I have another post that I was going to publish this week, but Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school kind of shattered me, and I couldn't in good conscience move forward on the blog without offering some kind of salute to the fallen. As a friend said on Friday, "Nothing to say, but no way to say nothing." So here is my completely imperfect and inadequate offering. Note: although the poem is mostly a reflection on the slaughter of innocents, I included the shooter in the number of names, because the loss of what his life might have been if he had gone a different way is also a tragedy. I do not claim by including him that I have forgiven him or in any way understand his actions, only that the loss of human potential is always tragic. Christmas Lament To the baby Jesus: You, who gave yourself in soft flesh, helpless and grateful to live in that singularly limited and tender and fragile and infinite prism we call a human life, to suffer our pains and rejoice in our rejoicings, to eat and drink and sleep and grow weary, to give of yourself freely to the very end, surrendering your living nerves and brittle limbs to the caustic lash, the breaking hammer, the slow choke, to finally expire blessing your torturers and then to rise again, banishing death and offering hope - To you, Blessed One, I bring tribute, my hands full of my shattered wealth, nothing left but tears and words and questions my tongue can't pronounce, and a list of twenty-eight names, twenty of them the bubbling, musical names of children, babies like yourself, tender and soft and broken and infinite, leaking through my fingers like sand, lost. I bring you the absence of laughter on the playground, and the pencil stubs and fractured crayons abandoned on the floor. I bring you the phantom hugs and slippery kisses missing now from the days. I bring you the little bodies, who touched and tasted and squabbled and reached and stumbled and now lie still. I bring you hopes and dreams, severed from their timeline, tied and floating freely like a bouquet of bright helium balloons. I bring you the parents, spirits riven, itching to peel their skin off, to be someone else, something else, anything else. I bring you the inarticulate keening of a people heartbroken and confused, which cannot rise even from the dust so weighted is it with grief choking on its own sorrow. There are no words to explain this. There is no prayer to pray. I have nothing of value to give and so I bring this worthless poem barbed with anger, mangled, parched, unyielding and unlovely, whispered for all who suffer and die and are silenced too soon. I come, a ragged and impoverished mourner, and lay these shards at your feet.
Category Archives: creative writing
Whew. So, in case you were anxiously wondering what happened to my blog in the month of November, (all two of you! 🙂 ), I was participating in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel-Writing Month. The challenge is 50,000 words in 30 days, or about a 100-page novella. Mine was uploaded for the official word-count on Nov. 30, at about 3pm, and came in at 52, 705 words. And it’s atrocious, so no, you can’t read it. But I FINISHED, which was the whole point. So now I can (maybe) get back to blogging. My back-log of blog drafts has grown its own ecosystem, so I’m not really short on material, only motivation. I thought we could start December with a little bit of whimsy.
I went to a meeting of my writer’s group yesterday, and one of the possible prompts offered was to respond to the image of being held hostage by your own emotions. I used the prompt to explore some re-curring themes for me, namely, my constant war on my own creativity. Here it is in all its fresh, stream-of-consciousness, barely-edited glory:
My inner child, let’s call her Princess Moxie Dandelion Unicorn, has lived nearly her entire life in prison. She enjoyed a brief toddler-hood of sunshine and exuberance before she offended the king, who punished her brutally. In response, her alter-ego, Warden Harping Control-Freak Matron, placed her safely out of the way in a damp stone cell with a little straw and a bucket and a daily ration of Saltine crackers.
For years, Princess Moxie sang songs to herself in the dark, counted her fingers and toes, remembered sunlight, and cried for attention, to no avail. Every once in a while she would grow thin enough to slip between the bars, and then if she were lucky, Harping Matron would fall asleep on duty, and she could sneak out for a little while and enjoy a romp in the grass. It never lasted very long, of course, because the Matron got a lot more exercise than the Princess, which made her sort of pathetically easy to re-capture.
Some time back, the king was overthrown and everyone was granted a pardon, but no one remembered to tell Harping Matron. When she finally heard about it, she was sure it was a malicious hoax, some cruel trick of the king’s to test her loyalty by luring her and Moxie into a sense of freedom and security before visiting crushing punishment on them both. And so Warden Harping Control Freak Matron faithfully supervises her charge, like a Japanese soldier lost in the jungle, still fighting a war that expired years ago.
Recently, Princess Moxie Dandelion Unicorn negotiated for parole, and now she is permitted regular walks outside, closely supervised by the Harping Matron, who keeps up a steady harangue about the dangers of the world and Moxie’s general unsuitability for navigating its terrors. Moxie is regularly assured that she would certainly die if she wandered off by herself.
There is hope. Every now and then, the Warden catches herself enjoying the flowers, and Moxie gets a few moments entirely to herself. As these moments accumulate, she is gradually learning to breathe and think on her own again, absent the tense hand-wringing that has been her constant companion for all these years. The really beautiful thing is that Moxie is truly uninterested in revenge or retribution. In fact, as improbable as it seems, she is genuinely fond of the Matron, and she is still hoping to win the Warden over into best-friendship, the better to share the joys of caterpillars and puddles. It may be too much to hope for to see the Warden someday cavorting with butterflies and tadpoles, but hope springs eternally sunny yellow in Moxie’s now-only-slightly-malnourished breast, and it might at least be achievable for them to take turns leading the walks – the Warden when things look suspicious, and Moxie when they don’t. Stay tuned.
My favorite poem, another reflective, I-need-to-cleanse-my-soul, end-of-the-year kind of poem, whose title is far more boring than the content (I hope!). If you have title suggestions, I’m open.
PS – I am seriously considering renaming this blog “Girl, with Cloche.” LOVE MY CHRISTMAS HAT! Thanks B. =)
I wrote this a few years ago, but shared it very recently with a new group of people and found that it still had resonance. It strikes me that the themes of loss and letting go are marginally appropriate for the closing of a year, so I decided to post it here.
Oh, and that’s my Christmas hat. I wear a cloche now. Cloches are cool. =)
We had a writer’s group meeting a week ago in which we read about and discussed writing as a child – uninhibited, free of categories and judgments, just you and the page and some naked, unashamed thoughts. Here was mine:
I never know what stories to tell; always I am reaching for some new moment, a new color, a glittering phrase. I chase after stories like a child after butterflies, never following doggedly to a destination, but ever distracted by some movement in the corner of my eye, and – [Look! FLASH!] – I am off again, running in yet a new direction, clapping and laughing and eyes wide open.
I am slowed up somewhat by certain habits, pedantic and stiff and linear and rational. Like leg braces, they were snapped onto my thought-legs to keep them reasonable – perhaps it was feared that my thoughts would jelly and twist like those of the octopus? [And, really, what is so threatening about an octopus that you need to make it stand like a man?!] They keep my writing knees locked and awkward sometimes, tensile steel marking the boundaries – “You cannot compare your thoughts to an octopus! ABSURD!”
Even this paragraph, brief and fluttering, is still tethered faithfully to an earth-rock, orbiting around a fixed idea, which will step predictably to the next idea. There they will sit, the Rational Ones, marching in a neat line, little bald heads rounding firmly above the water, saying, “Here! Step here! Don’t fall in!” [As if an octopus need fear the water!]
And shambling along I go, a hop-skipping after butterflies over linear thoughts on straightened octopus legs, made ever so slightly more awkward by the mirrors sprouting from my every appendage so I can see what you’ll see before you see it, forever checking to appraise whether or not this paragraph makes me look fat.
“Am I pretty yet?” asks the octopus hopefully, lisping through her rubber bands and braces.
The child awakens, ashamed and horrified, breaks the clonking contraption to pieces, pulls the cold, purpling, curling arms into an embrace, and places the octopus back in the water, where she need not stand, or walk, or jump, because in the water, she can fly.
Late spring, 1999 or 2000. An acquaintance of mine had invited a bunch of people to his house in Mercer county, Pennsylvania.
I’d grown up in the area, small towns, rusting factories, a handful of bustling suburbs, and lots of country roads. I knew where Mercer County was on the map, and I knew it was rural, but I’d never actually been there. I assumed it was like my grandmother’s area – mostly farms, with a few small residential developments. Sheep, etc.
When I got to Mercer, however, I had a lesson in what “rural” really meant. Mercer wasn’t farms and a few developments, it was fields sprawled to the horizon, and some uninhabited forest growth left over.
We got to my friend’s home around mid-afternoon, and spent all of our remaining daylight taking a long, unhurried meander through his family land. We walked a few miles, played hide-and-seek for half an hour in an abandoned Christmas tree farm, and made our way back just as the sun was pulling the night over the horizon behind him.
I had never been to a place that was so quiet.
Once night had settled fully upon us, I realized I had never been to a place that was so dark.
There was no noisy glare in the distance from a shopping mall, no parade of headlights on the road, no friendly, safe street lamps to keep the blackness at bay.
The darkness was palpable, a creature with its own nature, like sitting in the belly of a whale.
I wasn’t afraid; I wasn’t alone.
While the boys scurried around getting a bonfire together, I lay down on the grass and looked up.
My G-d, what a vision.
I had never known you could touch the Milky Way, just reach your fingers into it and swirl it around like petals floating in cream. The stars pressed into me, surrounded me, standing guard in the blackness, singing.
They called my name, and I wrapped myself in them like an old comforter. I made friends that night in the grass whose names I will not know until the world is unmade, and we can greet one another with our own music, and be known for what we are.
I wish I could show you the Beauty, the Beauty behind the veil of this world. I wish that I had a song worthy of that grace, a poem equal to the greeting of one star.
My words are vapor, dust blown across an empty street.
Silence, silence may be the only language to open the way.
Seek it, my brothers and sisters. Seek it with every breath.
It is the only thing worth having.