Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Landscape of Loving: Mountains Beyond Mountains

Alas, I haven't written a poem in a very long while, though I have paused here from time to time to share a few (scroll down) from my archives.

How I miss writing poems. I miss, particularly, that moment of a poem's conception. The recognition of something--an event, circumstance, or emotion--arching into the abstract, and the poem is the bridge.

Teaching in a classroom of creative geniuses helped my process. Putting music on and pulling my journal out and writing with teenagers compelled the verses. Let us not diminish the luxury of taking an art class: Force me to paint, to draw, to write, to create! And I will!

Why is my current life so barren of poetry, so prosaic, I wonder? Four years ago I had my second child and shortly thereafter left the classroom to become Vice Principal. My life was instantly busier; office replaced classroom; observation gave way to analysis. These days are better chronicled, perhaps, in narrative than verse. Where I am poetry poor, I am now blog bountiful. And yet I hold out hope that my lyrical muse will return.

Without a classroom full of creative writing students generating rhymes and inspiring my own, I rely on the postal service to deliver fresh poetry to my mailbox. Thank goodness for The Sun Magazine and its monthly dose of prose and poems.

The right poem will stir me for days or weeks as I ponder all its allusions and implications. A poem can resonate on a single word, turn of phrase, or sentiment. I could wax poetic (if I were, in fact, writing poetry these days) on poems and how much I love them. I used to entertain my students with my effusive endorsements of the genre, likening poems to furry little animals one can snuggle in one's mind.

Imagine a world without poetry? I won't.

The gifts in the February issue of The Sun include Selected Poems by Brian Doyle. My favorite of the three published is included below, as it so moved me to seek permission from the poet himself (Note: receiving an email response from a Real Live Poet was quite a thrill!).

In his poem Brian Doyle recalls his young son's heart surgery. Our daughter was diagnosed with kidney reflux after suffering a kidney infection when she was three years old. It was two years of diagnostic and outpatient procedures before she had surgery that corrected what can be characterized as a minor structural problem.

Despite the hassle of numerous appointments and the heartbreak of watching one's child in any kind of pain, we left each visit to Children's Hospital grateful for our good fortune and perspective. Someone else's suffering is always worse, it is true, and as Mr. Doyle demonstrates in his poem, you will find your own self facing another mountain to climb just as you've crested the last seemingly steepest one. This is what it is to love, I think: to commit oneself to the "incoherent narrative shape" of life's worries, fears, and surprises "with all possible grace."

I am thankful for Brian Doyle's willingness to share his words. Isn't his last line lovely?

A Note on Vocabulary in the Cardiometabolic Field

Where I am wandering one afternoon thinking of my second son who not once
But twice had a surgeon’s fingers milling through the muscle of his wild heart.
Eleven years ago now. He doesn’t remember those hours, my boy, but I sure do.
His chicken chest gaping open like a mouth. Me eating a word like septectomy
For breakfast, bending it this way and that, trying to find any way to get inside.
Situs solitis & ventricular inversion & tricuspid hypophasia & anastamosis
Ranged across the horizon like the most incredible and unimaginable mountains.
Who ever thought there would be a time when we could remember those times?
But here we are on the other side of the mountains, and of all things to see what
Do we see? Mountains beyond mountains and yet more mountains beyond them.
We have such an itch for pattern and narrative, such a ravenous hunger for order,
But there is no pattern, there is no order, there isn’t really even a hint of coherent
Narrative shape, the fact of the matter is that at best we maunder forward with all
Possible grace in the moments when we are not thrashing and sobbing and crazy.
Believe me, I know about thrashing and sobbing and crazy, he’s a teenager now,
Arrogant as sin one moment and weeping from the bottom of his bones the next,
Making everyone weep with laughter one day and roar with fear and fury another.
Mountains beyond mountains and yet further mountains beyond those mountains.
I used to think if we could just get through this time everything will be peaceful,
At least we won’t be terrified and exhausted, but it turns out there’s lots and lots
Of ways to be terrified and exhausted, who knew? So hold my hand and let’s go
Up this next mountain. Who cares about other mountains? Isn’t this one lovely?

-- Brian Doyle

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