we have
are quick and tender,
the light that we make
yields frost to ember.

And when we plant a seed,
we wonder once again,
when will a new life start, how will it end?

Don’t forget
on verdant days
to love the sun
and bless the rain.

Each season will turn
with pain and pleasure,
in honey and brine
will be remembered.

Each season will turn
with pain and pleasure,
with honey and brine,
will be remembered.

January 31, 2016

Dear Niece,

Good morning! My fingers are cold on the keys, having just worked the frozen clip on the dog’s line. He’ll get a good hike in a couple of hours and made the most of his relief visit to the icy outdoors. I pretend I don’t hear him now trying to raid the kindling bucket. You’re with me a lot, you know? I’ve held you as my muse so much lately because of an unanticipated creative experience that I want to share. Here goes…

In late October, I was walking Vinnie along the river road, our default off-leash destination very close to home.  It was one of those days when leaves were largely down (and not going back up until April at best). The river is beautiful at all times, with reflections of hills and sky in colors and lighting du jour, or du hour. That day, the poignancy of the season touched me, and on our homeward lap I heard a short poem in rhythm with my breath and footfall:

Don’t get mad
at the mauve brown trees,
furry on the hillside,
sticks up close.

We all have to host
the wind and weather,
a knock on the bones
of new November.

Almost just like that. I played with it a bit and named it, “Aging Autumn.” You may know that I work at the area agency on aging, so that theme is with me professionally as well as personally.

Anyway, I liked it – the imagery of “stick season” (as we call it in Vermont), the assonance of “close and host”, and the surprise, to me, of “a knock on the bones”—something I felt rather than thought. I was touched by the sense of inclusion of all beings in the movement of time, the process of changing, of dying, of evolving, together. Even the young trees are denuded in autumn; life has cycles within cycles to witness with awe and compassion.

So I liked this little poem a lot… except that it seemed sing-songy. And then it quietly struck me that this was a song. A song?! Not just for and about my dog? Yes. And upon this recognition, a melody immediately arrived, unschooled and unsophisticated, for sure, but sweet. A song!

I sat with it, shared it very selectively, testing what it was like to assert that I had written a song – me, a sometimes poet, a no-instrument/no school band/forget-about-musical-notation kitchen singer…  Was this a cute and solitary trick of my 59th year?

I thought that one verse was all, but the next month a second part arrived with colder temps:

Don’t be sad
when winter rules,
claiming every roof
in her white way.

The days that we have
are quick and tender,
the light that we make
yields frost to ember.

I liked the symbolism here, being that my own “roof” is pretty purely white now (like Grandpa’s), and older age must come in nature’s path. It is up to us to bring warmth and consciousness to our experience, especially as we reckon with mortality. But the title was now wrong.  Aging Season?  Aging Seasons?  Song of Aging… yech, better to leave this question aside!

At that point, I got together with a writing friend in her mid-eighties, showed her the verses and sang her the tune. She liked it very much and supported me to take time with the title.  I was also uncertain about the last line, which I had revised the morning I met with Earline to “jewels frost with ember.” I later decided that was overdone, and returned to the way I first heard it. Why I bother to mention this is that I often question how a listener will take in my language and metaphor. It is my job, I think, to be clear and grammatically reasonable, intelligent but not obscure – while also giving voice to poetry that comes organically. And then I must keep alert to avoid overindulgence and artifice!   I’m curious how you, my musical, lyrical niece, approach the balance between personal process and interpersonal connection, accessibility and magic.

At the end of December, I shared the song with a dear friend I visited near Princeton, a gifted visual artist (and endocrinologist by day), who regularly treats me to her paintings in progress. She liked it, too, and felt that—gently challenged me to see if– there was more to come.

Early January was apparently incubation time, for about a week after your birthday, I received a bridge and final verse; I’ll insert the full lyrics (though not fully cured, perhaps) at the end of this letter. It startled and delighted me to find that I could go further, or indeed, stay open, curious and allow a full unfolding of the creation coming through me.  I believe that is the essence of my fascination – not whether I may be called a “songwriter”, but how we can invite and manifest and honor creative energy in its play. My Transformative Language Arts friends and colleagues consider how our creative work transforms self and society; this experience has moved and emboldened me to sing spirit through words in new forms, with new wonder and new possibilities. I hope that sharing it, however that may proceed, will move others as well.

One more thing:  maybe this song presents a further possibility for our personal sharing.  Ever since the tune popped into my head, I heard it with cello accompaniment. You know I am not a musician, composer or arranger, but I heard cello sounds on the long notes and transitions, especially (“trees…weather…November”, and the like). Might you be able, sometime, to show me what that would sound like?  I’ll send you a voice recording so you can hear the melody.

So that’s the Aunt Barbara story, and I again feel privileged to share creative adventures with you.  I am hungry to hear any of yours, be they about music or any other self-expression, discovery, advocacy, healing…

Happy, happy [end of] birthday [month]. All loving thoughts to you and partner and pups.

Big hugs,
Aunt B.

Barb Asen, in settings such as Memory Cafe and caregiver groups, encourages supportive communication and artistic experimentation that is reflective, playful, and healing. She draws skill and inspiration from long experience as a meditation practitioner, as well as in creative writing practice that has included graduate study in the TLA concentration at Goddard College. Barb lives and works in central Vermont.

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