september: Tender

This month, a few poems written. Two accepted for publication. No formal theme for my monthly challenge. Yet, there was a focus: the enduring of loss in small and big ways has made me feel tender. Scott dislikes this word — ranking it up there with moist as one of the terrible words — but I like it, especially after encountering it in this beautiful poem on the first of September:

Tender/ Sophie Klahr

I spend late morning weeping with the news:
a black bear with burnt paws is euthanized
along the latest wildfire’s newest edge.
It was crawling on its forearms, seeking
a place to rest. I Google more; reports
leak out: the bear had bedded down behind
a house, below a pine, to lick its paws.
In hours before its end, officials named
it Tenderfoot, though some reports report
just Tender. later, I will teach a class
where we’ll discuss the lengths of lines in poems.
I’ll say a sonnet is a little song
to hold a thing that otherwise cannot
be held: a lonely thing; a death; a bear.

the losses

  • a son returns to college
  • another open swim season ends
  • the anniversary of my mom’s death — September 30, 2009
  • the death of my second mother (mother-in-law) — September 29, 2022
  • an overall feeling of some things ending — leaves and temperatures falling (no more deck do-nothings), light shortening, family holidays never again the way they were
  • the annual reminder that I am no longer a teacher, or a student

a memorial plaque from September 8

I stopped at the dirt trail near Folwell, after the short, steep hill and before the paved trail returns below, to record some thoughts. And I remember that when I stopped, I noticed a very small, square plaque at the bottom of the bench.

a small plaque at the bottom of a bench. The inscription reads: "WWDD - contemplation station for the fearless and free"
close-up of plaque on bench near Folwell
a bench facing trees and the river with a small plaque on it, near the ground
Rachel Dow Memorial Bench

I have run by this bench hundreds of times, stopped and sat once or twice, even wrote about it, but I’ve never noticed this small plaque on it. How did I see it today? I love these little surprises, just waiting to be found! I had no idea what this plaque meant — WWDD? I looked it up and found a facebook page for the Rachel Dow Memorial. Wow. She was loved by so many. I read a little about her life — a passionate, social justice minded, free-spirit — and her death — she fell through the ice at the river and died of hypothermia. Maybe I’ll write a poem about her and the others I’ve found through their plaques. All of them share with me a deep love for this river. And maybe one day, I’ll have a plaque there too.

definitions of tender

  • responding to the softer emotions
  • showing care
  • impressionable
  • easily chewed
  • having a soft or yielding texture, fragile
  • sensitive to touch
  • sensitive to injury or insult
  • weak
  • not hardy
  • delicate
  • to offer, to make a bid
  • an offer
  • one that tends (attends)
  • to make tender, to become tender

I like the idea of tender as care, to be sensitive (as in aware of the senses, noticing touch, smell, sound). And, the idea of being a tender, someone who tends — who attends/notices and who has an inclination for/developed a practice/habit of doing things in a certain way (eg: she tends to run south on sunny days). And, the idea of tender as vulnerable, soft, open:

There is a more general conception of the human at work here, one in which we are, from the start, given over to the other, one in which we are, from the start, even prior to individuation itself, and by virtue of our embodiment, given over to an other: this makes us vulnerable to violence, but also to another range of touch, a range that includes the eradication of our being at the one end, and the physical support for our lives, at the other.

Butler, Undoing Gender, page 23 quoted in TROUBLE blog entry

a tenderness for the Regulars

Dave, the Daily Walker; Mr. Morning!; Daddy Long Legs; Mr. Y; Mr. Holiday; Miss Skirt, always walking South; Mr. Walker; Mr. Unicycle

tenderness as affection and appreciation

Along the River/ Lorine Niedecker

Along the river
        wild sunflowers
over my head
        the dead
who gave me life
        give me this
our relative the air
our rich friend

I’ve Been Thinking about Love Again/ Vievee Francis

Those who live to have it and
those who live to give it.

Of course there are those for whom both are true,
but never in the same measure.

Those who have it to give are
like cardinals in the snow. So easy
and beautifully lit. Some
are rabbits. Hard to see
except for those who would prey upon them:
all that softness and quaking and blood.

Those who want it
cannot be satisfied. Eagle-eyed and such talons,
any furred thing will do. So easy
to rip out a heart when it is throbbing so hard.

I wander out into the winter.
I know what I am.

To be tender is to be vulnerable to those who will take advantage of your tenderness, who will do violence. This does not mean that if you are tender, you are weak. We need tenderness for transformation:

without this particular place and location of a willingness to be flexible, open, soft-bellied enough to be moved by the truth of the other in whatever given situation, then it is not transformative.

…for us to transform as a society, we have to allow ourselves to be transformed as individuals. And for us to be transformed as individuals, we have to allow for the incompleteness of any of our truths and a real forgiveness for the complexity of human beings and what we’re trapped inside of

angel kyodo williams (see also: TROUBLE/angel kyodo williams)

Living Tenderly/ May Swenson

My body a rounded stone
with a pattern of smooth seams.
My head a short snake,
retractive, projective.
My legs come out of their sleeves
or shrink within,
and so does my chin.
My eyelids are quick clamps.

My back is my roof.
I am always at home.
I travel where my house walks.
It is a smooth stone.
It floats within the lake,
or rests in the dust.
My flesh lives tenderly
inside its bone.