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.

I Want To Tell You That You Are Okay

A-I Want To Tell You 04-16-13

I want to tell you
that you are okay

I want to be
the flower for you
the small diamond water
of the fountain
with the mossy stones
the clear song of the bird
that breaks your heart
enough
so that you begin
to remember
it’s okay to be alive

I know how hard it is
I have the scars, too
from the jagged monster
who chews its children
and leaves them
tense-boned and
half-alive
the monster of breaking
who fills small bodies
with knowledge so unspeakable
that the most golden of bells
can make no sound

but my love
if you keep hope
behind the wall
it is no good
no good
you have to walk out
into the open now
though every sinew
curdles
for bone and will
have done their work
they have brought you
here
but they are
useless creatures
when confronted
with kindness

what was given to you
long ago–
the sad old spasm
of protection–
with that you
can never know honey
you can never truly
deeply
laugh

oh, those old wars
they are over and gone
instead
my warm hand is here
and I’ll tell you
over and over
with the eloquent language
of my fingers
my breath
my eyes that have seen
death and lived
I will tell you gladly
that we are home at last
alive most deeply
in our own dignity

though the hired warrior
has kept you walking
let him lay down
in the garden’s earth now
and sumptuously rot
kindly let him come apart in
worm and root
till his hollowness
has healed into
the soft den of an animal

you have always been
the untarnishable gold bell
and the crazy wild heart of its
star-made clapper
and it is time, my love
for you to
ring

© Kathleen Dunbar

Photos by Kathleen Dunbar

Please also explore a song of connection and love in this crazy life, from my first CD, “Finally Home,” called Round and Round on Bandcamp, or at www.kathleendunbarmusic.com

A-I Want To Tell You 04-16-13

A Little Bit Of Yum

A-A Little Bit Of Yum 03-26-13

a little bit of yum

a little bit of yum
a crumb
a crunch, a bite
and then we’re done.
tidbit, morsel, taste, a drop
a soupçon, nosh
and then we’ll stop.

ambrosia, nectar, we adore
if only just . . .
one mouthful more!

a delectable, a relished heat
to finish off that spicy treat
the midnight hankering for flavor
the craving for the thing we savor
chocolate rapture, rich delight
upon the palette erudite
we nibble, lead by inward urge
oh just this once
no harm to splurge!
the dazed give-in
to appetite.

the moment best
when we can let
the nectar linger,
longing met. . .
it’s not the taste
though that does please
it’s the yearning of
the heart for ease—
and scary! to admit the ache
much easier to reach for—
cake!

we’re vulnerable when we believe
that we could let ourselves
receive
the sustenance to mend our hurt—
that kindness is our just dessert
and hunger is a thing to show, so
take the meal,
and eat it—slow—
in the savoring
the heart will know. . .

. . . the honey, goody, nibble of
the sweet we really want
is love.

© Kathleen Dunbar

Photo by Kathleen Dunbar

Here’s a little bit of music yum, my song We All Love You on Bandcamp and at my website www.kathleendunbarmusic.com

Lakshmi Appears In The Form Of An Old Lady

A-Lakshmi Poem 03-15-13 Lakshmi Appears In The Form Of An Old Lady

There is an old lady
getting out of a geriatric van
that gives an hydraulic sigh
I can hear all the way into the café
as it whooshes three precious inches
closer to the pavement.
The old lady is
just making it away from the van steps
with the help of a wheely-walker
and two extra sets of arms:
the van driver with a “help the old lady smile”
and a younger woman
in an official-looking smock—
together they are the four-armed deity
who helps the old lady descend from on high.
They thread their way from the street
through an empty parking space,
just makin’ it up on the sidewalk
perilously close to teetering over
and scraping the walker
on the special silver gunmetal paint job
of the $130,000 Porsche
in the parking space
next to their adventuresome path.
I sip my tea and watch through the coffee shop window
exhilarated with the effort,
my own muscles firing sympathetically
to help maneuver the walker
on it’s perilous way.
The Porsche’s driver is not in the car.
It’s a close call, but—
they make it!
The old lady waves goodbye to the two
and looks ahead at the freedom and delights
of the neighborhood stores—
grinning like a maniac
she sports her own
special silver gunmetal paint job
in the coloring of her hairdo
and the sensible lines of her walker.
She’s made it out of wherever she lives
and into the thick of things,
back in the hood!
The van pulls away
and the old lady delightedly
guns it down the sidewalk
as the driver of the Porsche appears,
unaware she is covered
in the dust of the old lady’s getaway.
The Porsche driver,
a bored-looking, able-bodied woman
perhaps oblivious
at this moment
of the great gift of physical mobility
hangs up her cell phone, sighs,
and slips into her sexy machine.

I finish my tea.
The old lady has gone her way down the street
and the woman in the Porsche has driven off
in the opposite direction,
the parking spaces
filled now with ordinary cars. . .
when suddenly I hear laughter
arising fresh from my depths,
the sound splashing between the café windows
and the espresso machine.
My friend the young barista catches the wave
and calls out to my delight,
“That’s Kathleen Dunbar in the house!”

I aim someday
to be such an old lady
with a well polished gleam
in my eye,
but it is so radically honest
so difficult
so irrational and
such the right thing: to be here
to surrender to the laughter and surprise
of standing upon this moment
to savor my body drenched in this life.

Thanks to the old dear
I catch a glimpse of myself as I truly am,
bejeweled and dazzling
astonished at the bling of me
of us all
of our fine wide souls when we let them shine!
I’m worn out from working so hard
when it’s not necessary.
I unabashedly laugh out loud
through my sweet warm tears,
I grin like a maniac!—
these are my acts of gratitude
in the wake of an old lady
disguised as Lakshmi.

© Kathleen Dunbar

Photo of Flowers on My Altar, and The Porsche Lady’s Car by Kathleen Dunbar

To hear a sweet inspiring song of mine called We All Love You click on this Bandcamp link, or find it on my webiste: kathleendunbarmusic.com

A-Lakshmi poem 03-05-13