I happened to glimpse them, in a ring Holding hands, a curious thing In the darkness, dancing there Diaphanous beings, light as air Small faces in gossamer veiling Wispy arms fluttering, flailing Maybe in mischief, maybe in glee Luminous little spirits set free …hallowed revenants of you and me, The children that we used to be.
Just a little offering (shades of October? A bit of Octo-plasm?) for Poetry Friday. Special thanks to Janice Scully at Salt City Verse for hosting the Roundup.
Inspired by an afternoon walk with my son. Weary of discussing the world and its problems, we lapsed into quiet commiseration… then, nearing end of the road, this sound, this airy, magical, musical quivering…
At the end of my road, over the street Where expanse of sky and fallow field meet I walk on in silence, until hearing The faintest vibration upon nearing
Made by a thousand—a million—small things Choir of minuscule cantors with wings Singing their song in darkness, unbidden Deep among long tangled grasses, hidden
Trilling celestial, ethereal sound Otherworldly pulse of the Earth, unbound Cadence of our own burgeoning story Life playing out in wild morning glory
—a quivering —a shivering
At the end of my road, over the street Where sky and field and infinity meet.
–with gratitude for the poetic gathering on Poetry Fridays and to Bridget Magee for hosting today’s Roundup.
In his poem “Tuesday, June 4th, 1991,” poet Billy Collins writes of an ordinary day that would be forgotten if not for sitting “empty-headed at the typewriter with a cup of coffee, light and sweet.”
He begins to record his feelings, his thoughts, his surroundings. His mind travels through history. He captures images, real and imagined, in his stanzas “as unalterably as they are seated in their chairs in the ontological rooms of the world.”
Ontology. The study of being. Certainly this is what writers, what poets, do. I’ve said I write to know that I have lived… recording people, places, images, emotions, ideas, pulling back layers of meaning, discovering connecting threads. Attempting to capture or recreate bits of my existence, whether it is or once was tangible, or just a fleeting, ethereal breath of a thing in the mind… yet still being.
Collins ends his poem with an image of the goddess Eos, or Aurora, slipping out of bed (as his own wife had, prior to his waking and sitting down to write this poem):
But tomorrow, dawn will come the way I picture her,
barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor. She will look in at me with her thin arms extended, offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.
As I sit here, now, at dawn, empty-headed at my laptop with a cup of coffee, feeling that I have nothing to offer today, Collins’ final lines whisper in my mind. They do not demand, or bang on the door, or tug. They do not pierce; they just stand, waiting, whispering. Aurora rises from the sound, from the mist, and I see her looking in at me, too. In the grayness there’s a flutter of her plain gown, of her long hair. I see those thin arms, one hand holding the birdsong and releasing it. I hear it, airy and new and alive again, as it is every morning.
And that small cup of light she’s offering.
I can almost see her earnest face, her pleading gray eyes: I brought it for you. It is yours. Please take it.
And I think, the day is new. What gifts will it bring? Unexpected little treasures that I don’t want to miss, just waiting… and what cup of light might I offer the day in return?
There’s only one thing to do. I know it as sure as I am sitting here.
September in North Carolina means the return of the scuppernong grape.
It’s the state fruit. I first tasted scuppernongs as a child, standing with my grandfather under his arbor, thick leaves waving in the breeze, benevolent sun intermingling with cool shadow. The plain appearance of these grapes is misleading; the taste is divine. Richer than anything on Earth. Those thick, humble hulls contain ambrosia. And seeds; Granddaddy said just spit ’em out. It’s worth it.
Today’s his birthday. He’d be 114. As long as I live, he is, the scuppernong is, inextricable from September…
Every year, I await the return.
And savor it.
September, sovereign whose Crowning glory is not of gilt but of Unassuming mottled orbs, Pendulous bronze-green Pendants strung on knotted vine. Elysian fields, perhaps, this black earth where my Roots run deep, where my ancestors sleep. Noble edict, “Be fruitful and multiply,” Obeyed here to an extent only by divine design. North Carolina’s soil stirred, responded, produced— God alone infused the foretaste of heaven in its grapes.
With deepest thanks to the friends who know and bring me these offerings from their families’ old vines.
Thanks also to the inspirational Poetry Friday gathering at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme and to Matt for hosting.
Just hold on loosely, but don’t let go If you cling too tightly you’re gonna lose control.
—38 Special/D. Barnes, J. Carlisi, J. Peterik
The draft of this post has been sitting here a long time, gathering cobwebs, while I considered how to write it.The idea began with seeing connections between teaching, instructional coaching, parenting…with those cautionary lyrics, above, coming to mind: “If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.”
That’s the problem with many relationships, isn’t it. Control. As in, who‘s trying to assert it? By holding too tightly? By force? What are the consequences? Why do I think of Aesop’s fable of the North Wind and the Sun trying to prove who was stronger by making the Traveler remove his cloak? What does this imply about human nature?
And not just human nature…that little green vine in the photo, above…it has goals, doesn’t it? To keep growing, climbing, gaining strength daily…soon the difference between “holding on loosely” and “clinging too tightly” will be evident in the absolute destruction it will wreak. It cannot know the cost to whatever tree, gate, house, other plants, anything it overtakes.
How did I land here, when I began with thinking on connective threads of teaching, coaching, parenting? Where will my metaphorical thinking take me next? What philosophical point am I trying to make?
Is this out of control now? How DO I write this persistent…thing?
When at a loss to say what can hardly be said, there’s always poetry. Maybe that’s what this idea wants to be…
Each poem is a metaphor, a philosophy, a journey of its own. This one, like life, goes fast. The form is designed for that. Sylvia Plath said that once a poem is written, interpretation belongs to the reader. Read it just to read, then maybe reread to decide for yourself if you see threads of teaching, coaching, parenting…and more.With poetry, there’s always more.
So here’s where the poem took me. I landed in a blitz: “Hold On Loosely.”
Have only today Have and to hold Hold my hand Hold it dear Dear one Dear children Children laughing Children leaving home Home is wherever YOU are Home place Place of remembering Place in the sun Sun rising in the east Sun dappling the grass Grass rippling in the breeze Grass withering, fading Fading light Fading fast Fast go the hours Fast and furious Furious argument Furious storms Storms wreaking havoc Storms passing Passing over Passing by By the way By getting to work Work it out Work hard Hard to handle Hard to reach Reach anyway Reach out Out of time Out of breath Breath of fresh air Breath of life Life is short Life is precious Precious moments Precious faces Faces in photographs Faces tugging at heartstrings Heartstrings reverberating at final words Heartstrings tied loosely Loosely hold on Loosely, not letting go. go… on…
—What threads did you see?
Oh, and writer-friends…maybe reread one last time to see how the blitz might describe a relationship with writing.
I lifted a line of Brown’s from The Tradition: “I’m the one who leaps.” My poem is based on a long-ago story told by someone who mattered to me, so much …
I’m the One Who Leaps
I’m the one who leaps not from here to there but within.
I’m the one who leaps not like the farm boy standing rooted to the old front porch listening to hounds on the hunt. Baying, fever pitch, nearing, nearing when in the clearing bursts the fawn from the brush. White spots still visible here and there on the body running, running right toward the farm boy standing rooted to the old front porch.
No time to think No turning back Hounds closing in -the fawn cries, that final sound a creature makes when it knows it’s reached the end.
The boy stands rooted. No time to think he just does it he just opens his arms.
No time to think The fawn just sees, sees and leaps …
The farm boy who caught the fawn on the old front porch became a preacher standing rooted in the Word of God.
Be the one who leaps, he told us children, into the Father’s open arms. You cannot save yourselves.
I sat rooted to the pew hearing the hounds on the hunt, seeing the fawn and those open arms.
I’m the one who leaps not from here to there but within.
Today’s poem challenge begins with the word Think, followed by a word linked to childhood associations and evocative detail. Grimes’ poem begins with Think food and leads to her grandmother’s pineapple upside-down cake and food being “so much more” than nourishment. Margaret’s poem begins with Think dirt and brings the reader into a very real moment of making mudpies (you can feel and smell it) and the deeper context within.
Memoir is probably my favorite type of writing; it is a chance to stand once more in your childhood shoes, experiencing the world just as you did, only framed by knowledge gained since. I had to think a while before an image came to mind foe this memory poem. Then I had to think a while longer about what it meant …
Think pier and danger comes to mind. Weathered gray boards armed with splinters meant for tender young feet encased in sneakers that Grandma made me wear. Sneakers stepping deliberately from slat to solid slat avoiding intervals of nothingness where water laps dark and green below, moving and moving until it seems the whole pier is floating out to sea with me. Summer sun beating down casting our squatty silhouettes on grainy gray wood-canvas. Grandma’s sunhat fluttering in the river’s breath brine in my nose, my mouth endless expanse of silver-green water glinting, beckoning, reckoning— there are no rails. There are nails. Tie the string to the raw chicken neck toss it over—plop— and wait. Let the nail-anchored string rest on your fingers until it moves with strange little jerks then pull so so slowly so carefully. Use both hands but have your net ready for the greedy green-brown crab with fierce orange ‘pinchers’ —keep your fingers away!— and legs painted bright watercolor blue soon scuttling around in Grandma’s galvanized tub. Think pier and she’s right there again between me and danger showing me how to navigate.
Photo: Pier. Richmond AACA. CC-BY. Cropped and converted to black-and-white. The pier of my long-ago childhood memory is so like this one.
It led me to look for a beautiful book, The Lost Words.
I couldn’t remember where I put it.
I looked everywhere.
Ah. A theme.
Maybe it’s the dreary January dusk, or the drizzle, or Monday.
Maybe it’s the news. Lost lives.
Maybe it’s growing older and being reminded of things I loved long ago, like koalas, because of a book my grandmother read to me, and wondering how many koalas are left in Australia now. Wondering if there are enough eucalyptus trees left in that charred landscape to keep them alive.
Maybe it’s everything.
So much is lost.
I am not lost.
Just caught in layers of lost, like being wrapped round and round with invisible tulle.
I feel it.
That’s what sent me searching for The Lost Words as reading it suited my mood. The book is a glorious creation based on words that are disappearing from the dictionary. Words about the natural world that children don’t know anymore. Lyrical verse, majestic illustrations, making something beautiful of something lost . . . it was calling me to reread it. The very thing I needed.
But I can’t find it or remember where I last left it.
It’s really lost.
Naturally that beckoned lost associations. Lost people, lost friends, lost dogs, lost moments, lost time, lost things. Lost opportunities. Lost relationships, lost trust. Lost vision, especially in the educational world of late. Lost sense, lost direction. Lost ideas that I didn’t write down (although I am better about it now than I used to be). Lost dreams, so vivid and clear — what great stories they would make! — disintegrating as I wake, alas. I can’t seem to hold onto the dream and wake up; too often I am left with odd fragments.
But even in my tulle-swathed, piece-y malaise, never lost hope. No, not that. Never lost faith. Never lost love, because, if it’s love, it’s there forever.
I lost interest in reading tonight. So, I write.
Never lost words, not for me. Not yet. They find me, somehow.
Pterorhytis conradi fossil murex snail shell, Croatan Formation, Lower Pleistocene. James St. John. CC BY
It has been said that we are the sum total of our experiences (B.J. Neblett).
Our experiences are our story. Who we are. And why.
We are, therefore, our stories.
I write to tell mine.
I write because stories lie buried within me. I write to dig them out, to examine them, to find their value.
I write because ideas continually deposit themselves on top of one another like fine sediment in my mind. I am always sifting, sifting, finding the bits with meaning, determining how these random pieces connect to one another, for they surely and always do.
I write because my words will remain when I do not, imprints of my time on Earth. In the summers of my childhood, I walked little country roads covered with rejects from a local phosphate mine, gravel of shell and coral skeleton from epochs as old as Time itself. As my shoes crunched over this gravel I sometimes discovered primeval treasures—sharks’ teeth, whale ear bones, vertebrae—remnants of life gone before, lying there in my own shadow.
I write because I also walk upon all the books, all the words I’ve read in my lifetime. Within these layers upon layers of ever-deepening strata, too, lie treasures: phrases, emotions, images—again, remnants of life gone before, stowed away in the depths of my mind like the fossil bits in my childhood pockets. I carry with me always the impressions of other writers, the echo of their voices.
I write because I hear the echo of shoes scurrying in hallways, young voices calling my name: When I stop and turn, the children are there, eyes bright, faces glowing, asking a breathless question: “When are you coming to write with us again?”
I write to help them find their own treasures within, because their voices, their experiences, their stories matter; their existence matters, and they need to know it.
I write to preserve. To leave a record of those I’ve loved who’ve gone before, to celebrate those living and loving now. To share little fragments of hope, of peace, of pressing on, of rising above. My stories are my fossils, with or without value to the few who find them. No matter. They have immense value to me while I live them. They are my writing identity. My human identity.
I write because humans think and remember in story, because humanity is defined and connected by story. The sum total of our shared experience.
I am a storyteller.
And so I write.
Another writing celebration: This is my 200th post published on Lit Bits and Pieces.