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A book, Chinese aerobics, a garden

 Portland continues to uncurl to me. I’m discovering what it’s like to be free of wage-earning employment, moving forward on my current writing project. Yesterday I received a copy of a book of poetry written by homeless women in Seattle. Monday and Tuesday I attended the Chinese Aerobics, and this afternoon a new friend took me to the Japanese Gardens.

The book (a gift from Devorah) is Beloved Community: The Sisterhood of Homeless Women in Poetry, and it is raw, honest, and bristling with laughter and rebellion. Most of the poems are not about the hardships of being a homeless woman, but about people the homeless women love, share their lives with, worry about. Crysta Casey’s poem, “Karen (1951-1995)” begins, “If you die on me/ I will spit/ on your grave/ to make/ the weeds grow.” Another of Casey’s includes this:

I woke once to my husband

bare-ass naked on all fours,

pawing the wooden floor

with his bowie knife.

I called him

out of sleep as he fought

the dreamed enemy

and later, fully awake,

he walked into the woods

with a bottle of whiskey

and all his pills.

Images come as surprises: “Trying to get close to my mother was like/ getting close with a vacuum sweeper./ And being close with my father/ has been being close with a lawn mower” (Catherine Hunt). Carol Fallman’s title makes me laugh: “Bag Lady Fashion Update.” I love this short one by Reneene Robertson: “Mystics go/ To the mountains/ Because/ Having visions/ In the City/ Can get you/ Beat up/ and/ Locked up.” Or here is Rango’s “recipe for seattle bean soup: put beans in a pot. when rain stops, light fire.” There are poems about insomnia, about mental hospitals, about drinking, about rebellion, and about tender connections between people who have been kicked aside. My favorite is this one, by Marion Sue Fischer: “WILL I EVER/ live somewhere/ Where the hallways/ don’t betray evidence/ of/ Someone/ Beyond/their/Breaking/Point?” It’s my favorite because that’s what most homeless people are: people who’ve gone beyond their breaking point. These poems are answers for people who insist everything happens for a reason and you never get more than you can handle. If you know a person who spouts this claptrap, click on the link and order them a copy of this book, as a reality check. Proceeds from sale of the book support the organization that pulled this anthology together: WHEEL (Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League) in Seattle.

The population of the building where I now live is about 1/4 Chinese, and every morning at 10 a.m. about a dozen Chinese people (and anybody else who wants to join them) meet for ten minutes of Tai Chi and forty minutes of Aerobics led by an ageless Chinese gentleman with gray hair and black eyebrows like birds’ wings in flight. It’s a well-designed sequence of stretches and exercises to increase flexibility and stamina, improve balance, and stimulate circulation, followed by vigorous self-massage stimulating pressure points up and down the legs and arms and all over the face and head, all to the accompaniment of upbeat pop Chinese music. I especially love the part I think of as jelly-belly, where we interlace our hands, cup them over or under whatever we have in the way of a belly, and then stand in place and jiggle. Actually the whole sequence is brilliant. It includes some running in place, actions that simulate rowing a boat, throwing a net, digging a garden, sweeping, picking fruit off a tree, and swimming, along with some martial arts moves, one-legged kicks in the four directions, and a chance to kick yourself in the butt (using the heel of the opposite foot). It’s sufficiently challenging that I’m sore from it, and I’m planning to take a writing break at 10 a.m. each day so I can go.

And the Japanese Gardens? Have a look at this photo gallery. I don’t suppose any of these photos was made in February, but there was a calm, subtle quiet in the garden today. The azaleas, rhododendrons, and weeping cherries are all swollen with buds. The “mountain was out,” as they say here when the sky clears and Mt. Hood is visible, sharply etched with shadows as in this photograph.

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3 responses to “A book, Chinese aerobics, a garden”

  1. mina olen says:

    ur living the dream

  2. chris says:

    wonderful post. i myself joined in a chinese aerobics class this morning in san francisco. as a physical therapist, I am greatly interested in learning more about this form of exercise. Any suggestions?

  3. Kathryn says:

    Chris, you’re welcome to come to Portland and check it out. The class still happens every weekday at 10 a.m. I don’t know anything more about the system than I did when I first encountered it, but it keeps my Chinese neighbors fit and active. I think it’s an excellent system for a physical therapist, and I hope you learn more about it.

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