Reading to strangers: part II

A while back, poet J.lynn Sheridan asked on her blog, Writing On The Sun, if poets did anything positive with our poetry in the past year. One of the things I did was participate in a public poetry reading.

This post continues the telling of how I came to read to strangers in public. This is what it was like to grow up in the 1960’s and lose the natural desire to share. It happens in every generation. We all pass from innocence to experience. When young we all try so disparately to fit. Often we distort our internal shape doing so. This then is part two of four or what looks like five parts now.

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There was sharing I did when I was a boy in church. For many years my grandmother took my brother and my cousin and me to church. Our parents did not go to church but grandmother did every Saturday. She was not Jewish she was Seventh-Day Adventist like the original Christians she said. That is why we did church on Saturday which her church called the Sabbath. She said the Bible never said to stop worshipping on the Sabbath only man said that and we don’t obey any man only God. She was very much like a Jewish grandmother. She loved us fiercely and knew what was right for everyone. She did not spare her opinions on us children. She also made us wash ourselves before bed and in the morning. After washing before bed we would say our prayers kneeling at the bedside. Grandma who we called Mum kneeled beside us and helped us to remember all the people who needed our prayers. We said our prayers without complaint because we could stay up that much longer and liked listening to Grandma pray because she whispered and spoke quickly and never seemed to forget anyone who needed praying for. We resisted being washed but resistance was futile.

It was futile to resist learning our scripture verses too. Mum always asked if we learned our verses. Sometimes she would scold our parents outside when they dropped us off before they drove away if we hadn’t learned our weekly verses. She would have us recite them before bedtime prayers and in the morning before breakfast and on the way to church. Then we would read them before all the other children in Sabbath School. Each quarter we would recite not just read a good chunk of an entire chapter usually from the Old Testament. My favorite story was Balaam and the Donkey. A talking donkey was bound to be my favorite story. I liked that the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord first. Intuitively I knew animals saw deeply into things. More deeply than the adults I knew. And this it still true.

This sharing of verses was a kind of sharing and I am glad all those verses are wandering around inside of me now. This sharing was a little scary as all sharing is but as yet my father did not leave so it was possible to do it even though I was somewhat afraid because I had as yet no fear of abandonment and still lived with the hope of things not going inevitably sour. Reading them from a raised platform with a podium in front of everyone I was nervous and had that normal bit of fear of not remembering though our kind teachers never scolded us when we stumbled over a word or got them backwards or forgot some of the words altogether. When we stumbled our Sabbath School teacher who sat behind us would whisper a word to help us along. This was so much like the way we learned that the Lord always at our side to help us.

This was sharing too but it felt different than what sharing poems feels like now. There is little freedom in sharing what you are told you must share rather than sharing what you discovered in the freedom of yourself. If you are told to share and even if you are offered money it is not sharing not really sharing it is having to share and the life has gone well out of it.

The Drag and Battle

Another prose poem mined from my private journal.

Whatever happened to youthful forgetfulness, the blithe freedom of living in the now with no thought of the past or the accumulated baggage that we drag behind us like ball and chain? This was the gift of youth before we were cursed by our own gnawing wants which can never be fulfilled, no matter how many things we buy or people we irritate or dominate. We still glimpse our gift on occasion: a young girl in sun dress, arms elegantly raised above her head, twirling in a parking lot or we see it in the ruddy-cheeked boy with skinned knees, carrying a stick like a staff,  a soiled bandanna wrapped round a sweaty brow, fresh from a great campaign battling dragons and demons — the creatures that threaten his secret cave. Oh, that we could fight this battle dancing without thought of injury or what others might dismiss. Who said you were not Gilgamesh, a true conquer, a hero in this world. Only the man no longer listening to his dreams.

Questions at the mirror

Sometimes it is valuable to just write and leave the editing to a minimum. This is the idea behind the words below. They were in response to a prompt from Kellie Elmore. Her blog, Magic in the Backyard, offers a writing prompt each Friday. The task was to look in the mirror and write what you see. 

Your eyes squint almost shut and your hair, what happened to your hair? And the smile, where is the smile? It looks rather forced. Is there a snake oil salesman in this house? Did I just wake up and met a stranger? Does age move so fast? Or was I simply forgetful? Maybe I did not believe in time? Maybe I denied reality or believed in immortality? And why did I not grow up here inside? Face and hands, why did you go on ahead without me? Why leave me standing on youth’s threshold while you traveled the deserts of the world where the moisture is taken from the skin and the dirt in the cracks on this face appear as if someone was trying to sculpt a new face from the old? Is this the way the world takes back this body we borrow?  Mirror, is this what you mean by showing me this stranger? Is this the way the body keeps us alive and shows us that we need to find a new home before it’s too late? Maybe I can live in these words forever.