Our Shared Breath
by Carolyn Chilton Casas
103 poems, 129 pages
ISBN: 978 – 1939502421
Publisher: Penciled In, 2021
To order: Amazon.com
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater
Reiki Master and teacher Carolyn Chilton Casas has a background in metaphysics and a great interest in fostering spiritual connection through mindfulness and meditation. Her themes for writing are healing, wellness, awareness and the spiritual journey. ‘Our Shared Breath’ is her debut collection. She lives on the central coast of California.
This generous volume of over 100 poems is divided into five distinct sections with the following sub-headings: ‘Where I Belong,’ ‘A Walk in My World,’ ‘Mosaic in the making,’ ‘This I Believe,’ and ‘World Wound Down’. From a stylistic viewpoint, the poems in this volume are narratives which run closer to prose than to poetry even though they are presented on the page in the form of free verse. In the notes and acknowledgments at the end of the book, Casas states that some of her narratives began as stories and were crafted into poetry at a later date.
In the first section Casas shares with us her experiences of growing up on a farm in Minnesota and explores her ancestral ties. There is enough variety in the subject-matter to hold the reader’s attention as Casas, in ‘Things That Could Have Gone Wrong’ narrates a series of potentially dangerous moments with which we can all identify as having experienced at one time or another in our lives:
Most of us have a list
of close calls, those dreaded events
that easily might have materialized,
but mercifully did not.
In other poems she writes of the death of a parent, a mother’s fear for the safety of her children, the providential work of angels, a daughter moving for the first time to start a new life in New York and a mother’s experience of learning to let go. In amongst these family portraits, there is a little gem that conchologists will love: an admission about a passion for collecting shells.
The subjects in the second section are even more varied than the first. There are narratives about squirrels foraging for apricots, an Indian summer evening spent in Avila, a game of volleyball played among friends and, most surprising of all, an account of a story about a kayak with two women inside, drifting into the mouth of a humpback whale. The story, I should add, has a happy ending. In ‘Shells’, another poem for all you conchologists, Casas says that shells are coded into her DNA:
a message possibly from another lifetime,
personal gifts from the sea,
remembrances of places travelled far and wide.
Coming across them, she exclaims, is like finding gold. For her, they are a thread of continuity that runs through her life. They cater to her need to collect, celebrate and covet beautiful things.
Two poems in this section, ‘Bring Me’ and ‘Touched by An Angel’ come close to that fusion of poetry and healing that Casas speaks of when she says that her spark to write and her spark to help others live more comfortably through energy healing serendipitously struck at the same time. Devoting herself enthusiastically to these two practices, she believes that the one inspires the other.
In the third part of the book we learn that Casas came late to writing poetry. In her Foreword she states how surprised she and her husband were when poems began dropping out of the blue into her heart. In ‘’Window Shopping for Words’ she is the poet who loves to try on ‘the perfect little black dress of a word…for size.’, to see if it fits her and her feelings:
Sometimes I grab the word, get home
and find it’s just not right, not the real me;
it’s too trendy or the satin doesn’t swish
like I had hoped it would. Then I need to
return it and begin again.
In a related poem, ‘Mosaic in the Making’, Casas gives us an insight into her writing process where ‘inspiration arrives with an alchemy of colors’ drawing a parallel with life itself which is also ‘a labyrinth of discovery’.
Casas sets out her creed in the fourth section, ‘This I Believe’ where she lists the things that work for her: sacred contemplation, a clear faith in integral goodness, gratitude for blessing received, peacefulness that has become her default setting along with openness and forgiveness.
One of the poems in this section, ‘This Path to Choose’ has echoes of Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’. If in doubt, Casas advises us ‘take the path more overgrown, / even though / or especially because / your heart beats quicker / as a result of it.’
The poems in the final section, ‘World Wound Down’, where she addresses the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic strike a chord with all of us. Rather like a diary, each poem is marked by the day and the month in which it was written. To Casas, 2020 was the year of the perfect storm: a global pandemic, protests, antagonistic politics and Californian forest fires. In ‘Una Sacudida’ she sums it up as follows:
There is a word in Spanish
that comes to mind –
una sacudida – a shaking up:
like a tremor so strong it is felt
hundreds of miles from its origin,
or a jolt of electricity from a finger
touching a bad socket.
Her poems centre on the giving up of routines, dealing with the disruption of ordered things and the realisation that there is always a tomorrow and that, in ‘These Days’, ‘somewhere buried leagues below / like a treasure waiting to be found / is hope.’
In ‘Animals During the Pandemic’ Casas considers
What we can learn from the animals to apply now –
living the moment as it exists;
concentrating on instinctual tasks like feeding our
young, our old, ourselves;
keeping loved ones safe;
contending with whatever the land, the sky
and mankind bring.
As Casas says in ‘Rhythms of Impermanence’ – a poem from the fourth section of the book, ‘to hold love in your heart can be the winning card.’
Although these poems are very personal they are also universal, filled with insight and wisdom.