Archives for the month of: March, 2013

manicure with crocus

As I type, I admire the manicured fingers that tap the keys. They’ve been pretty since late last week when I readied for my sister’s wedding—and probably haven’t looked this good since Alison’s wedding six years ago. I’m tough on my hands, and though I do make efforts to care for them (I lotion every night with the fancy hand lotion Kevin gave me), I’m inclined to leave them in their feral state. Manicures? They just don’t last long.

This morning, Kevin put the seedlings outside to harden. They’ve been nestled inside in paper pots the past few weeks as the seedlings poked their way through the dark soil. The Midwest is negotiating a shift from 10 inches of snow to a 60-degree Saturday this week, and we’re going to snatch at this good fortune and get the spring garden started.

I anticipate the demise of this manicure and thought I’d document it—it makes me remember the flowers last fall as they browned, creating a dense nettle for birds this winter. We’ll cut this down, split and relocate the larger perennials, whisk away the upstart weeds already staking claim to the beds, churn the compost into the sleepy soil in the raised beds and tuck in the cabbage. No doubt, by day’s end, my nails will be chipped and browned, ready to be wiped clear, to be clipped, and to grow again.

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Bridal Party  before Reception

Saturday morning, the other bridesmaids ended up with various shades of silver heels, so my choice was made pretty quickly when I arrived at the Bridal Salon. I went with the silver shoes and survived! I think it helped that I prepared for the big day—taking time to exercise and stretch each week helps my body be ready when I call on it to do unusual things…like walk down an aisle in heels like a pro (well, at least I didn’t stumble).

How did I ready myself? Here are some of my favorite stretches (done day before, morning of, and day after…well, pretty much every day). Follow the links to resources online that demonstrate each stretch.

 

 

silver shoe As I pack up to head to the bridal suite, I’m left with two choices: 1) short, silver heels or 2) gold flats. This is my sweet, baby sister’s wedding. I will be preserved on many mantels in photographs we have yet to take on this happy day. I know that the heels are the best choice for the classy, black cocktail dress. But I also know that the flats are probably the best choice for this 5’11, iffy-spined maid of honor. I’m left wondering about the choices we make for special occasions. Why do I dress for photographs? So, I’ve done some yoga to prepare, and we’ll see… time to go!

In conferences with students this week, a question has come up: why write poems about bodily pain? When I was younger and new to poetry, I wrote about love, new experiences, other people. Since my spinal injury, I’ve become fascinated by the challenge of communicating pain. It’s a spin on a love poem, really…how do you get another person to understand how you feel? In both cases (of the heart and bodily pain), we have to take the abstract and make it concrete for readers. I write about pain, accident, injury, recovery, and all the messiness that comes from the whole lot, I think, because I want to understand it myself. And if I am successful in one poem, if there’s a moment when you say, “I get it,” then that connection we have, a new, shared experience, can begin a conversation about healing or triumph or empathy. When we work with writing prompts in class, I take whatever double-dog-dare I’ve been given and immediate connect it to what I want to write about—pain—and explore it from a new perspective. I don’t know if I will ever get exhausted exploring and reading about the topic. And something tells me Pain has no shortage of material to share…

Last week, my daughter, Hattie, and I had the opportunity to travel to Belize with my husband, Kevin, who had business to do there. On Sunday, we hiked at the Cockscomb Wildlife Nature Sanctuary.

Photo by Liz Whiteacre

Photo by Liz Whiteacre

Bathed in sun block and bug spray, we were eager for a challenge after being cooped up in airplanes and cars. We picked the “strenuous” Ben’s Bluff trail because the guide told us not many people were on it, we could climb to the top of the bluff, and we could visit a waterfall en route. It would be about 4 miles round trip. He was sure we could do it. We hit the bathrooms, snugged our hats on our heads, and headed off.

 

Photo by Liz Whiteacre

Photo by Liz Whiteacre

The sun, through the filter of trees, felt good. Our legs stretched. Our eyes scoped critters and flowers in the tropical trees. We ambled up a slow incline under a canopy of tall palms and deciduous trees, working our way past tree roots and rocks until the path started to cut through the rock higher on the mountain. We stopped for water breaks to rest and to negotiate how to cross small streams—I felt adventurous: I asked my body to climb this mountain, and it did. What a happy surprise.

 

Photo by Kevin Whiteacre

Photo by Kevin Whiteacre

When we hit the pine trees and our hands pawed the ground as we toe-stepped up the path between gnarled roots, I stopped marveling at the scenery. I listened to my breathing in my ears, felt the pound of my heart as I wiped sweat from beneath my hat’s band. I focused on my feet, made sure they were secure before I shifted my weight. I felt my back’s muscles complain. I noticed leaf cutter ants forging their paths with leaves five times their bodies held aloft. I imagined them thinking one foot at a time.

We gave Hattie advice as she climbed her first mountain and her body responded to the lean of the land and loose stones. We held hands. We supported each other until her legs tired, and, finally in tall grasses, Kevin lifted her to his shoulders until he could not carry her further. We could see mountains in the distance through breaks in the trees when we sat on the path to rest and debated turning back. We were hot. We were tired. We were starting to hurt. Even Hattie pressed her small fists into her lumbar and bent backward to stretch.

 

Photo by Liz Whiteacre

Photo by Liz Whiteacre

It was a tough debate; already, so much time and effort had been invested, so much sweat evaporated, but we were in pain. It’s hard to recognize the line between pain you can work with and pain that can break you. Kevin stood and sprinted up the trail—reconnaissance to see if we might make it to the top: what if we were close?

 

Hattie and I sat on soft dirt, watching leaf cutter ants forage, as we drank from our water bottles. They were tenacious in their pursuit of leaves and their trail.

 

Photo by Liz Whiteacre

Photo by Liz Whiteacre

“I can’t believe we’re so high up,” Hattie said, her eyes scanning the tops of trees below us. “The trees look like ants now.”

 

We heard the small rocks falling before we saw Kevin, and he scooped Hattie up to his shoulders. We were nearly there—less than ten minutes. I capped our bottles and carried them up and up, slowly, eyes on my feet. The strip of path cleared by the ants my guide. I heard a whoop, then I cleared the path and walked onto the bluff. I could see the trees waving at the sky.

Photo by Hattie Whiteacre

Photo by Hattie Whiteacre

 

We sat on a broken picnic table in a little shade catching our breath and enjoying the cool breeze on our bodies. I wondered if the ants ever rest when they get back to their burrow and set their leaves down in the nursery.

 

“I’m glad we made it,” Hattie said, hands on hips, taking in the view. We looked out over the valley at Victoria’s Peak and The Outlier. We were over a mile up in the sky. Thanks to Kevin, we didn’t turn back—we made it to the top of Ben’s Bluff.

Photo by Kevin Whiteacre

Photo by Kevin Whiteacre

 

The long walk downhill was slow and a pleasure (but for slips and slides on the dry, loose stones).  It gave me time to think about ants and the miracle of our bodies. We push and push—our bodies give and give. I knew I’d be downing ibuprofen, slathering on the Arnicare, and stretching before bed, but it was worth working with the pain on this hike. Pain teaches me what I can and can’t do if I pay close attention to what my body tells me, moving toward the top of the mountain. If I am as persistent as the ants, perhaps anything’s possible.

Thanks to Linda Cronin for taking time to read and review Hit the Ground!

She begins, “In her new book of poetry, Hit the Ground, Liz Whiteacre demonstrates in poem after poem that she understands what it is like to live with a disability and chronic pain issues. Her poems reach out to the reader and wrap them in language and metaphor that work together to create an understanding that is not easily achieved when discussing disability or pain. This collection is well worth reading. Whether you are a person with a disability or chronic pain, know someone who is or are just interested in learning about other people, you will not be disappointed by these poems…” You can finish her review at Wordgatheringhttp://www.wordgathering.com/issue25/reviews/reviews25.html.

 

The past week, I’ve received overwhelming support for my first collection of poems. I thank you for this! I’ve also received questions from people who did not know me during my period of recovery. They’ll ask, “now what happened?” When we pass on the street, I have no scars you can see and my limp has been conquered—you can’t see that I live with chronic pain…it’s invisible.

When I was 22, I woke up early—a fit lifeguard, ready to head to the lake to guard other peoples’ lives, teach sailing lessons, lift heavy equipment in the hot sun. By the end of that day, after my accident, I was unable to undress myself or even brush my teeth. I lay on my bed alone in the dark scared, wondering how my body could have failed me, if I would ever be able to walk again.

The sequence of poems in Hit the Ground explores those early days after my accident on the boat dock. I hope that they will speak to the fear, anger, confusion, humor, and tenacity of anyone who’s experienced a diagnosis with which they couldn’t live.