Word Perv
(noun): One who takes delight & is skilled at constructing, writing or saying naughty phrases or dialogue.

On Sunday evening I went to a concert, seeing one of my favorite musicians, William Fitzsimmons. I discovered his music about six years ago and this is the third time I’ve seen him live. His music is mellow and covers some heavy topics – he was a psychotherapist before turning singer/song writer and so he covers his parents’ divorce, his own divorce, and other heavy issues in his music. He approaches music the same way I approach poetry – using it as a tool to express myself and work through issues or things I’m struggling with.

The show was excellent and I had a great view of the stage.

IMG_20140420_211930424

 

My favorite part came near the end, when he and his band moved to a microphone with guitars unplugged. Acoustic music is my favorite when done right and William Fitzsimmons does not disappoint. He even played one of my favorite songs, Passion Play.

Acoustic set - what William Fitzsimmons does best!

Acoustic set – what William Fitzsimmons does best!

 

After the concert ended he came out and graciously met with people and took pictures. I said hello, told him how much I loved his music and then said, “You even played one of my favorite songs!”

He smiled and asked, “Which one?”

Suddenly my mind went blank and I laughed nervously, “Ummm…. Oh hell, I’ve forgotten the name of it!”

He laughed kindly, “It’s okay, I never remember the titles either!”

Getting flustered...

Getting flustered…

 

I laughed, grateful for his kind words and gentle presence.

William Fitzsimmons takes my nervousness in stride.

William Fitzsimmons takes my nervousness in stride.

Then he graciously posed for a picture with me.

William Fitzsimmons & I, all smiles

William Fitzsimmons & I, all smiles

 

I can’t wait till he rolls through DC again. I’ll be certain to go see him. Hopefully this time I won’t sound like a bumbling idiot…

***

Have you ever met a musician or artist you loved? Did you get tongue tied?

April 21, 2014

We Are Runners

Written by Posted in Running Comments 2

About a year ago, I was sitting in my office, totally blowing off work. I admit it, I was. I had two screens open on my computer – one was open to Facebook and the other was open to the Boston Marathon website. I was repeatedly hitting the refresh button as I tracked my friends who were running that day. I silently cheered them on and when they got close to or broke their goal times I let out an audible whoop. I had many friends who were there – I’m fortunate to be a part of an amazing running community and many of them had qualified for, and were running, the Boston Marathon. In addition to those running the race, I had dozens of other friends who were in Boston to cheer them on. I was jealous I couldn’t be there – I love races and I love cheering at races.

Of course we all know what happened – we know that around the 4-hour mark of the marathon two brothers planted two bombs near the finish line and ruined the day and shattered people’s lives. When I heard the news I ran outside my office with my cell phone and frantically began texting all of my friends, trying to confirm everyone was safe. While people often complain about social media it was a blessing that day as everyone in Boston began posting on Facebook that they were safe. I was lucky – none of my friends were injured that day. It didn’t matter though, the running community felt the effects of those bombs even if we didn’t know anyone personally affected.

The next day I went for a run and sent up silent prayers and thoughts to those injured or killed in the attacks. I put miles under my feet and wouldn’t let myself cry because god damn it no one was going to ruin running for me. I pounded out the miles, made my legs burn and my lungs gasp for each breath as I pushed myself to finish my run hard, sprinting my fifth mile. Even though I live in Arlington, I was a Bostonian that day. Every runner who laced up their shoes in the days after the marathon attack was. Suddenly we were all kindred spirits – even more so than we were before. Suddenly we were a group of people not identified by our gender or our race or our religion or our language. We were identified as a group of people with running shoes on our feet. We were runners. 

Being a runner means something different to everyone. To me it means being a part of an amazing group of people. It means having an outlet to rejuvenate and meditate and relax and sweat – all at the same time. It means having something in common with every stranger at a race. It means being a part of something bigger than myself and being a part of a community that cannot be destroyed.

Today, on April 21st, the 118th running of the Boston Marathon will occur. Once again I’ll be glued to the screen – watching the race live and tracking my friends who are running it. Today, we are all runners. Today we are all Bostonians.

#BostonStrong

While riding the metro to work recently I spotted a woman carrying a bag that had the sentence “I wanna wake up in a city I don’t sleep in” written on the side of it. This sentence rolled around in my head, churning a bit, and I knew I would use it in a poem. Here’s the result:

I Wanna Wake Up in a City I Don’t Sleep In
I wanna wake up in a city I don’t sleep in.
I wanna walk the streets that hum and sing at midnight.
I wanna feel the pulse beneath my skin and
the pounding beneath my feet.
I wanna sip champagne and toast the night sky.
I wanna eat caviar when the sun comes up.
I wanna dance with strangers to the throbbing beat.
I wanna fall asleep when the world starts stirring.
I wanna wake up in a city I don’t sleep in.

This isn’t the first time I’ve spotted something on the metro that inspired a poem. It might seem like a strange place to find inspiration but inspiration is everywhere and I try to be open enough to seize it. According to this article on Huffington Post, it’s no surprise I find inspiration in random places.

The following two poems were written in October 2012 – both were inspired by someone I saw on the metro on my morning commute. My amazing sister, Kirsten, drew the illustration that goes with these poems.

Illustration by Kirsten Birst

Illustration by Kirsten Birst

We Hide From Things

I was reading, absorbed in my book
and I only looked up
when the train lurched to a stop.
“We hide from things…”
her tattoo began, the remaining words
hidden by the sleeve of her blouse.
I craned my neck,
trying to read the words that curved down her arm.
A pause in movement,
and then,
the mad crush of people
pushing to exit.
She moved off the train and
I followed her,
crossing the tracks to the other side
she stayed a step ahead.
Before I could reach her
she stepped onto another train
and the doors closed,
sealing our separation.
I sighed, dejected,
realizing I’d never know
the words that graced her skin.
I boarded the next train,
pondered what they might have been,
and wrote this poem.

Follow the White Rabbit

I saw her again,
the girl with the tattoo.
I spotted the spade inked
on the back of her arm
and realized it was the
same woman I’d followed
only days prior.
Today the train was crowded,
strangers pressed against
one another in an
awkward introduction.
She faced the door,
the ink that had entranced
me turned away.
When the train doors opened
and she exited
I moved slowly,
suddenly reluctant to learn
the words that had given
me such chase,
afraid of the disappointment
they may contain.

 

 

Hey Girl

This week is National Library Week, but due to a crammed schedule, I won’t be able to fully appreciate or celebrate it. Yes, yes, I know I’m a huge nerd because I’m talking about celebrating National Library Week but I don’t care – I love reading and books so much that it’s worthy of celebrating!

My mother is directly responsible for my love affair with books and libraries. But really, isn’t it always my mother’s fault. ;) As a child my mother took my younger sister and I to the library weekly. I remember sitting in the corner of the children’s section, a stack of books at my side as I pulled more from the shelves while my mom searched for her own books to take home. Even now my love affair with the library hasn’t abated, I get all of my kindle books from the library and considering I read at a pace of 6 books a month (yes, that’s more than a book a week, I’m aware of how stupid-fast I read), I’m constantly on the library’s website, checking out or returning books. Oh yes, I love the library.

Because of this love affair with the library I know exactly how I want to celebrate, even if that celebration will happen a few weeks after National Library Week: I’m going to tour the Library of Congress. I hate to admit that despite living in the DC area for 6 years (and the east coast for 15 years) I’ve yet to visit the Library of Congress. But it’s penciled onto my calendar for a Saturday in the near future and you can be certain I’ll share pictures and thoughts with you, my dear readers.

But until I’m able to peruse the collections at the Library of Congress I thought I’d share a poem with you – something that honors both books and National Poetry Month.

Bookshelves

It was the first extra-curricular project we tackled upon moving in.

Already we’d peeled tendrils of wallpaper from walls,

scrubbed floors,

sealed holes in window frames,

and slapped up paint.

Now it was time for something more.

 

I had a vision and you – foolishly? – indulged me.

When the carpenter came I saw him glancing at you,

looking at the man of the house to weigh in,

to provide direction,

or at least to curtail my wild notion.

You stood back and let me talk,

knowing this project was my baby and not yours.

 

A month later they were hauled in,

beautiful, custom-made, solid oak bookshelves

that ran from floor to ceiling, window to wall.

Their glossy surface gleamed and I hovered behind them as

they pushed them into place and bolted them in.

 

The workers walked out, my check in their hand and

I ran my fingers along the smooth surface,

caressing my new lover.

I leaned over and smelled the wood,

inhaling deeply as I tried to memorize the scent.

You stood watching me, intrigued by my reaction.

We made love on the floor in front of them.

 

I filled them,

made random stops at used bookstores and yard sales,

hunting for rare finds and dollar treasures.

I loved how they looked,

books stacked in artistic dishevel,

grouped in a way that only made sense to me.

 

Before I moved out I stood in front of those naked shelves,

tears streaming down my skin.

Choosing the books I’d keep had been a tedious task but I’d

pared it down to only two boxes.

I was leaving them behind.

I was leaving you behind.

I miss those bookshelves still.

****

Side note: If I ever win the lottery I’ll be donating a handsome sum to my local library. I want a room or a wing or the whole damn thing named after me. The Courtney Birst is Fucking Awesome Library. That has a nice ring to it, don’t ya think? ;)

As I’ve already told you, April is National Poetry Month and I’m celebrating as much as I can – writing poems and going to poetry readings, serving as a Poet in Residence during Poetry on Demand at my local library, reading poems to keep good sentences in my ears. Yes, I’m doing what I can to support National Poetry Month, but it turns out April is also National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month. These two are obviously much heavier and serious topics than poetry but they’re worth talking about and taking note of.

Unfortunately many women I know, myself included, have been sexually assaulted. It can be a terrifying, troubling, and emotional experience. My assault occurred in another country, when a man shoved his hand down my pants,  inside my underwear, and touched me. This happened in public, in a store, in a relatively nice area of the city I was in. I shoved the man back and yelled, “What the fuck are you doing?!” He responded, “I’m sorry, an accident,” and held up his hands in mock surrender. I turned around and immediately left the store, shaken but more angry than scared. Perhaps I should have reported it to the local authorities but I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I was lucky – my assault was mild compared to others and I was able to escape the situation before it escalated.

While at Split This Rock Poetry Festival at the end of March, I attended a workshop called Speaking the Unspeakable: Finding Voice for Trauma through Poetry. It was an excellent workshop and while I thankfully haven’t experienced anything as traumatic as others have experienced, I still found the concept of using poetry to heal very appealing.

A friend of mine was raped by a family member for most of her teenage years. It only stopped when she left for college. This is a poem inspired by her experiences. I’ll warn you – it’s not an easy poem to read. I brought it to my poetry workshop, Poets Asylum, and the group helped me edit the poem. It prompted a lot of passionate discussion, which is why I’m posting it here, on my blog. Those who’ve been abused need to know they can tell someone and that there are people out there who will believe them and will help them. My friend didn’t think there was anyone she could turn to and for years she suffered in silence. No one should have to do that. No one.

Don’t Tell

He comes into her room,

painted pale pink –

she’s not old enough

to think it childish.

At 12 she’s still willing to play

with dolls

while she laughs with other

pre-pubescent girls.

 

He doesn’t think of any of this

as he quietly opens the door and

sits on the edge of her

ruffled bed.

Places his hand on her

still-plump arm,

feels her heat beneath his skin.

He caresses her lightly,

feels his pulse quicken,

feels his desire rise.

 

He brushes back her hair,

notices how she resembles

her mother,

pulls the blanket down

exposes the not yet womanly,

the still childish form of her.

Hovers his hand over

the heat of her body,

wanting-wanting-wanting

but not yet touching.

 

Ragged breath inhaled

he touches himself,

watches her chest rise and fall

as he brings himself to climax.

Spent,

he touches his finger

to her sleeping lips,

whispers, “Don’t tell.”