29 May 2011

Memorial Day

Five years ago, I accompanied my friend Lisa Ramaci to Greenwood Cemetary. We were there for three reasons, two small and one unimaginably large:
!)We both wanted to see the Civil War re-enactors in a ceremony honoring the Union Soldiers laid to rest in Brooklyn's most history-laden graveyard;
2) I wanted to find the grave of my great-(times ten!-)-grandfather, who had fought in the Fighting 19th Irish Brigade out of NYC, and who won the Congressional Medal of Honor at Gettysburg [and whom I like to think about when my own store of bravery runs low...]; and, finally and most most importantly,
3) to go spend time with her husband. her husband was a brilliant Journalist named Steven Vincent, who went to Iraq at the very beginning, to make sure he knew what he was writing about. His grave now sits on a sunny hillside, lit by birdsong and tended by breezes. There is a bravery in needing to tell the truth, that doesn't let consequences stop it. Steven had that bravery.

I have been insanely lucky in my life to know almost nothing of war, except from the witness of others. I wouldn't, and won't, get into any discussions about war. All I can do, is respect, honor, be grateful for, and remember the voices, stories, and sacrifices, of those who know, too well, what I don't know at all.


When I was barely sentient--that is to say, about 17- I fell in love with a much older musician, in chicago. i was attracted equally by his brilliant songwriting, and a gravitas and wisdom that I didn't understand, but enjoyed, Someone told me he had fought in the Vietnam war, been decorated, but to me that was such a far-off time, that the information sort of bounced off me...and He certainly never mentioned it. But sometimes? While sleeping? he would yell something; not very often-but often enough to the "eedjit" I was- he would yell and jump to a standing poisition,full defensive readiness, all while sleeping.

When we visited his mother for the first time,she took me aside one day when he was out, and told me, quietly, about his Vietnam service. I couldn't understand much, being a 17 year old from a sheltered background. I didn't know what a "tunnel rat" was. I didn't know any of the terms he said in his sleep. I did find out,  from very straightforward empirical evidence, that everything she had told me was true.
I also knew that our fights were much more loaded- carried much more baggage, somehow--than other couples' usual tiffs about "who didn't do the dishes." Sometimes, I would not be able to take the intensity, and would go sit in a greek diner on North Clark Street (this was in Chicago) and order food I couldn't touch,and for that matter, could barely pay for. I was in over my head. I was a model who sang and did Improv. I didn't have a receptor for this kind of unintentional darkness. I wanted to understand. But didn't know how...and with the self-absorption of pretty youth, secretly felt I shouldn't have to. Poor me, I thought. And occasionally, "Poor him". Hey- I was 16.

One night, I had retreated at the diner, in a huge booth that dwarfed my huddled, too-slender self. I'd turned my head away to look out the window, because I didn't want the tears that were falling onto my cooling cheeseburger, to attract attention from the couples munching contentedly around me. But I didn't know what to do. Love is a start, but as Auden once said "love gave the power but took the will" to understand.

There was an attractive woman, at a nearby table. She and her companion, a dignified and mustachio'd man in a wheelchair, were talking intently, and laughing, but also obviously having a serious discussion, the kind where everyone gets animated and starts interrupting each other enthusiastically. I didn't understand why they kept glancing over, although now I know it was because truly kind people have a high sensitivity to-and empathy for-other people's distress.

I looked out the dark window and watched the cars go by and sniffled, surreptiously. My reverie was interrupted by the sound of a very kind voice saying "Hi. Are you okay?"

I smiled brightly and lied "I'm fine."  she burst out laughing and wordlessly handed me her compact. In the mirror, I saw that my mascara had run down my entire face. Every tear had its own traceable dark faultline. -I grinned and handed the mirror back.

"Well, maybe not TOTALLY fine," I admitted ruefully.

She said, "sit with us. We'd like your company. Maybe it'll cheer you up. We're safe." Her face was remarkable for a kind of serenity that seemed hard earned...the kind of peace you have to work at for years to achieve, although she wasn't in the least old or toughlooking.

"well...Okay. Thank you. Um... promise you won't drug me and put me onto a boat to Buenos Aires, bound for a strange new life in anonymous houses of joy? I just have to check," I asked.

She blinked. Not sure she was expecting that from a weepy 17 year old model. But she was great. She said, "Not until you finish your cheeseburger, anyway," and we grinned at each other and i got up and joined them.

I think her name was Joy. I might be wrong. His name was Ron. I didn't get his last name, so he spelled it for me, on request. "K-o-v-i-c". (I guessed it was.. Czech?) He had a quality I haven't encountered much, and don't know how to describe ...that's not a writerly cop-out [well, okay-yes it is!]  I just remember a tired, funny, bone deep gentleness, and a patience that I wouldn't have guessed at from his big guy appearance.  Whatever it was? We just really hit it off.

I couldn't have known this, but the "Universe/God/The Big Love" or whatever you call the force that knows us better than we know ourselves, was very specific in its blessings that evening, in a Chicago diner. Ron was a Vietnam vet. His life was the basis for a great, very powerful film, called "Born on the Fourth Of July." He had a story behind him that contained pain, and courage, and a way of being ethical , that I still can barely understand, but admire beyond telling.
Somehow, even though at the time I was NOT a very confessional chick, Ron and Joy asked the right questions, without being too personal. In fact, they were so tactful that talking about what was going on, seemed like MY idea, to me.

And boy did they help. Maybe the hardest thing to do in conversation with someone so mucH younger, so much emotionally less experienced, is to meet that person at her level of understanding. No preaching, no scolding, no lofty judgmental pronouncements that would have bounced off my ears anyway. What they both did, was talk to me at my own level: a loving, too-young-for-this-but-well-intentioned young woman who had a brain that had lots of sparkle and buzz but not a lot of focus. We stayed there for three hours, telling jokes and talking about Chicago and food and laughing our asses off. And somehow, when I left, I had numbers to call that would help me. And help my friend get help. I never even noticed when that happened...who remembers having someone write down helpful numbers on a piece of paper and hand them to you, when you're all laughing about the fact that the Lemon Meringue Pie slice the waiter has just put down, is bigger than the table it sits on?

We talked on the phone a few times. I don't think he'd remember me. But he helped so very much.

Flash Forward: Today, I'm friends again with my then-boyfriend, who got back on his feet so successfully that he has to move to Switzerland so his taxes aren't so high, and who spends his summers at his palace in Italy. He reclaimed his best self in more important ways, as well, by being a great father and the most trustworthy friend imaginable. In fact, he and his family very kindly invited me on a fishing trip next week, and  am really looking forward to a week of Scrabble, terrible puns, unlimited swimming and having his kids kick my ass at Badminton and croquet.

When I'm in Brooklyn, I sometimes go and visit Steve. I tell him how much I enjoyed his company, his writing, his swashbuckling sartorial flourishes, and his kindness. I thank him for bearing witness, knowing, as he did, what might happen.

I don't ask him about war. I don't feel i have that right.

Then? I sit quietly and breathe in the birdsong. The silence. The miracle- of being able to live in safety. I so try not to take it for granted...peace.

20 May 2011

A Cautionary Note

In this blog, not everything is as exactly confessional as it may seem.
I'm not deceptive...but am a writer. Which is to say, someone who rummages around in the sock drawer of other people's unconscious looking for hidden and helpful inspiration.

As Evelyn Waugh said in his preface to "Brideshead revisited":

    "I am not I; thou art not he or she; they are not they."

who likes a good mystery as much as the next goddess.

19 May 2011

name. date. occupation. a sudden poem

 name. date. occupation.   a sudden poem

 Today I clean the kitchen.
Walk the dog.
Check on my sleeping mom, to see
If she's still breathing.
My Dad kicked that habit two months ago, though he breathes
through his children
as we sleep. We dream and cry. We wake and shower:
I make breakfast. Wash the dishes. My Mom dries.

Today I change the catbox.
Make my bed.
Ignore the broken boxspring.
One year ago today, I walked the red carpet at Cannes.
I was wearing borrowed glory and thirteen dollar shoes.
I still have the shoes. At least that. But: why?
Hard to be famous when you don't know your own name.

Now I know my name. It is not my father's, although
he is still my father, as I am still his life.
It is not my mother's, although I watch her breathing.

My name is nothing: it is a bird who can fly
without singing
My name is something: it is who you see me as,
with judgement or with longing. i cant try.
My name is everything so it can stay my secret.

A year ago, i posed for pictures with a man who did not love me.
Tonight I love us freely though both of us have gone.

Today i walked the dog.
Cooked the dinner.
tried to hug my hurting mother free of pain.
today a friend told me the man who did not love me, loves again.

Tonight i can't remember that man's name.

Tomorrow i will clean. And do the laundry. Singing softly.
Tomorrow i will call and try to be here through your pain
Tomorrow i will cook the oysters. While they're still good.

Tomorrow will be pretty much the same.
tomorrow i won't tell you my real name.

Tomorrow I might tell you my real name.

peri lyons annapolis may 19 2011  copyright, dude. word.

15 May 2011

A Simple Life Philosophy. In Song.

I Can’t Be Arsed                                                          peri lyons c 2011
there's laundry in my living room
it's certainly not clean
it's starting to evolve into a life form never seen
There's dishes in my kitchen
The color of old litchen
Is this what they mean by going green?
But I am calm and half amused
Im almost never stressed
If I don't have clean clothes to wear, why bother getting dressed?
Tranquillity is mine at last
Those days of worrying are past
here's the philosophy I fin'ly feel is best
I can't be arsed
I can't be arsed
I can't be bothered shamed cajoled or even forced
I can't be arsed
I can't be bothered
In fact, I can't even be arsed enough to find a rhyme for bothered

When you give up
Then life is sweet
the world falls at your slightly stinky feet
I don't return men's calls
It drives them crazy
They think I'm hard to get but really Im just lazy
I just don't care about
The daily grind
It was either lose my standards or slowly lose my mind
I did try yoga
And chanting too
But here's what worked for me and it'll work for you
Just don't be arsed
I cant be arsed
I cant be shamed cajoled or ever ever forced
I can't be arsed!
What's worth the bother?
If you do one dish, there'll always be another
So don't clean your house or do the laundry, be an utter roundheel
The first five years are tough but after that it's simply downhill
And when your friends stop coming by or visiting or calling
Because they love you but let's face it, the smell is just appalling
They will all keel over young of heartattacks and ulcers
But I'll live to one hundred two, because I just say "NO SIR--

13 May 2011

new song/lyrics "HERE."

(the song of the happier woman )  (love, gratitude and Goodbye)
       c Peri Lyons/Valley Cottage Music 2011

You asked me to write you a happy love song
I said, I didn't know how
You laughed and told me that I was just wrong
  Because YOU were loving me now

this is the song, the one that you asked for then
I'm sorry that it took a year
this is the song about leaving the past back then
For what is already here
You taught me love can be stronger than fear:
You showed me love that was simple and clear
Too bad you're no longer here

It doesn't matter the way that things ended:
Protecting each other with lies.
Love doesn't die- but it can be suspended,
To make human room for the role of surprise.

I can't say I loved you much after you vanished.
I can't say forgiveness was part of my plan;
God I felt angry, abandoned and banished-
An angel who'd fallen with no place to land

But somehow, in all this,I knew you were wise
And that didn't change with the seasons.
love gave me the power to see through your eyes:
Love doesn't have to explain all its reasons

this is the song, the one that you asked for then-
Sorry that it took a year,
this is the song about leaving the past back then
For what is already here.
You taught me love can be stronger than fear
You showed me truth can be simple and clear
Too bad you're no longer here

But you will always be here laughing;
The way that we laughed when we got that kitten-
The way that I cried as when you gave me that ring.
And this is the happiest song that I've written:
This is the happiest I've been for years
Though it might be hard to tell through these tears

this is the song, the one you that asked for then
Sorry that it took a year
I've finally learned about leaving the past back then
Trusting what's lovely and here.
You taught me love can be stronger than fear;
You showed me truth can be simple and clear-
And so you will always be here.

If I never see you
You'll always be here.

peri lyons 5/15/11

10 May 2011

Lotus Blossoms and an Almost Gibbous Moon

There is a recalcitrant moon tonight; shining and not shining. The moon seems to have snagged on the branches of the blooming locust tree, as though reluctant to leave such a fragrant mosaic of fragile blossom. The little frogs sing with delirious joy about their possible love lives, from the creek bank below. All is perfect, peaceful, and luminously Southern.

But I still gotta walk the dog.

Samy, our Bichon Stupide, has just gotten a haircut that makes him look so cute that he should be painted on velvet. He waits patiently as I light an American Spirit. The smoke wafts up towards the moon, like a sacred offering, although a sacred offering that might also give one cancer. Sammy sneezes. We walk off through the mysterious forest, where the cries and whispers of hunter and prey fill the evening... and I trip over a log and yelp loudly. Oops . Never was very good at maintaining atmosphere. -Several small creatures who were about to be "prey", take the moment to escape from their hunters, stopping briefly to mutter "hey.dude.thanks." to me. I am One With Nature. -Wait. I have the dog. -I am Two With Nature.--Okay, he's a small dog, so maybe I'm more sort of One And Three Quarters With Nature. -Perhaps we should move on. I'm a little over the mystery of the forest, and besides, the mysterious small forest "hunters" are starting to complain. "Look, lady, some of us have moles to kill here. Is this a problem for you?", says an owl in the tree above me. I realize that my 11th grade driving instructor may possibly have been RIGHT about how you can have acid flashbacks 2o years after the fact, and decide to go back inside.

But it IS a beautiful evening.


As I gird my loins (um, only figuratively. Doing it literally can lead to chafing.) to go back To The City in June, I stop and reflect on how completely and amazingly great my life has been so far. Even-and almost especially--the parts that have completely and totally sucked at the time. And I don't mean just "sucked"...I mean "completely sucked utterly beyond telling, complete with screamingly awful seemingly unbearable ouchness" at the time. Looking back, it is clear every single goddmaned thing was specifically designed for very specific and necessary growth.-Of course, that's easy to say now...but it's true. It was a little like going through necessary and extremely healing surgery. But without anaesthesia. (Unless one counts the 340,000 glasses of Saint Emilion I consumed in six months or so. More or less. Probably more.) However, because I had huge blind faith, some part of me DID know that all that "ow!ow! OW!!"-nes WAS leading to a breakthrough. Of course, if you'd told me that at the time, i would have decked you with a fairly effective right hook to the jaw, but NOW it seems clear.

If you want to finish evolving into a Phoenix--if you want to get THROUGH the cycle where  your nest bursts into flames, your life and identity are reduced to ash, and you have the opportunity to transform into a glorious mythogical creature with strong and gleaming wings--you have to grit your teeth--um, beak?-- and know that you won't be consumed in the fire. Also, you have to be braver than you know how to be. There were several moments when I thought "Screw this, I'm outta here", but then I thought, "hey, what if there's a happy ending and I miss it? " Besides, you can't get to be a Phoenix if you decide halfway through to be a chicken.

Now I know as I never have, what happiness is. And do not get me wrong...I have been one ecstatically happy and lucky person, over and over again, and I never ever forget that or cease to be grateful. But now I know that one can be one's happy, sacred self no matter what...in Payless shoes or Louboutins...on a red carpet or in an unheated sublet in Bushwick...and that once you realize that, the chances of winding up where you WANT to be, are much much greater. Ironically, it seems that not letting what your circumstances are, define you at all, means that you then get to make your circumstances what you truly desire them to be. -If THAT makes sense.

And here endeth the sermon.

I guess what I'm saying is, in short: if it SUCKS right now? It. Will. Get. Better.
It may very well get better than you ever imagined possible.
Life is bigger and more magical than we can see from our human selves, our human eyes.
But our spirits know, and want to be part of, that Unimaginable Good.

So cheer up. The Cavalry is coming to the rescue.

Love, actually

08 May 2011

Mother's Day: A Poem and Appreciation

Mother's Day
(For my Mom, Toni. Now and always.)

Remember, on a Sunday, other Sundays.
mother, daughter, light and dark,
hand in hand, on the steps to their seats for "Coppelia".
"He's a toymaker, she's a doll, but she's really
a woman who has practiced all day every day
even Sundays
to be this graceful and delightful"
says the mother, fair, carnation scented, handing her daughter
the ballet program.
mother, daughter, fair and shaded,
wandering the Garden of Earthly Delights -in the Bronx.
"this vine has been trained, every day, to grow
into this arabesque of scented beauty", fair tells shaded, as hand in
they ascend the greenhouse steps.

mother, daughter, calm and angry,
balance as tightrope walkers this telephone wire.
"this love has been here, calm and angry, light and dark, fair and
every day, to let you have this difficult freedom"
she says

as hand in hand
they walk the wellworn steps, back up to love.
by Peri Lyons copyright 2011

Anniversary Poem for a Much Loved Best Friend /Former Husband

Anniversary Poem: rough draft

anniversary poem:thinking about an apartment you painted a fresco of us, as "Orpheus and Eurydice" on the wall of , in Greenwich Village

The problem was, we got our myths mixed, you and I.
You Orpheus, looked back , while I was  (wrongly?) singing;
And then that time you showered me with gold-  Danae!-
i loved that they were chocolate coins...the taste without the ringing.

And when we fought, we'd turn each other into trees:
Zap! Myrtle!  Daphne! Zap! The oak of Nimue! -There!
And we'd remain as trees and shake our leaves in angry glare

-But hey, at least we had SOME sort of belief.
Our lares and penates, homemade as they were, 
Were some relief.

part 2 (prediction: change)

The oldest myth of all is from gorillas: not exactly "told"
By them; (though silverbacks all are  raconteurs when old)

I read it at a zoo, a sign nailed to a "tree":
Where my friend (who is a goddess for a living)
took me as comfort for my poverty

The sign said: "Gorillas live in tribes; their tribal boundaries 
Are rigidly maintained; the only ones who travel troupe to troupe
with no trouble, fights or visas, and are the least forgiving
 of all the  social groups,
 "Females from 13-23, in human age." I read this carefully 
as though looking at a diamond, through a loupe.

Doing lines in bathrooms, behind red velvet creeper vines,
I dreamt gorilla "it girls", 13 to  23,
the wombs of whom: provoking, Che incendiaries
are criminals, all innocents. We"ll lay the blame on Time.

I was one of those "It Guerillas" once:
"We're REAL evolutionaries", we would sniff
our bright red bottoms and  Guevara tees distracting good gorilla family men. 
We'd shriek "As if!" and run away, displaying:
pretend to play "dismayed"- without being TOO dismaying. 
-And always, then...

Part 3 1/2 (the missing link)

Myths to me
be half apology 
half warning
half shaman
half danger:
all love.
The warning that no love at all, is itself, a gift;
as much as the presence of love, that gift, is taken, 
Or not taken,
at command or whim.
The words of "yes" and "no" are, finally, Man's. 
Yes, you know. Him.

So when I skipped the flowery Greek translations
And bluntly was a stupid vain gorilla in a tutu, young enough and cruel
Preverbal, premyth but, uh-oh , somehow, knowing mythic endings:
I knew, someday, I'd be replaced in school

by the New Gorilla Goddess on the block, whose fecund abacus
Had fewer beads than mine now. -But? Now I  had learned to talk.

You showed me that nurture may be red in claw and tooth;
She showed you that an It Girl's always climbing
But then you found palette'd colors where'd you'd hidden truth :
And, Love, I found my real job, while resigning.

We were a self; we are a history.
We helped each other translate, draw, identity

Not entirely gorilla free

Happy Baby:


peri lyons
"Dawdle: Some Poems"  2010 copyright 


For Adam Cvijanovic, friend, artist, former husband with love Dec 29 2010