“Other people’s words and even my own give me comfort at this time”, I wrote in my journal Friday morning last week as I took time off work to rest in the days following my mother’s passing.
On impulse, after a lunch on Thursday at our local burrito place, I stopped by a coffeshop/bookstore and looked through their poetry section thinking that maybe something would jump out at me that would comfort me and spur me on creatively at the same time. It was a whim—and since I had nothing to lose and maybe a cup of afternoon coffee to gain, I followed my thoughts up the stairs and to the poetry section.
First, you look for names that might interest or sound familiar—then titles and covers entice you to open the book and read a few lines in order to ascertain if a connection exists. A book entitled “Little Girls in Church” by Kathleen Norris peeked my attention and I guess what ever it was I read said “buy me” and so I did.
As I read I realized that each and every poem was a little story that I didn’t have to struggle to understand—the depth of the poem was not hidden in language only an English professor could relate to—but was pleasant and pleasing and edifying. For the first time for poetry, I read the whole book through in two sittings.
One of the first poems in the book was loosely about New York City and the second verse whet like this:
We set up battered lawn chairs
on the apratment roof
and sat down to see
how the sun went on.
Across the way a child played at sweeping
while a woman pulled laundry
off a line. It was New York City,
but the air seemed full of spices,
more like Jerusalem
than any town I knew;
the pale red roofs
of the East Village
A few stars ventured forth,
a cresent moon between two tenements
as stars made of wine
exploded on our tongues;
Dominican and Methodists
singing in the corridors of childhood,
more solemn, in memory,
more in tune.
“We were all once
inside a star,” you said,
the ever-faithful scientist.
The noise of the city was as constant as the sea.
The noise of the city was as constant as the sea. It was like Renne Zellwiger telling Tom Cruise in Jerry McGuire, you had me from the first hello. And the rest of the book didn’t disappoint.
It is lines like these that are sometimes used to keep me afloat in the sea of life as it is. It is llines like these that keep me thinking that what we live and see and think on a daily basis can be understood enough to put words to our experience—that we can really relate to one another.
We have all been to the sea, or the ocean, either Atlantic or Pacific—the coast of North Carolina or off of Pawleys Island, SC. It is one of natures miracles—the ebb and flow of the tide and the constant background music of the waves working their way up the sand and being drawn back into the water from where they came. I am always amazed at the people who walk the beach with Ipod ear buds plugged in listening to “unatural” sounds while walking on the beach.
Another book (yes I bought two) is called “As If It Matters” by Eamon Grennan, an Irish poet from Dublin. Buying it was kind of like getting two movies at Blockbuster thinking that if the first one is not very good, then there is always the second one. As they were chapbooks, they were not all that expensive anyway.
Those Irish: they certainly do have a gift with music and with words. In a poem entitled “Circlings” Grennan writes:
The full-bellied dress you move in
is a sail of light purple
to match the purple flowers
you’ve planted on the porch:
When it rains
I smell your patch of basil
in the back garden: come mid-winter
you’ll draw pesto from the freezer
and give me again this dark
green fragrance, this
one touch of summer.
I can relate. My wife loves pesto and so we grow basil and cilantro in the back yard just for that very purpose.
It is a joy to intersect with someone in the process of being who they are meant to be. Whether it is the poet, the author, the musician or the local janitor or the widow lady in her garden full of asiatic lilly’s, the effect is the same—you feel that much richer for having known them, even for a moment in time.
As I said at the beginning, words have given me comfort this past week. To follow a wordsmith as they wind their way through a day in their life, with words, that with rhymn and alliteration, work their way into your experience, is almost a lost pleasure. To construct and/or read a sentence that almost explodes off the page is exciting and something that fills me with hope for the future.
And lest you think I have forgotten my Christian roots, one of my favorite verses of all times comes from the book called Ecclesiastes. In verse 1:7, the writer describes something that is poetic and at the same time very scientific in nature. Every time I read it I am amazed at the clarity of the image invoked.
All the rivers flow into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full.
To the place where the rivers flow,
There they flow again.
Think of clouds and the circle of life and all that poets and writers have tried to explain in verse and song since the time of the first printing press. In my mind I have wrtten a thousand poems with that verse in it and have spoken it out loud at open-mike, hippy type services a time or two.
Life is complex, yet at the same time, at some points in our living in it, we can grab ahold of some sort of understanding as to what it is all about—it’s like that mountain top experience—you can’t live there forever, but you can see a 360 degree view while you are up there. And that is certainly worth the climb—anytime in my book.