Origins

Casey's original piece "Divided We Stand," 2016.

Casey’s original piece “Divided We Stand,” 2016.

Origins

I have been told this is my home.
It is true, it is where I was born.
But I must beg the question: do the lines of a nation trace the lines of my soul?

Gripping to an identity, the ink etched deeply in the tightly wound document I hold in my hands.
This, these pages give me freedom, yet give me cages
give me power, yet strip away the power to love;
to love unconditionally, without question, without motive
a place to run free, and yet no place to hide.

My skin, my eyes, my tongue; give a clue, speak to the generations that have come before
but is the place of my birth the place of my soul?

Photo: Casey Kilburn

Photo: Casey Kilburn

At times I long to live as the bird, ever flying high
catching glimpses of a world beautifully,
perfectly sewn together by mountains and oceans,
instead of laws and borders.

Circling, circling around
passing from one place to the next as delicately as a gentle breeze.

We originate, but where is our home?
Is the place of my birth the place of my soul?

Photo: CK

Photo: CK

 

“‘Origins’ was born out of born out of the honest questioning and searching for my place and belonging at this point in my life. Trying to discover my identity through where I am and where I have been, without making those things the identity itself but simply helping me grow. It was also questioning the sense that any one place is better or worse and simply because we were born or lived much of our life in a town or country, should we be expected to always be there? I think about immigration and the simple power of a sheet of paper to change someone’s life drastically for better or worse. Why this identity has to divide us instead of coming together as a collective people, not necessarily as collective nations. I don’t think I have ever fully felt a deep longing or patriotic connection to the States or any one country, and for me I am starting accept and believe that that is okay. My allegiance will go to my family, my neighbor, to the beautiful human beings I encounter each day; finding a home in the simple beauty that surrounds, wherever that may take me.” -Casey Kilburn

Casey was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina and over the past few years has had the deep privilege to learn and travel to some known, and lesser known, corners of the earth. Through her love of the beautiful game of futbol, traveling, and people, she has gained, and still learning everyday, about this difficult, wonderful, immensely diverse, and fascinating world. She hopes to convey some of these joys, questions, and her spirit through her writing.

Her original piece “Divided We Stand” as pictured above features “A dove that is carrying an olive branch. I envisioned that as the voices of immigrants and refugees, sending the message of peace to our country but the question is ‘Has this message actually reached America? Or has the message been lost in the journey, giving rise to the current rhetoric surrounding so much of the immigration discussion?”

“Yes” in Every Season: Thoughts & Longings on the Last Night of Summer

MO 2014

MO 2014

Outside the last night of summer
Sweeps through my open window
A warm breeze
A slow, steady chirp of crickets
Whose bold summer sonnets
now play early autumn decrescendos.

 I close my eyes and lay by candlelight.
All I can see is still shot goodness of the day–
Looking up into my sister’s smile
With deep blue sky all around
A warming sun on our skin
A far out whisper in the wind
Reminding us that shifting change is coming all too soon.

Familiar drives through open spaces and new places
That leave you looking out the corners of your eyes as much as possible
While still keeping your head straight toward the road.
The beloved old
The uncharted new
All of this feels like home.

MO 2012

MO 2012

I’m at the end of a day that’s left me reignited as to how big and beautiful the world is.

And how all I want to do is learn from the stars
by exploring underneath them
or through high powered lens
Gaping mouths gasping soft “woah”s.
Aware of everything
The slow in and our of our breaths
My desire to touch hands in fully alive love

MO 2014

MO 2014

All I want is to throw a few things in a backpack
Drive out somewhere
And wander these trails with no destination
Just grateful for the world outside
And friends like you.

I want songs with sweet, dripping lyrics
and ambient melodies telling us a story
that wouldn’t be heard the same way
if it were dulled with words.

Give me poetry.
And chocolate.
And all those things our hearts beat for,
each syncopation relishing, “yesssss.”

I don’t like when summer wanes
but the longings of my heart
are happy to start this fall
With a new feel in my heart

Filled with wonder
Craving the world
Loving this Earth
And the incredibleness of community
Reminding each other

there is “yes” in every season.

What My Heart Beats For.

IMG_0675Falling in love without fear or hesitation
The evening sun sinking like a golden backdrop behind magnolia blossoms
Flowers that sing of emerging hope in spring
Snow days in winter

High fives and peace signs
Standing on my pedals while biking downhill
Strangers acknowledging each other with a jovial, “hello!”003
The view of the world while up-side-down in a cartwheel

All this is what my heart beats for
Oh this is what my heart beats for

Seeing people I love in my dreams at night
Barefoot walks on soft grass
My sister’s laugh
Nothing-to-hide smiles20140419_135824.jpeg

Raising hell and creating heaven
When people say what they really want to say
Watching a woman fall in love bicycling
End-to-end rainbows shouting ROY-G-BIV

All this is what my heart beats for
Oh this is what my heart beats forny 12

Catching elderly people in unadulterated moments of touch and affection
The last ten seconds before the finish line at peak speed
The sanctuary of warm evenings on the front porch
Spontaneous play

mel cliff jump

Living out of my boldest dreams and creativity
instead of debilitating fear and doubt
Healing touch
Looking people in the eye
The three seconds after jumping off a cliff, body entangled in open air, before landing in water

All this is what my heart beats for
Oh this is what my heart beats for.

The questions and conversations that ensue from lying beneath dark star-filled skieselephants
Gathering around the table in beatific communion
Seeing animals face-to-face in the wild that I’ve only ever seen caged in zoos
Late night heart-to-hearts reminding me that each human heart contains some of the very same pieces

Laughing at myself and taking down my defensive wallssouth korea plane
The velocity of take off
Landing in a place my senses have not experienced before
Gentle rains hitting the Earth at night, a steady lullaby

All this is what my heart beats for,
Oh this is what my heart beats for.

All of this tastes of Heaven on Earth
A portion so sweet, tears collect in the corners of my eyes
Reminding me how beautiful it all is
I take one more breath, not wanting to close to my eyes

Copyright MO 2009

Copyright MO 2009

I want to see it, touch it, taste it, inhale it, exude it, splash in it, roll in it, make waves in it
No skipping beats, no wavering from the present
Steady my heart; this is what keeps it beating
A rhythm that cannot be quelled

And one day, death it will arrive
But life will just be getting started

We’ll meet on the other side;
A heartbeat yielding to the soul’s beat of all that cannot be explained.

Row Home Lit- First Edition

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Row Home Lit, a literary publication for Baltimoreans at heart, just published their first edition. Beautiful poetry! Check out the electronic version here: http://issuu.com/rowhomelit/docs/row_home_lit_vol1?e=10683710%2F7004005 You can also visit them on facebook or tumblr.

This Beautiful Moment Brought To You By Sir Mix A Lot (Or, What I Learned From Dancing On A Street Corner With a Homeless Woman)

Nietzsche

When I first saw her walking down the street, I confess I wanted to ignore her. She was wailing, flailing her hands, and muttering jumbled words I couldn’t make out. On a cloudless 65 degree day, she was walking down the street in a long wool coat, baggy pants, and worn sneakers. The wailing grew louder, and I put on my helmet, fiddling with my bike lock, ready to leave the cafe I just got done dining in. My friends had all left, and my bike lock was stuck. Annoyed at the lock, then annoyed at myself for thinking my dad’s high school U-lock would still work in 2014, I finally got the lock undone and pulled my bike away from the street sign. The woman was walking down the street toward me, and I was coming toward her direction to go down the road that would take me home. I planned on smiling at her and looking her in the eye to say, “Hello,” expecting I might get asked for money. It’s happened plenty of times before, so my thought was not unfounded. But instead something else happened.

Our eyes stopped glancing toward each other, because our ears heard something. We both turned our eyes toward music we noticed coming from the cafe’s outdoor speakers.

Jump On It, Sir Mix A Lot’s 1996 hit, was coming from the speakers for all passers-by to hear. She began to laugh. I began to laugh. She started dancing, moving her hips then pausing them at the precise time when the “dun-na-na-na-nah-nah-nahs” came on, laughing with her whole mouth. I couldn’t help myself. I slid right next to her just in time for the part where you turn around, swinging your arm over your head as though you’re waving around a lasso. Her infectious joy caught onto me, and the two of us—she in her long winter coat, and me wearing a neon shirt and bike helmet— danced like two fools intoxicated by the music and the warm sunshine that sang of spring’s soon-to-be debut.

We kept dancing, and I was grateful they played the extended remix version instead of the regular, as to get every minute in with my new dancing partner. Alas the song drew to a close, and we finished facing the sun, arms extended, our smiles and laughs communicating to one another, as if to say, “Gee, that was fun!”

I asked her for her name. “Terryn,” she replied. “I’m Melissa,” I replied back. She began to walk the other way, and started laughing at a car driving in reverse. I guess she expected it to go forward in drive, and the sight of it going the other direction was enough to set her off laughing. As I turned the corner to head home, she went back to talking to herself. But I was so grateful we got to dance together, if only for those few moments, in lucid clarity.

A colleague I work with was recently telling me about a training she went to in which attendees were required to go out in the community wearing headphones that played a recording of voices talking in various tones to mimic what people with schizophrenia go through. Instructed not to take the headphones off and not to adjust the volume, she and her friends in the training had to complete tasks around the community— find the nearest bathroom, ask someone on the street for directions, etc. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she shared. “For the life of me, I couldn’t concentrate, and I felt crazy inside not being able to shut off the noises we were hearing. It gave me compassion. We really have no idea what it’s like,” she reflected.

I thought back to my colleague’s comment as this woman was walking down the street, back to talking to herself, and tried to put myself in her shoes. While I don’t know for sure that she had schizophrenia, I thought about what it would be like if it happened to me. How powerless or misunderstood I might feel. Maybe, I’d just want to love everybody I’d meet so fervently, but for the life of me, my words, thoughts, and behaviors wouldn’t be able to follow through. The woman I danced with, though, had a beautiful lucid moment, as though she was trying to love like that.

It reminds me of my favorite poem by Mark Nepo called “Life in the Tank.” In it, he describes an experience in which a child filled a bathtub for his fish to swim in while he cleaned their fish tank. Though the fish had the entire tub in which to play, they stayed huddled together in a corner, as though they never left the tank, when all surrounding them in every direction was fresh water to explore. Muses Nepo,

“Life in the tank made me think of how we are raised at home and in school. It made me think of being told that certain jobs were unacceptable and that certain jobs were out of reach, of being schooled to live a certain way, of being trained to think that only practical things are possible, of being warned over and over that life outside the tank of our values is risky and dangerous.”

I wonder if the same can be said for our interactions with people. How many of us were told what people were “safe,” what people to avoid, who to talk to, and who to not even make eye contact with? Many of us were cautiously told “don’t talk to strangers” by someone who loved us with the best of intentions.

But is that the best we can do out there, in the real world? What soul-to-soul conversations have we missed because we were following the “don’t-talk-to-strangers” framework? What divine spark have we missed out on; what song did we miss dancing to, what high five did we not exchange because of the “life in the tank” mentality?

Caution has its merit, and so does instinct and prudence. Our hearts can’t be given away to everyone and anyone. But I wonder if our hearts are more malleable than we think. I wonder if we are meant to escape from the constricting layers that tell us to “just keep walking,” as if to keep every part of ourselves intact, not risking the opportunity for community and connectedness?

All of these things I ponder as I bike home after my interaction with my dancing stranger friend. The news in most cities- Baltimore, no exception- often shout of violence and try to covertly scare citizens into never coming outside, or to go outside- if you must- but don’t you dare come out of your shell of self-protection. My heart breaks over stories of innocent people victimized by violence for no apparent reason, other than the cliche “they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.” But maybe it’s time we start daring ourselves just a little bit more to believe in the possibility that we might be “at a great place at a great time.” That now is the perfect time to start dancing to the music- the music that may or may not even be audible. To be a little foolish. To invite someone new into conversation with dignity and sincerity. Yes. I’ll bike through these streets with both circumspect acuity and a posture of openness- open and ready to sing, dance, or high-five when laughter is our gain and excessive guardedness our loss. 

Copyright: O'Doherty Photography

One of my favorite events that brings community members together is Baltimore Bike Party, as pictured above. 
Photo credit: O’Doherty Photography

While You Were Sleeping.

sunshine

A little girl lies down to sleep. The house lay quiet.
Everybody else has already fallen asleep, but as she lies there,
she looks out the window and talks to God.

“Mommy, what happens when we close our eyes to sleep at night?” she asks, rubbing her tired eyes sleepily.

“Well, I’ll tell you…” God whispers back,
tucking the soft fleece blanket around her square shoulders.

“Curtains close.
Blinds shut.

I hear prayers oceans and lakes and deserts wide, and I respond to each of them, including yours.

In a village far away, a girl in a hut falls asleep to lullabies.
The lullabies swirl out the little girl’s window.
The stars begin to dance.
The stars generate enough light for crickets
in the fields to see their legs.
They rub their legs melodiously to fiddle chirping sonnets.
The crickets errupt into such a joyful song,
that the owls relaxing in the deep pine forests chime in.

Sensing the owls chiming in, the bats sing along too.

The grass can’t take all this merriment,
and it laughs so hard, it cries morning dew.

The morning dew soaks springs of grass so wet,
they beckon the sun to come out and play.
The sun stretches and leaps out from its bed,
shining red and orange  into every tree,
every birds’ nest, every rabbits’ den.
Into the eyes of kids in the village
long before they wake up to feed the clucking chickens.
Into the eyes of kids in the city,
long before the school bus comes.
Into the eyes of mommies and daddies in each town,
long before their alarm clock zings.

The sun rises and rises,
until it’s outstreached arms rest over the horizon,
just waiting to give you a morning hug
whispering a soft, loving, ‘namaste,’ to you darling,
and that is how you wake up.”

The eyes of a young girl’s in a town not so far away
flip halfway open and shut, open a little wider than before,
and shut just a pinch, and finally stay open.

“Namaste,” she calls out to God, and leaps into motion,
a brand new day to unfold.

Hallelujah. (A song if you like to sing. A poem if you like poetry.)

So many questions I ask
So many thoughts that I ponder
So many glimpses of you
In the ones they pushed aside

But I find you out here in the fringes
Wide valleys
With fields open wide
These faces and stories remind me
There’s room right here in your Kingdom
No, This door has never been closed

So when I go another way
That looks different from the safe confines of home
And I question all that is “true”

Hallelujah
I know I still run to you
Hallelujah
Yes I know I still run to you

 When I don’t look for you in Churches
And re-define “quiet times”
But still experience your presence
And don’t fall out of your arms of love

Hallelujah
I know I seek you again
Hallelujah
Yes I know I will seek you again

 When every footstep is sinking
And visions of love smash in sharp fragments
But I feel your hand uphold me
No, You never once gave up on me

Hallelujah
I know I will see you again
Hallelujah
Yes I know I will see you again

When the next impossible enters the junction
And this dream’s nothing more than a dead dandelion
Still I’ll know you create life out of crushed spirit
That’s where the essence of life becomes found

Hallelujah
I know I will find you again
Hallelujah
Yes I know I will find you again

Hallelujah come find us again

hands