Tag Archives: Poetry

An itch

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“Constantly risking absurdity/ and death/ whenever he performs/ above the heads/ of his audience/ the poet like an acrobat/ climbs on rime/ to a highwire of his own making…” –Lawerence Ferlinghetti

It has been a long time since I wrote here.  I missed holidays, seasons, thoughts and ideas.  I missed the click of keys and the scroll of ideas across the screen.  I missed writing.

I have been working to the point of exhaustion since my last post, both in person and online.  Days spent on my aching feet and nights straining my tired eyes have been so incredibly long.  As I have been working as a TA, grading papers and looking at the process that others go through as they write, I have missed it myself.  I envy them, getting space and time and an audience.  They get to collect and present their ideas.  They get to narrow topics, sift through articles, make arguments and craft titles.

I miss writing.  I decided early on that I would write here regularly as I teach, to keep my own sanity.  That has not happened so far, but I think it needs to.  As I made my way through the text for this course, Ferlinghetti spoke to me.  There is a drive, a frightening dare to create.  Something inside compels a writer to write, something that is greater than the fear of failure.  I miss that push, that scream that demands to be given voice.  It has grumbled and mumbled, but I have not given it a chance to develop because I haven’t made time to set it free.  I need that time.

In one of the texts I’ve used for teaching, the introductory chapter discusses, at length, the fact that no one is born a writer.  Good writers do not exist–they develop.  They practice and learn mechanics and understand how to structure a paper.  Good writers are made.  Which I belive, to an extent.  I spent years learning rules and diagramming sentences, identifying thesis statements and formatting bibliographies.  I learned to write.  I learned to articulate with conviction and support.  Great men and women showed me how to make thoughts bigger than they started, how to give them life and send them into the world.  They taught me to look at the words of others that came before, see what they meant and mean.  I learned to see the bigger picture, the web of people and life and literature that is more intricate and unbreakable than I know.  I learned to read and write, and how to read deeply and write powerfully.  I learned.

But that push inside me recoils, whimpering, “What about me?”  Aren’t writers born to do so?  Doesn’t something in me, unique and determined, make me write?  Isn’t it the same thing that drives painters to smear the canvas and chefs to filet?  Isn’t something inside me special, something that cannot be taught or learned?  Don’t I have something that makes me write, something that sets me apart?  Or is that all wishful thinking?  Is it only true for real writers, those who have something authentic and big to say with words that are not tired?  This idea, though meant to strengthen confidence, shook me.  If I am honest, I like to think that I am a good writer.  I want to be seen as someone who uses words elegantly and effortlessly, who puts words to thoughts that others cannot.  I want and like to think that I have a talent or, perhaps more powerful, a gift.  I want to think that I was made to write, made to express.  Those words, meant to convince everyone that they have the potential and ability to write well, took all of that away from me.  Perhaps that has also led to my lapse in writing–I feel doubtful.

The one thing that I have clung to, the one thing that I think I do well, was snatched from me.  Even knowing that I have worked hard in school, for years, to learn the skills that the text was encouraging students to learn, stings.  Learning to be a good writer is not the same as being one.  I want that gift that I am now unsure exists.  A skill is not as special, as defining, as a gift.

All of this has brought me here, starting yet again, with the intention to continue.  I guess I want to take time for me to continue to work on the skill that I have developed.  What I pray is that I find a tiny place inside where I still feel chosen to be a writer, born with graphite and pronouns coursing through my veins.  I want that joy, the thrill that string words together brings me.  I feel lighter, more agile and powerful, when the ideas are left on paper.  I need to remember this intense affection I feel for letters and spaces, and the world they create.

“If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me/ Threatening the life it belongs to/ And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd/ ‘Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud/ And I know that you’ll use them however you want to…” –Anna Nalick, “Breathe (2am)”

“Some Sweetness”

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“Grab somebody, come on down/ Bring your paintbrush, we’re paintin’ the town/ Oh there’s some sweetness goin’ ’round/  Catch it down in New Orleans…You wanna do some livin’ before you die/ Do it down in New Orleans…” The Princess and the Frog, “Down In New Orleans”

My final morning in the Big Easy started slowly.  I packed in a quiet apartment, before my hosts were awake, and thought about how quickly it all had passed.  I was so nervous about the trip, about everything involved, and now I wanted it to last indefinitely.  I straightened up the living room and tip-toed over the creaky wood floors, savoring each minute left in the city.

R and I drove back to the French Quarter for breakfast.  Early on a Sunday, it was just coming to life.  Families strolled the streets and vendors unloaded their wares.  It was just beginning to stretch out of sleep as we wandered in.  We walked down to the Mississippi River.  The Mississippi River.  It was surreal, something out of books and history, something huge and untamable.  We stood on its banks in the warming sun, staring out at the rippling water.  I may as well have been visiting the rings of Saturn.  It was all so mythic.  It was smaller than I thought, quieter, but still magical.

We walked the banks back to the historic Cafe du Monde.  Standing in the winding line, we watched people pass and eat.  We inched into the shade of the cafe, thankful for a little relief from the ever-hotter sun.  We picked our way to a table in the back, ready for the heavenly beignets to arrive.  We swooned over the cute children, covered in powdered sugar, being wheeled in in strollers.  Realizing that there is no dignified way to eat a beignet, I dove in.  R laughed as a fine, white dust settled on her black dress and I fought to find a way to bite without sugar coating my entire face.  Eating more than we should have, I finished my plate, reminding myself of Robert Frost’s insight: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way/ I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Breakfast at the Cafe du Monde!

After  breakfast, we walked back to the car, taking a detour through the French Market.  Looking through used books, shot glasses, produce and drinks, I picked up a small souvenir to send home and we hopped back in the car and headed to church.  I was a bit nervous about going to church, but R wanted me to see it and I wanted to enjoy all of her New Orleans.  We pulled up under a tree and she pointed out that we were parked next to a few of the remaining Projects.  Even they were beautiful.  Red brick houses with old trees lining the streets made even the neediest part of the city enchanting.  We walked into the building and I immediately felt out of place.  After growing up Protestant in a Catholic school, I still feel unwelcome when I attend mass.  I sat alone in the pew as R ran to the bathroom, and looked around the sanctuary.  Transported back to my theology classes in college, I noticed a lot about the church without speaking to anyone.  It was bright, open.  The colors were light and welcoming.  The Stations of the Cross were closer to folk art than anything else and beautiful.  R pointed out that there is only one crucifix in the building, and it is off to the side of the altar, out of sight.  People walked around, some praying, others chatting.  The choir warmed up, piano music floating through the room.

The choir leader emerged from behind the piano, which was adorned with a Saints pennant.  She walked to the front of the sanctuary, dressed in a Saints jersey, black leather pants, and a gold chain belt.  She talked to those of us who were seated, explaining the new language that has been added to the mass and how to follow along.  She was lively and funny, engaging as she readied the congregation for mass.  Then the service began.  The music was enlivening.  The piano played, a horn and saxophone joined in, a drum kept time and a tambourine made appearances.  People sang with joy, the priests swaying at the altar as they did.  Everything that could be sung was, and it was sung with zest.  The mass was familiar but new, welcoming in ways it never was before.  We sang the Lord’s Prayer.  We sang “Peace Like a River” after the sign of peace, which was mashed up with Sinatra’s “When You’re Smiling.”  It was a party, relevant and accessible in ways that I had never felt before.  The mass, which was the same one we crashed at the cathedral, was tailored to its congregation, meeting their passions and needs beautifully.

The priest’s homily hit me deeply.  Tears flooded my eyes as I realized why exactly I loved this city.  He talked about giving to Caesar what is his and God what is His.  He talked about life, how it is fleeting and the important things are what belong to God.  “Amens” filled the air as he continued, a far cry from the silent, formal masses I knew from childhood.  He talked about money belonging to Caesar, because it is stamped in his image, and us belonging to God, because we are created in His.  He instructed that we are to give everything to God, because our lives are His: money, time, burdens, joys.  As the mass concluded, the recessional hymn was a game day tradition: “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  And then a “Who dat?” chant started.  R grinned widely, at home in room of people in love with life and their city.

We got back in the car and I tried to explain what I was thinking and feeling.  We drove through New Orleans and down to the 9th Ward.  She explained the Ward system, described different neighborhoods, and prepared me for what I was about to see.  As we rolled through the streets, I caught glimpses of gutted houses, rotten porches.  Spray paint still marks homes, though I didn’t even want to ask what it all meant.  As we arrived in the Lower 9th, I was fascinated by it all.  I had expected something frightening, a graveyard of houses.  I imagined dark, decaying messes, frames falling apart, destruction everywhere.  In fact, there were cute little homes, brightly colored, all over.  They were smaller than the ones on St. Charles, but I couldn’t help but love them too.  She explained that every empty lot I saw was once a home.  I saw quite a few, filled with dirt or looking like a lawn with no home to claim it.  We crept over the jagged streets and asked if I truly understood what I was seeing.  I apparently wasn’t.  There were plenty of clear lots, but there were also countless homes in fields of grass, reaching at least shoulder-height.  These were once homes too.  What looked like a house built on a lot with meadows surrounding it was a neighbor to an un-kept lot.  Then it hit me just how much was missing, what was lost.  It was weird, driving past places where people died and entire lives were lost.  We talked about whether we would come back, if we lost everything, or if we would just rather not see it all.  She showed me the homes Brad Pitt was helping rebuild.  They were cool, but couldn’t hold a candle to the beauty of the aged New Orleans.

We got back on the Interstate, driving toward my trip home.  We passed through a massive cemetery, lining both sides of the freeway.  White tombs litter the graveyard, housing generations of families together.  They keep the dead away from the mud and rain, keep them buried in the storm.  As I hugged R goodbye, I was sad to leave it all.

I tried to explain to her what I had fallen in love with.  New Orleans is a city at ease with tragedy.  It is violent.  Cemeteries litter neighborhoods.  Brass bands lead funeral processions.  Katrina still lurks, a scar that they cannot shake.  In the middle of all of this is Bourbon Street, children dancing in church, artists lining the street.  There are festivals and music, drinks for everyone and hospitality freely shown.  It is a city with every reason to mourn and fear, but it chooses life.  There is a choice to live the little time we have, to accept that it will end, and the determination to taste all that we can of this world.  The passion and zeal of the city are inspiring, it bursts with energy and celebration.  They dance for marriages and deaths, communion and touch downs.  It is the opposite of my life–vivid and electric.  It refuses to give up or grow up, greeting each day like a child: twirling through life with wonder and radiance.

“Mardi Gras is the love of life.  It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living.  All at once.”  Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic

A Potter Prologue

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“Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets” –LFO, “Summer Girls”

I love writing sonnets.  I crave the structure of the fourteen lines, find freedom in the pentameter.  I love rhyme schemes and limits–I find them liberating.  Yes, there is something wonderful in writing as you feel, the freedom to create your own, make your mark.  Free verse is beautiful, but I find creativity in rules.  The more that I am restrained, the more I have to work to create, must try to find originality and my voice.  Sonnets are delicious.

As I watched Order of the Phoenix today to get psyched for Deathly Hallows tomorrow, the first lines of this snuck up on me.  I know that I am no Shakespeare.  Lord knows that kind of genius comes but once.  But today I was inspired, and goofy, so I went with.  I remembered how much I loved to write, how I miss structured creative writing (is that even possible?).  So here it is, for all the world to see and mock, because I can and want to.  I needed to write, so I did.  And I love the majestic sonnet, so I used it.  And I am flooded with Harry nostalgia, so I let it inspire me.  In honor of both the Bard and the Boy, here’s my creative mess of the day:

Four houses, all alike in dignity,

In fair Hogwarts, where we lay our scene,

From Magick Most Evile breaks new atrocity,

Where muggle blood makes pure-blood hands unclean.

From forth the fateful scar of He-who-lives,

A connection, to He-whom-we-name-not,

Frightful insight into evil ‘s mind it gives

And drives Rowling’s colorful, winding plot.

To friends and foes they make along the way,

The fearful passage of their fights to live,

O.W.L.s, spells, dragons, and Headless* Nick’s death day,

Through seven tomes, your full attention give.

The “witch” if you, with open mind attend,

What here shall miss, magic shall strive to mend.

“He was not of an age, but for all time!”  –Ben Johnson, To the Memory of my Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare

*”Nearly-Headless Nick” would have thrown off my rhythm, but I know better than to call the poor ghost headless!

One Red Heart

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OR: A DEFENSE OF VALENTINE’S DAY AND THE POSTAL SERVICE

“And none will hear the postman’s knock/ Without a quickening of the heart./For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?” —W.H. Auden

(It’s been much too long since I have written anything and there has been so much that I have thought about since July.  But internet was spotty and time was wasted and the longer I wait to write, the more daunting it becomes.  So I’m diving back in because I feel and think better when I write.  I write better when I write.)

I used to consider myself a romantic.  I was a sucker for any film starring Drew Barrymore or Freddy Prinze Jr.  I gushed over boy band lyrics and was convinced that Prince Charming was just waiting to make his move.  Now I fear that I am a garden-variety cynic.  Love stories are too neat and cliché.  Declarations of love are too optimistic and blind.  And I hate Valentine’s Day.  It’s a day to remind me that love remains elusive, romance a stranger, and affection distant.  That being said, deep inside, a small flicker of the optimist remains and fights to reclaim her territory.

I am a fan of the ease technology lends to communication.  Living far from my family and old friends, it’s nice and convenient to go online and send a message, to email when I have the time, to text when I can’t talk.  However, I embrace these only because the world has moved so fast that it leaves me no choice.  I highly prefer a phone conversation to the 160-character limit of a text message.  I like the nuances of voice much more than an emoticon.  I’d rather have lunch than repeatedly message that we should.  I will never, ever, EVER embrace the electronic reader.  I find photo prints far superior to clicking through a flickr file.  Going to college gave me a new appreciation for mail.  To get a care package or letter from home rivaled any e-Card forwarded to me. 

Loving the physicality of mail, the weight of a card, the feel of tearing into an envelope lingered after graduation.  I have continued to try hard to get cards in the mail for holidays, send home a little reminder that my family and friends are on my mind.  I spend time searching for the right card for each person, choosing humor or sincerity, addressing and decorating each envelope.  I love getting mail, but I have come to love sending it just as much.  Just before Valentine’s day I was waiting in line at the Post Office to buy stamps.  Losing precious minutes on my day off, I stood in line for what everyone knows is far too long.  As I neared the front of the line, I saw an older woman leaning over the counter addressing an envelope.  She then turned it over and with a red marker, drew a large red heart over the sealed tab and colored it in.  This is why I love mail.  I almost cried, overcome with emotion watching her.  I was filled with love for her, for whomever that letter was meant for, for my family and friends I was mailing. 

Mail is time.  It is money.  It is effort.  I have to pick out a card, or at least find paper.  I have to put my hand to the paper, write out my own thoughts, articulate my own feelings.  I leave a piece of me on the paper, my handwriting, my words.  I put the writing in an envelope.  I lick it, tasting the glue and feeling the rough paper on my tongue.  I line up an address label and stamp.  Mail is intentional: one card to one person.  No Cc or BCc.  No mass forwarding.  No Tweeting to the masses.  I then spend time putting stickers and colors all over the envelopes, making my letters special.  I want my people, my loves, to stand out and be unique.  I can be impatient, but I also appreciate that mail is not instant– it goes on a journey, taking time to arrive.  Mail is anticipated, delivered, discovered.  Junk mail is annoying and wasteful, but it’s worth wading through for the good stuff.

This incident at the Post Office reassured me that perhaps the hopeless romantic I bragged about being in Junior High isn’t gone.  She’s wounded and scared, but she’s in there.  Like Bukowski’s blue bird, my optimist survives quietly.  If she weren’t, I wouldn’t send Valentines.  If she weren’t, that woman and her heart-sealed letter would not have been on my mind for more than a month.  I wouldn’t be bitter and resent romantic holidays if I didn’t believe in romance, feel that I am missing something.  I go out of my way to show my love, even if it is a small gesture.  Watching that little old woman with her red marker, it was clear to me how much I value the written word, communication, and love.  True love, strong and simple, is not grand gestures and big romances.  It is small devotions, simple reminders, and hand-drawn Valentines.  You can see it, touch it, read it, and send it– it is very, very real. 

“Christian, you may see me only as a drunken, vice-ridden gnome whose friends are just pimps and girls from the brothels. But I know about art and love, if only because I long for it with every fiber of my being.” –Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin Rouge!

“If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred”

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“I stand in awe of my body” –Henry David Thoreau

From time to time I become very aware of my body.  I am constantly self-conscious about it, but sometimes it catches me by surprise.  I don’t consider myself a tactile learner, but I am a much more physical person than I realize.  I touch and feel things as I walk past.  For example, when I drive, I prefer to be barefoot.  I like the feel of the pedals under my foot.  I know the resistance of the gas, the give of the break.  I drive better when I feel.   

Walking through the store a couple of weeks back, I was struck by the act and feel of walking.  It was a quiet moment with nothing in particular drawing my attention.  In that moment, the feel of my legs moving overwhelmed me.  The bend of my knees, the stretch of my muscles.  The momentum of my body as I propelled myself through space was the only thing I could concentrate on.  It boggles my mind how we walk every single day with no second thought.  I watch my cousin struggle to find his balance as he learns to stand and walk.  What is so intuitive to me is such a labor for him.  Beyond our toddler years, we walk on instinct.  We balance, move, coordinate our muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones while doing a hundred other things.  We don’t need to think about the act of walking.

Then I hurt my knee.  For no real reason, it simple betrayed me.  While it is nearly back to normal, it is still stiff.  I still can’t straighten it.  I feel weak.  A small sprain changed my body.  My back ached because my stride was off.  My calf cramped and hurt because it was stretched and used differently.  My hips didn’t align.  Something so small threw my whole body off.  It’s been said for ages that you don’t know what you have until it is gone.  I think we don’t appreciate our bodies until they malfunction, the routine and mundane until they are interrupted.

I think one of the most amazing sensations I’ve had recently is the first drink of cold water.  I guess it’s a similar feeling when you take a drink of something hot on a cold day, but for just a moment, that chill runs down my throat and I can feel it moving into my stomach.  Eating comes as naturally as walking.  While we eat we talk and watch movies and do so many other things.  We may savor flavors and enjoy the feeling of fullness, but how often do I stop and feel eating?  It’s incredibly rare that I appreciate the act of nourishing my body.  However, there are still those cold drinks that wake me up, pull me into this body that carries me around, that I ignore much of the time. 

The body is simply amazing.  I’ve been especially aware of it lately with my minor injury.  That’s not to say that I ignore it most of the time, because I’m a hypochondriac and notice every bump, itch or tenderness.  It just never fails to amaze me when I learn something new about me.  The mere fact that I have been breathing this entire entry is amazing.  I recently talked with a friend about the sense of smell.  It is so closely tied to memory recall, to attraction, to a mother knowing her baby (in under an hour, 90% of mothers can identify their babies by smell alone!).  However, if asked to give up a sense, so many people choose smell.  It goes unnoticed and, thus, unappreciated.  I was blown away when I started learning about the hormone oxytocin.  In part, it  is released in a woman’s body when she breastfeeds and has intercourse.  It is a bonding agent.  We are designed, in a chemical way, to love our babies that we nurture and our partners.  It’s old news that our pupils dilate when we look at something (or someone) pleasing.  There are millions of these crazy little facts that seem so trivial, but they add up to something huge: the human body.

All of this simply serves as proof to me, personally, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  There is so much that has to work perfectly, work together, so much in place to sustain us, that all of this isn’t chance.  I’m sure some will argue that it’s million of years of evolution and adaptation, but I tend to believe that it’s simply the mysterious beauty of creation.  We are so intricate and ornate, still so mysterious, that a Creator far beyond our understanding is seen whenever I learn more about me.  That’s really not where I mean for all of this to go, but it simply did. 

This is a little disjointed and random, no where near as complete as I would like to be, and not the real writing that I had hoped to be working on, but it’s been a constant thought for me lately.  I’m just amazed that I don’t think about it more.

“Your body is a wonderland” –John Mayer