There may be truth in Samson’s tale. More about that later.

I’ve always been grateful for a thick head of hair. Well, perhaps not during adolescence, when I

was critical of everything about myself. I’ve considered it a gift from my Venezuelan mother, the

beautiful Carlota.

Initially raven black and straight, it was happy in long braids, or in a ponytail, until tortures of

rollers came along and it became the pageboy with bangs I sported most of my life. Annoyed by

the reality of grey hair, I colored it, an albatross to maintain.

My first breast cancer was in 2001, very small, very scary. I didn’t require radiation or

chemotherapy, so imagine my surprise when my hair was suddenly curly. Of course, I usually

straightened it into its accustomed style.

My second bout with breast cancer was eight years later. both breasts, invasive, more serious.

Miraculously, my oncologist did not recommend chemo or radiation. I wore my hair curly then,

finally acknowledging its changed nature.

I had dodged a bullet twice, until last spring, eight years later, when I was diagnosed with round

three of cancer—a lymphoma under my right eye. The prognosis was good, but recovery would

require the trifecta of treatment: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. My hair’s days were

numbered. My oncologist predicted when loss would begin with uncanny accuracy, forcing me

to abandon my hope that I would be different when it began to appear in clumps on my

hairbrush.

Miko, a delightful stylist, gave me my first buzz cut, as Donovan recorded the event. I was

delighted to learn I have a well-shaped head, a surprise, since I had never seen it without hair. An

even bigger surprise was the sense of freedom I felt. I had bought a wig in preparation for the

shearing, and to this day, six months later, I have not used it.

It’s growing back now, a silver pelt with a mind of its own. Strength is returning with the hair,

I’m grateful to find. Should I have heeded Samson’s warning? I didn’t really have a choice, but

I’m more fortunate than he, having survived.

I joke that I have free-range hair, that I’ve never been a silver fox before. I’m told I’m at the

height of fashion, probably for the first time. I’ll need to consider products to tame it soon,

possibly even a trim. Everything changes. The only constant.

Samson, betrayed

lost his locks, source

of his Herculean strength

I did it willingly

as handfuls came off

during chemotherapy

shaving the rest

claiming control

I should have heeded

Samson’s warning

strength and energy

departed with my hair

more fortunate than he

my hair grows once again

painstakingly slow to return

a pelt of sorts

with a mind of its own

as I, not

coincidentally,

grow stronger.

- Selma Mann

Last Alaska Cruise

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I’ve made the cruise to Alaska eight or nine times—I have lost count. I just returned from what I believe will be the last one. It was wonderful, raining in every Alaska port, which I love. Rain followed Love and me on every vacation beginning with our trip to Sunnyvale, where my sister Lili had made all the arrangements for our wedding, our honeymoon along the Pacific Coast, and every one of dozens of journeys spanning our forty years together. It happens even after his death, most notably in the torrential rains that accompanied us to the Armstrong redwoods to scatter his ashes as waters roared below.

I felt Love’s presence every time I felt drops of rain on my face, whether or deck, shivering as I watched the majesty of the Hubbard Glacier, on a whale watching expedition or exploring the towns. My favorite stop was Ketchikan, where I took a solitary walk to my favorite places, Creek Street, the salmon ladder, the library and the museum. The creek was roaring impressively after nine days of continuous rain. I was wearing tall rain boots, and carrying Al’s umbrella, as I merrily splashed through puddles. I even found a local candy store, where I stocked up on home-made goodies.

I enjoyed the cruise, but knew in my heart that it was time to say goodbye to Alaska.  The trip was bittersweet, filled with memories. It’s time for new adventures.

My Totem

I’ve become a butterfly person, like the people who collect

frogs, or bunnies or action figures. My house is now filled with

them, and it had apparently provided the theme friends and

family whenever they’re searching for gifts for me. The part I

love best, is that they tell me that when they see a butterfly,

they think of Al and me. What a lovely association.

Of course, the butterflies also appear to be attracted to me!

They’ve landed on my hat, my head, my hand. Now, I have

garden Monarchs, laying eggs in my butterfly bushes, even in

winter, growing increasingly bold in leaving their chrysalises in

plain sight, even letting go of their perch from time to time,

secure in the knowledge they will be cared for—I have the art of rescuing a chrysalis

down to a science.

Once in a while, a Monarch will visit and seem perfectly comfortable with my proximity,

and with posing for pictures. I can’t help but wonder if these are Monarch’s that

emerged in plain sight, or their descendants. I wonder if the offspring are predisposed

to trust?

Selma Mann

*This idea found its way into a poem, Domesticated Monarchs, in Whimsical Warrior,

my second book of poetry.

Memory Garden

My garden is filled with memories, from deciding with Al how it should look–natural and trouble-free–to the plants and trees themselves.  It’s difficult to believe that was thirty years ago.

I look up to see the tree that I was drawn to after Al’s death, now known as Love’s tree.  I would sway with the dancing leaves, feeling his presence, peaceful and accepting.  The first autumn the year he died was particularly poignant, seeing the leaves fall, leaving the branches bare, the parallels inescapable to my aching spirit.

The Jacaranda tree was my mother’s favorite.  When she could still visit, she would sit at the kitchen window, looking at it for hours.  When she could no longer visit, I took videos of her tree, and we would look at them together at the Seacrest Village, the loving facility (not a contradiction) where she spent her last days.  We spent a lot of afternoon scrolling through my pictures.

The Birds of Paradise are from the home in West Los Angeles where I lived as a child.  They were my father’s favorite.  The plant has traveled with me everywhere I’ve lived.

I still sway with dancing leaves.  A lot of poems have been born in that garden.  It’s my favorite place to just be still and notice.  And now, we have the  caterpillars, the chrysalises, and beautiful  butterflies.

My garden runneth over with beauty and memories.

Poem Writing Process

 

A number of you are curious about my process in writing a poem.  I usually answer that I have no idea.  The poems seem to arrive whole.  I know they’re created from bits and pieces of my life, what I notice, how I feel, but in most cases that’s about as far as it goes.  However, I’m increasingly aware when the thought—the knowledge-- flashes that the moment will be in a poem.

I was sitting around a table with friends and noticed one had a “big gulp” cup from a fast food restaurant with the words: “eat like you mean it” imprinted on the side.  “Hmmm,” said my muse.  An hour later, I was drying my hands on an automatic blower with the words “Feel the power” printed on top.  “Hmmm,” she said a second time.  I had no idea how or when, but knew these phrases would find their way into my poetry. And they did.

When I got home that day, I was thinking about the memorial service I would be attending the next day for Mimi, a woman in my bereavement group we had all come to love and admire.  She was in her nineties, and was a model for aging with energy and style.  Impeccably dressed, she would share at our group she had driven to Las Vegas the previous weekend for a special occasion.  She met her husband on a boat to Catalina, where she was a singer entertaining the passengers.  They were married over 60 years.  The thought occurred that I would like to write a poem for Mimi.  I sat at the computer, and this is what I wrote:

    For Mimi

 

    Grieve like you mean it,

    feel like you mean it,

    cry like you mean it,

    dance like you mean it,

    laugh like you mean it,

    rejoice like you mean it.

    Feel the power

    of vulnerability

    living like you mean it.


Thank you, Muse.  Mimi, we will miss you.