When I moved from small-town, Oklahoma to Denver, Colorado at age nineteen, Auntie mesmerized me. She was Kody’s Aunt MeMe, his mother’s identical twin sister. Her face and mannerisms were amazingly like those of my new mother-in-law. I couldn’t look away. I’m pretty sure we bonded that way. That was thirty-two years ago. I called her by first name, Tana, but she put a stop to that. “I’m your Auntie, Baby,” she said. “Call me, Auntie, Bella.”
Auntie was tough. She told it like it was. But she was magnetic. People loved her. She had connections all over town, and Kody and I were along for the ride—from North Denver to Cherry Creek, El Chapultapec to the York Street Jazz Café. That’s how Kody’s Aunt MeMe became my Auntie. She taught me gratitude and a persevering attitude. I freaking loved her.
I flew into Denver last Thursday night in the dark. I couldn’t see the mountains. Kody picked me up at the airport. He had flown in days earlier to be with his cousin in the wake of death.
The sun rose on Friday morning, and Kody and I drove toward Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in North Denver. When the Rocky Mountains showed their face, I said to myself, “There’s no Denver without Auntie.” Even as I thought the words, traffic flowed from east to west, north to south. Of course, Denver would move forward. It already had. My heart broke, and I shed a tear all the same, but I felt Auntie’s spirit in the face of those mountains.
We did it the way Auntie would’ve wanted. A celebration of life. A party. Family. Fun. Storytelling. And fierce love.
The sun rose east of downtown Houston, the horizon glowed orange, and skyscrapers shone in reflection. A pale, full moon hung in the west. I joined teacher friends on the school rooftop—for the happening, camaraderie, and breakfast tacos. This was the first Thursday of autumn, the end of the first five weeks of the semester. I counted my blessings.
The teacher in me is always functioning in one of two ways: first, survival, then, reflecting to teach better. This year, the first year of my brand-new job after a two-year break, I’m teaching some lessons that have worked well in the past and some that are brand new to me.
A few years ago, I tried out this idea, students would read Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Puedo Escribir los Versos Más Tristes Esta Noche” (1924). First, in Spanish. The Chilean poet’s collection Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971. This is Poem 20 in his collection.
I have enough Spanish speakers in my classes to pull off the reading as intended. Multiple volunteers raise their hands to read aloud, and the rest of us listen to the beauty of the language. This lesson is more about poetry appreciation than analysis. (Click here to listen in Spanish.)
Puedo Escribir los Versos Más Tristes Esta Noche
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Escribir, por ejemplo: 'La noche está estrellada,
y tiritan, azules, los astros, a lo lejos.'
El viento de la noche gira en el cielo y canta.
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Yo la quise, y a veces ella también me quiso.
En las noches como ésta la tuve entre mis brazos.
La besé tantas veces bajo el cielo infinito.
Ella me quiso, a veces yo también la quería.
Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos.
Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.
Pensar que no la tengo. Sentir que la he perdido.
Oir la noche inmensa, más inmensa sin ella.
Y el verso cae al alma como al pasto el rocío.
Qué importa que mi amor no pudiera guadarla.
La noche está estrellada y ella no está conmigo.
Eso es todo. A lo lejos alguien canta. A lo lejos.
Mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido.
Como para acercarla mi mirada la busca.
Mi corazón la busca, y ella no está conmigo.
La misma noche que hace blanquear los mismos árboles.
Nosotros, los de entonces, ya no somos los mismos.
Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero cuánto la quise.
Mi voz buscaba el viento para tocar su oído.
De otro. Será de otro. Como antes de mis besos.
Su voz, su cuerpo claro. Sus ojos infinitos.
Ya no la quiero, es cierto, pero tal vez la quiero.
Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.
Porque en noches como ésta la tuve entre mis brazos,
mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido.
Aunque éste sea el último dolor que ella me causa,
y éstos sean los últimos versos que yo le escribo.
Then, we read and listen to the audio version in English, “Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines.” (Click here.)
Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Write, for example, 'The night is shattered, and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'
The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines. I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
Through nights like this one I held her in my arms. I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.
She loved me sometimes, and I loved her too. How could one not have loved her great still eyes.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines. To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.
To hear the immense night, still more immense without her. And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.
What does it matter that my love could not keep her. The night is shattered and she is not with me.
This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance. My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
My sight searches for her as though to go to her. My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.
The same night whitening the same trees. We, of that time, are no longer the same.
I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her. My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.
Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before. Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.
I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her. Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer and these the last verses that I write for her.
I ask the students who understand both versions which one they like more. “It’s so much better in Spanish,” they say. “So much more passionate, more romantic. I mean, Spanish is a Romance language.”
I ask what makes this poem poetic, and they zero in on the purposeful repetition, the images, and the speaker’s internal conflict. “Her infinite eyes. Now that’s a line,” they say. The students gush a bit. They like Neruda, and this is the point.
For homework, I ask them to write lines of their own. Theirs do not have to be their saddest. They can choose whatever they want—their happiest, their angriest, their most musical or most artistic. This year I’m teaching at a high school for the performing and visual arts. I’m throwing out ideas right and left.
They could borrow some of Neruda’s language, like “Tonight I can write ______” and stick to his format, mostly two-line stanzas, or not.
They could write poetry or prose. Either way students would include purposeful repetition (I teach them a word—anaphora), imagery, and an internal conflict.
They could write in a language other than English. This was another spur of the moment decision. Why not? During these first weeks of school, I try hard to know my students by name and need.
And when the students returned to class a week later with completed assignments, I asked for volunteers to share. For the first time in over twenty years of teaching, students spoke in Japanese and Russian in our classroom. Other students shared in French and Spanish, Danish and English. And overall, students surprised themselves with a newfound confidence in their self-expression.
Sometimes we make school needlessly hard. I get it. We’re preparing students for college. But many of my students have been learning online for the past year and a half. I want them to leave with some good memories, a newfound love of language, maybe even a respect for humanity.
First, go to an art supply store and buy yourself some Prismacolor Premier colored pencils. Truth be told, I bought some years ago for my son, and when they went unused, I decided to color. Last coloring extravaganza—2016ish. The Prismacolor Premiers haven’t aged a day.
I suppose, mindfulness was my goal. I didn’t put that much thought into pulling the coloring book and colored pencils from the drawer of my nightstand. My brain was locked and loaded, practically shot, with back to school info. and all the details of a brand new job and 200+ new names. I teach high school, and I had taken a two-year sabbatical since the last time I stepped into my own classroom. My brain is two years older. Technology is ever changing.
I started in the center of a rather intricate design, the first page of the book. Suddenly, there was no past. No future. Just picking colors. Sharpening pencils as needed. Pressing harder for effect. An occasional thought snuck in to guilt me: Shouldn’t you be going through the mail on the kitchen table? When was the last time you mopped? But there was a calm satisfaction in my attention to pattern and juxtaposition of hue.
My husband looked on. “Can I have a turn?” he said. Over the course of thirty two years, not once had we colored together. But how could I deny him my new-found peace of mind? I passed the book and the tin box of Prismacolors. And I watched as he wrestled over his choices. I bit my tongue when I would’ve chosen differently. I smiled instead. Sometimes in marriage a wife or husband must relinquish control. He colored a particular pattern and passed it all back to me. My turn. His turn. My turn. His turn. Jeep’s Blues played in the background. In this way we passed a Saturday.
It’s a typical weekday. I’m walking the street behind my home before 8 am. On a two-story, brick house, a colorful flag, rainbow-striped, lifts in the breeze. I haven’t noticed it before. “NUMAH,” it reads. At least, that’s how I sound it out before realization dawns. I see the flag’s backside, the word backwards. “How often do we see things backwards? Misunderstand? Fail to notice?” I say to myself.
With the upcoming school year, I ponder these thoughts for days. “We’re all HUMAN–I think that’s the point–just trying to make our way. Not one in 7.9 billion is perfect.”
At The Art Institute of Chicago
I gazed at the blue-eyed
Vincent Van Gogh.
With turbulent stroke,
deep dejection clear,
hospitalized a whole year
before the ear incident.
Then death by suicide.
His eyes held mine.
“I want to touch people
with my art,” he said.
“I want them to say:
he feels deeply,
he feels tenderly.”
I felt it down deep,
faced him, and cried.
“You remind me
of my son,” I said.
“His gift, the cello,
sings. Yet other voices
reside inside his mind.
Relentless and mean.
I see you, dear Vincent.
Your help arrived too late.
My worst nightmare
is your fate.”
June turned July, and I committed to a ten-day cleanse. I said to myself, I can do anything for ten days. Even so, it took me a minute to commit. The unsaturation diet idea came from a book I read listened to on Audible, Dr. Habib Sadeghi’s The Clarity Cleanse.
As a twenty-one-year-old medical student, Sadeghi was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He ran into his anatomy partner right after receiving the news. His friend said something like, “You don’t look so good.”
Sadeghi told him about the cancer.
His friend said, “Let’s go get lunch.” During their conversation, the friend asked Sadeghi how he was feeling.
Sadeghi thought he was going to die.
His friend said, “I don’t know the God you believe in, but the God I believe in is a loving God. You’re going to be okay.”
During that lunch, Sadeghi’s entire perspective changed.
Sadeghi took a medical school sabbatical and traveled the world studying the power of thoughts, words, and alternative medicine. He studied the psychology theories of Wilfred Bion, who coined the terminology of container and contained. Every element of thought or emotion has either a projective/masculine component or a receptive/feminine component, so when a baby (or anyone) is angry, hurt, fearful—all they need is someone who understands. And when a container is there, the cycle of emotion is complete. I’m fascinated by this idea.
Sadeghi studied eastern and western medical practices and later studied Spiritual Psychology with Emphasis in Consciousness, Health, and Healing. He started paying attention to what he put in his mouth and how he processed his emotions. He started an exercise called PEW 12 (Purge Emotional Writing, click here for more). He learned self-containment in this way and the belief that thoughts have power and that anything is possible. He practiced forgiveness, mindfulness, and slowing down. Do you see why I like him?
Through CAT scans every three months, Sadeghi monitored his levels of cortisol. Increased levels of cortisol prepare our bodies for fight or flight responses. Too much cortisol plays a role in inflammation and stress. As his cortisol dropped, he produced a higher level of immunity.
All of this leads me to my ten-day cleanse or Intentional Unsaturation Diet. I only have one body. I might as well take care of it. The ten days are heavy on lemon water, red or pink apples, sardines, and brown rice.
I had never tried a sardine in my life and didn’t care to start. I kept an open mind and read about the benefits of sardines. I’m no expert. I learned from Dr. Sadeghi. Purine proteins support cellular reconstruction, enzymatic function, and DNA repair. Calcium (from chewable bones) and Vitamin D support bone health, nerve and muscle function, and regulation of cellular activity. Vitamin B12 supports cardiovascular health. Omega-3 fatty acids are an anti-inflammatory. They reduce cholesterol and triglycerides and reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. They support fluidity and integrity of cell membranes, building blocks for hormones.
Apples reduce cholesterol and risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and diabetes. They function as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and aid in hormone balancing (help correct estrogen dominance). They provide energy and tissue hydration. They detoxify, reduce gallbladder stress, reduce cholesterol and triglycerides, increase HDL (good cholesterol), reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and help maintain healthy body weight.
I think I’ll stop typing and go eat an apple. My favorite is the Honeycrisp, but I’m liking the Pink Lady apples, too. Dr. Sadeghi suggests slicing (or grating) your apples and allowing them to turn brown (or oxidize). I think he said that oxidation breaks down the sugar. Don’t quote me.
As for the brown rice, it digests slowly to keep blood sugar levels stable and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. It also helps protect against from free radical damage and reduces cancer risk. The fiber detoxifies, reduces gallbladder stress, cholesterol, risk of cardiovascular disease, and helps to maintain healthy body weight.
For lemon water. Wash your lemons and chop. Add to boiling water (one lemon per quart or litre). Cover and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and steep for 15 minutes more. Strain and drink all day long.
Ten days of lemon water broke my morning coffee habit. I didn’t even miss my coffee, which I normally drink with added decadence. However, I did lay off of all caffeine for about a week before I started. Benefits? Lemons stimulate better digestion. They cleanse your liver, kidneys, and blood. They are a good source of vitamin C, folate, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
More than anything, I write this as a note to self. I actually love the lemon water. I could go the quicker route, and I have, no boiling, just squeeze the lemon, but I especially like it hot.
Ten-Day Intentional Unsaturation Diet
Other than the emphasized foods above, the diet includes all poultry (white meat), fish and shellfish, egg whites, all vegetables (no legumes), all fresh fruit, olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs.
Days 1/2: Anything listed above.
Day 3: Avoid animal proteins. Anything else listed.
Days 4/5: Only brown rice, apples, and sardines. Use in moderation: herbs, salt and pepper, lemon, Bragg Aminos, ginger, garlic, scallions, onion.
Day 6: Fast. No food. Drink lemon water. I fasted 24 hours and ate around 8 PM that evening. I had never fasted in my life. Until now.
Day 7: Brown rice, apples, and sardines as above.
Day 8: Avoid animal proteins as above.
Days 9/10: Anything listed above.
I liked Dr. Habib Sadeghi’s The Clarity Cleanse quite a lot. During the ten days of the diet, I was energetic during the day and slept like a baby at night. I lost a few pounds and noticed a decrease in my belly fat. My mindset shifted. Now I’m eating more apples and trying to pay attention to what else goes into my mouth. I’m monitoring the thoughts in my head. I’m thinking about Shakespeare.
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”