It was a busy, busy week. OK, a busy, busy three days–Monday through Wednesday–and then I crashed and burned. I’m writing this on Thursday morning, in migraine fog, planning to skip my pain management class today because it (so far) triggers me every damn time. And getting triggered in a 2-hour Zoom meeting while on meds is something I’m just not going to subject my neural pathways to. (I’m writing on Thursday because we are going to be away for the weekend–a small trip I’m much wanting to take, but even good stress is stress, right? You know how anticipatory grief is a thing? So is anticipatory stress.)
In spite of all that, I wrote. Or, I played with words, which counts.
The past few years, I’ve created a calendar with my words and photos. I pull both from this blog and from Instagram posts, tightening the words a bit. I give the calendars to my parents and a few friends. I wasn’t as pleased with last year’s effort as I had been with earlier ones, and just last week, as I changed the calendar to November, I thought that maybe I would let that project go.
Then I received an email from one of those friends:
When Ed turned the page from October to November on your 2022 calendar, he said, ‘I really love Rita’s photographs and her poetry.’ The love word this engineer rarely bandies about.
Well, if that’s not a sign from the universe, I don’t know what is. (Who am I to deny Ed–who I love because he so well loves my friend that I love–something he loves, especially when he uses that word sparingly?) So I sat down and started noodling, reviewing the year’s photos, pulling snippets of language from posts. I never thought of the calendar words as poetry, but the words there are distilled versions of those that I share here. Maybe they are.
For several hours last Sunday afternoon, I played with words and images from the last year, and it felt good. Really good.
I’d been struggling a bit with my second Dive into Poetry prompt (an invitation to write about shame), but Monday morning, my pump primed from Sunday’s play, this came out:
Usually I Reject Shame
Call it out as the abuse I’ve known
it to be, but not today,
having so recently escaped from an October
where smoky air kept us sweltering inside,
and the leaves–the ones that didn’t turn ash-gray–
stayed stubbornly green.
The crows called when we stepped out
the door, their caws sounding like castigation
for our collective sins, a thousand jagged “shoulds”
raining upon our heads.
“I know, I know!” I bleated back at them,
eyes down, my words
flying away in the hot, hot wind.
Then, another prompt was about collections, and one suggestion was to collect words for a poem from other texts. I went back to my blog posts from November of last year, thinking I might pull words into a poem about the month. I copied and pasted snippets of language, and then I rearranged them and polished them and glued them together with some new words into something that is about late middle-age/early old-age, our current moment in history, and, I suppose, November:
In the November of Our Lives
One day it’s all sunshine-sharp air and leaves blazing against blue skies;
the next, it’s wet sticks and relentless wind,
our pumpkins on the front porch gone suddenly garish.
The bedrock upon which we’ve lived shifts
and breaks, and there is no mending the fault lines,
no way around canyons of looming catastrophe.
With our children grown, our dogs buried, and our bodies
both softer and more brittle than they’ve ever been,
my missing is so deep it’s not even an ache.
It’s something I don’t have a word for.
There are moments I want to last forever, the wanting
turning them to memory before they end.
I thought surely we’d have more,
but darkness descends before we’re ready for it,
and something inside turns toward candlelight,
toward small flames still burning, hunkering down for the long haul of winter.
In a week where I could feel myself melting on Monday afternoon, where a Wednesday doctor visit resulted in referrals to even more appointments, where the work of healing feels like a mountain too steep to climb, this kind of word play was good medicine.