Vincent’s Ghost

I wrote this poem during my most recent tour in The Netherlands. I feel blessed to be able to perform my songs and music overseas, and for people who really appreciate art and music. They have been incredibly warm and kind. I’m looking forward to a return this year if all goes well.

*Photo: Starry Night Over the Rhone/Vincent Van Gogh

Poem c. Kerri Powers, October 2021

Vincent,

You are here among the living –

In the lush green farmlands

and powder blue laughter of children,

their red hair tangled and blowing

against a field of sunflowers

Your letters to Theo echo

Over a fragile horizon line –

Through the Mars black of the dykes,

murky and waiting

The silent glow of the stars

Reveal the man behind your eyes,

bright and wonderous –

A gentle mystery

Behind a Cerulean veil

I can hear your brush strokes

As cornstalks sway –

To a southwest Windsong

Crows in a silo-spin

Above the grazing sheep

This is a land of turpentine and oil

Ink-blotted history and milky –

A framed impression of violet and red berries

In a glorious Dutch garden –

With still life of fallen pears

Birches thick with age

And a knowing that to leave this place

Is hard on the heart –

A red-blush pounding and longing

For church bells and Amsterdam rain

I will miss your ghost, Vincent

and will carry your colors within the deepest part of me

The cadmium yellow and rusts of autumn

A shimmering of change, and blending hues

Along the Maas

Intangible Foe

I fool myself

Believing I can embrace it

Because when I do

I will better understand it

But like slanted light

Through the bedroom window

I cannot touch

My intangible foe

The sunlight tries

To shine on –

A new patina morning

All while I am falling

Tumbling down like Eurydice

From the life, a viper stole

Into the murk, we go

Me and my intangible foe

The doctor will ask

How often does it come?

You say it makes you numb?

I don’t want a damned prescription

And to watch him watch the clock

Time left me some weeks ago

It isn’t me, I know

But the aim of my intangible foe

Blueberry Picking

It was late summer, I think. I’m pretty sure because mornings were cooler and I could smell the onset of autumn, the damp tired leaves, and dry New England air. My father drove a spotless white Chevy Corvair, the car that I had my first experience with carsickness in from inhaling a combination of blue vinyl seats, always a hint of my mother’s perfume, and cigarette smoke, all while in motion.

We got up and dressed early that morning. I had no idea what my dad was up to but knew it was going to be an adventure. We headed down the dark stairwell of our third-floor apartment and into the new day, my dad placing a five-gallon bucket into the backseat before securing me on the passenger’s side. I don’t remember what we talked about but I know I was wearing my favorite orange corduroy jacket with a felt dachshund extending from the bottom left to the right side.

We rode out to the countryside to the railroad tracks in northern Middleborough, Massachusetts. I recognized the area because my cousins would hitch their pony Pokey to a decorated cart and ride through town in the Fourth of July parade, and the tracks weren’t far from the center of the little village. My father parked and the air was creosote and wild grapes as soon as we stepped out of the car. He took my hand and the bucket and we walked through the mist to a nearby bush, my sneakers sliding with the ballast stones until we reached a cornucopia of wild blueberries. A rabbit dashed into the underbrush and it was then I knew we were in another world, someplace magical. A discovery all our own.

I don’t remember asking my father how he knew about that spot but I recall asking him if the train would come. It never did and I wasn’t at all frightened. What I remember most is how happy we were quietly plucking and collecting the perfectly round berries. There’s nothing like the sound and echo of the first couple of berries being dropped into the bottom of a bucket. I was ecstatic.

Life was simpler for a tyke in the seventies. No cellphone distractions or major playdates. No having to pull your kids away from video games. There was intention and purpose and not much in the way to screw it up.

I never forgot that morning, the peaceful almost wordless hour or two my father and I shared while picking those berries, my bewilderment and awe of the simple enchantment and beauty shared between a father and daughter. And I have no clue how many berries I ate that day. If you would have asked my father how many berries we consumed, he might have shrugged his shoulders, winked at me, and flashed a blue-toothed grin.

Life’s Song

I looked down at the dog and said, “you know me, I’m a fighter. But I feel like I have nothing left in me.” She looked up at me, eyes big and sad as a cartoon, waiting for me to continue. “I just don’t know what’s going on lately, and this sounds crazy, but I don’t want you to see me like this.” Then I reached over and grabbed a small piece of ham from my sandwich and gave it to her.

Lately, I’m exhausted before getting out of bed. I go through my morning routine numb, barely registering the howl of the kettle as I put coffee grounds in the French press. Our days run in slow-motion, mundane responsibilities surrounded by a low drawl and rambling of words and expressions. There are days I cry so hard I feel l might evaporate right here in this house amongst everyone and everything I love. The Great Disappearing Act of 2022 and the year has barely begun.

It’s no secret we all share some form of fear and exasperation with the current ongoings of the pandemic. As we hung evergreen wreaths, baked bread, and lit candles, we brightly anticipated spending time with our loved ones, perhaps in a long-awaited embrace, savoring the tradition of the holiday season with a newfound appreciation for Joy and one another. It didn’t quite happen that way and the disappointment was enough to snuff our hopes and burn the goods.

We’ve had our challenges. My heart aches for those who have experienced loss and unfathomable hardship through all of this mess, and I can’t help but feel guilty because here I am wallowing in something I really don’t understand for reasons I really don’t understand while others are struggling with much worse.

I have a stunning new album to release, people in my life who are loving and supportive and here for me, a cozy warm home and I don’t want for anything. Maybe that’s it. Perhaps it’s the fear of losing all of this. What if I can’t hold it together?

It’s real. What if I fall apart and everything I’ve busted my ass for goes to the birds? Lucky birds I guess, but seriously…

I set goals and worked alongside my manager Jack for over 3 years to build an independent music career and it was working. I finally started selling a more impressive number of tickets to larger shows and the momentum was building.

The blessing of music and work continued albeit losing my father, and then my father-in-law. I didn’t take it for granted and worked as hard as possible before Covid hit months later and I was almost stranded in Europe after my tour had been canceled. I was scared and tired and felt defeated but I kept my head on and kept moving forward, following humanity along the path of this thing none of us could believe was happening.

It seems like eons ago; the early pandemic travel ban and my boarding one of the last planes from Dublin to The States, a pale reflection in a porthole while pulling on the sleeve of my leather jacket as a way to avoid disassociation. And here I sit tonight, two years later writing in the quiet of safety and familiarity, knowing we’re all going to be all right but wondering just how we’ll manage.

Since New Year’s, it’s been harder for me to remain optimistic. I’m usually all in for the half-full glass. Knowing that I’m not quite “right,” I called a shortlist of therapists a week ago and have yet to receive a callback. I haven’t taken it personally. Social workers not unlike healthcare workers have their hands full. Our society is in turmoil and it seems a good number of us are looking to talk with someone. At some point, I think even that “someone” might need to talk to another someone and on it goes, a long chain of broken souls in need of physical, mental, and spiritual mending.

I read part of my blog entry to Rosie, our beloved dog. She gave me an unconditional, non-judgmental blink of approval and a slight wag of her tail before laying her head back down and dozing by the woodstove. She’s a miracle in these uncertain times and an unaffected constant of good faith and love when we need it. Something tells me one of the therapists will return my call in a day or two. I’m going to try and stay present for what matters most – good health and family and the rest will fall into place with time and a little more patience. Although it will never be the same, our lives will get better as life’s song plays on.

Woodland Angels

I knew before I rose this morning I had to get to the woods. I’m addicted to the smell of the damp earth and pines and although I walk or ride my bicycle along a similar trail most days, there is always something new to discover. It was important for me to leave the holiday vibes behind this morning and head into the deep woods because I believe doing so reconnects us to what matters most. The Japanese call it “forest bathing” and it’s one of the most spiritually cleansing experiences we can give ourselves.

When I walk under the grandfather pines and oak trees, I sometimes dream up songs and poems and letters. The letters are mostly meant for my father. I narrate to him (in my head) and imagine his arms reaching out to me through the sinewy branches of sturdier trees, his face resting in the shadows of the morning sun. It’s both comforting and unsettling. There are days when I’m too manic to discuss my feelings with anyone. If I’m fortunate enough to muster the motivation, I walk with a fiery intention enough to break a sweat and burn off some of the anger and confusion. It is on those days that I’m not fit for conversation.

Today, the day of the post-Christmas slump, I took to the woods with a new camera, lingering more than usual in silent observation of what remains of the snow-covered trails and narrow earthen paths and to admire the celestial light on the half-frozen pond. I imagined the turtles nestled and sleeping, their tiny reptilian heads retracted for the dreaming. I miss taking a headcount of them on the giant log they sun themselves on and look forward to it again come spring. It was there I photographed leaning birches, the angels of the woods, their delicate limbs against powdered clouds and blue sky. Birch trees are woodland angels, no doubt, and are ever-present. I discovered fungi and various fauna poking up through the ice and snow, creating a beautiful contrast of green, silver, and white. A single hazel maple leaf caught in the sunlight made for a good zoom and focus practice shot. By the time I turned for home, there was gospel on the wind and prayers among the thickets and winding brook. The exploration did my soul justice and I couldn’t be more thankful for these sacred, heavenly happenings.

Two Years

Two years today. I can still hear the doctor call your time of death. I realize we are born to someday die. I accept this and have moved forward knowing that you’re in a better more restful place, especially now with all the world a spin and whirl almost off its axis.

Today marks two years we have missed you so much it’s changed us. I have missed you to the point where I’m less inclined to sweat the smaller, less important matters. I awake every morning with a better sense of who I’ve become as a result of the lessons you’ve left behind. I have missed you to where I see your shadow in the midst of quieter days, sitting across the half-lit room, patiently waiting for me to admit how hard you leaving this life has been for us. Funny thing is, I don’t admit it to you because I know how unfair it was dementia took you from us before you left this earth. I know you didn’t want to go and we could do nothing to save you from the rubble.

You’re physically gone. What remains is love and love is why. Love is why I do my best to greet the day with compassion and grace, tenacity, and sass. Love is why I will continue to open my heart to new teachings and relish curiosity. Love is why I can recover from the nights when the realization you are not coming back into this physical plane break me wide open. Love is why I will never forget you and it’s why I feel you within.

Love is why I will remember this 29th day of March, and although I carry the weight of its sadness, I celebrate your life and embrace the life that remains, the beauty and breath I’m blessed to be a part of. 

March On

It’s been a little over a year since I stood in line at the Dublin Airport. It was March 19th and I was waiting in pre-clearance in U.S. Customs with over three-hundred people, a good portion of them foreign exchange students returning to The States from Spain and Italy, some were elderly couples with canes in wrinkled raincoats and matted lipstick, clinging to one another’s hand, wailing babies, and parents keeping close watch on their wired children. There were angry middle-aged men with bossy women, anxiety pushing us all over the edge at various points. We wanted to run but snail-dragged along through an unending line, leaving a long, mucky trail of fear of the unanswered for others to follow.

Trump had put a travel ban into effect due to the pandemic and we weary travelers had a short window in which to make our way home. I didn’t have time to wonder if I’d ever get home because I was too focused on making it happen.

One by one the faces of my family flashed in and out of my mind. Mostly, I thought of my son Nolan and my husband, John. They were my soul pilots navigating with continuous assurance I’d be home by late the following day.

And, thankfully, I was.

I remember walking through Logan airport in Boston feeling like an apparition; a washed out trace of someone with nothing concrete to grab hold of except the possibility of death by way of some hideous viral infection. I spent the day within very close proximity to people traveling from Spain and Italy, two of the hardest hit countries at the time. I could have been carrying the disease. Chances are a fraction of us were. Quarantine was what we all had to look forward to.

For days after my return to The US, I waited. I waited for possible illness. I anticipated the one-year anniversary of my father’s death, as it was right around the corner. I walked around the house having childhood flashbacks of the two of us building snow forts, fishing, and blueberry picking, while still processing the fact I had been in Europe less than 24 hours before having to return home. Vascular dementia took my dad, and now this novel virus, Covid-19 was taking people’s lives, making so many of us seriously ill, and had pulled a three- week tour of The Netherlands and Germany from under me. All of this was happening at once and too fast, and all we could do was wait.

I remember numerous images and ideas coming to me while on the flight home. For some reason when I’m in a car, on a train, or in the air, I seem to generate an abundance of creativity. I’ve learned to carry a small journal with me for that reason. There was so much truth from the weight of fear and hurt, and from the primitive place in my head and gut that kept me in a state of hyper- awareness, vigilance, and sanitation. I was going to write a lot of songs about all of this experience. I was going to pen and shed the entire shit of a year. It was time to get it all out.

Not. So. Fast.

Instead, as the days passed, I walked around in a depressed funk, vacuuming spotless rugs and repeatedly cleaning out drawers, closets, and the refrigerator. I’d convince myself to try and to take interest in a new book, but its pages didn’t have a chance. I preferred to stare at the walls, sometimes breaking down and sobbing, most times not. The dog looked at me daily as though I was leaving her. As much as I was thankful to be home with my family, I was restless and mistrusting. I felt guilty and wanted a do-over for the good folks overseas who had planned to attend the shows. I wanted to make it up to my label, band mates, and friends. I felt like I’d failed my family somehow and was sad and angry, and most of the time, unavailingly anxious. I developed insomnia and continue to struggle with it. Some might call these ails post-traumatic stress. I call it a fat pain in the ass. Luckily, the bulk of it has passed. It subsided within a couple of months. That’s when the songs started to come.

Songs never arrive dressed like you envision them and at times, they don’t at all articulate the way you might like. The songs came in spurts, impressionistic and personal, with a truth more painful than I could fathom at times. My father and the heart of the world live in this collection. I was afraid of them at first, but I put my trust in the process and here they are. They came forth and allowed me to share in their space, slowly unfolding and taking shape.

Today, I’m half-way through recording a new album. We hope to release it in October or in January, 2022. I don’t want to wait until January, but it’s going to depend on the direction of the pandemic. What matters most, and what I’m hoping for is that people will find the songs comforting and healing. We all need it immensely.

We’ve done our best to embrace a constant state of loss and grieving on various levels, all of which have restructured and redefined normalcy.

May we continue to keep the faith until we see one another through this mess. We gotta march on… that’s what marchers do. We keep on keeping on.

New Year’s Day 2019

(With 2021 right around the corner, I decided to share this post from 2019. I wrote it in a private journal when I knew my father was dying. My hope is that sharing it will resonate with some and bring light and comfort to those in a similar situation.)

Connecticut’s route 84 has become of one the most familiar roads I’ve traveled. I could drive along its straight and narrow blindfolded. It was quiet and windy, the first day of many more in 2019. I was en route to my hometown in Massachusetts and sat behind the wheel in complete control wondering what it might feel like to forget a road like this, a road I’ve traveled hundreds of times. What does it feel like to know where you are one minute and completely forget everything the next? Terrifying. I pray I never find out. But then again, I may not be aware of it if and when it happens.

This time I wasn’t going to my childhood home but to a life care facility to help my father transition from short to long-term care. As I drove, I barely noticed the occasional passing vehicles – strangers behind the wheels, perhaps thinking of ways to reinvent themselves in preparation for the next spin of 365 days. I wanted nothing to do with New Year’s Day. I had no patience for self-inflicted resolution, making false promises to myself on behalf of an age-old tradition. The first day of this shiny new year was a bokeh snapshot, a world out of focus with one exception; a flashback of a recent visit with my father, his mournful eyes searching my soul for a rescuer. It was hard at times to keep my eyes on the road and to steer in the right direction against the headwind and my tears.

My father worked his whole life for our family, busting his ass climbing poles and risking his life to work on high voltage wires day after day. Now, he can barely generate enough energy to bring a spoon of tapioca pudding to his lips. He saved a man’s life on those poles. Pulled him off of a live wire and into his own bucket without hesitation. My dad served in the military and has lived with a headstrong wife and two growing, hormonal daughters for many years while maintaining a remarkable sense of humor and compassion for most anyone and everyone he has met. Now, he’s stuck in a long-term care facility after less than 20 years of retirement as he sits and waits to die. My father can’t walk because his body is riddled with degenerative disease. His heart rhythm is being regulated by a pacemaker, his bones are full of painful arthritis, and his mind is a minefield of vascular dementia, a grand illusionist and robber of every familiar thing. At this stage of his life, my father is a vulnerable sickly tree of disjointed branches, desperately reaching toward the sky for a second-chance ray of light, or drop of cleansing rain. He is imprisoned by his fate and there isn’t anything anyone can do to stop the progression of his illness. 

Through this experience, I’m learning more about the loss of control and the need for awareness. My heart aches for my parents, for my mother’s anxiety over having to place my father outside of their home, and for my father’s leaving us before he physically departs this life. As I type these words the cruelty of his disease digs its claws into me, scraping down into the core of who I am. Dementia is synonymous with the devil. But I know these illnesses happen and I do my best every day to embrace acceptance. It’s a bitch.

I’m doing my best to meet this new challenge on this New Year’s Day, 2019. The one thing I am resolute about is facing the change. This one is going to take a while.

(My father passed on March 29, 2019 from complications of vascular dementia.)

Shift

We all feel the shift. Experiencing this pandemic has been a slanted walk through an impossible maze. I’m writing from our living room, newly decorated with a bright, distressed blue Persian area rug, boho pillows, and soft twinkling Christmas tree. I want to feel comforted and thought by working on the interior of our home doing so would bring a sense of stability.

I’m waiting for it.

Insomnia is a bitch, conning me out of bed most mornings between 2:30 and 4 AM. Waking at this hour of the morning offers a companion of silence, one not to be dismissed or wished away. I’ve actually grown accustomed to it. Silence has become my Sensei, better preparing me for daily viral war. Although deafening at times, I find it’s the best time to sort the mind. The early morning hours have also offered quiet hope, something I imagine most of us long for more and more amidst the chaos.

My husband, John is an engineer. He would never admit it, but he has a brilliant mind and handles life’s matters rather well by way of logic and an unemotional approach. I envy these traits. I am the opposite; a highly sensitive creative with an impressively active knee-jerk. John and I complement one another and I’m thankful, as he has given me the blessing of awareness.

He spoke to me about chaos as I decorated our tree on Saturday morning, classic Christmas music playing as a snowy mix and Nor’easter carried on. “Chaos is the natural order of things.” I can’t recall why he said it, maybe it was the weather, but his reminder came just as I got tangled up in a string of white lights. I thought, “if only Henry Adams could be here now.” (Henry is The Dream of Man dude and responsible for said quote.) The way the world is spinning, the dream of man seems an ever-changing quest. I can only speak for women, thank goodness, and my dream right now is to get this virus the hell outta here, once and for all. Most of we human beings can’t stand not having control and this is definitely something we’ve had no control over. Chaos redefined, for almost an entire year.

The tree lights have cast an angelic glow on the morning. The room feels safe. All is okay in this moment. I’m sitting alone doing my best to remain in a place of gratitude. It’s really hard at times this year to be mindful of The Christmas Spirit. Covid, not having my dad with us anymore (although I’m thankful he doesn’t have to deal with all of this), and all of the ridiculous antics within the political realm have put a dark sheath over the holidays for sure. Perhaps we all have a varied definition for what having Christmas Spirit is. Some of us define Christmas Spirit through a bottle of bourbon or a few bottles of wine, others have cultivated it by way of family and cultural tradition, and then there are those of us who believe in a more ethereal deliverance, an other-worldly feeling that fills us with faith and hope. Lately, I’ve wondered. Lately, I’ve been thinking for the first time in my life that maybe agnostics have a valid position, that maybe when we die, there isn’t much else so why even try to feel gleeful about any of this Christmas stuff? It pains me to write such a thing, especially while sitting next to such a luminous and living tree, the symbol of celebration and good tidings. But it’s how I’ve felt for a while now.

Maybe I just need some sleep.

Maybe feeling this way is justified, considering.

Good news is I still pray.

We all feel the paradigm shift. We see it’s precise location in each other, the unpredictable pendulum swinging within. It moves us unexpectedly and leaves a dreadful sting in our eyes. It’s scary and anxiety-provoking and downright hideous at times, our current place in history and humanity. We accuse the media, saying the news is confusing. Well, it is. But it’s confusing because we are all confused, collectively. There isn’t one of us with a definitive answer, and that is what scares us most.

Evolution is kicking our asses.

I’m going to try and get some sleep. I can’t function properly without eight hours of it. Then, I’m going to do my best to get through another day as it does its best to make the promise of yet another. Moment to moment. That’s doable, I guess. We are living and have to take care of ourselves and each other as much and as best as we can.

This year has not been what any of us expected and that’s clearly an understatement. I’m looking forward to getting 2020 out of here and I hope and pray it takes this virus and every political debauchery and disappointment along with it.

We can all hope and work toward a new and more promising shift.

What’s in A Year?

Recently, I’ve been working through some of the steps with my sister, son, and mother to better prepare us all for her inevitable passing. It’s true any one of us could go before her but as my mother would have it, she is determined to make this as easy for us as possible now that my father has passed. I’m thankful for her vigilance and respect her wisdom. My mother actually resembles a barred owl, all salt and peppered and looks into you like she’s got you figured out.

It’s understandable my grief has been exhumed by the fact we’re dealing with legal matters of a postmortem nature. So much so that I called the hospital in which my father was first admitted to find out just how long it had been between his diagnosis of vascular dementia and his death. He was admitted for the first time on 2/26/18 and he passed on 3/29/19. I really wasn’t sure what kind of comfort those dates or actual numbers would offer, perhaps and more than likely none. But they’re something concrete amidst so much ambiguity. The past year has included the one-year anniversary of my father’s death, the onslaught of Covid-19, an auto-immune diagnosis of my own, and a songwriting/touring career that is pretty much non-existent. All that and matters pertaining to my parent’s Last Will and Testament.

Such is life. Suck it up, Powers.

Compared to many, I’d say my family is doing all right, we’re lucky. I pray every night for them and an extra-special prayer for the health and happiness of my son. When I pray, I know my dad is with me. He is with us everyday. I guess, really, those dates represent a finality of sorts, one I should embrace and remember like the final chapter of a favorite novel, with a positive outlook. I was fortunate to spend his last hour with him. On the day he died, I remember his momentary window of clarity. He looked at my mother and said her name with elation. He asked my sister, “where’s the doggie?” (My sister had a beautiful Labradoodle for 13 years.) He looked at me and said nothing… so I said, “how’s it goin’ pal?” His eyes brightened and he said, “pretty good,” and did his best to manage a smile.

That was my father’s message to me a year-and-a-half ago.

“Pretty good.”

If we remain within a framework of “pretty good,” then we shouldn’t expect more than the simple life blessing we are given each and every day. We should be so golden as to live and remain in the neighborhood of “pretty good.” The sun shines there on a fairly regular basis and the overall vibe is fair and kind and true.

I’ll take it.

What’s in a Year? Many lessons of the human condition; lessons of finding balance in uncharted and virulent times, teachings of giving more and taking less, moving forward and honoring respite, and meditations on goodness and sorrow.

I’ll take it all.