Son of a Poet
- for Danny
The son of a poet enters this world quietly, glistening with blood and amniotic fluid, peers out from half-closed lids with ancient wariness.
The son of a poet curls into the arms of a mother who sees metaphors in the shiny dark eyes of her boy, lineage of song in his tiny palms.
The son of a poet already knows about loss and grief, the phoenix of love spread across his tender flesh like the shadow of an old tattoo.
This male child soaks up languages no longer spoken from the milk of his mother’s breast.
He hears too much, too soon, and can’t forget – anything. His small body hums with the confusing voices of ancestors.
At three the son of a poet might call the first snowflakes he sees angels come down from heaven.
At seven, the son of a poet weeps behind the sofa over the casual massacres of history.
At ten, music calls him, that fierce language remembered from the watery thrum of his mother’s voice.
At twelve and thirteen, he watches his mother slumped over blackened pages, witnesses the terrible spilling of ink like slit wrists.
He chews Thai peppers like a sacrament, baptizes his tongue in fire so it can speak the truth.
At fifteen, sixteen, the son of a poet endures taunts while fury rises up like a fever, seeps out to extremities of fingers, toes, hair, erupts into a rage that demands reparations for what’s been stolen.
He learns about violations of the soul, how to turn a father’s slur with wry shrugs.
He learns about laughter hammered out of betrayal, wonders why that’s so hard to understand.
Mistakes make him writhe with shame, but the son of a poet never makes the same mistake twice.
At eighteen, the son of a poet walks out into the world forged like iron, melted like lead, brilliant as beaten copper.
He travels far away from his mother, finds new teachers, tests mind and body as if neither will ever wear out.
In this world, the son of a poet waits tables, rides the bus home with the night shift, the sleepless, the homeless. Spirits watch over him, hero of his mother’s best rhythms, drum beat of her heart.
He survives love and the death of love. He plunges his hand into his own chest, pulls out musical notes and medicinal incantations, brings his love back to life.
Keeps walking toward the perfect language, just out of reach.
The poem his mother never thought she could write.
About this poem (and my creativity-drought-experiment):
People are asking me for more commentary about my creativity-drought-experiment here on the blog. Where are all these poems and pieces coming from if I'm in the middle of a dry spell??? What's the secret???
When I realized that I hadn't been writing at all, for a very long time, and did not feel any springs about to burst forth, I took one step that has turned out to be very useful: I started journaling again. I used to journal daily, but again, it was almost involuntary - I could not NOT journal - yet, for a couple of years I hadn't even been doing that.
So I started journaling as a way to be able to say "at least I'm journaling." It doesn't feel good. They aren't GOOD journal entries. I do them on my laptop, quickly, and to be perfectly honest, they are quite often WHINEY PIECES OF CRAP.
I write them anyway, keep them in a file on my laptop and, until beginning this experiment, I never looked at them again. I don't date them. I barely title them (give each one a semi-descriptive title or sometimes, lazily, just the first sentence as a title). I mean, this is MINIMAL.
I've been doing that for the last few years.
Another thing I continued to do: participate in the timed free-writes I assign any current poetry workshop. I do those in longhand, but keep the notebooks (and I had to buy notebooks rather than use writing pads, because I'd lose the pads or tear off the pages, and that wasn't allowing me to squirrel things away.)
Finally, if a word or phrase causes me to pause and say, "That sounds like a poem," I TRY to write it down in my notebook. Even just the phrase. Sometimes, I have time to freewrite using that idea. That goes into the file unedited; good, bad or ugly.
Today's poem began with a chance conversation with one of my colleagues at W&L. On December 28, 2011 (2011, folks!!!), Ed Craun said something to me about "the sons of poets" and I sat down at my computer, bashed out a paragraph (one long unbroken, unpunctuated, unedited freewrite) and sent it to him.
Then I put it into a word file, moved it into my freewrite file on my laptop, and DIDN'T LOOK AT IT AGAIN UNTIL THIS MORNING.
Basically, I write crap, but I SAVE IT, and guess what?
It isn't all crap. Sometimes it isn't all crap.
So during this drought-ending-experiment online, I have been going back through journals and freewrites and making myself pick one to work on each morning. Sometimes it takes half of my 1 to 1 1/2 hours of writing time to just choose one that doesn't suck too badly. (That's key: I wake up, make tea or coffee, and HIDE AWAY FROM MY LIFE to write for one full hour. Sometimes, on a lucky day, I get 1 1/2 hours. This means, of course, GETTING UP AN HOUR EARLIER THAN USUAL. Even when I haven't gotten enough sleep already. Ugh.)
Why post it publically on my blog?
A couple of reasons.
First, public posting is a way to hold myself accountable. Even if no one reads my blog, I IMAGINE that someone is reading my blog, and *I* am reading my blog, so I have made a contract to deliver something to that blog daily. As I noted a few days ago, I cannot always keep that promise, but I give it a hell of a try. That's good for me. For my writing muscles, for my self-esteem, for keeping my committment to myself as a writer. I wasn't SURE it would work out that way; I had to try it to learn that this daily exercise was working. Now I know that it does provide me with motivation, so I'm even more likely to keep the promise.
Secondly, I have a book out there that I am also committed to promoting - for the important information in that book, for my tribe, for my publisher (whom I adore, Heyday!), for the Indian students, grad students and writers out there who have put their faith in me. Blogs promote books, keep a writer's presence in the world fresh, snag new readers, and all sorts of other wonderful things. Bad Indians cannot do all the work of lifting by itself, simply by existing. Someone needs to advocate for it. That someone must start with me. Others can help - and you do! - but the primary responsiblity is on my shoulders. I need (want) to be accessible, findable, meaningful for the readers of my book.
Thirdly, when a writer's blog is stale and not updated often, people googling that author for information are, to put it politely, UNIMPRESSED by that blog, and that trickles down immediately to the author and her book. My colleagues Lesley Wheeler (The Cave, the Hive) and Chris Gavaler (The Patron Saint of Superheroes) both model the effectiveness of updated, fresh blogs for me in very inspirational ways. If I am going to have a blog, I need to make use of it, use it to maintain contact with readers and researchers, use it to keep Bad Indians out there and viable. Otherwise, my blog could actually do more harm than good. Yikes.
Fourthly, I took part in the Postcard Daily Poem project last summer, posted them all to this blog, and it DID NOT KILL ME. In fact, I have a few good starts out of it that I'll continue to work on.
HERE'S THE THING. I know that posting daily writings on my blog is risky. I KNOW that these pieces are not fully formed, not finished, not my best work. I know that somewhere, some writer is laughing at what I put out there because I left in a cliche or missed the boat entirely.
That's okay. That HAS to be okay. No matter what, I am still exercising more control over my writing life than in the past few years. And hey - revision is made for risk-takers.
So that's the basic scoop. I am writing to save my creative life. I do not want to be another creative writer whose juices are dried up by the relentless pounding of academic concerns. Teaching full-time while having a full-time life as wife, mother, grandmother is NOT A WRITING-FRIENDLY SITUATION for many of us. I used to feel very smug about my ability to write through anything (and inappropriately smug, since writing seemed to be a force of nature which came to me as an obsession rather than a gift - NOW who's sorry?!), and now I am one of those people gasping for words. I was very resentful and very angry about that for a long time.
Eventually, I had to put that resentment away and DO SOMETHING about the actual problem.
There you go. Messy and not at all scientific. But it works for me. Hope this helps some of you out there too.