The words are purposes. / The words are maps.

[The title of this post is taken from Adrienne Rich’s poem “Diving into the Wreck.”]

© 2010 David Parker

T.V. sounds reverberate from the living room:
loud, energetic, open-mouthed voices. Must be
a commercial. I’m trying to nail down a metaphor
to stand for the sound of her voice
(escaping through a mouth stitched shut against
crying) on the other end of the line.

And I think:
That’s a lot of prepositions.
And I remember:
to the log, over
the log, around the log,
under the log,
through
the
log,
across the log, for
the log, with the log,
about the log.

And the more I think of the word log,
the more the word becomes
not a word signifying a thing
but a strange-sounding noise
like when you say
your name
over and over and over and over until
it becomes a foreign sound and
it’s strange to think that the sound
is you
because it makes no sense
only sound.

And then you try emphasizing
different parts of the word:
YOURname, yourNAME,
you-R-name.
Or you say it different ways:
yourname. YOURNAME. Yourname?
Yourname! Yourname?!
…yourname.

But you can never separate
the sound so far from its meaning
that it won’t snap back like
a rubber band.

Try it.

Say:
tragedy.
tragedy. tragedy. tragedy. TRA-
gedy. TRA-gedy. tra-GE-dey. tra-ge-DY.
tra-ge-DY. Tragedy? Tragedy. TRAGEDY!
tragedytragedytragedytragedytragedy.
Tragedy.

That’s what we did (my friend and I
on the phone).

Advertisements

Haiku Haywire

© 2010 David Parker

You may have noticed that I’ve missed a few days over the course of the last six weeks. Four of them, to be exact. Today, I reclaimed those days in haiku, which, inspired by The Yawp, I tweeted. Six haikus to make up for today plus four with one to grow on.

You’ll have to catch my writing in my Twitter feed (@public_frog) as I left my computer charger at work and have had to resort to awkwardly posting from my iPhone. More tomorrow!

A Day Just Like This One

Today we made our way to Decatur for the largest independent book festival in the nation. We took the MARTA train. Public transportation always seems to smell like pennies and the hospital and hair and old sweatshirts and the palms of hands, and, in a strange way, I kind of like it. The cacophony of city sounds held my brain in a kind of cocoon: conversations in other softer languages, loud young mouths shouting about winning the lottery and clapping their hands stomping their feet, the roar of the train being sucked into its tunnels and back out again.

We heard Thomas Lux and Ellen Bryant Voigt talk about poetry and read some too. They both talked about how poetry is an act of discovery. How it’s important to challenge yourself, put yourself into a circumstance of not-knowing, which is the human condition, really. How the work of working through a poem or any piece of writing is what invites the discovery. How a poem without discovery is wooden. How if there’s no discovery for the writer, there’s no discovery for the reader. How poetry is composed of the most everyday moments of insight and appetite.

We schlepped back through the festival and around the corner for a Bees Knees Royale (read: gin, honey, lavendar, cava, citrus), then struck out again into the pitch-perfect September air that made our walk to the MARTA station feel like a gift. At the bottom of the stairs we descended to catch our train, there was a red balloon on a short string tied to the trashcan. The balloon felt like a poetic moment, even if its insight has escaped me.

We got home around 4:00 and did next-to-nothing until dinner at 10:30 at a funny little place around the corner. And, with Roger Miller pumping through the speakers, it was there that I had the best and lustiest buttermilk biscuit of my life. We had a lovely strange dinner of succotash and gnocci and yum. One Root Beer Float with vanilla rum and an umbrella straw later, and all 28 years of me are ready for bed.

Waving and Thankful

© 2010 David Parker

All my life people have been trying to save me. My grandmother, many of my friends in high schools and college, my family, but especially my grandmother. And they all say the same things: that God is working on my heart and that they are praying for me. All my life, I assumed that these people who wanted to save me were acting from some personal conviction that either they were better than me or I was doing something terribly wrong, or both. Today I saw two people who have been praying for me for a long time: my grandmother and a very dear, beautiful friend whom I’ve known since I was in kindergarten.

This morning, we visited my grandmother in the nursing home. She was dozing on the couch in the common room when we got there and it took her a few seconds for her face to register that she saw us. Ruthie came skipping in with me and all the old ladies sitting in heaps around the room turned toward Ruthie like flowers toward the sun. Terribly unsettling and sad. And so we sat there, Grandmother and I, on the badly upholstered sofa, while Ruthie flip-flopped like a fish out of water. She was so taken with Ruthie and how big she’s gotten. I was so taken by the fact that she’d evidently had her toenails painted a deep shade of red (I later learned that they offer manicure/pedicures at the home). When I left she said that next time I came home, she’d take me shopping and assured me that she had been praying for me. There was something about the way she said these last two things that made my chest hurt.

On the way out, I checked the time. We’d been there maybe 40 minutes. It occurred to me that she’s there all day. More chest hurting.

At 1:00, I picked up my friend for lunch. 45 minutes later, I was crying into my white truffle chicken salad. We talked a lot mostly about how we thought things would be much easier, how we only wanted these small things. And then she started talking about hope and what her hope is in. I’ve never understood hope, and, when I have allowed myself to hope, I have been generally disappointed. My friend has also been disappointed, but she hopes anyways. And she hopes for me. And prays for me. And I am so deeply, wonderfully grateful.

Grateful because both of these women were offering me their hopes and their prayers the way you would offer anyone you love a cup of tea with honey at the end of a long shitty day. No judgement, just a desire to share something that has made their hearts lighter.

It’s strange how heavy thankfulness can feel. It’s much easier to shrug off other people’s hopes and prayers, even get pissed off at them, get all Who does she think she is praying for me. Because to accept their hopes, their prayers, is also to admit that you need them (even if you don’t understand them). And gratitude, real gratitude, is humbling. And humility is rather uncomfortable.

So last week, I wrote about “Thanks,” a poem by the new Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin. This poem mesmerized me when I read it the first time or two, but today I felt it in my bone marrow. In the last stanza, he writes

we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Two things are difficult about these last lines for me: that nobody’s listening and that it’s dark. But it occurs to me that someone is listening: me, the reader. I’m listening to the voices in this poem saying thank you. So maybe not-nobody’s listening to me too. And maybe I’m waving in the dark, but there’s a lot of us here waving in the dark, so maybe we’re not waving at nobody. Even though I can’t always see it or hear it, I believe in the we of this poem. And isn’t that faith?

Us, the Most Fleeting of All

© 2010 David Parker

I like to measure time with my milk’s expiration dates. I start to get excited about things in my life when I buy a carton of milk that expires after the date of the thing I’m looking forward to. Buying organic milk means that I get excited about things nearly a month before they’re going to happen. So, today, I went to buy some milk and noticed that the expiration date is September 5 (two days after my 28th birthday). It’s finally here: my magical year!

I’ve been looking forward to 28 for a long time. I hated my early twenties because I felt like no one took me seriously. Now, I’m kind of thankful that they didn’t. My mid-twenties were full of change, change, change, and more change. From 24-26, I kept saying that next year would be predictable, constant, undramatic, maybe even boring. And I’m thankful that didn’t happen either.

But 27 has been a gritty, grace-less year for me. There were no short-cuts. I was spared no criticism, I had to ask for help, I discovered that I really have very little control over anything beyond myself, I became disenchanted. Despite its grit, 27 did bring me the best summer of my life, which I deserved and enjoyed. And 27 brought me to today, which, if you don’t count the poor decision to eat a taco from the school cafeteria, was a pretty good day.

What follows is the poem that opens The Time Traveler’s Wife. I just love it. That’s all.

As Though I Knew What I Was Doing

© 2010 David Parker

The short prose poem of yesterday totally ruined me. I wrote like six of them and they were all pitifully dramatic and try-hard. It made me wonder why I’m doing this whole write-something-everyday-for-a-year thing. I thought by now, it might come easier to me, but it seems to be getting harder and harder. And I think it’s getting harder and harder because I’m kind of still expecting to be struck with the magical Something-to-Say. And today, when I subjected my students to the prose poem assignment, I realized that maybe this task has been so arduous for me because I haven’t been following my own advice.

Two things I always tell my students: writers keep notebooks, and writing is thinking. I haven’t kept a notebook since I started this project and I’ve spent a great deal of time staring at my screen. If I were in my own class, I’d be failing. So when I started today’s Writing Workshop with my students, I followed along with them and probably got more out of it than they did. For instance, the very idea of a prose poem forced us to analyze what makes a poem a poem when there are no line breaks (we came up with concrete imagery that shows an emotion, idea, or experience). Then we started building our poems together. First, choose a major life event that you can remember very clearly. Next, freewrite about a specific moment from that event that captures how you felt and why that moment was important, focusing on the five senses. Then take all that crap you wrote down and find three or four sentences to scrap together.

At the beginning, the kids were reluctant. The thought of writing for five minutes without stopping was unthinkable. But no one was ready to stop when I called time–not one out of nearly 70 kids. And most classes wrote for another ten. Then, because the space was so limited, it forced them to think about all kinds of lovely things like sentence structure and using strong verbs and how to choose an image so that it does something in a poem. They can’t wait to share their stuff with each other tomorrow, and I’m kind of proud of the work that we generated together as well. Win!

So my challenge to each of you readers is to post a three– or four–sentence prose poem here. So we can all see it. I dare you. Here’s mine from today (about my first teaching job):

The room smelled of chalkboards, dust, old papers–like the inside of a drawer that had been shut for years. Empty desks were pushed against the walls as though they’d been in a wreck. Behind the teacher’s desk was an old wooden student chair that looked like it’d been chewed up and spit out whole. I collapsed into the chair and began scratching out lessons as though I knew what I was doing.

Dark Though It Is

© 2010 David Parker

When I have trouble writing, or when I’m having trouble with life in general, poetry seems to always save me. Poetry comforts me the way religion used to. Because it teaches us about who we are and the world we live in. Because it celebrates the beautiful, inglorious condition of being human. Because I don’t read poetry, I swim through it until I break the surface.

So I began this morning with poetry, and I feel better already. I picked up Steve Kowit’s In the Palm of Your Hand, and I’ll be working through it here. Today, I tried my hand at the three– or four–sentence prose poem (p. 26).

I write a poem about eating fruit on Saturday morning, hear it in someone else’s mouth, throw it away. I begin a piece about how nothing is sacred, find myself reading Perez Hilton instead. Every false start feels like a failure–I write anyways.

*I took the title of this post from W.S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks,” which, like so many of the poems I’ve read, I encountered through Emma Bolden (at The Yawp). The poem now resides on my bathroom mirror.