Sometimes I find myself wanting to write poetry again. I say “again”, but that is silly. My small teenage attempts were amateur and somewhat immature and not really ever truly poetry. And, to be honest, poetry sometimes kind of makes me uncomfortable. It is complicated and often vague and difficult to grasp. I sometimes feel about it the same way I feel about the game of Chess – that it is simply too much mental work to play it well, or, in the case of poetry, understand it well. And, sometimes, I even associate it with a whole way of thinking and viewing the world that is too artsy, too foreign, and too unlike sensible get-work-done me. Still, now and then, reading a bit makes me feel like something is pushing hard against the insides of my chest and welling up behind my eyes – even when I don’t understand it fully. Even then, I sometimes still feel it. And I sometimes think poetry is . . . absolutely beautiful.
I recently read these small lines from an Emily Dickinson poem:
“When suddenly across the June
A wind with fingers goes.”
That sense of something beautiful – something true that was captured in surprising words and metaphors – struck me. I couldn’t even put into words what it meant, but it felt like time coming and snatching up and taking away spring and innocence. Or like the sudden realization that things are different than they were.
Mike’s grandma passed away this weekend. Maybe that is why those words burned themselves onto me a little more strongly than they otherwise might have. I kept thinking of her life: of having met and married her Frank, raised her seven children – sending them all to college, etc. even though they were small town farming folk. I thought of her having lost a baby. I thought of the innumerable large family gatherings, of the mission she served with her husband, and of what it might have been like to see her husband lose most of his eyesight and leave this life without her.
It made me think of how all my little struggles and trials will actually truly pass by. I will have done and learned whatever I might with and from them. I will have raised my children, and become a grandma, and fulfilled my church callings, met and influenced (and been influenced by) ever new people, and gained new insights and talents and knowledge. And, eventually, I will be done. I will have lived my life out, and, I am certain that looking back it will have seemed so short – like those Dickinson lines. Like a sudden wind has raked past this stage and carried me to old age and death, and what continues from there.
These thoughts made me want to write a poem. Made me want to think of words that felt magical and like a piece of my soul was saved on paper in small letters. As I was out running one morning my mind kept thinking of Mike and I living our lives together. I kept struggling and trying and finally coming up with several different starts that all went something like this:
I know now
that we will grow old.
Time will plow steady and deep
Leaving furrows outside and in.
And then I thought that was maybe too wordy and that poetry is hard for me because every word seems like it needs to count. And I wondered if I should say:
I know now
that we will grow old.
Time will plow its steady and deep furrows
through us. Outside and in.
I kept rearranging those words and how to say them in my mind, and I had no more to add at all – try as I might. Every sentence threatened to sound silly or trite or like something we’ve all heard before. How does one come up with similes and metaphors and words all their own? I hoped my plowing was uniquely my idea, but wasn’t sure it was. I felt that something could be done with the ideas of planting and harvesting and the furrows outside being signs of physical aging and that more could be said about what the furrows inside would be – experiences, knowledge, trials, heartache, losses and gains, etc. But it was beyond me to do it, and the more I tried the more I was certain it wasn’t working or that I was slipping back onto overused expressions.
Still, there is something in the trying that feels like it stretches me and like some small thing is trying to grow inside of me and get strong enough to push its way outside – reaching beyond my own self.
As I worked on my few paltry lines, I thought about the things we’ve come up with to express ourselves – music and song, poetry, novels, art, etc. I wondered for a minute what things we haven’t been able to come up with yet. Does that sound completely crazy? I wondered if there were even more perfect and beautiful and refined ways of telling things than we have yet created with our limited human capacities.
Once, when I was only in middle school, I had a strange dream/experience. I had fallen asleep on my parents’ bed. I was not really dreaming exactly. I wasn’t seeing anything, but I was hearing something: I was hearing the most beautiful soul wrenching music in all of the world. I don’t remember how it sounded. I only know that when I think of it, I get that same feeling I talked about earlier – like something big is pressing on the insides of me. Only, I began to wake up, and, as I did, the music started to deteriorate a little and change quality a little – bit by bit – until, at last, my eyes were open and I realized that all I was hearing was the wind blowing loud and strong outside my parents’ bedroom windows. I stayed still for a long while – listening to that wind – willing it to turn back into the music. It didn’t of course, but something about that experience has always stayed tucked inside me – has always made me wonder what incredible things we may have heard before coming here, or may yet have to hear when we leave this place. It makes me excited and makes me hope that, eventually, I won’t be limited in what I want to convey and express by the abilities I still lack or even by words and means and tools we currently have to work with. Until then, I will keep plunking along here and there trying to get down the things I can.