Poetry Today (in Perilous Times)…1

Wouldn’t every previous generation say that they lived in “perilous times” or as in the Tao, “interesting times” at the very least?  So many of us have a connotation of poetry as  an archaic (if not boring) language and irrelevant to “modern life.”

How do we get potential readers to cross that chasm of calcified thinking regarding poetry to a reinvigorated and revalued view of poetry?  Is there a place in a relatively newly minted culture where poets and poetry are elevated, revered?  That poetry activates both one’s emotions and values could be one reason that it isn’t welcomed in a society that wants to control its constituents.  There isn’t often comfort in living outside the box.  However, there is power in it.

How does anyone realize that within him/herself, perhaps a dormant inner poet or artist lives?  Sometimes the inner poet comes to life out of despair.  Nothing else seems to suffice.  Nothing else calms or soothes.  Sometimes, she is revived through love.  Sometimes, it is when change is forced and the hand you’ve been dealt doesn’t seem to have an open door–poetry can provide the doorway.

Poetry is not only a bolster for the faint of heart.  In fact, poetry is for everyone and especially in these times.

Consider Wendell Berry, novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer, an earth-connected poet of our times.  I love his bit of a poem about salad

“Wash your hands, get them good and clean,
Hurry and find a basket
Let us gather a salad, and so unite
To our passing lives this seasons fruit.”

How relevant is this four line stanza to your daily experience of life?  These days, you better be sure to wash your hands!  Of course, too many of us don’t have a garden to gather lettuce leaves for a salad.  Perhaps there is a farmer’s market nearby or at least a marketplace that gives you that feeling.  However, you gather your salad fixings, to pause and remember our unity to the food that we consume is like a prayer.  Our lives are fleeting and the food we eat to sustain us lends quality to our lives (or it doesn’t)…well, it’s all expressed in this stanza.

Poetry can bring awareness and value to the things we take for granted.  It provides the pause we need in our overly busy lives.  Giving attention to such things makes for a more conscious society.

 

 

My Sister

It’s one month past the year mark of my sister, Kathy’s passing.

Kathryn Jane O’Brien, November 17, 1955 -December 19, 2018.

Over the past several years, I have witnessed my sister, Kathryn, up close as she continued her battle with cancer.  I have seen the qualities of courage, strength and love personified through her.  Love being the constant force.

Selfishly, I did not want her to leave.  Finally, with love, I coached her to leave.  As did other siblings.  She fought the long hard fight with great dignity and respect for herself and others.

Once she committed to Hospice care, her capabilities decreased rapidly.  Over the past few years, she had been managing increasing pain, wearing a compression sleeve for the lymphedema in her right arm, having her lungs drained weekly, thoracentesis.  Her open wound had to be cleaned and bandaged daily.  She hardly complained.

A month before she engaged hospice care, she emailed me in the morning to say that she was a “shipwreck.”  I told her “I’m coming down.”  We spent that afternoon together and a few hours the next day.  For the moment, she had regrouped and was going to go continue the fight for her life.

Then, three weeks later, she was done.  She called our other sister who lived nearby, Susan.  Susan cleared out a room for Kathy in her home.  A hospital bed was delivered.

Bandages, swathing, wrapping, weaving
what battle has she returned from, has she?
The wasteland of her body resounding
reflections of an earth in jeopardy.

How does she heal what seems like a riddle?
Which rhyme does she summon, where lies the key?
In such a haystack, is there a needle?
How does she unwind this tangle, does she?

Is there an apology forthcoming?
or a salve of forgiveness to be applied?
Questions in midair, balance beam teetering
spanning a chasm that seems far and wide.

What falling before this Phoenix rises?
resurrection modeled in each sunrise.

 

 

 

“Truth”

I live in the mountains of northern California.  In early 2018, my sister, Kathy, moved one hour south of me at at a lower elevation.  Prior to moving, Kathy had fought cancer for several years.  She followed her own instincts in treating it.  In January, 2018, she opted for chemotherapy.

Following is an excerpt from my journal at this time.

Angels meet and greet.  Glances exchanged, hearts engaged, hands touch–sisters–when the end is near, the truth becomes clearer.  I couldn’t drive her to her first chemo appointment.  It was yesterday.  It was rescheduled from last week.  Last week, I had a good excuse–a big snowstorm.  My sister, lymphedema in her right arm–swollen beyond recognition.  A warrioress with literal wounds.  A bandage is swathed under her arm and across her chest.  This wound that hasn’t healed–the bandages need to be changed daily.

My word today is truth.  Her word is courage.

I told her that I couldn’t drive her because I couldn’t sit there beside her in the hospital as she underwent this intravenous process.  I wouldn’t have been the best support.  She thanked me for telling her my truth.  If we can’t be straight with one another now, when?

She got her hair cut short.  She asked me to knit her a hat, which I began working on immediately.  I painted her a picture of a woman surrounded by butterflies.  I think that she’s going to make it.  We need optimism.  Truth is, I don’t know very much.  The mystery is here, is in us, is around us, is us.  Nature helps.  I send her daily photos of the nature where I live to calm and center her.  To support her with beauty.

Truth is, some days I think that she’s doing better than me.  Truth is, love is a strange animal–she is always showing up at odd times, giving us opportunities.

Like that night I sat on a log beside my driveway, stargazing.  It was so peaceful, I shut my eyes.  A visiting cat sat beside me.  Out of the shrubbery beside me, a rustle. Opening my eyes, I see a creature emerging.  I can’t name it immediately.  And then,
Skunk.  A few feet apart, we stare at one another.  Neither of us felt threatened.  I watched him waddle away.  Truth is, it felt like love.  Does recognition equal love?

Truth as an expression of love.  I love you enough to tell you the truth.  Is there something that stands in the way of truth?  At least, I can try telling it to myself.  When my parents were in their declining years and the family was in chaos, I began a poem with this line:

“Truth lies in a shallow grave
while perspectives hang out everywhere…”

transformation.

 

“My name is love…”

“My name is love
supreme my sway
The greatest god
and greatest pain,
Air, earth, and seas, my
Power obey,
And gods themselves
must drag my chain.

In every heart my throne I keep,
Fear ne’er could daunt my
daring soul;
I fire the bosom of the deep
and the profoundest hell
control…”

from Don Quixote Part II
by Miguel de Cervantes

L O V E

Love.  It amazes me that we fall in love.  As if it were a puddle, pool or lake.  Do we trip and fall? Are we walking, unawares, and suddenly we’ve fallen in loveInto love?

Everyone writes about love at some point, right?  Do they?  Do you?  How do you define what seems ineffable?  Intangible.  And, has attached to it one’s particular perspective on the definition of what love is.

When you say “I love you,” what are you really saying?

In the quote above, Cervantes has personified love–made it into a person with great power.

This poem, written and read by Edna St. Vincent Millay, surprised me on many levels.

First, the quality and tone of her voice.  Secondly, I had not read this poem before…listening to it for the first time, I felt a certain trepidation–where was she going to land?  And, finally, hearing the conclusion, I felt deeply moved.

Contemplation:
A poem touches us because we fit the meaning to our experience.  Does this feel true to you?  When writing, how do you personify love?

 

Valentine’s Day

heart2

© by Christine O’Brien

The heart wants to love,
that capacious muscle
to open outwards
in trusting embrace
to loosen its tight grip on pain
to soften.

The heart wants to love
free of constraints
of fear, past hurts, rules–
to break apart
releasing butterflies
like an open air arboretum
fragrances floating lightly
on sweet spring’s breath
turning one around
towards love.

♥♥♥♥

WRITING PROMPT:
Do you have a love poem?  If not, find one or write one.
Share a love poem with someone this week.