Monday, August 31, 2015

Surreal Conversation

(To know more about this Duet, click here. We have switched and now I am writing first, Rukmini doing art in response.) 

Art & Words Duet: Day 9 
The Return 
Part One - Surreal Conversation
(Note: this is a fiction piece)

My dad used to be a monk. Actually, he used to be a religious leader of the Hare Krishnas. Then one day he decided to get married to my mom and we've been living in a Philadelphia suburb for the past sixteen years. I knew my dad held some fondness for his experience as a Hare Krishna, but I could also see there was some unspoken pain. He rarely spoke about his past.

Then one day he and my mom sat me down in the living room.

"Elizabeth - " my mom began. I cocked an eyebrow. She only used that name when I broke curfew or had left dirty dishes in the sink. A long silence stretched out and I saw her eyes shine.

"Mom?" I said in disbelief. Mom never cried. "What happened?"

"Your father has bone cancer."

My face drained of blood.

"Stage four. He was diagnosed many years ago but has been in remission. Now it is severe. Your father has requested that we all go to India to a holy land near Calcutta."

"What? What about treatment?" I turned to my dad, who was pale, his face tight. "How can you give up?"

"We need to go, honey," was all my dad said.

I buried my head in my hands.

Flower Whispers

(To know more about this Duet, click here. We have switched and now I am writing first, Rukmini doing art in response.)

Art & Words Duet: Day 8
Flower Whispers

slender and graceful with flared petals, like a lady going to a ball
fireworks of color
considered weeds but look like queens
bold artists who paint petals in broad strokes
tiny painters with tiny portraits
grow out of the filth but are never touched by it
grow in tame rows in gardens and fields
grow out of cracks in cement
and in the windowsills of highrises
perched in millions of glass vases
or up high in trees
surrounded by guardians of thorns
or moats of lakes
or fierce scents
each and every one who ever lived
opens her mouth
and whispers silent words,
"glorious and beautiful I am
for hours and days,
but offer me to God
and I will live forever."

Saturday, August 29, 2015


(To know more about this Duet, click here. We have switched and now I am writing first, Rukmini doing art in response.)

Art & Words Duet: Day 7

For years upon years
I searched for The One
I cried many tears
and on the years spun

I looked inside
and looked out there
was tempted to hide
but honed my prayer

When I discovered my Lord
He filled the hole in my heart
I let down my guard
for my heart had become whole 

I became calm and content
spending long days alone
I watched the sun rise and set
Peace covering my soul

Now I didn't even want to get married
For my life was going fine
But of course that was when the Lord carried
me to His beloved
and mine. 

Being Held

Art & Words Duet: Day 6
Being Held
(To know more about this Duet, click here.)

On Friday mornings I bathe, offer puja, and dress Chota ("Little") Radha Murlidhara. After I had set up all the tables and materials for worship, I stepped on the altar to carry the deities to the table. I picked up Murlidhar with my right hand and placed Him in the palm of my left hand.

As I carried Him, I was suddenly wonderstruck. God is the biggest of the big, the Lord of the Universe. God is the smallest of the small, present in every atom. And yet somehow He has made Himself just the right size to fit into the palm of my hand. My dear Radha Murlidhara, may I always be held in the palm of YOUR hands and let me love You and worship You always.

Art by Rukmini Poddar

Thursday, August 27, 2015


(To know more about this Duet, click here.)
Art by Rukmini Poddar

Art & Words Duet: Day 5

"I'm so nervous, Gigi," Amanda said, gripping her best friend's arm tightly.

"Honey, you're cutting off my circulation," Gigi said.

"Oh, yes, sorry,"

"You have nothing to worry about. Your book was awesome, the publishing house surely accepted your proposal,"

"Don't jinx it. You've also been trying to get your photography book published, and you're still looking for a publisher," Amanda began to nervously play with her blonde braid.

"True," said Gigi. "But your book rocked."

A woman in a clean gray suit emerged from a side office. She walked up to Amanda and Gigi, a professional smile on her face, "Ms. Lorence?" The woman glanced between both young ladies.

"That's me," Amanda piped, raising her hand as if she was in school. She blushed and put her hand down.

"Congratulations, Penguin has accepted your cookbook proposal. We will discuss details in the coming weeks and send you follow-up emails. In the meantime, congratulations," The woman extended her hand, and Amanda shook it, her eyes wide, her grin stretching from ear to ear.

Something curious happened for Gigi. It was only a moment, but she felt this flash of heat in her chest and across her face. A frown formed across her brow. Animosity towards her friend filled her mind. Not fair.

As soon as the fire swept through her, she hurriedly pushed it aside, shaken. She took a quick breath, smiled, and faced her friend.

"Congratulations, Amanda, I told you, your book rocked," She hugged Amanda tightly.

"Yeah, the very first publisher we approached, and Penguin, no less! These guys are huge. Amazing."

"Yeah, amazing," Gigi couldn't help it - her voice fell flat. Amanda suddenly noticed and fell quiet. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Enigmatic Smile

(To know more about this Duet, click here.)

Art by Rukmini Poddar

Art & Words Duet: Day 4
The Enigmatic Smile

"Mrs. Donahue, mother of Lalita, requested a chaplain."

I glanced at my clipboard. "Okay, I'll see her. When?"


"Will do," I nodded and through the halls until I reached the cancer wing of the hospice.  

I had met with Mrs. Donahue before, and when I saw her in a waiting chair, she rose to her feet, tears in her eyes. "Samantha," she greeted me. "It's Lalita." 

"How is she?" 

"She's leaving. I don't know what to do. I feel like I'm being suffocated,"

"I hear that you're feeling overwhelmed with pain," I said, "Even your body is reacting,"

"Yes, yes. I need someone to be there with me with her. More family is arriving soon and I'm not sure how I'll handle this."

I placed a hand on her shoulder and then we walked in to the hospice room of her daughter. Lalita was propped up on a bed. She had insisted on not wearing any hospital-type garb and simply wore an old, well-loved tank top. She had requested that all the tubes be taken out of her nose and wrists, and so her breathing was labored and rattled.

But her face. Both her mother and I just stopped at the doorway, staring. Lalita's eyes were closed, and her mouth formed a smile that spread through her entire face and radiated from her body. She was whispering something.

Mrs. Donahue and I approached the teenager, wary. Was Lalita in her right mind? Had taking out the tubes affected her mental functions?

Lalita opened her eyes and looked at both of us. Her eyes shone, her gaze was straight and true and unblinking. "Thank you for being here, Chaplain Jones," she said softly.

"Thank you for allowing me to be here," I responded.

"Mother," Lalita turned to Mrs. Donahue and held out a hand. "Please chant with me,"

They clasped hands and began to chant what I knew to be Hare Krishna. At one point Lalita was too weak to continue to chant so her mother continued to softly chant the mantra and Lalita listened with that rapt smile, her face radiating a peace and joy I had never witnessed before. Lalita had once explained the meaning of the Hare Krishna mantra to me, that it was actually a personal invocation to God. I sat next to the mother in this vigil.

Other close family and friends began to show up. One young man began to sing Hare Krishna, and everyone responded. Call and response ensued, and I caught on enough to sing in the response (barely). The smile blossomed even more on Lalita's face. At one point she gestured for me to come close. I leaned in. She spoke softly: "This is the perfection of my life,"

Soon after, Lalita left us. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Glass Heart

(To know more about this Duet, click here.)

Art by Rukmini Poddar

Art & Words Duet: Day 3

There's a man who takes walks in the morning with a giant red ball of silk sashes. He whistles and smiles at the neighbors who jog by. They don't smile back. When he sits to watch the sunrise, he sits on his anger and pushes it down into the sand. The ball cushions his body, and the vibrating pulse of it keeps him awake and alive, humming and whistling. 

A boy is walking by with his dog, playing a game of fetch with a blue rubber ball. The man waves at the boy with a smile. The boy frowns back and throws the ball for his dog in the opposite direction. A sash of red slips out of the man's mouth like silk smoke, and he catches it from the air like a scarf and stashes it in the pulsating ball he's reclining on. 

The ball begins to rise from the sand, threatening to push the man off of his seat. 

Push it down. Push it down. 

He wrestles with the ball, but that last sash of red seems to have disturbed the balance. The man grits his teeth, sweat drips from his brow. Almost there, the ball seems to be going deeper into the sand. The rising sun over the ocean shines on the man's face and the scene. Some passersby stroll by, staring at the struggle. He gives a strained smile. "Everything is fine," he calls out. People scurry on. 

Control, must control. This ball is almost... almost... under control.

A voice whispers in his mind: Who is controlling who

Suddenly, the pulsating ball of red sashes goes still. The man tentatively gets to his feet. Strange to step away. Before his eyes the sashes unravel and unwind, unravel and unwind, falling out into the sand like a giant lotus flower. 

In the center of the sashes, the opened flower, is a most peculiar object. A glass object. The sun flashes off of the surface and momentarily blinds the man. He shades his eyes and steps forward for a closer look. By now, passersby have gathered in a growing circle, albeit at a distance, their faces betraying their fear, awe, and curiosity. 

The man picks up the glass object, which is surprisingly warm. It's pulsing. He realizes that the pulsing of the entire ball of red sashes came from this object. He holds the object up to the light and sees that it is an exquisitely sculptured glass heart. It has four ventricles, the veins are delicately raised. The glass is translucent and glimmering in the sun. 

The man peers more closely at the heart and sees a fissure running through its very center. He touches the fissure and the heart in his own chest twinges with the pain of a thousand needles. He drops to his knees, surrounded by the red sashes of anger that all come from this fissure in his heart. So much pain. He weeps. The tears fall from his face onto the glass heart and enter into the fissure. The pieces of the heart become one, the fissure vanishes.  

The man holds the heart up to his chest and pushes in until with a jolt, the glass heart enters his body and becomes one with him.   

An ocean breeze suddenly sweeps in and the red sashes pick up and whirl into the sky like a flock of swans. The spectators watch the scene unfold and cheer and cheer. They descend upon the man and embrace him one by one and in groups. 

The man feels a warm rasp of a tongue on his face, and he is greeted by a quivering dog. "Hi there," says a boy. The man is astonished. "I'd like to give you this,"  the boy places the blue rubber ball in the man's hand. 

"Really? For me?" 

"Oh geez, not only for you. It's so that you can play with my dog." 

So the man throws the ball to play.

Monday, August 24, 2015


(To know more about this Duet, click here.)

Art by Rukmini Poddar

Art & Words Duet: Day 2

All day I wash pots, scrub floors, and cook for a family who sneers at me when I walk through a room. I change diapers and sing lullabies for a pair of twin girls. They're too little to sneer. They gaze at my face and coo.

When I'm on my knees, my back sore from scrubbing floors, when I'm stationed in front of the sink, my hands blistered raisins from washing pots, my mind wanders sometimes to a distant land. The sky spreads so wide and I breathe so deep my chest hurts. I watch the birds swoop into the sky, off into the horizon.

The past several weeks whenever I lay down to sleep, I slip away to that place. A smile touches my face. No reason to move, I become one with the mountains, the rivers. Ahhh, yes. One day.

But one night, the mountains and the birds don't come. When I close my eyes, the only image I see is of the twins. They are sleeping, their chests rising and falling.

There are no twin girls in my landscape of escape. In fact, no one lives there. Not even me.

My eyes snap open and I stare at the wood ceiling. Love. I need love. Peace is no longer an escape, but love feels like a trap.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Art and Words Duet: Day 1

Sometimes art begs for written words. Sometime written words beg for art. My friend Rukmini and I have teamed up for an 8-day challenge: when I write, she will share art. When she shares art, I will write.

For the first four days, Rukmini will first offer art and I will write, and then we'll swap. We are both committed to spontaneity, to write whatever comes, free of judgment. 

Here is today's exploration:

In the morning
I unbind my hair
and gaze out the window
searching for someone

the smile on my face
is permanent
like a doll

the road in the distance
shows no signs
of dust clouds
of impending horses
So I wait
and wait

I merge with the mountains 
pining for the one
who will embrace me
and allow the pain 
to flow from my heart
in rivers

To write is to dare the soul. So write.