If We Didn’t Need to Win, Then What?

THE HISTORY OF FLEETS

 

Manuel Maria

always blinks tightly

 

with both eyes,

then opens wide

 

like he has

a startling

piece of news,

 

or is waiting for it.

 

I still don’t understand

why his second name

 

is Maria. An

American thinks

 

macho means

so many things

 

that it isn’t.

 

He brings out the busty statue

of his wife’s great grandfather:

 

An admiral and commander

of the Spanish naval fleet,

 

he sailed to Santiago

to break the blockade.

 

Now, he is a Spanish

hero. And Manuel is

 

so proud of his wife.

He says her family

is so connected

or important?

 

That they even print a newsletter.

Back then, Spain

wanted Cuba,

 

and now Manuel looks

at night for his wife.

 

She goes about sleeping

while he turns the pages

 

of beaten words that antes,

had so much longing.

I come on Tuesdays

to sit down with Manuel

 

and our languages,

these new ways of

 

wanting to say something

we think we’ve said before.

 

Today is a history lesson

about the sea,

 

and the people you can conquer

with a famous fleet.

 

As he crafts and molds

his words, I wish I could hear

 

the melody of El Andalus,

or understand a political uniquity.

 

I wish I couldn’t

see his pain before me,

 

or the long, bloody sea

stretching out for spaces

 

that wars and

fleets won’t win.

 

-Jennifer Sandberg

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On Living from the Low Places

As you get older, you learn to listen from the places inside of you that have always been speaking to you, but that have been in hiding. Here’s to honoring those places. This one’s for Johanna, Mindy, Angela, and Carema. And the rest of the women in my life who are living from these places.

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Oh, the tides are low. Let them be low. Let them be sinking, maroon, purple, deep, burgeoning. Let them be what they are. They have little faces  – little bodies and lives, these tides in you. You can’t take them out of you – they ARE you, so live them, sweetness. Take a hold of them like they’re your only child. Rock them. Feel their purpleness. Remind them they aren’t bruised or bruising or lost or found. Tell them they are welcome anytime to be a part of who you are, parts that you recognize and honor each day. Now you know, at this age, more intimately than you have before, that these low things in you are not for being shamed. They give you richness, boldness, force. They help you bring a knife to the things in your life that truly need to be cut. They speak to you: frank things, right things, honest things. Beneath their bubbly, wispy, watery swirls, the tides come bellowing up from your sea. They help the waters blend and mix. They make the sea life talk to each other. Little seahorses to fish, and fish to turtles, and turtles to whales. They are all the forgotten pieces of you that are always waiting to be seen. Let them out. Let them move. Their longing is so deep. They are what give you depth. No one else needs to call you love. Tell yourself. Tell yourself, like you’re five and still feel the currents in every step you take. Tell yourself with the urgency of a life wanting to be fully lived, that the low things make you move.

 

~Jennifer Sandberg

The Objective Version of Moving On

 

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STRAND

 

There was a splinter between us,

something binding us together.

Its ends poked into our

same-sized waists, making

us reach for each other

to dislodge it. Or make it stay?

 

You held me

while I tried to shimmy it free.

I put salve on the skin

where it pierced you, and watched

as you puffed small sighs of relief my way.

 

We did this for years, swaddling the splinter,

never giving it a name but knowing its need

to mend one of us back to standing.

 

It was the cruelest method

of being close, having to move so carefully.

Any thoughtless bend or shift

made us grimace with pain.

 

When my soft rubbing and gentle humming

brought you back to balance,

it was my turn to get screechy.

And you cooed gently in my direction.

 

I mistook your attentive gestures

for loyalty. You thought mine were devotion.

We confused closeness with fear.

 

And in the sooty shift from day to night

we slept, wondering how we

loved so much and felt so frozen.

 

So we filed the pain, and asked

for reassurances. A sigh, a moan,

a whistle: our techniques were

brilliant and golden.

 

It took us so long to see the splinter,

and longer yet to give it a name.

We did it intermittently, silently,

and alone.

 

When at last you counted to three and backed up,

I said your real name for the first time, and meant it.

 

The splinter that held us together

fell like a feather to the floor.

 

Now,

I see a glistening strand

that sways between us.

 

I say your name so sweetly,

and then I say my own.

 

 

 

~Jennifer Sandberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

REPEAT

Just when you thought you learned the lesson, you find you need a repeat. It’s okay; growing up to yourself takes time.

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MOONBEAM

 

broken,

over cereal

on a moon-lit counter.

 

it’s 1:30 am

and I find

I am not uneasy

with this

unsleeping

of my mind,

 

unsleeping

of my body

that aches for yours.

 

there were moments of light;

I saw them radiating from within you.

 

those moments said,

yes, stay

and see!

 

and now that seeing

has eclipsed the moon you

might have hung for me,

 

I will have to be golden

without you.

 

remember the elbow grease

of my mother’s good sense,

 

fall apart under the beam of moon

lighting me over the counter.

 

~Jennifer Sandberg

For Anyone Who’s Asking

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FRUIT STAND

            In Barcelona, Spain

 

How much are you worth?

That’s really the question

we always ask.

 

A new pair of shoes for

your bunion feet? A vacation

in a watery paradise?

The shiny earrings dazzling

against a softly blushed cheek?

 

Sure, there are the ones we’re

told to find.  Like work that

gives us joy or love that makes us glow.

But sometimes the easiest place

to start is in the smallest way:

 

Stand in front of the fruit stand

on the street closest to your home.

See how quickly a pearl drops

right into your hand.

 

–Jennifer L. Sandberg

ANNOUNCEMENTS

 

How comfortably do you tell the world who you are? Recently I made announcements for my psychotherapy practice with the addition of my licensed status on them and noticed how long I spent tweaking and polishing them. I took a couple of breaks and went back to them later, noticing more and more that everything works out so much better when I’m not trying to make it work. Thank the gods for moments when something like grace drops in and gives us a mercy ride, a welcome acquittal from the false charge of not being enough.

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AWAITING COMMERCE           

                        In Rota, Spain

           

It was in Andalucía

where I found the precise,

red shoes. I had looked for

months, wanted them to say:

Comfort. Baseball.

I am from Minnesota.

 

Seven euros, a lucky find.

So the timbre of my voice

crawls its way into a question.

 

I let the Spanish slide in

softly, guess my European size.

Explain the predicament of not being

“from here,” and the girl is still.

Open.

 

Was I waiting for a reprimand, a

chuckle? Me again, always explaining:

                       I have a good reason!

                       This is why I don’t sound perfect!

 

But mercy owned the air this time.

No scoffing at my somewhat Spanish

or other-nationality.

Only easy things between us.

 

There are moments like slippers:

satin, unexpected, relieving.

We want to put them on

again and again.

 

-Jennifer Sandberg

Mindy-Natalie, as in, We All Need Mindy-Natalies

 

My friend in the panhandle sent me a box and now it’s a shrine on my bookshelf. It wasn’t just any box, but a box filled with connections and thoughtfulness that only a true friend would feel led to send. Opening the box on the patio was one of those moments where you feel that the universe is conspiring gently and very clearly, on your behalf. In it was a light catcher with the word, “play” etched in one of the silver pieces, and three books: The Artist’s Way, Writing Down the Bones, and Do It! (subtitled quite comically, Let’s Get Off Our Butts).

 

I went to the nearest coffee house with an outdoor patio and sloshed around in the words. I had read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones before moving to Spain a few years ago, but her admonishments struck me differently this time. I’m not as interested in being appropriate and successful as I once was, so the encouragement to write anything, “even garbage” was a welcome invitation. I wanted to move into her words themselves, take up residence with them, and linger there all evening. I said a soft thank you to  my friend, Mindy, and the raw writing of Natalie Goldberg, each of which confirmed what I have known is true for so, so long: Your true nature wants to come out. It’s been knocking for a long, long time.

 

Trio

AJ empties himself into the drum

while I sit, alone and tiny

on the maroon couch,

a distant, frontal position

so that he can see me and I him.

But not too closely.

In every moment, even a fresh one like

this, I’m wedded to strategy.

 

The guitarist opens his mouth to

“Just the Two of Us,” and lifts his chin

above the microphone,

eyes squinting, forehead creased,

reaching up for the note he

imagines he wants.

 

Two friends on that little stage

and me, tiny on the couch.

Hoping for some way

to lower myself into drums,

to go screeching my way into light.

 

–Jennifer Sandberg