Sometimes I think that the Muse of Poetry had her time with me 20 years ago and then packed up and left me for a young college coed.
The Muse has a way of surprising me, though.
Tonight I was on the couch, with my iPad, scrolling through Facebook mindlessly like I often do. I read a post by an old friend who shared one of her poems. In high school, she and I used to share what we’d been writing. Her poem tonight brought a flood of memories of summer writing and sparked a place inside where the Muse once had residency. I went to the back room of our house and brought out my dusty poetry journal and binder.
And then I remembered — before I was anything else, I was a writer.
I have notes dating back to 2003, poems back to 1997, and raw memories as far as I’d been bold enough to put on paper. There’s some really tough stuff in these papers — memories that had been shaped and modeled into artsy free-form poetry; its presentation made to either mask or accentuate the pain, depending on the flow of the poem.
It’s not any new realization for me to admit that I fled from my emotional pain into poetry. With poetry, I made a new language so I could share myself, while hiding critical details, but still not have to hold on to everything alone. Like any inventor, I used what I had to make something new.
Poetry was my disguise and my tool.
Looking through just a few of these poems and notes, I started to feel bad about not ever publishing them or taking the notes and turning them into something concrete and complete, while the memories were fresh enough that I knew what some of the notes meant. Today, I don’t remember the sensations behind words like “Logan’s Road House — sacred breakfasts — Christmas lawn ornaments and gun racks.” The notes were dated 2002. I know what was going on that year, but what they meant to me then, means very little to me now.
Those pretty little details never made it into anything full. They were just seeds that didn’t get planted before I moved on to start another garden of a different variety.
Though the language is rough, the memories are raw, and the fire beneath it all is weak, it seems like a waste to keep everything for myself and let those seeds die before even having a chance to turn into something else. (And it’s not in my nature to hold back much.) What I write about is what I’ve experienced. Not to preach or teach or moan on, but to share and to hold witness to the gift of being present for another human being in all his or her vulnerability.
That’s the most precious gift of our existence anyway.
Visiting my grandparents in the nursing home (working title)
Gramma has the wild look in her eyes,
if she looks at you.
She looks at the walls, reaching
for her shadow, or pointing
at the imaginary girl, or commenting
on kayaks as if I weren’t there.
But then, she’ll look at me, or at Grampa
and laugh at the joke about
“It’s a long way to Tipperary”
because she can remember
Grampa telling that joke at the Sunday supper table,
our mouths full of ham and milk.
She doesn’t remember saying the Rosary
with Grampa last night
and she talks like her mouth’s full of pound cake.
So I ask her to sing an old-time song
to try to connect with the Gramma I once knew
because even though she won’t remember,
“Que sera, sera.”
And Grampa looks at her
tenderly, seeing her as the
20-year-old he fell in love with,
though they are both 90,
wearing armors of sinking skin.