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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Acorn

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Acorn



That sound inside you is a sacred sound:
heartbeat of a seed, eager to emerge.

That sound inside you is an urgent sound:
life’s sharp, percussive pulse.

That sound inside you is the future,
rattling a polished brown shell

shaped like a goddess, or a breast.
You are what Jesus meant when he said

the meek shall inherit the Earth.  You
are what Hillel had in mind when he said,

this is the whole Torah.  You are the secret
that begs to be told, a treasure whispering

find me.  You are the fingerprint of the Creator
left behind in soft red clay, hardening in sun. 

You are the sleek amulet snug in the palm
of my hand; you are the ripe mother of nations.

From your flesh comes invention of all words
for holiness, sacrament, celebration, awe.

Palatsa, little rattle, you hold time in your belly –
round and full and kicking its way into life.


I'm teaching a beginning poetry course this term - lots of excited students, many free writes, and plenty of prompts for assignments.  

Today I started the group on Praise and Prayer Poems.  I like Al Zolynas' poem "Sacrament of the Mundane," and use it as a course theme.  So the assignment for next week is to pick some thing, someone, some place, that is typically under-praised and overlooked.  I gave them some sample poems, both praise and prayer, and a few that blur the line.  And then I passed around a beautiful little box that I acquired years ago at an AWP book fair.  It's covered on the outside with beautiful paper.  Originally, it housed a small chapbook and a few lovely odd bits and pieces of ephemera - star anise seeds, some old ceramic carvings.  The handmade, letter-press print section of the AWP book fair is always my favorite, and this piece is one of the reasons why.  It is an experience to open the box and explore its mysterious contents.  I've since added other small items as they come my way - a key, a pencil made out of a branch, a compact, an old penny.  Today, I passed the box around and everyone made a choice; a small item to hold and write about. 

When the box returned to me, the only thing left in it was one of the jewel-like acorns that I'd brought back with me from California on one of my visits in 2013, during the book tour for Bad Indians.  

Honestly, my free write on the acorn wasn't much.  I was distracted, thinking ahead about a video I wanted to get up on the screen to show; but I try to do the freewrites with new students, especially, to model for them the spirit of the act: to dive in, to blunder around, to not stop, to let language take over.  So I got a few decent images and a lot of worthless junk down in my notebook, and left it there.

But after class, I sat down at my computer and decided, there's something there in that freewrite.  Something I hadn't been able to get at before, although I've tried writing about acorns many times.  So I transcribed the more palatable images, phrases and lines from my freewrite, and the next thing I knew, I was pulled out of my reverie by a colleague coming in with a question.  I don't know how long I'd sat there, coaxing this poem out.  Maybe 45 minutes.

The last line evaded me.  I tried a few more minutes, decided I was too hungry, and went home.  After devouring an apple and some cheese, my brain kicked back in.  I finished the draft.

I like it.  I'm not sure at all how Jesus and Hillel snuck into a poem about a California acorn, but I like the poem, and, well, there it is.  

It might evolve.  It might change.  For now, though, as I slog through this bizarre and disheartening month, writing a little poem about an acorn seems comforting, even triumphant.  I'll take it. 

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