As a child in North Carolina, I wrote poems about winter sunsets, a lost dog, my first bike; now I write from the northern California coast, about offshore rocks, lovers lost and found, the hauntings of earthquake and drought that lie in wait through our year-round balmy season.
Throughout my long career as a teacher, writing poetry has been my secret sustenance, daily journaling my aquifer, and forays into the short story my occasional feast. Sometimes a poem casually shared becomes a poem published, but just writing has always taken precedence over sending stuff off. A supportive circle of readers keeps me going, though lately I feel the pull of a wider audience: a completed novel refuses to rest in oblivion; years of journals await incorporation into memoir; a growing stockpile of poems invites submission. Reading others’ poems, stories, memoirs, I see a place for the fruits of my own journeys, the dark and the bright.
This writer’s life is fed by friends, books, movies, plays, concerts. And by gardening, hiking, singing, watching things. Engaging in troubled times, I edit for a climate change activist, manage care for an indigent elder, and offer spiritual counsel for friends in crisis. My adult son blesses my life as a fellow seeker. I practice Buddhism at Berkeley Zen Center.
Coming Down & In: a postcard bio with ten footnotes
First, come Down and In, trailing clouds of glory a big sister won’t forgive. 1
Four more arrive, alliances founder, winter is forever. 2
To survive: go Up and Out, travel the stars 3
Until a day, burning, poised on arching bridge of rock, longing to shove off—
But. Elbows wilt, and that is that. 4
Woman, earthbound: marry, mother, teach, seek the Godhead Up and Out,
Discover She is waiting Down and In. 5
Find a woman, marry out of time, let the world catch up. 6
Lose father, mother, son—or think so. Lose the woman. Maybe. 7, 8, 9
Embrace those who return. 10
~catharine lucas, Hedgebrook, November 3, 2013
- Wordsworth’s “Intimations of immortality” confirmed my sense of having lived before, dwelling in the sky, coming down to be born. The notion helped me understand two portraits in matching oval frames: my sister, Winnie (age 3) with lovely curls and sad eyes, and myself, hairless, toothless at one year, with a mega-watt glow that drew all eyes, unseating the previous star. For this I could never be forgiven.
- Winnie, “Boss Sister”, wielded absolute authority over our siblings, who wisely sided with the power. My brief alliances with one or another made no inroads on their first loyalty. I lived an isolate, bullied and rejected by the first object of my love, vying for a share of her attention, which she felt I already received too much of from other sources.
- Surviving childhood—the relentless expectations, scalding corrections, punishments—as harsh for “knowing better” as for not knowing what I could not have known. I practiced going back where I came from, taking mystical journeys out of body. Made a pact with God, that he would take me back if it ever got too bad. Respiratory illness granted visits to the borderland where I trusted I could slip across at will, should that day come.
- At fourteen, a field trip to Natural Bridge, KY. Inner tumult: I survey the canyon, see my last chance, having grown too healthy to fly away on wings of lost breath. I attempt to push off—but elbows refuse. Ready to live, at last, I vow to go the distance.
- I claim a woman’s path but reject the assignments that set her limits. Marry a man of intelligence, wit, integrity, whose feminism awakens mine. Agree to raise our son without religion. Become a Woman’s Libber, a teacher, an adulterer, at last a lesbian. Divorce frees me for mystical reunion with the transcendent God of childhood, soon replaced with the sacred Inner Teacher, down here, in here. Jungian therapy helps heal the distorted, dishonored feminine I’ve carried so long.
- Settle down with Mem, lesbian love, and Steven, son of sixteen, who succumbs to schizophrenia bound up in drug abuse. 1988, eight years into our shared lives, Mem and I marry under care of our Quaker Meeting, firsts of our kind. Mem sees me through Steven’s terrors; I see her through debilitating chronic illness; we see each other through.
- The deaths of my parents, years apart, confirm a life beyond the body.
- Steven’s gone-ness requires a letting-go on my part that eventually proves helpful to his recovery. But when he disappears after his father’s suicide, I believe I’ve lost him forever.
- My 22-year lesbian marriage has taken too many blows. Days after my mother’s death, Mem shares her wish to begin life as a Buddhist under shelter of Mt. Shasta.
- Opened by the experience of loss, I embrace those who return. Steven comes in from the cold; we grow close, as when he was very young. Eventually, I reconnect with Mem as she waits to die of cancer. Grief holds no terrors. I open to the ephemeral but perfect beauty unveiled by loving things as they are.