On the index card, I wrote What Compels Us. I crossed out ‘us’ and wrote ‘me.’ Smart. In poetry, I think it’s always best to start with the personal.
WHAT COMPELS ME
Conversation over coffee
The wag of a tail
The clench and stretch of a cat’s paw
Sliced pear and a muffin
Words on the screen one after another
Laughter shared on a phone call
A handwritten note put in the mail
Pink and red flowers in a vase
And these bits occurred the first few hours of today
What compels me is the
Magnificent gift of being alive
Borne by the smallest moments.
What compels me is the noticing.
“The Approachable You” My first thought looking at this prompt was how do I make myself approachable? Will my approachability save me from being shot if I drive into someone’s driveway by mistake? And then I thought of Linda, one of the women I know who is an inmate at the Lane Murray Unit in Gatesville, Texas.
THE APPROACHABLE YOU – A STORY
“I need to tell y’all something.” Linda’s eyes darted around our small circle. “People tell me I look mean. I’m not mean. I had a stroke a while back and one side of my face is frozen. I can’t smile even when I want to. I’m not mean. I can’t smile.”
The class was silent. Linda had been coming to the class for more than a year. The first time I saw her, I did think she looks mean and tough and scary. She fit the stereotype of a woman behind bars. But here she was telling us something, allowing us to see her, taking us inside the prison of her nerve endings.
She didn’t need to tell us. We could have maintained our slightly judgey distances: her believing we wouldn’t care and us believing she was unapproachable. Now, we are in a different place. I wonder where we will go.
“Wait” is a strange prompt to pull when you’ve missed your regular quiet window to write.
Wait is one link in the long chain of time
Sometimes pulled tight
Sometimes held slack
Race, wobble, stumble, stroll
falling out of step with each other
We all wait
For each other
We don’t want to be
Too Left behind
Whenever the word opposites shows up, I think of my mother’s hands on my forehead when I was sick. They were miraculous. It’s like the coolness of them pulled the hot sick fever feeling out of me. Or reminded my body where I needed to go. Or something. Anyway, that’s where I started.
THE CONTRAST OF OPPOSITES
I didn’t get sick a lot but when I did, I loved
My mother’s cool hands on my hot forehead
The suffocating smell of VicksVapoRub made me breathe easier
The sweet sugary fizz with the hot tang of ginger ale
Saltines that turned to plain mush in my mouth
Clean dry sheets after a steamy bath
What is it about these opposites that wake us up?
A roaring fire after winter walk on the beach
Steaming tea on frozen nose and cheeks
Warm thick soup on a dank day
First plunge into sweat singeing springs
That make us more alive
The thump of a bass with the twist of a guitar riff
The low notes of a sax accompanied by a voice pirouetting on top
A giddy heartbeat inside the slow swing of a waltz
I can close my eyes and walk from Fenway Beach to home
As fast as my fingers can tap-tap-tap
Umami of sand
Salt of sea
Crash and whisper of waves
Low buzz of bees
Salt on lips
Oh my, when I pulled this prompt from my father’s bowler, I wasn’t thinking of my sister. I wasn’t even remembering it was her birthday today. After I read the words: ‘A Thousand Darknesses,’ all I heard/saw in my head was ‘stopped speaking’ and a shade being pulled down and I followed a pathway of how people fall away from us. They simply do. We stop knowing them. Good or bad. It takes effort to know and love someone, to keep them in our lives, to forgive them and ourselves over and over again. Sometimes they live in a thousand darknesses away from us.
A THOUSAND DARKNESSES
When we stopped
speaking I pulled the shade
down between us so your room
darkened with silence.
Whatever we were
No longer existed.
The rope cut, we drifted
Thousands of miles apart
One time I paddled hard to find you
Tied us together but the wet knot slipped and
Our words fell between us into another kind of darkness.
Sometimes I wish I could meet you anew with no memory of the pain we’d caused
Sometimes I want the memory of the wound so it doesn’t happen again but not you
Sometimes when I say my prayers of forgiveness
–I wish you well wish you well you well–
I forget the wound
Have to work hard to find the scar on my body
Even then amnesia wraps the how not the who.
I keep the shade pulled down
The room given to darkness
Again and again.