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The Spell by Marie Howe

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Every year, since 2005, I’ve been taking a retreat. I’ve been turning my back against the world for those few precious days, and just enjoying what is. I would go away for awhile, find some place in some city, and just…sit in the quiet. I take long baths, sleep all day. Read. Write. Cry. Take deep breaths. Feel my heart and its scars. Anchor my soul to my body. Heal.

This year I haven’t left yet. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to. I thought it would be alright not to leave — I’m house-sitting for someone, and I’ve got a big room all to myself, with six windows, a big bed, a table and two chairs. My books are scattered everywhere, and I’ve been writing and drawing a bit more than I’ve done in the last few months. But it’s not the same. I feel this emptiness inside that’s threatening to swallow me whole. I’m out in the sea, and I’m drowning.

from The Spell
Marie Howe

Every day when I pick up my four-year-old daughter from preschool
she climbs into her back booster seat and says, Mom—–tell me your story.
And almost every day I tell her: I dropped you off, I taught my class
I ate a tuna fish sandwich, wrote e-mails, returned phone calls, talked with students
and then I came to pick you up.
And almost every day I think, My God, is that what I did?

Yesterday, she climbed into the backseat and said, Mom
tell me your story, and I did what I always did: I said I dropped you off
taught my class, had lunch, returned e-mails, talked with students…
        And she said, No Mom, tell me the whole thing.

And I said, ok. I feel a little sad.
And she said, Tell me the whole thing Mom.
And I said, ok Elise died.

Elise is dead and the world feels weary and brokenhearted.
And she said, Tell me the whole thing Mom.
And I said, in my dream last night I felt my life building up around me and
        when I stepped forward and away from it and turned around I saw a high
        and frozen crested wave.

        And she said, the whole thing Mom.
Then I thought of the other dream, I said, when a goose landed heavily on my head—
But when I’d untangled it from my hair I saw it wasn’t a goose but a winged serpent
writhing up into the sky like a disappearing bee.

And she said, Tell me the whole story.
And I said, Elise is dead, and all the frozen tears are mine of course
and if that wave broke it might wash my life clear,
        and I might begin again from now and from here.

And I looked into the rearview mirror—
She was looking sideways, out the window, to the right
        —where they say the unlived life is.

Ok? I said.
And she said, Ok, still looking in that direction.

This is not the complete poem, and I’m afraid I screwed up the line cuts again. But it is beautiful, and it is what I needed.

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