The Story Behind The Beach Poems

(This post was first published on the AlzAuthors‘ blogsite.)

“The Beach Poems” by Ann Campanella

CvrBeachPoems_AdExpressing the Inexpressible through Poetry

By Ann Campanella

When I was in my early thirties, my mother began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. She was 41 when I was born, so I suppose it shouldn’t have been a shock to see her aging in this way. But it was.

I always knew she was an “older mom.” She had been a fount of wisdom for me during my adolescence and early years of marriage.

Mom always said her children kept her young. There was a span of ten years among us, and I had vivid memories of my mother hiking, playing tennis, swimming and sailing at the upstate New York lake we visited each summer.

My grandmother and great aunts lived into their nineties. I had imagined my mother would always be there for me, at least until she was well into her eighties. But it wasn’t to be.

My mother’s mind began to unspool at the same time I was trying to become a mother and struggling through a series of miscarriages. At first her memory became slippery and she began repeating stories. Her emotions seemed out of proportion to what was happening in her life. Her words no longer matched her behavior.

Mom’s descent into Alzheimer’s was heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. Heartbreaking because she was aware that “something wasn’t right.” It was painful to see her struggling to present a healthy face to the world when her memory was disintegrating. Beautiful because my mother’s spirit showed through her trauma, and the disease became a stage upon which the love in our family could be illuminated and acted out.

Poetry has long been a way for me to attempt to express the inexpressible. When the jagged edges of loss threatened to undo me, writing poems provided a way to hold onto pieces of my mother. Each poem or “stage act” allowed me to bathe my mother’s life in light and meaning.

What Flies Away is a collection of poetry that tells the story of my mother’s illness, my father’s sudden death and the miraculous birth of my daughter. This collection of poems won second place in the Oscar Arnold Young Book Award for the best book of poems in North Carolina in 2007. I was also honored that two of the poems, “The Chase” and “How to Grieve,” earned the Poet Laureate Award.

Now, ten years later, my collection, The Beach Poems, has been published. I consider it a sequel to What Flies Away, as this group of poems shares the story of what “comes after.”

I’ve always loved Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, a book where the author reflects on the patterns of her own life. I was able to do this at the beach.

My mother had Alzheimer’s for fourteen years, and her disease changed me. After a decade and a half of caretaking, it took time for me to find myself again.

During a series of retreats, I spent time walking the sand and absorbing the rhythm and beauty of the coastline. Gradually, held in the arms of the wind and waves, I was able to release my grief and begin to heal. Memories of my mother and the time before she was ill slowly trickled in. To my surprise, joy washed over me and I felt my spirit come alive again.

Writing about my mother’s Alzheimer’s experience, whether through poetry or prose has been a privilege. I spent 20 years working on my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, which was featured on this site on January 18th, 2017. My memoir has been recognized internationally and my poems have received many awards.

But I’m most grateful to have had the opportunity – through readings and speaking engagements – to meet and link hearts with those who are walking their own difficult path through Alzheimer’s. The Beach Poems is my gift to them.

 

I am hereBookWhatFliesAway

at the edge

of the earth

face down

on a mat of sand

wind cups the curves

of my body, waves

a constant roar

in my ears

blue belt of sky

presses against the horizon

I think of my mother –

all that was and never will be –

cry out into the void

nothing

but wind and sand and sea

my mother is here

and not here

and always will be

I hug the earth.

(from The Beach Poems, Main Street Rag Publishing Company)

About the Author

20170531_220159000_iOSAnn Campanella is the author of the award-winning memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found. Formerly a magazine and newspaper editor, her writing has been widely published. She blogs about her life and horses at Fields of Grace and has been a guest on many blogs and podcasts. Ann’s poetry has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. Twice, she has received the Poet Laureate Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society. She lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina with her family and animals.

www.anncampanella.com

Fields of Grace

https://www.amazon.com/Ann-Campanella/e/B001JOWQ3A (Amazon Author page)

https://mainstreetragbookstore.com/?product=the-beach-poems (Main Street Rag Online Bookstore)

@authorAnnC (Twitter)

@anncampanella.author (Facebook)

horses_2nd_time_around (Instagram)

 

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After the Eclipse

The evening after the eclipse, Sunny and I take a walk. The sky is mostly clear, except for a few dramatic clouds hovering behind the tree line. The horses are grazing as usual, their coats covered in fine sweat that is just beginning to evaporate as the heat and humidity slowly lift. It is 8 o’clock, four hours after the sun and moon finished their dance through the sky.

Joel, Sydney and I went down to the barn and watched the eclipse from there. We did the pinhole through the cardboard trick and used eclipse glasses to take short peeks at the scooped out sun.

Sydney and I let the horses out because they seemed eager to enjoy the grass under a slightly cooler sky. The temperature gradually dropped from 91 to 87°.

At one point I brought a chair and sat in the shade under a tree. I was surrounded by the shapes of crescent moons created by the sun filtering through the leaves.

As the moon covered 97% of the sun I looked and listened for anything that might be a sign. The cicadas continued chanting, a single bird chirped behind me, the horses eagerly cropped grass. Sydney noticed that one of the cows from next door was looking at us and the herd was slowly making its way toward the neighbor’s barn. Maybe the unusual light made them think it was time to come in.

And suddenly the crescent shapes shifted from one side to the other, and the scrim over the sky seemed to lift.

I thought of all the people looking up – friends and family in the mountains, at the beach, in town, in faraway states. For that one moment, we were linked. Held together by a celestial ribbon, an awareness perhaps of the beauty of our sun – its strength and fragility.

When the eclipse was over, I was exhausted and empty, as if a part of me had been scooped out. I hadn’t expected to feel that way. Actually, I hadn’t thought about what would come after. Maybe I was picking up on the collective sigh from our country.

Tonight, I am grateful for the presence of horses grazing in the fields, the dog who walks by my side, my family and friends who share this wide world with me and the glorious colors left behind by the setting sun.

 


August Sky: Preparing for the Eclipse

Three days before the eclipse and the sky is on fire. Not in the west, like it normally is when the sun is going down, but in the east. What does it mean?

Sunny and I were heading back up to the house. But the glow was so beautiful it stopped me in my tracks. We had taken a walk, and I finished the barn chores while Sunny patiently waited for me.

I wasn’t in a rush. I had spent the day with writing friends. It was early evening and the air was still warm and humid. My skin was slick with sweat. Once you step into a barn and the dust settles on you, there’s nothing to do but surrender and enjoy being dirty.

I’d walked up to the ring to check the water for the horses. I caught Foxie rolling and Shady studied me with his ears pricked up, alert.

Earlier in the day I had read a funny strand on an equestrian site about horses and the eclipse. A woman was wondering whether she should do anything special to protect her horses during the event. Several people responded jokingly: “Buy the extra extra large eclipse glasses,” “Have you ever seen a horse look up at the sun?” I couldn’t help but laugh.

I remember a partial eclipse I witnessed back in 1984 in Charlottesville, VA. The sky darkened slightly, as if storm clouds had gathered. But they hadn’t.

William E. Schmidt, a reporter for The New York Times, described the eclipse in Atlanta, where it was close to full. “The temperature dropped six degrees, flowers closed their petals, dogs howled, pigeons tucked their heads under their wings as if to sleep and the whole city was bathed in a kind of diffused light….”

“As the light from the Sun passed through the leaves of trees,” Schmidt continued, “it projected on to the sidewalk pavement tiny wedgelike images of its own crescent silhouette.”

Thirty-three years ago I was on a farm in Virginia, and I noticed those crescent silhouettes sprinkled around in the grass under the trees. So many years later, they are still vivid in my mind.

On Monday, we will experience a 97 percent solar eclipse here on the farm in North Carolina. I don’t believe that horses need special sunglasses or that the world is coming to an end. But maybe the glow in tonight’s August sky and the coming eclipse are simply reminders. The world is full of incomprehensible beauty. The least we can do is pay attention.


Finding Myself at the Beach

The beach has always been a place of deep nourishment for me. When my mother passed away, after living with Alzheimer’s for 14 years, I was physically, emotionally and spiritually depleted. I fled to the coast in search of the parts of myself I had lost.

Each morning, I got up early and walked the damp sand, studied the shore birds, listened to the roar of the waves and inhaled the salt breezes. My mother had always loved the ocean and images of her inspecting shells or pointing out dolphins gradually began to float back to me.

As I remembered and grieved for my mom – the woman I had lost, the mother whose physical form had departed this world – tears filled my eyes and slipped down my cheeks.

At the same time, descriptions and words filled my head. and I began jotting down lines of poetry that turned into poems. In this period of solitude, I gave voice to the myriad emotions that came to the surface.

Little by little, a lightness began to permeate my soul. It was as if my grief had been clogging the pathways to joy. And as I gave my feelings permission to take flight through words, a sense of the sacredness of life filled me. Gradually, I awakened to some of the day-to-day blessings I had been blind to over the years as I numbly cared for my mother.

I’m excited to share my journey from grief to joy in my new collection of poetry called The Beach Poems. It will be available through Main Street Rag Publishing Co. The list price is $12. But If you live in the U.S. and you order now, you will receive the pre-publication discount of $6.50 (plus shipping).

Click here for your pre-order discount. The collection will be mailed to you upon publication. Thank you for your support, and may your beach days be blessed!


The Connecting Power of Nature

I was just chatting with a “friend” on Instagram. We were connecting about our love of animals and nature,  and our conversation suddenly took a  turn. She told me that her mother’s birthday was tomorrow. I knew that her mother had died and sensed that she felt this loss intensely.

I felt a sudden deep empathy. My mother is gone too, and her birthday was in late June.

My Instagram friend is a writer like I am and her words made me pause. “We never fully stop grieving. It is an ever evolving process, and through writing they live on with us and through nature and animals communicate to us. Never the same, but comforting.”

As a poet and a nature and animal lover, I know this to the core of my soul, though I’m not sure I’ve spoken it out loud. My mother was deeply in tune with nature. I remember her awe over the spectacular winter sunsets on the North Carolina coast, her silent reverence for the beauty of Lake George and its wildlife as we paddled her green canoe, her passion for protecting undeveloped land.

Like nature, she was never in a rush. Mom taught me to appreciate the mountains around the lake and the long stretches of damp sand along the coast. With her eyes, I take in the tall pines that line the bay, and I scan the ocean’s dark grey green waves for the fins of dolphins.

I follow her footsteps as I hike the rocky hills of the Adirondacks. Is it her feet or mine that sink in the sand as I search for shells beside the ocean as the salt air caresses my cheeks?

Each time I walk on the beach or return to my ancestral home in upstate New York, I am soothed by visions of her.

To read more about my mother and her influence on me, order a copy of The Beach Poems, a collection of poetry about the Carolina coast and the crescent of sand we called “the beach” at Lake George in Upstate New York. To receive the pre-publication discount, click here.

Also, check out my friend @meditatingwithanimals on Instagram and learn more about her lovely book here.


The Changing Moods of Lake George

I’ve been at the lake for almost a week, just enough time to slip into the rhythm of a lake dweller. Someone who has forgotten the minutiae that occupied my mind before I arrived, someone who eats meals on the deck and no longer cares about washing my hair, someone who takes note of the wind and checks the surface of the lake each time I’m outside. Someone who cools off before dinner with a swim.

Here at Lake George the weather shifts from cool and windy to warm and sunny to damp and rainy within a few hours. This year, we’ve been blessed with beautiful days where we’ve enjoyed being out on the boat, swimming to the float at the family beach, spending a morning on a dining porch or an afternoon on a dock chatting with cousins, watching the sun set over the mountains.

The first few days, we rushed to get everything in, still running on the energy of our regular lives. But today, my last day here, I want to slow down and absorb the messages this place holds.

On our first days, we took Sydney tubing with a cousin, went kayaking around the bay, swimming at the beach. We gathered with cousins for our annual family meeting and picnic. There was a flurry of activity and fun.

Midway through our time here, something slowed inside me. My daughter and I canoed to Joshua’s Rock. The wind was so strong, we hardly needed to paddle on our way out. We sat on the ledge that I’ve shared over the years with my mother, my siblings and cousins and looked out on the expanse of lake. Neither of us said much. My daughter picked wild blueberries from the bush beside her as I studied patterns of moss on the granite under my bare feet. On the way home, we had to dip our paddles deep to keep from floating backwards with the current.

Before sunset, the wind died down and we took our friend’s pontoon boat out. The water in the bay was like glass and the sky a tapestry of greys.

Today, I walked down the hill to the beach and felt the echo of my childhood footsteps, how I couldn’t stop my young legs from running, skipping over the stones that rose from the green grass like the brows of my uncles.

The sight of water behind the tall pines along the shore never fails to lift my heart. And on a day when the sky is china blue and sketched with white clouds, this place feels like a small piece of heaven.


The Resonance of November: Part II

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November 17th is the anniversary of my mother’s death. This year, with the recent release of my eBook, and “A Conversation about Alzheimer’s and Dementia” at Main Street Books scheduled for this same day, the date feels even more loaded than usual.

I find myself reliving my mother’s last days. Nine years ago, we had a drought similar to the one we are having now. I remember my husband and I walking the path at Jetton Park and seeing the stretches of red clay populated with dark tree trunks and boulders that were usually underwater.

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As we traversed my mother’s last weeks and days, it felt like we were walking on the moon. Normal life had receded like a distant planet as caregiving took over my days. I felt like an alien in my own skin. This week, as my husband and I return to Jetton Park, we’re seeing the same strange landscapes that are usually covered by water.

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Nine years ago I waited for the fall colors to blossom and fade. I kept thinking that the leaves would be gone by the time my mother died. But they hung on, flashing a kaleidoscope of gold and crimson, russet, ginger and auburn. I drove by one particular tree on my way to the nursing home, and each day it got brighter until the day of her death it was like a burning flame.

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As the years have passed by, my mother’s voice seems to grow stronger. Not a nagging voice of a mother encouraging a child to do the right thing. But the loving essence of her, the joy she took in reading and writing, her delight in nature, her natural sense of nurturing, her keen desire to continue learning and her depth of connection to her family. All of this and more surrounds me as I move through my days.

I could not be more grateful that she was my mother. Perhaps I need to say this aloud, to write it over and over because I didn’t fully appreciate who she was when she was alive.  The thought makes my eyes fill with tears. I wish I had done more for her. And yet, I know she understood and gave me grace. Even when I was a self-centered teenager. She never expected me to fulfill her. I pray that I can share the same kind of unconditional love with my daughter.

So I celebrate my mother this November. Who she was and how she seasoned my life so tenderly with her love.

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Me and Mom