Last spring, I was blessed with the incredible opportunity of recording an audiobook version of my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found. I spent an exciting, fun and intense week up in Syracuse, NY, in early June. In order to prepare my voice for the marathon recording sessions, I practiced reading my book for hours. I wanted to be sure I knew every word, every nuance of each line.
Reading a book aloud is obviously different from writing a book. While you might “hear your voice in your head” while you are writing, to read the words aloud takes breath and awareness and presence. I wanted to inhabit each scene, not rush through them. I wanted to remember what it felt like not just to write the words, but to live the experience.
Since Motherhood: Lost and Found is a memoir about the loss of my mother to Alzheimer’s and my desire to have a child, it was easy for me to slide back in time and feel the tenderness of those years. I could feel the vibrations of my mother’s voice as she wondered why my father would no longer let her drive. I could almost inhale her familiar scent as I pressed against her, hoping to calm her as she waited (in her confused state) to be admitted into the hospital.
Certain experiences seem to create chords within us, a deep resounding that is old and familiar. The heartache of a miscarriage, whispered words of comfort, a mother’s hug, the touch of a loved one who is slipping away. I found it healing to relive my memoir this way, even if a part of me wanted to turn away.
Giving voice to a story adds a richness to it, a quality for which I wasn’t fully prepared. At the end of my week in Syracuse, I felt both wrung out and new. The days had been full as I recorded 75- plus pages each session, taking small breaks to sip lemon water and ease my throat. I remember emerging from the basement where we recorded, being amazed at the sun and wind and light. I had forgotten there was another day going on around me as I had tumbled back through time, reliving my own version of some of the most intense moments in my life.
I felt I had given something more through this reading. Not just an account of my losses, but a full-bodied expression of my love for the people and animals in my memoir. My parents who struggled through their final days, my husband who stood firm beside me, despite his own callings, the horses and families who filled our barn, my siblings who linked hands and hearts with me, and my precious daughter whose unexpected birth brought light and life to Joel and me.
It’s been said that writers write to discover who they are. Reading aloud Motherhood: Lost and Found was also a discovery process. Through the experience of giving voice to my own words, perhaps I understood a little bit more about what had drawn me to spend a significant part of my life crafting this story. And putting a voice to it somehow claimed it as mine.
To listen to a sample of Motherhood: Lost and Found, click here. This audiobook was just released TODAY on Audible, Amazon and iTunes. Motherhood: Lost and Found is also available on Kindle or in hard copy here.
I read two more poems and had them videoed for April Anarchy. The first one was “Horse” by Louise Glück. Click here to watch the video. You’ll get a live view of Foxie and Smokey in the pasture.
The second poem was “Morning Swim” by Maxine Kumin, my horse-loving friend. Click here to view that video. Sorry, there’s no horses in that video, but I did have wet hair. 🙂
And for good measure…here’s a poem of my own, written a few weeks ago, before the horses came:
I Hear It In The Wind
A barn that has stood empty far too long
calls my name. I hear it as the wind fingers
new leaves and fescue rises green
in the pasture. I throw open
stall doors, sweep debris from the aisle
as my daughter brushes cobwebs
from oak boards. We dream together
of horses trotting in from the field,
forelocks flung across wide blazes,
ears pricked in our direction.
I feel new life in my fifty-four-year-old
bones this spring. She is ready
to toss her mane against a crystal blue sky,
prance with joy.
I mentioned in a previous post that a friend of mine asked me to video myself reading a poem written by Maxine Kumin, who was a wonderful poet and horse enthusiast, for April Anarchy, a fun Facebook event designed to introduce people to all kinds of poetry during the National Poetry Month. Here’s a glimpse of the bracket:
Upon hearing that we had horses back in our barn, my friend, Suzanne Baldwin Leitner, asked if I would like to read a couple of other horse-themed poems. For fun, I asked my daughter to actually video these poems at the barn. I thought I’d share these videos on the blog as I just love it when my passions collide!
To view a reading at the barn of “The Ride” by Richard Wilbur, click on the title of the poem.
April Anarchy is just beginning, so if you’d like to get in on the fun, look for Suzanne Baldwin Leitner’s Facebook page or click here. You’ll find videos of all the poems in the bracket. The first round has just started, so vote for your favorite poems.
I’ll post my other readings as the April Anarchy Poetry Tournament continues!
Yesterday morning, I had no idea how I would find a companion pony for the horse we are bringing to our farm for Sydney. But I had the sense that I needn’t worry, there was a plan, even if I wasn’t privy to it. I thought it might come through the lovely women at Race2Ring, a rescue operation for horses coming off the track and other horses in need. And, indeed, I had an email from Erica that morning that made me hopeful. And I received a phone call from Tracy, the director, that afternoon. It was a blessing to connect with these women who care so deeply about horses and people and to know they had been working so hard on my behalf to find a suitable companion for Foxie.
But it wasn’t to be. At least, not this time. Still, I felt a sense of peace. I figured it must be time for me to reach out to some of my other contacts in the horse world, although I doubted I would have much success since the lines of communication had grown dim with so little contact over the past decade.
Then I remembered a post I had seen late the night before on an Equestrian site. It was about a Shetland pony who was for sale and lived on a nearby farm. The price was cheap. But I knew I didn’t want to buy another horse at this time. I looked up the owner’s Facebook account to see if I might learn something that would propel me in one direction or another. To my surprise, she and I had a friend –Helen– in common. What was amazing to me was that this friend was not a horse person, but a former homeschool mom and a writer. Helen also happened to be someone my friend Karen knows well.
One of my concerns, as I have been moving back into the horse world, has been how will I ever have the time for both horses and writing. A couple of weeks ago I had initiated a call for writers who were interested in gathering together in critique groups. A part of me wondered why it was that at THIS particular time, when I was starting something new with horses, that I felt the nudge to reach out to other writers. In the past, I might have talked myself out of one thing or another, convincing myself I only had time for one new initiative. But, for whatever reason, I trusted this nudge, and simply allowed the experience to unfold.
Helen was one of the writers who answered the call for the critique group, and I could tell during that first meeting she was someone I wanted to get to know better. The week before Easter, my friend Karen invited a group of moms and kids to her house for their annual Easter egg hunt. Sydney and I had attended Karen and LK’s egg hunt many times. But this year, I was delighted to discover that Helen and her daughter were there. Helen and I talked as we hid eggs, sharing bits of our lives and our writing. I felt an immediate connection with her.
The horse world, like every pocket of the population, has its share of unseemly characters looking to make a quick buck, so I often approach transactions with a bit of wariness. But when I saw that the Shetland pony’s owner was a Facebook friend with Helen, I thought she must be a nice person. And that is exactly what the Shetland pony’s owner typed to me in her message when I told her we had this friend in common.
I asked the Shetland pony’s owner if she would consider a month’s lease, and she responded enthusiastically: “Absolutely!” I asked about the pony’s manners and what she would charge for the lease. She said he had good manners and there would be “no charge.”
No charge! I could hardly believe it. Not only did this pony sound like a sweetheart, someone who our family would quickly fall in love with, he was an easy keeper and had come from a home where he had been well cared for and loved for seven years. And we could pick him up on Friday!
The fact that God provided a connection to this Shetland pony through a new writer friend reminds me not to give into my fears, but to trust that He cares deeply for my concerns and passions.
Interestingly, at the same time that I was communicating with the Shetland pony’s owner, a writer friend, Suzanne, who is creating an April Anarchy bracket (similar to March Madness, but filled with poems instead of basketball teams) in honor of National Poetry Month messaged me: Would I consider videotaping myself reading a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Maxine Kumin, and posting it on YouTube? I was happy to do it and honored to be asked. A Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Maxine had also been a friend and fellow horsewoman, someone who loved animals, nature and farm living as I do. Over the years, she had often encouraged me to get a horse for Sydney and get back to riding.
Maxine and I with one of her horses on her New Hampshire farm.
Me with Sydney, Maxine and Victor (Maxine’s husband)
Last night, I took a walk at sunset and allowed the confluence of these events to penetrate me. I continue to be astounded. The stamp of poetry and writing have appeared throughout my transition into the horse world. Even this blog (that Sydney helped me create several years ago, but I’d yet to post anything on) suddenly sprang to life as I contemplated the rising tide of joy that washed over me when I considered what it would be like to share the experience of having horses with my daughter. And I thought to myself, I must collect these moments, frame them with words and remind myself to see and appreciate the beauty of this narrative flowing through my life.
Before the sun came up, I woke with a sense of peace like clean gauze wrapped around the oozings of my heart. My mind had wanted to race in circles last night, but I slowed its galloping with a reminder: things often look new in the morning. And in this damp drenched April dawn, I sense a settling, the way pollen clings to grass or how magnolia petals that blossomed pink and surprising in March gradually turn brown and drift to the ground. Whatever it is my mind wants to force into place has eased, leaving a sweet trust that hides in the sleep-freshened branches of my mind.
Photo of Crimson and me, circa 1998
I can’t talk about the barn without introducing you to Crimson. He was “my boy” — a sweet thoroughbred, Quarter Horse cross. A grandson of Secretariat, he came to me after his years on the track. He was an amazing horse — calm enough to put anyone on him, yet willing to do whatever I asked. He performed beautifully in the hunter/jumper ring, then as he got older transitioned into an elegant dressage horse. But it was his easygoing personality that made him so lovable. It was wonderful having him on the farm, and a piece of me will always miss him.
I wrote this poem about Crimson several year ago, during the time my mother first became ill with Alzheimer’s. Crimson helped me get through those difficult years.
I have come to be with my horse,
to this place behind the barn
where the dirt is dry and pocked
with prints of hooves.
He stands resting one hind leg,
then the other, tail skimming
the ground. His haunches slope
with the curve of the hill.
We are both waiting.
A sparrow twitters
and Crimson’s stomach rumbles
from an afternoon of grass and wandering.
He is the patient one.
I need to know earth will resolve
day into dark and dark into day,
that clouds will shift to reveal
something bright, that rain
will quench the grass, color it green.
My horse grazes within his black fence,
waits for grain to arrive twice a day,
his water trough to be filled.
Every day he lifts his head
as I come down the hill.
(This poem first appeared in They Wrote Us A Poem, V, published by Duke University Medical Center.)
Crimson grazing with a pasture buddy.