Tidal Basin

Germination Detail Part III, by Leslie Shellow

contemplations about what stays in the net

Monday, October 29, 2012

Excerpt from my Cuba Memoir

            “It cost me a lot of work to open my heart to you,” he wrote in his third letter to me. I felt the pause in his writing. The intake of warm air. The sigh protracted over as long as he could hold it. “Really, I did not want to suffer, but I don’t regret it,” he continued. “Because in my life there was a before Sarah and an after Sarah.”
            I put the letter down gently. I had been a landmark. Not a signpost directing his next step, but rather a fault line separating his life before and after my arrival.  How his presence had shifted subterranean plates in me, too, changing my surface landscape evermore. I did not know what to do with the movement, so I picked up the letter and cradled it softly like a baby in my arms. What we had created together had a life of its own and was undeniably extant and breathing. What we would do with it now confused me.
            Turning back to the page, I read, “Sarah, share with me this life, because it is not life without you. I want to enter in yours. I want your nights to be mine eternally, and we will age together.”
            I was aging now. Each turn of the moon shone empty space in my womb. My eyes closed against the backdrop of the early winter sun in Maryland. My mind settled on a memory

            He sits on the edge of the bed, naked. “I’m sorry. I forgot to be careful.”
            “I know.”
            His spine cuts an uneven river of bumps up his back and moves heavily up and down with his smoker's breath.
            I lay across the bed gripped in the immediacy of the moment and tied into an uncertain future.
            “Will you send me Cuban pesos when I have the baby?”
            He chuckles deeply and turns around resting his cheek on my belly. “Sarah, stay. You can live here. We can make it work. Everything that is mine is yours, Gatita. Everything.”
            “I could never go home if I stayed here.”
            He shook his head. “This will end. You'll be able to go see your family. They could come visit. I know this will end.” Cuban optimism always tastes like hope and chocolate, sweet endorphins covering up the reality of injustice. 
            I imagined the people and places I would never see again. It was the first time I thought of my freedom. Up to that point, when I thought of home, I thought of loneliness and a culture devoid of cafecito in the late afternoon sun. It was easy to think this way because I was returning home. Cuba had become everything the United States was not, and I savored the differences because I still had both. Now, thinking what it would be like to make the choice to stay which was also a choice not to return, my view of Cuba closed into a small pinhole, like the pupil of an eye that had suddenly seen too much light. But even in my contracting state, a small part of me hoped for a ball of dividing cells that would fill my belly and my life with something unexpected and lovely.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Autumn in Cuba

 Today, I sent an e-mail to my friend, Eloy, in Cuba, who teaches yoga in Havana. I wondered (again) why my words in Spanish want to be poetry as if it were their birthright, while those in English must be coaxed at times. Here is what I wrote:

Hola! Hoy es muy pero muy otono, con la respira del viento pasando por las ojas cambiando a sus colores magnificas, revelando sus colores verdaderos, como funciona asi, el velo verde cobrando su esencia por la duracion del verano.

Y en Cuba, recuerdo aunque no habia cambiar de los colores, el viento huele diferente como otono como una perdida de algo.

Here is what it means:

Hello! Today is very autumn, but very autumn, with the breath of the wind passing through the leaves changing into their magnificent colors, revealing their true colors, because it works that way, the green veil covering their essence only for the duration of the summer.

And in Cuba, I remember even though there wasn't the changing of colors, the wind smelled different like autumn, like the loss of something. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

I love this poem by David Whyte ~ it kind of says it all right now

 Sweet Darkness
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb tonight.
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness
and the sweet confinement
of your aloneness to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

We are held in something large

When I was twenty-two, I lived on the verdant and craggy coast of Oregon and I studied the animals that lived inside the mud of the slough. When the tide went out, the mudflats glistened -- a globular, thickened mass of sulphur-scented habitat.
Each one of my friends was drawn to this dot of a coastal town because we couldn’t be away from the sea’s abiding pull. So, we lived in deference to the power of nature, which entered our houses at will and grew blackberry brambles across our living room floors. In response, we emptied our houses onto nature’s lawn, placing the bathtub on the bluff under the kitchen window and feeding a water hose down the face of the house to fill the claw foot with hot water. When we bathed, and if we were very still, a herd of forty elk emerged through the wooded barrier separating their forest from our meadow. Out they came, munching on grass and snorting at flies while the aged bull stood guard watching over them.
Those days were full of a sparkled innocence though none of us was young enough to be truly innocent. Beyond the tides of human failures and joys lay the immaculate pull of the Universe’s own creation. We came together over hand-picked meals and efforts to catch glimpse of the orcas in the sound, over knitting and car mechanics and weddings and departures. We joined forces in Frisbee and pool. The Oregon coast enchanted me, the way it whispered in my ear when we were alone, making me its daughter. I learned we are held in something large.
When I left and found myself in  New York City, I felt the same way about the wilderness of humanity. I became a part of a body outside my own. When I stepped one way, the person in front of me stepped the other. We were all a weaving tapestry of destinations and deadlines. When I dropped a dollar, a gentleman picked it up and handed it back. When I carried my luggage up the subway steps, the weight disappeared into the helpful gesture of a stranger holding the other end of my bag. When I danced outdoors, the stars reminded me they had always been there for me in a same but different sky.

We are held in something large.

And even in the suburbs, of which I complain of late, I can’t help but feel the urgency of trees and sparrows and squirrels to mark on this earth a hiding place. I see my own heart grow in its yearning, in its separation from wilderness and constant humanity. This place is a necessary space for me to explore. Without the ability to lean on that which inspires me directly, I must dig into the mud. I see divinity every day in the tug of my own heart to reconnect. Longing carves a channel to be filled. The rush of tidal water I await has its own shimmering quality of anticipation. There is nowhere else to go but toward hope and desire and a letting go of expectations. The reluctance I see in people here to reach out reminds me we are held in something large because its opposite exists. There cannot be one without the other.

We are held in something large.

Monday, August 20, 2012


I just returned from a delightful weekend of chanting and contemplation with Stefan Andre Waligur and a slew of amazing pilgrims of spirit and heart.


Wow. The coolest thing was, after years of studying tantric Hindu Kashmir Shaivism, I sat amidst an ecumenical group (I just learned that word) of mystical Christians and the stories of our traditions blended so seamlessly, I forgot about boundaries altogether and discovered myself in the company of the deepest part of myself again.

I've been in a desert of sorts for a handful of years. I've felt judged. I've judged myself. I've judged others. In my isolation, I lost track of how to enter a room and stay for a while. Stefan said one thing that really struck me. He invited us to listen without interpretation to what others said. It sounded simple. This meant we weren't even to paraphrase their ideas in order to understand them better. It was about making a space for someone's expression and allowing it to fill that space completely without being nudged aside or shaped in any way by the listener. I realized I've tried to connect with people by having a response or an answer. I think I want to help so I offer interpretations from my experience of the world. The thing is, I am scared. Scared to not say a word. Scared to be unable to help. Scared I won't be liked if I don't somehow relate to what someone is saying. Scared of silence.

 I've been longing to connect with like-minded souls, a tribe of sorts. I didn't realize how much I missed my grandmothers until two vibrant sisters, as in nuns, took to me as I took to them. It wasn't so hard to understand their devotion to God. For many years, my primary relationship has been with the Divine. But I haven't found the balance they've found for having chosen one path. I love God secretly -- like a forbidden lover -- in the moments of my meditation practice, in the secrecy of the woods, in the presence of animals that appear to me on my path, and in my dreams. The Divine is the biggest part of my life and the part I never talk about, but it shines through me nonetheless. This weekend, I said the name of the Divine. I said God. I said Universe. I said Love. Over and over. Until I had breathed in so much devotion from the room I got drunk on its ubiquity. It was in every corner, every smile, every tear, every note. It was in the space between notes. It was in my own contemplation of what it was like to open to grace, grace-- the word on the stone I chose as my guide. Grace in the way for the first time in many years, I did not judge myself.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

New Surgery

I am preparing for rotator cuff surgery again. I had surgery last September, but there was a glitch in the healing. In three days, I will be in a sling for a month and if it's anything like the last time, I will be in a lot of pain for quite some time afterward. I am in pain now, but this is not the good kind of pain. My body grows weaker and more compromised with the absence of movement, but I, myself, grow more aware of what lies beneath the body. It is amazing. The absence of physicality creates a hole that must be explored. I am becoming essence.

Getting ready for the surgery is a bit like preparing to go away for a long time. I do everything now that I can do with two arms: I clean my room, I clean my car, I take my dog on his favorite hike down by the running creek. I make stock out of marrow bones and vinegar. I purchase homeopathic remedies for swelling, inflammation, pain, and joint issues. I wash my clothes, fold them, and place them in a way that I can reach them with one arm. I buy a long handled back scrubber for the shower. I know what this feels like. Yet, I am determined to do this surgery differently. For one, I have more people on board with me in a way that supports healing. I am not battling it out with my family over when I'll be able to work again. We came to that impasse and moved beyond. Tectonically, we are in a different place, and that feels better. This is: "Rotator Cuff Surgery: Take Two."

I have several girlfriends who are making it their dear business to come around and visit. I appreciate what it takes to be a good friend, and I am grateful for the buoys they will be.

It's a strange time -- one without a map -- and I am settling into my version of surrender. The only thing I expect of myself for the next three months is that I will write my book. My new old book; the memoir I keep in a closet inside my heart. It's a hard book to write. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be a memoir. Luckily, I have come into the awareness that I don't have to do it alone. I am asking for help from the protagonist of the book. Well, that would be me, I guess. Change that. I am asking for help from the antagonist. He is dead. He has agreed. I will let you know how it goes.

I am excited to dedicate myself to this project, provided I can physically write, because I need this book to come alive, to LIVE. And perhaps the only way is to co-create it with the ghost of part of my heart, a man who lived with me in literature and language and who wanted more than anything to exist inside words with me by his side.

I write to him and he writes back. So far, this is how it works. I don't know if writing from the perspective of a ghost will cause waves in the memoir world but John Banville did it and I imagine many others did, too. I reach into the ethers with my hand and grasp his. It is the only way.

Friday, April 20, 2012

I submitted an excerpt of my novel and was a finalist for the Summer Literary Seminars Unified Literary Contest judged by Mary Gaitskill!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Baby, did I start your conception prematurely, hoping for a pregnancy even if a relationship was on the brink? I did. That was my small crime against nature in the service of desire. I heard you calling me, dipping down into my consciousness, and more than once, I wished for the seed to take; I’d worry about circumstances later. Twice, I remember, you almost grew, and in those moments, I held you in like a dam against the tide. Both times, you exited, letting go of your hold on me – it wasn’t the right time, the right place, the right relationship for you. And you told me so. I felt you hover and disappear and then my body: a flush of blood and longing dissolving into toilet water.

 I am single now. And forty-three. The digits are supposed to mean something but they don’t to me. After the testing, my numbers are just right. “Your body doesn’t know how old you are,” said the nurse. I read that age has to do with oxidation of tissues and the presence of inflammation. The first doctor told me it didn’t matter how healthy I was, my health had nothing to do with the quality of my eggs. “Egg quality is based on age,” he said, looking at me over his glasses. But, age is based on inflammation which is reduced by a healthy diet, meditation, yoga, breathing, joy. I am not forty-three.
And now, I go to a new doctor tomorrow. Yes, she is a woman this time, and I am hoping her own desires and challenges position her in such a way as to encourage rather than scare off my own capacities for conception. But being a woman does not always mean having compassion. My female gynecologist laughed when I told her my deepest desire since I was young was to have a child. "At your age," she said, "you ought to think of getting a puppy or a plant!" Then, she told me a story about her children.

A puppy or a plant. 

You see, it does make a difference how I approach the soul. If I welcome him or her and tell her I’ve created a safe space for his or her dwelling, then she or he will be more likely to cuddle into the nest I’ve created of my cells and blood and spirit. If I go with the notion that I have a 6-8 percent chance of conception based on my age, I will scare myself, and the soul will pick up on this. Maybe it will be hard for me to conceive. But maybe it won’t. To all the women praying to be mamas – working with their bodies, their wills, their ability to surrender to what is – I respect the process and the potential for loss.
I want to start in a place of abundance because for so long, I listened to other peoples’ fears about what was possible and what was not. I am here, an open vessel, and if this soul, my child, wants to dip down again, I will catch her. I will love him. I will know.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wings and Dust

I've always been shy. In eighth grade, I fell in love with Katherine Hepburn and decided then and there I would be as brave and outgoing as she was. I changed overnight from a snail in a shell to a butterfly, even though they're unrelated. It's slippery having wings. We all know that if you touch a butterfly's wings, it may never fly again. And what of that? When you become colorful, the wings are hard to resist. And so I did, and so was touched, and had a hard time flying again for many years.

I am awake inside words. They are my dialogue with you. You are the many pieces of myself I've left scattered on the timeline of my life. I toss off the clothes that no longer fit which has rendered me naked more often than not.

And instead of picking up the pieces and trying to make them fit again, I keep moving forward while still looking back. I don't think butterflies know how their beauty is made of dust and scales.

And today what I want to tell you, Reader, is that I lost someone I love very much. I loved him so much I tried to write a book about him. I loved him so much I had to stop. I must walk backwards on my timeline and pick up the clothing I let fall from my hands. I must try it on again and remember. I am scared about what this process means. I've just recently emerged from a dark and lusty place full of demons and hidden gems. I am afraid to go back there.

So, I shock myself into writing. I will tell you this: he was found by his son who walked into his room on a Tuesday and seeing that he was sleeping, turned around and left, not knowing he was already dead. On Wednesday, he did not pick up the phone when people called. On Thursday, his son returned and he (my lover, my friend, my soul mate, my guide, my impossible love-who-drown-himself in sorrow and rum, the love who I left behind) had turned black and was ten times his normal size. His skin peeled off his body like it could no longer contain the whole of him, exiting as he did to some better place. His flesh smelled of rotting animal and his eyes were closed. He died in his sleep from an attack of his heart. I must say all of this. This is where I need to start because the rest is too painful.

His son, all twenty two years of filial love, must have felt oh something so terribly like guilt for not having known; but how could he have? His father was often asleep when he entered that room. We all know he did the right thing -- the kind and respectful thing -- and let his father sleep. But the boy...the boy. I pray for the right salve that will ease the shock. I pray he will release the guilt and feel only loss, but we know that may be impossible.

I speak of his son and I speak of myself.

I love you, Jose Raul Garcia Sagaro, like a thousand airborne butterflies who will never lose their dust.

Forgive me still for losing some of mine.


Once again, I am inspired by my teacher, Reiko Rizzuto, as I listen to her speak on a panel at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. What makes me breathe in is the story behind the words on her pages -- how, over time, she staked a claim in the territory of writers, until writing became her work, inclusive of all the dreaming that the job entails. 

I gave myself permission to do the same but only because my healing body demanded that I stop perseverating, seek honest land, and homestead. Not that teaching wasn't honest work. And meaningful, too. But that someone wasn't me anymore. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Where Have I Been?

To be sure, my blog falls in the "much neglected" category, as if that's necessary territory for bloggers to traverse at some point; which begs the question, what is happening with the blogger when the blog is sleeping? In my case, I've been going through the most delightful mid-life crisis. It's not been easy, nor pain-free (in other words, no red hot Miata and I haven't dyed my hair, yet.) I am recovering under my covers from rotator cuff surgery.

I did not know how many small ligaments and tendons and muscles and pieces of connective tissue (sinew?) keep the shoulder stable when performing tiny actions such as moving a pen or typing a sentence. Because I was unable to teach yoga or anything for that matter and I was unable to write, I spent the first eight weeks be-ing with the pain. And in that time, I started to shed. I found out that by be-ing, I was helping myself, and that was enough. Then, I let go of teaching, let go of moving back to Brooklyn, of having my own place, of doing my yoga practice. The only things that remained were walking Gabriel, meditating, and writing -- but not on paper or on a screen -- just words spoken in my head by my characters.

And now, twelve weeks out, I am revising my manuscript and going to physical therapy. Each time I go, my dear therapist yanks and stretches and pulls and tears (yes, tears) all those stubborn adhesions, and each time I lay there, I thank the universe for this time. I was not listening. I am now. My book is shifting, as it has so many times over the years. My story is growing; it's getting thicker and more layered inside. I may have even seen a ghost between the pages.

After I am cooked, well done and seasoned, I will continue to move in the direction of my deepest desires. I will write, I will teach yoga, I will continue to meditate, I will love my dog and he will love me, I will spend time with my family, I will fall in love, and I will send this novel out into the universe. I imagine it lit from beneath like a Thai lantern, floating into the sky until it becomes part of a larger set of lights.

It has taken me forty-three years to stop and turn around, look into my own eyes and listen. Right on schedule.