The Battle

The Battle

Here is a free verse style poem I wrote when I was sixteen years old. Here also is a photo of me, teenage Kathleen in my favorite forest green fedora hat.

At the bottom of this article you will also see a photo of the poem printed in the first literary journal ever created in my high school. I couldn’t believe there had never been a literary journal, so I created one! I called the journal Methinks. The cover illustration of the first edition portrayed a cartoon man with a large nose sitting on a stone with his chin on his fist—my version of Rodin’s The Thinker.

I made myself the Editor and I gave my friends the jobs of Secretary, Treasurer, and “Staff.” I figured those positions would look good on our resumes when we graduated and went off to college or began looking for jobs. I solicited poems from all my friends—many of us were the weird literary types, and this journal was a way for us to shine.

I was told by the principal’s office that I needed to supply money for the paper and the mimeograph ink. For those of you not in the know, the mimeograph is an ancient technology which rendered damp pages of copy laboriously turned by hand from a drum. The fresh pages needed to be handled carefully or the ink would smudge, a lavender variety of ink redolent of a chemical perfume known to school kids in the seventies. I promptly organized a bake sale on the town square which paid for two editions of ink and paper.

My favorite high school English teacher was Mr. Toth. As an adult, I’d searched in vain for him for many years, but back east Robert Toth is a common name—there were 40 Robert Toths in the phone book in Ohio alone, and I wasn’t sure he even lived there anymore. In more recent years I looked him up on the computer, but he wasn’t a person who put himself on Facebook or had a web page. His whereabouts remained a mystery to me.

Out of the blue, one day a few years ago Mr. Toth found me on the internet! He’d been cleaning out boxes and found some papers I’d given him as a teen. He decided to search me out. He googled Kathleen Dunbar and was lead to my music website. He knew he’d found me. He emailed me and we were soon speaking on the phone.

How strange to be asked to call him by his first name, Robert. He told me that when he was in bookstores, he’d look around to see if there was a poetry book by me—he was sure that I would become a famous poet! How very, very moving it was to hear how this man had held dear my gifts for all these years!

It was a delight to be speaking with him at last! I had always wanted to thank him for the worlds he’d opened up to me, and now I did. One was a world of literature. He knew enough about writing to help me on my path as a budding writer. Another was a world of human relationship in which a sane adult encouraged a creative young person, and importantly, as all great teachers do, in this process and without making a big deal about it (which my teen self wouldn’t have liked) he helped me to value my vision and myself. In our phone conversation I told him about the very toxic and dysfunctional home I gladly left every morning to lose myself in classes at high school. (High school was no picnic either, but it was better to be in the DMZ than the active combat zone). He was totally surprised to hear my home life had been difficult as I’d never told anyone that at the time.

Soon after our conversation I I received a thick envelope in the mail from Mr. Toth (I still can’t think of him as Robert) which contained the literary journal Methinks I’d created as well as some poems and reports. One of the poems I put in Methinks is the one below. The first person I’d showed the poem to, along with some other writing, was Mr. Toth, with a note that said, “I don’t know if you want to read these. They aren’t that interesting . . . but here they are.” He’d read this note aloud to me in our initial phone conversation, and chuckled. He told me when he read the poem all those years ago, that at first he found it hard to believe a sixteen year old in a small country town had written it. It crossed his mind that I’d stolen it from somewhere, but he knew me well and trusted that the work must be my own. He turned his astonishment into mentoring me as a writer. What I took from that mentoring was a belief and confidence in my own gifts, and a better ability to bear the difficulties at home and later to navigate the world of my adult life. Mr. Toth had believed in me. To be believed in is profound medicine, which continues to act as both vitalizing tonic and healing agent. Mr. Toth was one of those teachers whose support not only made life bearable, but worthwhile. There was a place, at last, for Kathleen.

I had begun at the age of three by making poems that rhymed. When I was fourteen I received a copy of Laurence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind. That book set me upon the path of free verse. I still write poetry in free verse form, but I came full circle and returned to rhymes as my singer-songwriter self in the creation of my original songs: You can find my americana music at kathleendunbar.com and my ambient/world music in which I “create” a language at bluelilah.com

Many good hearted souls have helped me believe in my ability to write. This is the story of one of them. Thank you, Mr. Toth, for being part of a foundation of aliveness for me, for seeing my poetry as a doorway to a life of creation, and helping usher me through it.

Here, then, is young Kathleen’s poem.

The Battle

Arrows of white light flung
from afar from the bow of the might orb,
darted between the tender, green
leaves, and fell, broken shafts, upon
the forest floor. So quickly did those
piercèd arrows fly that one could
not perceive their movement, but
saw only the brilliance of their
fiery flight, whence the earth,
steaming before their furious flame,
bore them in her dark side, a wounded
warrior.
Roaming among those arrows,
I did not smell the rage of battle,
nor did I feel the sting of fiery arms.
The mist of combat was not choking,
but moist and wet, and soothed
the heat of battle that the barrage
of arrows brought.
I sat, and, amid this raging
battle, I slept.

© Kathleen Dunbar, age 16

Out West

when Mrs. Graham came out to California
bearing the maiden name I never knew
she looked out of the train window
into the flat stretches of Nebraska
and saw a man on a horse with a hat
“There‘s The Cowboy” she said to herself
and to me, years later,
“I was thrilled.”

© Kathleen Dunbar

Photos by Kathleen Dunbar

 

I am nominated in THREE categories for the Just Plain Folks Music Awards

I am excited and delighted to announce that I am nominated in THREE categories for the Just Plain Folks Music Awards, (exact date to be announced soon! I will be attending and can’t wait!)  It’s a big deal: 17K albums and 240K songs were entered for the current awards, which cover the expanse of time since their last awards in 2009.

  1. Nominated for Best World Music Album is my Blue Lilah album Medicine Songs by myself/Kathleen Dunbar and Gawain Mathews. To hear it click: LISTEN TO THE MEDICINE SONGS ALBUM
  2. Nominated for Best World Music Song is my song Bleyso from my Blue Lilah album Medicine Songs by myself/Kathleen Dunbar and Gawain Mathews. To hear the song click: LISTEN TO BLEYSO
  3. Nominated for Best Spoken Word Song from my Kathleen Dunbar americana-rootsy original album The Storm In Our Head is my track Snakecharmer. To hear it click: LISTEN TO SNAKECHARMER

To view the Just Plain Folks website: Just Plain Folks

Japanese Tea Garden

A IMG_0243 V-0 - Version 8

Japanese Tea Garden

I spent many years going to the
Japanese Tea Garden in
Golden Gate Park, writing poetry
and observing people. Over the
years I wrote down some of the
interesting things I heard people
saying—the quotes in the poem
are what people actually said!

The girl says, “I need sugar.”
Her mother in a loud voice says,
“You don’t need sugar. You want sugar.
You need air and water and food.”
“And sleep,” a smaller girl says,
a little sister.
“Yeah, you need sleep.”
I watch the furrow of the brows
in this family
from larger woman to smaller girl,
a field of worry.
I say to myself,
“You need love.”

Parents in the tea garden, to children:
“You can’t make too many wishes at once.”
“You don’t want to play in old water. It’s yucky.”
About the fortune cookies:
“There’s a little story inside.”

As a child I was frequently in trouble
for playing in water,
yucky and clean.
I immediately want to make “too many wishes.”
In fact I have begun long ago,
am always in the midst of them,
they are as familiar as prayer beads.

Two middle aged ladies are served
tea and cookies.
Their eyes light up!
The plump lady
leans conspiratorially into her friend’s shoulder.
“If you break it, all the calories fall out!”
They laugh out loud
having lived enough life
to let their laughter be heard.
Her friend smiles.
I like them.
They are two reasons to get older.

A couple pauses as they cross the stone bridge
deep in conversation,
then they stand in front of the shrine that rises
in orange and black above the plain garden of stones.
She is even more in earnest
contemplating the wooden tower to the gods.
Who doesn’t try to make sense of it all?
She says, “You remember the tomato?
She married the tomato’s older brother.
He was a brilliant physicist.
He really lost it and became a monk.”

A little family at the tea garden
sitting on the “front row” –
just above the pool –
throwing wish pennies in
the father says to the son,
“Do you want to be superman?”
The son says,
“Nah,
that’s not a job.”

Now the Russian boy sings happily
in a thick accent,
“Oh, we had bad luck!”
a far away country melody
as they fish his sister’s purse out of the goldfish pond.
His aunt climbed right over the counter
and perched on the base to the awning pole,
leaned over the waters
and pulled it out.
No one fussed in that family.
An accident.
Much less worse than some things
that happened
back in the old country.
The father patiently squeezes the water out of everything.

A woman is saying to a man
next to me:
“I gave you a hot bath
when we lived on Taylor Street.
Where the spirit lived.
After that party.
I came home and made you a hot bath.
I poured you a glass of beer
and the spirit made it shatter.
All those beautiful glasses that they don’t make anymore.”

A small wriggly boy
leans far over the counter
and says excitedly,
“You can corral fish, you know.”
A fish cowboy in the Japanese Tea Garden.
His mother moves his teacup away
just in time.
“Tell me about it,” she says.
I sigh.

A student with glasses
and an impossibly long orange scarf
says to her friend,
“I’ll go home and make some pudding
and have that soup and do my notes.
I’ll put some more chili in that soup!”
That simple.
They are very young.
They leave.
The stools emptied of them
fill with an old couple.
He waits for her to sit
before he does
as he has unnumbered times,
a habit of kindness.
They look out at the pond
and she says,
“It’s going to be our anniversary.
What are you going to give us for our anniversary?”
“I don’t know.
It’s going to be forty-eight years.”
They eat the cookies
and drink the tea
and say not one word more.

A woman to her child,
“My fortune says
‘If your desires are not extravagant
they will be granted.’”
Her little girl has pink socks
with sparkles
and stars
and frilly lace.
Her mother has sensible shoes.

Man to child, “You like adventures?
I like adventures too.”
For a moment
they are the same age.

My heart has filled up
like the pools
with all that these people
are seeing and saying
and wishing
and feeling.

Why do I ache so much?
I have frequently been known to make too many wishes,
throwing them ahead of me
into the extravagant mess of life,
the clear and the yucky waters.

I have been naked without love.
And I have been loved—am loved,
so that when my beloved
hears my yelped ouch
as I grate my tender fingertip
along with the carrots
he calls out from the steamy bathroom,
“Are you okay?”
and I know
that I have already
won the Lotto.

Before I go back home
I see another one of us:
That child is going to make a wish.
There is the wish-posture!
Everything in her being is expectant.
There is the holding of the breath,
the choosing—which side of the bridge
to throw the penny from,
which pool more lucky?
I know the upraised urge and launch
as the sudden metal bone of the wish
goes splashing into the pool,
the pause after – it’s done.
Seriousness,
then the smiling.
The moment after
the world is different:
it is wished in.
Will it come true?
We are all already nibbled on by the fishes.
She walks away looking back,
ripening a little.

We throw ourselves
ahead of ourselves
all the time,
our hearts sing a song
beyond us
not so much about
health, wealth, love
(the usual culprits)
but really about the more extravagant stuff—

the attempt to keep
being here
in the messiness,
the yucky
clear
magnificent
stumbling
miracle.

© Kathleen Dunbar

Photo by Kathleen Dunbar

Accordion Song

A-Accordion Song 05-28-13

Hey Folks, Here’s the lyrics, and you can LISTEN along by
clicking the link, which is: Accordion Song

Accordion Song
Words by Kathleen Dunbar
Music by Kathleen Dunbar and Gawain Matthews

when we meet I hold the candle
when we part put out the flame
far from home I’m bought and sold
kisses bitter, love the name

when you ask I do not answer
words you speak I do not know
keep me in the cage you fashioned
say you’ll never let me go

lai dai dai-ee-dai
lai dai dai-ee-dai
lai-dai dai-dai
lai-dai dai-dai
lai-dia-dai-daiiiiiiii-dah-ee-daiii

love I wear a little dress of gold and red
how sweet and wise I lead you to my bed
laugh and dance, how deep the sin
spell is cast—we both fall in

I’m your bird, oh-ho you bid me sing
‘pon the cage I beat my wings
sky your blue eyes, close and cool
crumbs of love like broken jewels

midnight’s hush, how cold the wind
turn the key—the dark pours in
at the window—don’t ask why
drop your hands and let me fly

© by Kathleen Dunbar and Gawain Mathews

Photos By Kathleen Dunbar

Listen to “Accordion Song” from my CD The Storm in Our Head on Bandcamp or find it on my website, kathleendunbarmusic.com

A-Accordion Song 05-28-13 best version

A-Accordion Song 05-28-13

You Would

A-You Would 05-14-14
you would 

I would like to write
a fabulous poem
that described heart-thirst
in a way where
I’d become famous after I died
and while I was alive
I’d be interviewed
and, well, closer in time
my friends would
ooh and ah over the poem
and congratulate me
for saying such things
and tell me how it touched them
and more intimately
you would . . .
you would what?

when I offered this poem to you
all the poems I’ve ever written would ignite at once
the words blacken and melt
and the papers curl
they would clothe me in their smoke
rushing and delirious as freed souls
and finally leave me naked
at the temple
the primal one where
the god and goddess join their hips
in the motion that shakes even the stars
the reaching, falling
brief white stars
and you would . . .
you would what?

after all that hoopla
I’d find you standing
wide-shouldered and warm
on the place where
the at-last burned and broken engines
of my wishes
sleep among the roots of the earth
and a poem is the way
you look at me
and you would be looking at me
and you would . . .
you would what?

you would love me enough
to invite me home
to the place I’ve been looking for
all of my life

© Kathleen Dunbar

Photos by Kathleen Dunbar

Here’s a love song from my first CD — the song is called Round and Round and you can hear it right now on Bandcamp or www.kathleendunbarmusic.com

A-You Would 05-14-13

Until The Fur Comes Off

A-Until The Fur Come Off 04-30-13
Until The Fur Comes Off

The child knows—take Bear to bed
and you’ll know what to do with the dark,
you’ll be able to sleep
and dream the seed that
grown tall, will make a life.

And what do we do
those of us
who had no one
to believe in us but Bear
who with his eloquent dignity
welcomed us every time
until the fur came off
and then some.

He saw our hearts break
when no one else did.
He didn’t yell when we
made a mistake!
Paw in hand he went with us
on the journey
into a darkness
that was not only at night.

We all need someone
who can name us to ourselves—
it is after all
what it is about—
we need this naming
to make a beginning
where we do not have to grow
into the extremes of grief
that make daily wars
(some in foreign places
some in our own kitchens).

We step deeply into life
when a person can say aloud to us
what Bear could never speak
in sounds that make warm waves
in the blood of our heart—
we need to hear the words
as vital as air and dinner and sleep
“Ah, you are afraid, my love,
you are beautiful,
you are sad,
you are alive and belong with us,
it’s okay, my love
it’s okay,”
and wonder of wonders
we suddenly find our hand in theirs
and grow a little more shining and sturdy.

It doesn’t get rid of the dark
but the sound
of the naming
gives us the dignity
we gave Bear to hold for us
in hopes we would grow into it—
the dignity to know we matter.

Better late than never, my love.
Find someone kind to listen to you
and then return it and be kind back
until the guns of the war of broken hearts
grow quiet
and the blood in your heart
is alive with good sounds—
tears and laughter and wonder
your own and those of your beloveds:
friend, son, daughter, partner,
grocery clerk,
all.

It isn’t only make believe,
it is real magic if you want it:
go tell somebody you see them
and bravely ask for them to see you
the whole grand round—
let it in and give it
until your fur comes off.

© Kathleen Dunbar

Photo by Kathleen Dunbar

If you’d like to hear a sweet song of welcoming, you can listen to “The Circle Returns to the Place where it Starts” from my first album, Finally Home, at www.kathleendunbarmusic.com or on Bandcamp.