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The Spawning Nature of Routine

I’ve finally found a daily routine I can stick to: I'm on my 251st day of early morning yoga and meditation.

I tried so long to establish this routine, and now it is part of me.

And, of course, there are my GF/DF sweet potato waffles with unsweetened apple butter, a routine that has been going on for years!

Almost every morning, I wake tired. I walk down the stairs, sometimes the day still dark, sometimes, the sun well up, and think—I can’t do the whole practice today. I’ll cut back. I am too worn out.

And then I begin, and don’t stop. The habit, the ritual of yoga, is something I’ve found I now simply do. As tired as I am, I just begin and the flow takes over, nourishing and revitalizing me.

But I’ve found establishing one routine can spawn others.

A 4-day weekend in Newark, NJ at the biennial

Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival

did just that.

One poet—Jericho Brown—a professor of creative writing at Emory University, was asked what poets he had his students read.

He said, “We have a big anthology as our textbook. So I tell the students they are to read five poems by one poet every day for 30 days.”

I thought of all the poetry books lining my shelves,

those I've found in second hand stores, bought at the Dodge festival, borrowed from the library.

And I thought, I can do this.

I am on Day 27 and am reveling in the diversity of voices—Sharon Olds, Ellen Bass, Jericho Brown, Marie Howe, Gregory Orr, Ntozake Shange.

The latter breaks my heart.

I did not know of her first and most famous work For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When The Rainbow is Enuf.

I had not heard of her. What rock was I under?

At the festival, I got to hear her read, speak of her struggle to regain her health (multiple strokes several years ago had made her unable to stand, walk, speak, or use her hands). And though she entered the stage in a wheelchair, she then got her cane and walked to her chair on the right to be interviewed and to read.

She had a music stand with her poems on paper. As she read, no one moved. Some leaned forward. Turning a page could take several seconds, long seconds, but no one moved.

And she was unflustered, just kept trying until her fingers did her bidding and the page turned and she continued reading.

She mesmerized us. Horrified us with her poem, “Crack Annie,” but showed us the power of words to bring us into a world we could not imagine. At least one I could not imagine, though there may have been some in the audience who nodded.

She, in a voice still a bit halting, held us in her spell. I looked at her legs emerging from her dress. Strong legs. Powerful legs. She said she was a dancer until she was 45. That she’d been in rehabilitation for 5 years. Five years of making those unresponsive legs respond. I could see the work in their musculature.

This was a woman of force.

Ntozake Shange has taught at multiple universities. Nominated for a Tony Award in 1976, the play, “When Colored Girls,” was performed both Off-Broadway and on Broadway, made into a movie for PBS in 1982, and for the theater in 2010 by Tyler Perry. She's written 19 books of poetry, 6 novels, 5 children’s books, and received 26 awards.

Now, she said, she was beginning again.

Her hands had been so weak she could not write nor use a keyboard. But recently, for several days, a poem just kept nagging at her, so she shuffled to her computer, and found that she could use her index fingers, and two-finger type. And so, she began. She wanted to write a chapbook, a small collection like newer poets write; and to collaborate with a musician.

It was all about starting over.

One week later, she died in her sleep.

I cried and cried as I would for a dear friend. She had moved me so deeply. I had bought her book for a friend and had her signature stamped into it. (She could not sign it herself.)

She sat so we could have our pictures taken with her.

I cherish this photo. When I got home, I immediately ordered For Colored Girls for myself, and another of her poetry books, Wild Beauty. Read “Crack Annie” again. Immersed myself in that desperate world.

Every morning, after yoga and meditation, after chiming the bowl, after opening at random the poetry anthology Poetry of Presence and reading the two poems on the facing pages, I sit, and pick up another book of poetry, and descend into another poet’s world.

Finding one daily routine can spawn another. I wonder what will be next?

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