The poet is the priest of the invisible, the one who paints pictures of the way the air holds still or the way it moves away from the woman in the red dress, walking home from the bus stop beneath the row of old oak trees. The one who orchestrates the sacrament of placing words on empty paper, lets life move through the pen, leap across streams or fly like salmon up their ladders. The priestess who tells us stories about the heart of humankind, the whisper of doubt, the musty scent of secrets uncovered, given over to the day. It is not a small or unimportant task, this working with words, this waving of incense, these footsteps placed one after the other, ink across the page.
[Editor’s note: This is a piece from our spontaneous writing group on August 17th. The prompt was this quote by Wallace Stevens from The Daily Poet book (Two Sylvias Press): “The poet is the priest of the invisible.”]
Ah, yes. Yeah. Let it roll. Let it flip flop you around, slap the ears, soft like fur. Let it. Let it, ah, yeah. Let it make you move, only a little, mostly inside. Your heart, yeah, tap tap tapping. Your belly, yeah, keeping to the beat, the dance, the yes you can, the look at me look at us grooving. Yes, you can you can we can together we can let it roll under our tongues in our thumbs around and between us and inside us moving back and forth joining us while it passes through passes between passes along. Ah, yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Let it roll. Let it dance and sing. Let it ring and zing zing zing. Let it bounce between us hearts beating to the rhythm no separate selves only this room full of warm souls wrapped up together in the music.
[Editor’s note: This is an unedited piece (except for three words in the last sentence) in response to yesterday’s poetry prompt from the Two Sylvias Press advent calendar. Here is the prompt: “Write a poem about a style of music (jazz, hip-hop, blues, country, reggae, opera, heavy metal, etc.) while imitating the music style in the wording and phrases of your poem.” I feel shy posting it. Maybe it is too silly. But I felt the music right from the first line, and it was good fun letting the poem come through me. I hope it might be a little bit fun to read, especially out loud.]
Did you think you’d be only a footnote for me when you were gone? It makes me sad all these years later, even though you didn’t choose me, even when the details of your face, your head, your ears begin to dim. But maybe we both believed the other could only love us a fraction of how much we loved them. Heartbreaking at first thought, neither of us believing we were worthy of that much love. But maybe instead what it points to is the enormity of the love we felt. If it was so huge, so surprising, even unfathomable how much I loved you or how much you loved me, then maybe it makes sense. Because even a fraction of that love would be immense. And ours was never a typical relationship, at any rate. We were never a couple. We didn’t celebrate our romance. We weren’t the kind to name an asteroid after ourselves or write I love you across the sky. But if I could go back now and name an asteroid for you, I’d do it. I’d want you to know you could never be a footnote. I didn’t think for one second you were a saint, though I know you thought I didn’t really see you with all your human flaws and ugliness. (Later, I think you knew I did, knew I saw you and still loved you.) But I would gladly name an asteroid for you, so you’d know where you fell on the wheel of my life. I’d spend hours poring over the sky chart to choose the best one, maybe somewhere in the top left corner. I’d make this grand-ish gesture so you’d know I never felt anything close to what I felt with you, drifting at the edge of sleep, warm skin to warm skin, the place it took me, that deep peace. So you would know I still think about you in odd moments, like Sunday mornings when I linger over the newspaper and wonder what it would be like to do that with you, to decide together what our next move would be. Pancakes or a nap? I’d gladly name an asteroid for you so you could know you are not a footnote. You are a bonfire.
[Editor’s note: This was written per the Day 4 prompt in the Two Sylvia’s Press advent calendar. “Write a poem in which you name an asteroid for someone you know. Use several or all of the following words: chart, fraction, saint, skin, bonfire, wheel, breakfast, dim, footnote.”]
I like to play with my titles here. Song titles, famous expressions. In blogging it feels like we have more license to amuse ourselves. Here I am stealing the title of Anne Lamott’s book about writing. I saw it on my shelf just the other day. It seems to fit what I want to try to write about tonight, the bit by bit approach. One day when I was in my third year of teaching English I knew I needed to begin writing for myself again. I was building an online class on the fly, in addition to my other classes, and every Sunday I stayed up all night to get the next week’s materials in place for my students by Monday morning. I had no time. But I knew I didn’t want to get to the end of my life saying I’d always wanted to be a writer. So I decided to write eleven minutes a day. I sat on my stone porch in Hopland every morning and filled a page in my composition book. I don’t remember how it happened, but characters emerged. I began writing a novel. I don’t know if it was beginner’s luck or some quirk of timing or state of mind, or maybe because the characters were so crisp and so alive for me then, but I would just sit down and “enter in” to the story every day for those eleven minutes. I thought that’s how it worked, thought I would always be able to immerse myself in that way. But today I feel light years away from that, my imagination rusty, my hand creaky, my mind less agile, less willing or able to stretch, take leaps. So, yesterday I began a commitment to address a new writing prompt from Two Sylvias Press every day in December. I’ve done two now, and like my assignments for my recent MOOC, they are nothing to write home about. But I’m hoping I can quiet my critic, just keep practicing this act of letting go that used to come to me unbidden. It’s a tightrope act, finding my balance between reaching for this hope, writing with this goal in mind, and not going rigid with it. I think to soften I may return to reading Natalie Goldberg. Or maybe I’ll read Anne Lamott’s book again. In her story, when she has a big report to write for school, her father tells her to just take it “bird by bird.” So, I’m going to take this prompt by prompt, and wish for but not insist on limbering up in the process, pray for magic but not try to hold it in my fist. And in the meantime, the birds keep showing up, too, signposts still along my way. But that is a story for another day.