wonder

Lately, my migraine life has had a reductive impact on my exercise life…like walking my neighborhood is really all I can do without negative effects. I mean, some days are pretty golden and I can get away with a HIIT workout or some TRX work without too much residual discomfort, but those days are becoming more and more rare. But this new walking habit is not without benefit (beyond the physical well-being bit). There is a freedom offered in these walks–they belong solely to me, a rare moment in time where I act just for myself. I determine my path, my playlist, my distance, my pace. I don’t need to weigh the opinions of others. I don’t need to compromise with anyone else. I don’t need to negotiate with or listen to anyone other than myself. It is a step toward solitude, toward peace, toward wholeness.

And today, it was a step toward reawakening wonder.

We have this glorified drainage ditch running through our neighborhood…my kids call it a “creek” but I feel like that term just transforms their exploration of it on summer days into something a bit more adventurous–I mean, come on, who wants to say, “Hey mom, can we go check out the drainage ditch?” Words do matter and who am I to deny their careful work with connotation?! On recent walks, this “creek” (I’m just going to stick with the positive nomenclature of my kids here), has been pretty dry and even a little musty. Without the nourishment of rain for the past several days and even weeks, the creek was losing its richness and its beauty was waning(yep, the drainage ditch too can be beautiful). The creek bed was still there, patiently awaiting renewal in the natural cycle of things, but the deprivation on the path to getting there was taking its toll.

And then, after withholding its gifts for so many days, the rain paid a long awaited visit.

As I was walking today through that rain, I heard a noise outside my earbuds as I neared the creek. At first, I thought a car was coming up behind me and so I glanced around to be sure. Not a moving vehicle in sight (not many care to be out and about on a rainy Sunday). Then it struck me. What I heard was not a car, rather it was rushing water swiftly running down rocks and filling up the creek–almost as if it could not get there fast enough. They cycle of hardship was ended…patient endurance, rewarded with rebirth.

It was beautiful and weirdly wondrous at the same time.

In a time when so much feels lost…when we feel so without, so lost…to witness renewal in that way, well, it restores a bit of faith that our dried out, musty selves will one day (even if it is later rather than sooner) be met again by that which makes us whole.  Even in dormancy there can still be the expectation of revival and in that time of waiting, there can even be joy. And in the stillness of that hope (okay, stillness while walking a 14 minute mile…), I thought of Mary Oliver’s poem, “Song For Autumn” and how in it she offers fresh perspective on what we think of as the hibernation of nature’s beauty in the fall.

“Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now

how comfortable it will be to touch

the earth instead of the

nothingness of the air and the endless

freshets of wind?…”

Maybe the creek appreciated the rest, the time to itself, the solitude within which to appreciate the pause and the chance to just be? And maybe its reunion with the rain was even sweeter for the time without?

Maybe I am just a swoony hopeful optimist who seeks answers in poetry and nature for that which seems without solution?

But, a spark of joy was ignited inside my heart and in these days, that spark is good enough for me.

really rough draft

As my poetry students begin diving into the real work of writing their own original poetry, it is time that I venture in the same direction. It is time to move away from simply admiring poetry and from shaping poetic prose, and into actually crafting poems myself. This is not comfortable territory for me, partly because I feel like I know who I am as a writer of prose-my voice is clear to me as I employ it and this grants me confidence. As a poet, I almost feel as though I’ve lost my voice or as though I am in the midst of some identity crisis. I don’t know what kind of poet I want to be or could become. Imposter syndrome possesses undeserved strength and takes over my mind convincing me that I should just not even bother to explore my poetic identity. It drowns out all of the rational writing advice I so freely give to students and persuades me to put the pencil down…even when I know better.

Today, my students read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “The Stolen Camera” and heard John Mayer’s song “3×5” and considered what it might mean to really see the world and hold those images only in our minds. Then, they went outside to find something in the natural world to truly take in…all the while knowing that they would be writing from this experience. In a quick write session after our time outside, I wrote the following lines after paying specific attention to two trees standing side by side, one dead and leafless and the other fully alive and overwhelmed by green foliage. This is truly a very rough draft, composed in maybe 8 minutes of class time and not edited since…sharing here is my way of reminding myself what this process will feel like for my students. A level of vulnerability is required when drafting writing and turning it in for feedback–in doing this we are essentially saying, “Here, let me pour myself across the page and you can then dissect my truth and tell me where I have been false” This is not easy work. But it is critical work. So, here is that untitled draft…

Barren brown branches stand strong,

though morosely self-aware—

right next door stands

another set of branches,

generously glorified by the green

leaves clinging in pride reveling

in their vitality.

 

Death and life—side by side

coexisting peacefully—

as though friends…

Unaware one should fear the other

Unaware the other is fueled by the one

 

—One eye…then the other

In closing the first, death

dominates the landscape in front of me.

In closing the other, life

blooms brilliantly verdant.

Looking through both eyes reveals

the truth of the world—

 

Not all is death.

Not all is life giving.

Both…together…side by side…

giving weight to the world—

balance to our existence—

an end to the beginning.

 

Shielding one from the other

is neither prevention nor protection.

Only loss.

 

(Day 16! Got home super late from a lovely night out but still managed to get this writing done!)

impact

Ask any student who has set foot in my classroom and they will tell you “Mrs. Clark is super passionate about words…words matter after all.” And they would be right, I am sort of constantly in awe of what we as humans are able to do simply in the arrangement and selection of the words we wield. We can brandish them dangerously, carelessly damaging others with rancor and vitriol. Or, we can employ them meaningfully, intentionally provoking thought with depth and weight.

One of the reasons poetry resonates with me the way that it does is that I find myself in constant wonder of the poet’s word craft–of their ability to be so precise in their execution of word economy, while at the same time creating gorgeous imagery or intensity or moments to pause and wonder or heightened emotion or all of these and more. It is the surprise in the organization that gets me, the arrangement I would never have considered that drops my jaw. I love the form that creates the content as much as the content itself.

~~~“Breakage” by Mary Oliver~~~

I say all of this because Mary Oliver died today. Mary Oliver was a poet that I believe, honestly, could reach anyone as she wrote honestly and simply yet somehow in her simple language led readers into the complexity of human emotion and experience. She didn’t require fancy forms or intricate language; she didn’t write beyond her experience, no matter how simple the moments may have been; she didn’t reach for what wasn’t true to her and in maintaining that sincerity, her readers were able to find their true selves in her work.

~~~ From “The Journey” by Mary Oliver~~~

“…

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly recognize as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.”

In the natural world Mary Oliver sought solace and God and understanding of life and its proverbial mysteriousness and through the natural world she brought the rest of us solace and God and an understanding of life. She opened my eyes to not just the beauty in the world around me but to its nuance and to a new way of paying attention to it. Her words, her insight, her description all still my soul.

~~~“Fall” by Mary Oliver~~~

(the last stanza here is just perfection and will alter your perception of rain forever)

And then there are the Mary Oliver poems that walked me through grief at times where grief felt heavier that what I could shoulder alone. Except, I wasn’t alone. She had shouldered it already. She had walked this path and she recorded it in her writing–with hope, with honesty and with love. Through loss, through illness I have almost religiously turned to Mary Oliver’s work as a sort of prayer when my prayers were sort of lost in the wilderness. I turned to her work to restore my hope and my faith, and she never failed me, not one single time.

 “Praying” by Mary Oliver

“It doesn’t have to be

The blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

 

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

 

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.”

 

“…the doorway/into thanks…” Mary Oliver’s work will continue to be a part of my daily reading, my daily stillness, my daily search for peace in the chaos of the world. My gratitude is without bounds–not just for a life well lived, but for a dedication to sharing that life with others through her words…for the impression she has made in my heart and the impact she has made in my vision and in my life. Mary Oliver may have left the physical world today, but she has also left behind her words–a wealth, a storehouse of beauty and reminders of goodness. And that is forever.

(Day 12…I was so sad to hear about Mary Oliver’s passing today, but in writing about her work, I found so much more. Glad for this outlet that allowed for that to happen)