I Thought I Knew

Aten_scan03
monoprint,22×30
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I THOUGHT I KNEW

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I thought I knew
What Love was.
But what is true
Is that I knew
The smell and taste
Of just the base
Of the whole beanstalk.
I was so sure
It was all there was.

What I know now
Is the substance
A personality
Can only tell
Stories about.
Only a ripe soul
Maybe shattered
Can recognize
And carry;
Maybe share
The numinous
Which is surely
Our shared legacy
From God.

The daffodils
Don’t give a hoot
If you get their name right
But loneliness ensues
If you refuse
The yellowness of their best yellow
Quietly laid at our feet.
I think their gift
Is no different
Than the press
My dog keeps gifting my thigh.
Also- the toothless and unashamed grin,
Slightly shy
The street musician laid on me
Seems the same.

I only say:
The love I know now
Is too big to fit in words.
It is me
In my spectacular brokenness
And reclamation;
The whole shebang!
My breath
You breathe
And I breathe once more,
Gratitude laid
At my own feet
And yours.

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C. Aten February 2016

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My Hands (repost)

get-attachment.aspx
photo credit: Gay Block
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MY HANDS
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These are my hands.
They have made both good and hopeful love.
They’ve coaxed night terrors from a dog
And curled in upon themselves
So hard
As to wake cramped.
These hands have prayed belligerent and beseeching prayers.
Fine and common meals have been made.
Black eyeliner and red lipstick
Precursors to an exhibition
Of art both sublime and something less.
These lovely hands are mine
Because I baited fishing poles
And threw back the fish.
Sometimes.
Sometimes I gutted those fish on the driveway
And loved the color and shapes I found inside.
These hands have thrown one wine glass
At a man
And missed completely.
They have signed unread contracts
And penned love letters
Unfortunately unappreciated
By anyone but me.
I love my hands
Because they have been strong
And now they aren’t.
I love that I still love them.
I love them still.
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-Cathy Aten 2013

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Advisor

IMG_1804

My spiritual advisor is white.

She likes who she likes

And lets the others know

Her distain

First, with a muffled yet throaty

Growl

And if that doesn’t take

She ups the volume.

Beyond seventy

In dog years

Has given her street cred.

She weighs a scant 7 pounds

Yet her sturdy legs

Can stop my wheelchair

When I want her to go

Where she’d rather not.

How embarrassing

That her wee frame

Can alter my course.

It bugs me.

Frustrates me.

Makes me lay down

Any modicum

Of genteel comportment.

I surreptitiously

Look around to see

If any body saw me lose it.

She is that Akido master

I saw on TV

From Korea

Who, with the barest ruffle

Reduced twenty men

To prone.

I have gotten stuck in stasis.

For a long time now

Avoiding projects,

Pedalling in place

And not doing

Yoga poses I know will save me.

I bend to whisper

In her ear

Just now:

“I love you.
I respect you.
It is a privilege to live with you.
Won’t you help me
And teach what you know
About intent?
You see..
I’ve lost my moxie
And you have it
In spades.
I’ll trade you
Really great food
And original songs
Along with
Your spot
Always saved
In bed
Next to me
If you’ll just share
How-in-the-hell
You keep calling up
The gladiatorial acumen
Running red
In your blood
So close beneath
The white white whiteness
Of your lovely fur.”
Amen.

Don’t Worry

frailty

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DON’T WORRY

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Don’t worry
If you are not
Where you want
To go.

If I say ‘‘empathy’’
Does your heart
Release
A few old scales?

If a dog
Happens to dance
A prayer for food
Do your eyes gleam?

I don’t know
My multiplication tables
But I can remind you
If you lost your song.

No longer do I ask
“Am I good enough?”
I AM which is
Indeed all there is.

Yesterday
I saw two black birds
Dipping and veering.
I gave them my attention.

That’s as good
As it gets I think;
Pay attention.
No expectation.

There is
No wrong road
Unless
You follow someone else’s.

Dipping and veering
In the hall of mirrors
Is the cost
Of character.

I’ve paid my dues
And then some
For the privilege
To know nothing.

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-Cathy Aten

Looking

Aten_scan41
“MARKS”, 2002, 24×24, m/m
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The loveliest places of all

are those that look as if

there’s nothing there

to those still learning to look.

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-Bryan Turner

Girls and Boys of Summer

abyss

Girls And Boys of Summer
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Sitting at Starbuck’s
Some girls in flouncy seersucker
Skirts made me nervous
Because they seduced even me.

Taut, smooth black leather
Pants and padded pricey jackets
Hug testosterone-laden young bucks
Cruising in contorted
Motorcycle poses.
One can almost feel
The tug their pole cast,
Trolling
For the tidal pull
Left in their wake.

They got me, I tell you..
I saw my skin tanned
Wearing cool sunglasses
Practicing nonchalance and
Scooted too far forward
Behind some Marlon Brandoesque
Kid (In his youth).

I wore a white
Eyelet bell-sleeved number
And my jeans
Were thin and torn.
I had LIPSMACKERS
Cherry flavored gloss
Leaving wear marks
On my back pocket.

One time the INDY 500
Came to Detroit
And spewed the fumes
And searing pitch
I both hated and loved
But never forgot.

Some things
Like boots and gas
And a sunburned left arm
From resting casually too long
On the truck’s opened window
Mean freedom to Me.

I saw those youngsters today
So hungry
For each other, the wind,
The hierarchy of cool..
I loved them.
And me.
Both then and now;
The urgent teenager
And the tenderized me
Of today.

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-CA March 2015

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The Narcissist Fisherman

radio

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NARCISSIST FISHERMAN

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One time-on a date
I was taken flyfishing
For the first time
Ever.
He was a magnet.

There were the perfect shoes;
The pebble-gripping kind.
Anti-slip. One pair. For him.
He was cool.
And distant.

The river was small
With lots of twiggy trees.
He showed me how to cast.
Watched me do it.
Satisfied, he left.

I watched him walk.
So sure of himself
In those shoes.
He rounded the bend.
I saw him hours later.

There was a trout there
In his hand.
“Look at this beauty!”
“Come watch me gut it.”
I slip-slided over to the bank.

I was weary.
Being alone all day
With tangled lines
In gluttonous trees
I was in no mood.

I listened to myself
Dutifully exclaim:
“Wow! Great catch!”
Trout guts dribbled over the rock.
“I’ll have this for breakfast,” he said.

On the way home I thought:
“This is the worst fucking date ever.”
Why didn’t I just stand for myself
And have him take me home
Instead of getting so small and silent?

He needed to be front and center.
My mother was like that too.
Old and familiar energies
Act like heroin:
The rope of attraction
Has a noose at the end.

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– CATHY ATEN 2014

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Party On A Limb

regret
“BLACK FOREST” installation, ceramic, sand, 2008
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In a Tree House

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Light
Will someday split you open
Even if your life is now a cage,

For a divine seed, the crown of destiny,
Is hidden and sown on an ancient, fertile plain
You hold the title to.

Love will surely bust you wide open
Into an unfettered, blooming new galaxy

Even if your mind is now
A spoiled mule.

A life-giving radiance will come,
The Friend’s gratuity will come –

O look again within yourself,
For I know you were once the elegant host
To all the marvels in creation.

From a sacred crevice in your body
A bow rises each night
And shoots your soul into God.

Behold the Beautiful Drunk Singing One
From the lunar vantage point of love.

He is conducting the affairs
of the whole universe

While throwing wild parties
In a tree house – on a limb
In your heart.

~ Hafiz

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Honey

saving grace
detail of painting
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My project has been fully funded!! I am acclimating to asking and actually receiving such riches. Chronic illness is such that a life can begin to feel so very narrow. Just your presence out there helps protect me from the tendency to enter into invisibility and stay there.

I am so humbled and grateful. Thank you.

xxx

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THE HONEY GUIDES

Once upon a time there was a girl who had a secret place.
It was up on a hill covered in long grass.
Sometimes she would snuggle down and make a nest for herself
when her parents were bugging her or if she felt alone.
She never really fit well anywhere.
She was well liked though she belonged to no group.
Her best friends were Nature Spirits.
They would whisper and sing softly in her ear.
Her fledgling heart was always soothed.
As she grew older she returned again and again to her grassy hill
and the Spirits who tended her so long and so well.

One day she noticed that far away across the river, in a little cottage
Smoke was rising from the chimney.
In all these years from her secret spot she had never noticed this before.
She became curious and decided to pack a little bag
And make the long journey to the cottage.
She was cold. Perhaps she could find some warmth by the fire.
She walked for days, for years and a lifetime.
As she finally approached the cottage she heard laughter.
I sounded like a party.

She timidly knocked on the door and all the noise inside stopped.
The door creaked open and in a blaze of light and warmth she saw a table.
It was set with crystal and silvery things.
There were many places set at this table.
From each chair came a welcoming smile from the most radiant people
The girl had ever seen.
She felt warm and tingly inside as she noticed
There was a special place set just for her.

She sat and someone began to speak.
“We are the HONEY GUIDES. We are here to teach you about sweetness
And nurture and family and love.”
“We will hold your hand while you eat and your heart will grow
And you will always know where to go for food.”
And at that- a beautiful woman with golden hair
Began to sing a heartbreakingly lovely song,
A blessing was given and the feast began.

The girl understood that her whole life so far was in preparation for this-
Her seat at the tribal table.
She was no longer alone.
She felt her heart grow wide and wider still.
And she saw it was true what she had been told;
That part of The Journey must be made alone
But for the heart to become ripe and full
One needs a hand to hold.

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– Cathy Aten 2008

Loving A Dog

eyegaze

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LOVING A DOG

Have you ever
Had a dog lie on your chest
And lick away the tears
Without stopping
Until she decided
You were well soothed?

Have you seen
A dog’s eyes go wet
And impossibly soft
As you apologized
To one another
For not knowing
How to do everything
Exactly right?

Did you ever feel
The wild glee
From a wiggling thing;
Her fur transmitting
Ecstasy zooming at you
There, in the same door
You left from
Just hours before?

Have you ever, ever heard
A lovelier dance of need
As tiny feet
Purposefully placed
In a sort of
Circular fast-track
In the deep of the night
Imploring you
To understand
The urge to pee?

I ask you-
Have you lain awake
Too long
To drink in
A dreaming dog
Softly snoring there
In the crook of an arm
With a warm press
Into your awake skin?

Do you sing to her?
Little ditties
In a secret language
From a place
In your heart
Saved
Only for communion
With
God-in-form
Who happens to be living
At your address?

Do you wonder
How you got so lucky
To laugh
That hard
When her GPS
Locates a dead snake
And she rolls
And rolls
Wanting
The potent perfume
As her take away?

Have you seen
Her muzzle going grey
As the years
Of healing you
Are taking their toll
And arthritis creeps
Into her bones
As she wears
The wisdom
Earned
Figuring out
Exactly how
To love you best?

Did you ever imagine
How the privilege
Of the love of a Dog
Might bless your life
And turn it into
A literal church
Complete
With all the grime and gifting
Available
In any Life
Tuned
To the Sacred?

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-CA 2014

The River

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I WENT TO THE RIVER

Today I went to the river
That rolls by the church.
Diminutive in size,
It’s power is always a shock
After a truly long and weighty rain.

I went this morning
To mix my tears
Into the slow and steady creep
The river chose as her outfit
For today’s particular display.

Under the beleaguered bridge
Are fat navy blue letters
Left by some stringy-haired kid
Wanting to say something
We won’t hear.

The violent and gushing rains of last week
Left my river swollen.
The young willows on the fringe
Are now plastered into the flood banks.
The water had risen alarmingly fast and far.

My tears seemed to come up
Out of nothing
And then they were gone.
Maybe some generalized malaise
We, earth inhabitants now forever run in our veins.

There- the church bells finally sounding
And my dog rolling
To get close to some exotic scent.
I was so jealous of her find.
That dirt she wiggled in held treasure.

I felt satisfyingly small
There on the muddy bank.
“The river is bigger than me!” I thought.
Whether rolling or a raucous display
That river-girl is bigger than me.

I left that place
Having given the easy flow a bit more
Of the wetness we both know well.
I rolled home wearing that river’s solace
In the gift of an earthen and watery scent she offered me..

-CA 2014

The Reach

get-attachment.aspx
“MY HANDS” photo credit- Gay Block
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THE REACH

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What will it be like when I can’t hold you?
A wine glass with leggy and dusky red smoothness
Or, God forbid- my beloved furry and wriggling dog..
Your hand, present and enveloping
My thinning and newly boney artists’ hand?
What if I can’t feel you?

What if I become afraid
And I don’t let YOU feel ME?
That self-imposed aloneness
Coming as the psyche winds down..
Too tired to weave any more threads
Into lush patterns
Hypnotic in their aliveness.

These damp thoughts
Come after sleep too deep
To easily wake from.
I was fathoms down
And the post-rain air
Was the cord I followed up and up-
Back here to You and you.

Life and Death are held
Within the minute shift
From one point-of-view to another.
I am lucky my previously supple hand
Naturally reaches toward
Wriggling dogs and fine wine.
I will lean into you, Life.
Please take my hand
If you don’t mind the stretch.

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– CA

Another Prayer

disabiliy?

ANOTHER PRAYER

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God, burn me up.
I am exhausted
Re-framing my life.
But it always works.

I don’t find You
Coddling me much.
Thinking my way through
Has lost it’s elan.

I watch and listen
For what shows up.
I’m lucky I’m interested
Except when I’m not.

This morning I sat awhile
In my favorite chair.
My sister bought it.
I feel her love.

How could it be
This warmth in my heart
Intrigues me more
Than Lourdes or the Louvre?

You leave me charred.
I take a microscope
To the smooth and craggy face.
It is so beautiful to me.

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-CA 2014

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Hummingbird

health

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HUMMINGBIRD

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I heard a hummingbird hurrying.

She wore a glittery cloak

Leaving little gleams behind her;

Too busy to chat.

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The song she trilled

Sounded decidedly thrilled!

The red thing hanging there

Was the prize.

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Hovering. Hovering there.

She hadn’t quite decided

If the perfect time had come

To slurp at the sugary joint.

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But then!

By Jove, she lit into the place

With the speed of a cheetah

But dressed for the ball.

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When she rested there

On the rim to eat

The stillness was so deep..

I stopped breathing.

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As she lifted into flight

Veering impossibly left

I found myself

Jealous of her strong heart.

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– CA 2014

Springing

spring
“PUSH”, 18x18x10″, ceramic,wire,wood
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I wrote this in 2009 and seem to need to post it each Spring:

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LOVE LETTER TO SPRING

We thought it would never come.
That dripping, pungent, just-waking- up
Season of LIFE!
It hides, teases, burrows down
So far that we forget-
Forget the wild heartbeat that comes
With the lover at the door.
Old thoughts of circumstances long gone
Have no place here.
All is washed clean,
Naked to the promise
Of every thing spanking new.
And so, what shall I choose
To adorn myself for you?
Nothing secondhand, NO!
For me there will be butter yellow
Like the grasses by the roadside.
Perhaps a deep brown
With the scent of new rain
Behind my ear.
Of course, lest I forget
A shirt the shade of
The inside of that orchid
I saw on your desk.
The door will open
And there you’ll stand,
Crackling with the promise
Of a thunderstorm.
Wild, navy blue clouds
Demanding my attention.
“Come in”, I say, slightly unnerved.
Nothing seems familiar, everything new.
I leave the door open,
So all this blossoming, and greening and thundering and light
Has no question it is welcome
To change us, release us
From all we know to be true,
And leave us spent with awe
For all we thought we knew.

-Cathy Aten Easter 2009

Willingness

hospital
ceramic, approx. 5x3x3″
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WE ARE HERE

We are here essentially to risk ourselves in the world, we are a form of invitation to others and to otherness, we are meant to hazard ourselves for the right thing, for the right woman or the right man, for a son or a daughter, for the right work or for a gift given against all the odds. And in all this continual risking the most profound courage may be found in the simple willingness to allow ourselves to be happy along the way…

©2011 David Whyte
Excerpted from ‘LONGING From the upcoming book of essays CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
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Tread Softly

detail of installation, ceramic, earth, coal
detail of installation, ceramic, earth
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NEW YEAR’S POEM
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This new year I wish to tread softly on my path

And learn the grounded power and acute attention of a wild cat.

I have the desire to disturb as few blades of grass as a lithe snake

Purposefully carving her organic road;

Enjoying micro-movements of muscles

All working together in Grace.

Speaking of Grace- the trusting, innocent eyes of my dog are those I strive to see my world with.

I want to care for my clan with the fathoms deep depth of an African elephant.

My voice wants to carve sweet somethings through heavy airs.

My skin begs to exude a perfume as yet unknown

Instead of the intermittent metallic notes of judgement and impatience.

My heart imagines itself lying there, quite open and pink;

Oozing nectar ready as food for those who have none.

I want to tread softly through this magnificent forest;

My attention missing nothing…

Nothing…

Not the horror nor the Grace.

I will use my wild cat eyes and ears to try my best to take it all.
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-Cathy Aten 2014

Thanksgiving

DSC00061

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THANKSGIVING POEM

I want to say something
About not getting
What you want
Because if all those prayers
Had been answered
I’d surely not be me
And that would be a shame.

The warm press
Of my dog on my thigh
Might have slipped
My attention
As I went surfing the net;
Mindlessly window shopping
For fur hats.

I might have missed
The precious and strong
Grip of my left hand
If my right one
Weren’t so weakened
By the take-away
Illness brings.

What if I actually had
All the independence
I have prayed for
And altogether missed
My heart stretching
With love for all those
Who let me know
I matter to them?

If I had all I wanted
I’d never know
How not having
Helps me know
The very important gift
Of wanting
And cherishing
Exactly what I have.
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-Cathy Aten 2013

Sometimes Beauty

eyegaze
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SOMETIMES BEAUTY- haiku
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Sometimes Beauty with

A capital ‘B’ is the

Smoother of all things.
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-CA 2013

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CLICK HERE
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My Hands

get-attachment.aspx
photo credit: Gay Block
___________________

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MY HANDS
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These are my hands.
They have made both good and hopeful love.
They’ve coaxed night terrors from a dog
And curled in upon themselves
So hard
As to wake cramped.
These hands have prayed belligerent and beseeching prayers.
Fine and common meals have been made.
Black eyeliner and red lipstick
Precursors to an exhibition
Of art both sublime and something less.
These lovely hands are mine
Because I baited fishing poles
And threw back the fish.
Sometimes.
Sometimes I gutted those fish on the driveway
And loved the color and shapes I found inside.
These hands have thrown one wine glass
At a man
And missed completely.
They have signed unread contracts
And penned love letters
Unfortunately unappreciated
By anyone but me.
I love my hands
Because they have been strong
And now they aren’t.
I love that I still love them.
I love them still.
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-Cathy Aten 2013

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