The Other Door

Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, Paris, France, by Alex Holyoake

The other door. A mouth. An ear. A nostril. An eye. A pelvic floor. A vulva. A body of doors, openings and closings. Go inward and there are chambers of the heart and esophageal flaps and valves controlling the flow of fluids through channels, maintaining order. Spine, neural pathways, veins, arteries, capillaries, so much anatomy, a house I’ll never explore fully enough.

The other door. The third eye, the mind’s eye, the wrist, the sacrum. Ridges of teeth against tongue. A pinch here, a pulse there. A room that leads to a room that leads to a room, a series of caves, underground tunnels, a palace built into the side of a mountain at the edge of the sea.

The other door. Scalp. Hair follicles. Nail beds. Reach, stretch, bend, bow. Break. Repair. Heal. Hurt. Fire, ice, water, soak, salve.

The other door. Phlegm. Spit. Cum. Blood. Yellow. White. Red. Black. Bruise. Blue. Green. Eyes. Seeing, translating, refracting, flipping over, inside out, rapid fire, REM sleep, deep dreams, doors through doors through doors, open, open, open, closed. Open, open, open, closed. Mantra, memory. Lullaby.

The other door. Images. Flashes. What makes a person, what makes a body, what makes a a life. Rooms inside of bodies and buildings inside of houses inside of dolls inside of cliff sides inside of families inside of centuries inside of stories inside of time inside of timelessness.

The other door. Listen. Watch. Float on a bed of salt. Squeeze your legs together, spread them wide, kick, pull, push, glide.

The other door. Spirit. Mystery. Sun, moon, plain as day, clear as night. Sky and floor, room after room. Remember this? Remember this place? Swim home through waters you were born from and to which you will return. Doors open, open, open. Open your mouth. Open your eyes.


axSevering. Cutting the cord. Boundaries. Mother’s milk. Hand on my back. Opening my mouth. Cord snaking out, sticky and thick and unending, an infinite belly coil I keep pulling on, years and years and a recurring dream of not being able to cut it — the more I try, the more it becomes something like glue, impossible and uncooperative, stretching from and gumming up the sharp blade. I am trying too hard, I am waking up sweating and tired of being sorry, I am scrambling on eroding ground, watching it crumble. And then, later, walking — I am walking down and then up a hill, feet on earth, voice out loud, begin here, and here, and this is enough for today I tell myself, until later, so much later in the car the throat constricts and chest crushes and suddenly I’m sobbing and remembering this dream after so long a reprieve, and it smells like the teen spirit I swallowed and spit out, it sounds like all the horses running towards me at once, it feels like crowded, hands in front of me, palms facing out in a gesture of give me space, please I need space. And I am aware in this moment of the impulse to rush through the feelings, the way sometimes you want to rush to climax and the rushing runs interference with the desired outcome which is to say what it is about, when really this experience, these feelings in the body are not about — they are not linear or narrative or logical or cognitive, no, they are storms, they are electricity and power surges and powerlessness and where where is the ground, where is the voice, what do I want, who am I, where was I, what am I afraid of losing, what was lost already so many times over and can’t be retrieved? There will be no words until I can give this its full expression, give over to it, give into the walls closing in knowing that when they fall I will be standing here solid under sky without explanation or proof of purchase. All of this is to say the severing dream came back to me, floated into my mind casually, like, no big deal, just coming to say hello, it’s been so long how are you? Why are you here, I asked, and the dream — though I was awake now, and driving — said, to tell you what I was about all those years. And now I am a baby and the cord is cut and I am on my own but held and loved and now I am an adult and I am on my own holding my own and loved in new ways, chosen ways, ways that remind me to be a big girl now, a grown woman, strong enough to know that I don’t have to put myself through the same thing over and over that is so long ago now done and gone.

Use your voice, love your way, and don’t be afraid, love. Don’t be afraid.

The Dream of the Silver Spoons

I woke up this morning shortly before the alarm to a barrage of dream fragments; they ranged, as usual, from vivid to blurry, and with varying degrees of accompanying narrative. One image did stand out from the others as I poured my coffee, though I forgot to tell Mani about it.

Often, I’ll “review” my dreams before fully waking up; sometimes dreams go *poof* in the instant I open my eyes, and still other days the nights will linger like a dark screen. Anyone who has known me for any amount of time can tell you that it verges on ridiculous, the amount of dreaming that goes on. From apocalyptic to pedantic and everything between, my dreams are steadfast companions that travel with me no matter how far I venture or how close I stay to home.

So that one image that stood out this morning — it was of my father giving me a collection, his collection, of silver spoons. They were all different sizes, and I think there were four or five all told. One was small, as you’d use to feed a child. Each had a story. They may even have been from different countries or generations. In the dream, I’d decided to get a tattoo of the spoons spooning each other, largest to smallest, on my upper right arm. I held them up to my arm to gauge the length of the tattoo.

It didn’t even occur to me that my dad might have a real-life spoon collection.

Then the day happened. I helped Pearlie finish packing for her much-anticipated week in Acadia, Maine with my sister’s family, alternating between practical things like a quick trip to CVS to pick up toothpaste and bug spray (and an iced doubleshot latte for me) and more emotional ones, like orchestrating a speaker-phone meeting of the minds with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, to reassure Pearl that it would be a fun week despite her fears of not being with either of her parents.

Tears were shed, hugs were had, and thankfully, we checked off the last item on her sweet little packing list in time for me to greet 40 participants in Dive Into Poetry, which began today (registration is open till Sunday, by the way!). Amazingly, when the phone rang at 10:00, I’d just placed my own bowl of steaming oatmeal on the table and was ready to settle in to an hour with a fabulous coaching client discussing consciousness and curiosity and clear seeing.

My sister came by our place to pick Pearl up a little after 11:00; miraculously, she only forgot one thing. We said goodbye and I blew her a kiss, which I saw that she caught in her hand (though she’d hate that I’m telling you that detail, I bet). By this time, my dreams from last night had fully receded with low tide, leaving only the light of an exposed day in full swing. A 20-minute emergency nap. Another coaching hour, this one raising the question of how we teach what we have to learn, culminating with a gorgeous, living list of ways to gauge EASE. Ah, ease.

Then I made lunch for Mani and wrote Monday’s prompt for The Story Sisterhood, by which time it was almost 3:30pm. Time to go to her dentist appointment (she hasn’t driven in well over a year due to the neuropathy in her feet, which is healing). During Mani’s appointment, I greeted and welcomed newcomers in the Poetry group, and also played a few rounds of Candy Crush on my phone. When she came back into the waiting room, I was relieved to hear that she doesn’t need any major dental work beyond a couple of fillings that need to be replaced (we had both been nervous about this, due to potential mast cell complications).

On the way home, we decided to stop by my parents’ house to welcome them back from a trip. We took a little tour of some freshly painted rooms, received lovely gifts from their recent time abroad, and then chatted in the kitchen about this and that before saying goodbye.

But it was a Jewish goodbye, meaning Mani sat in the car with her door open while my parents stood on a porch step and I lingered somewhere in the middle, our conversation still meandering here and there. And that was when I remembered the dream. The image I’d woken up with this morning, so vividly, but not spoken of and thus — I thought — forgotten all about. The spoons. My father.

“Oh! Wait! I just remembered a dream from last night!” Surely neither Mani nor my parents could’ve been surprised by these exclamations. I went on. “Dad gave me silver spoons, maybe four of them, all different sizes.”

My mom said, “Your father has a whole collection of them! He brings a new one home every time we travel!”

He did? He does? Who knew?

She hadn’t even finished her sentence before he’d gone into the kitchen; I saw him through the window as he open the silverware drawer. A moment later, he came back outside with three silver spoons in his hand, each a different size and style. One was from China; the other two of unknown origin. He handed them to me, as if reenacting my dream.

“No tattoos!” My mom admonished. (I assured her I plan on getting a hawk feather on my right arm, not spoons. I’m not sure she found this assuring.)

Shaking my head in disbelief as I walked around to the driver’s side, I called back to my dad — who is also a Freudian scholar — “Hey, what do spoons in dreams mean?”

“There’s no universal symbolism,” he said emphatically.

“Don’t ever think you and your father aren’t connected!” said my mom.

“May the Schwartz be with you,” I joked, looking him in the eye. I like sharing a name with him again.

But naturally, me being me, I looked it up later, after making dinner for Mani and then dinner for myself, after washing the dishes and getting caught up with all of my writing peeps. Spoons can mean nourishment — both offering and receiving. They can indicate prosperity and wealth.

And in this case, since they were a gift from my father to me, it occurs to me that they were a kind of blessing on my home, on my work. Perhaps a dream come true, quite literally. A symbol of approval, even, the kind you can spend your whole damn life chasing down.

What a mystery. What a gift. Thanks, Dad.

Out, Outter, Outtest


Dina Lewin Feller | BlueNoemi, Tel Aviv

In part of the dream,
I came out.
Or should I say
came outter,
or would it be
more out?

I was out already
but there was another
frontier of outness,
outdom, outisity,
outensity. And I

took it for myself,
stepped from
some smaller
safer place
of seen
into more seen.
Seener. No sooner

did this happen
than I stood
before a wall
where before
there had been
a door. I knew

exactly where the lock
and key had been
and pushed,
punched it
with my right hand,
hook snagging
on flimsy material,
something like
insulation. A poor

excuse for a wall
but no matter,
I walked around
and into the next
room over
with its display
of denim for sale.

Had to cut my jeans
off my body —
I’d outgrown
that pair, couldn’t
even shimmy them
down, too tight,

Then I was wearing
the sexiest lacy
numbers and trying
on rings, one, two,
the most
beautiful stones
set in silver
I’d ever seen.
Fit for a queen.

Outter than out,
figuring out
what to wear,
what would fit
and would become me
as I became
something bigger,
more beautiful
than I’d been,
making all the outer

the largeness of my
inner outness
now even outter
facing more
outward all over
and again, as if
for the first time —
if you’re the betting type —
not the last.


If you liked this poem, check out my books, “Don’t Miss This” and “The Inside of Out” (both under the name Jena Strong), for sale directly through me as well as on Amazon. Read more.

The Hawk, the Lioness, and the Cupcakes

featherI wanted to write something beautiful. And short. A poem about a hawk. Instead I made cupcakes from a mix, the funfetti kind. I am reading the words out loud as I type. Unbeknownst to me, Mani’s been in the same boat for the past hour or so; she clicked away from her own blank screen and has been watching The Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce. Now my tongue is stained red with frosting from a plastic container. And we are both writing.

But in addition to not writing while the cupcakes were the oven, I got caught up in looking at images on Pinterest of potential tattoos. A hawk feather. The one I wanted to write about. Mucha’s “The Moon,” a painting I’ve loved and identified with for nearly three decades, since I was a girl-woman, smoking out my bedroom window and pining for true love, for a voice.

Tomorrow the girls come home to us after almost a week with their dad, Grandma, and friends in Vermont. Pearl just ran up a few minutes ago though, to grab her snow pants and boots for night sledding, breathlessly excited that it finally looks and feels like winter. I offered her a cupcake and she gave me a hug — pretty great exchange rate, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m wearing Mani’s boyfriend jeans and really don’t want to write a rambling blog post.

I could write about her skin against mine. My god, where I belong. And how the pain in my lower back that’s been tight like a metal band for months now is situated between the first and second chakra — my family of origin and the one of my making. Oh, the body knows. The body knows where the growth spurts are, where the breaks occurred, where the healing hasn’t yet happened all the way but wants and needs to.

Last night, she said I was her lioness. Sleek, gorgeous, fierce,  hungry, protective. Our eyes so close, I could see all of the ocean and stars in hers. The hawk, soaring above us — a pair, in fact (they mate for life) who live in the trees behind our bedroom and circle high above the skylight at least once a day. We hear them hunting. They keep watch. “Hawk” is her Hebrew name, and her spirit’s, too. She watches. She soars. She sees.

The lioness is not my name, though for those moments, when she saw me and asked if I felt it, too, felt its power growing, I said yes.

I said yes. I was hers.

The lioness and the hawk. The moon and the silenced night beauty. The despair we all carry, I’m convinced, that comes with love. A mother on her knees, greeting her child, or mourning him. How can I write something beautiful?

So I made cupcakes. I folded laundry. I walked over to my parents house to say hello, because they are here, and I can. Because I have grown up and am not sixteen or twenty-three. Because it is enough, to trust my own experience and to be my own witness once again, without explanation and without danger.

muchaAs I walked home earlier, trudging carefully over the slushy sidewalk, I recited the beginnings of a letter to her, to that young woman. Oh, how she wanted a family like the one she’d known and grown up with. She wanted a husband and a house and babies. She didn’t know how to keep herself. For many years, I was devoted.

And then my abandoned self came ravaging out of the shadows, starving and ruthless and sorry-not-sorry.

She, me, I. I wanted to be taken care of. And now, wow. I have begun to see. To become someone I never imagined I would be, which is to say: The one I always wished would find me. I found myself.

Trite, but true.

Last night, I got a long massage. The massage therapist didn’t use any oils, in order to play it safe with regards to Mani’s potential for reacting to scents or ingredients. Instead, she worked only with her clean, bare, unlotioned hands. She began on my right foot and zeroed in on everything that’s been hurting for months. She asked about boundaries.

Today, as I recalled more about the massage, Mani asked me what scares me about having clearer boundaries. “Seeming cold,” I responded. “And things being harder.” She nodded, and then offered this: “I think things just get better and better as a result of boundaries.” My turn to nod.

Both feet on the ground, not one turned slightly outward as it has been for months — not so much a pull out the door as an unconscious expression of fear — fear of standing all the way inside of myself, my decisions and choices, my life as it is and is becoming.

I’m tired of being afraid. Afraid of seeming this or that way. Afraid of being scolded or reprimanded or cornered or challenged. Of elevating “nice” over honest. Of phantom dominance. As the year comes to a close, I will leave this fear behind me on the crumbling bridge. Set it down with a thank you and a kiss blown to vanishing. I’ll walk ahead, the fog is so thick I can no longer locate what I put down.

As Maz says in the new Star Wars: “The belonging you seek is not behind you, it is ahead.” Maybe that will be my next tattoo. TFA-Lupita-and-Maz

I am no longer willing to be afraid (yes, I feel her growing, sometimes hear her growling), or of the repercussions  I invent out of an arrested imagination that sometimes needs reminders of safety. I may choose to hold my hand to my lips, ssshhhhhhh. But to choose silence is very different from the imposed variety, be it from within or from without.

I am so in love. With my wife. With my kids. I want symbols of them painted in permanent ink on my body — the hawk, the moon, the arrow. Where or whether I actually get these tattoos, who knows. But the impulse to wear my love is strong. To carry myself and my loves with me not only in my bones and blood but on my skin — arms, shoulders, torso, feet, hipbones, anchored — I am coming to life, my whole body announcing itself, the stories of our names like flickering films across our lives. A kind of revival.

I wanted to write something short and beautiful. A poem. Oh, how I longed to write a poem. Instead, I made cupcakes and looked at Pinterest. There is no way to convey the wildness and knowing that my heart sometimes knows. Sometimes, the translation is seamless, when the words channel themselves from some place I’ll never share a map to.

But other times, no. They’re quiet and shy as a waning moon, or careful like prey, unwilling to be hunted. Sometimes the words hide from the hawk and other times, the hawk hides from the lioness. And sometimes, the words are great talons or teeth, clutching or bearing down and staking claim to the kill.

Tonight, all of these circle each other. That’s the whole picture. That is the poem. And now, I am going to eat another cupcake. Or three.