Poetry


I hate writer’s block.  Especially when it seems to be selective writer’s block, only specifically blocking the one thing I really, really, really need to be working on right now.  And I was on such a roll this morning before I had to stop to go to my first class.  Why can’t I get back there now?  Arrrgh!

So I’m blogging.  Because that helps with writer’s block, right?  Right?  Well, at least it’s an attempt.  It’s better than reading Veronica Mars recaps on Television Without Pity.  Not that I’m, you know, doing that at the moment or anything.  Though it would be research for when Justin trades me his DVDs of the first two Veronica Mars seasons for the Heroes Season One DVDs I just finished.  (I still like Sylar the best, except for perhaps Mr. Muggles.  Is this wrong?)

Ok, moving on… I had a good Easter break.  I dug the vegetable garden and planted sweet peas and lilies of the valley.  Hopefully the seeds haven’t frozen in the ground by now, what with all the random snowflakes flying around, but they’re cold-weather plants, so I think they can take it.  I think.  It was one of the happiest times of the last couple months digging out in the garden under the wide, open sky.  I forget, during those months when I don’t have access to the ground, how much being outside helping things grow fills me up inside.  I don’t know how people could live in urban concrete jungles with no access to growing things.  I couldn’t do it.  I think part of me would die inside.

The Easter Vigil was fun.  I wore my new peep-toe shoes (Liv: “Peep!  Peep!”), and got to sit next to Eric, who is one of my favorite relatives ever.  (No, really, ever.)  We can’t sit next to each other in church too often.  We find the same offbeat things utterly hilarious, and can’t help pointing them out to one another.  It makes for a very distracting sort of Mass.  The Easter Vigil always starts with the lighting of the new fire, followed by the candlelight procession into the church.  After the Easter proclamation, everyone blows out their candles and sits down to listen to the Bible readings.  There are a lot of them since this is the Easter Vigil.  Eric was fidgeting with his candle during the readings, peeling layers of wax off of it, then breaking it into segments and folding it into a figure 8 which then got reinserted into the paper cuff that’s supposed to catch the wax.  This meant that when the time came to relight the candles later in the Vigil, his candle had two ends we could light.  So we did, giggling silently as we watched them burn down extra quickly.  Then I had to recite him the oh, so apropos Edna St. Vincent Millay poem (“My candle burns at both ends,/ It will not last the night./ But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,/ It gives a lovely light.”)  That was pretty funny too.

The other fun thing was that I took Liv home with me for Easter dinner.  I love watching her hang out with my family, especially the guys in my family.  The thing is that she’s really, really beautiful.  However, she doesn’t see her own beauty, particularly since she pays little to no attention to her looks whatsoever.  In her book, her blond sister is the beautiful one in the family, and Liv is the tomboy that nobody looks at twice.  Plus, she grew up rough-housing with two little brothers, so she doesn’t quite understand how the same behavior that’s really annoying in an older sister could be, well, really encouraging in a cute young woman sortof your own age.  It’s a kind of innocence.  Mikey is still young enough that they can play together without worries (plus he’s the one she trusts enough to carry her from my car into the house), but it was interesting watching Larry, my oldest brother.  He had just gotten his hair buzzed really short, so she had to rub it (she rubs her little brothers heads when they’ve just gotten a buzz cut).  It was awesome watching his brain melt and dribble out of his skull right there in my aunt’s living room.

And the other good part about Easter?  I got to talk to Joe.  When I was getting ready to leave my aunt’s house I saw that I’d missed a couple of calls, one from Ella, and one from a number I didn’t recognize.  I didn’t really think it was him, but part of me hoped (I’ve been missing him a lot, and it had been over a month since I got his last letter).  So I listened to my messages right then and there.  One of them was from him, telling me that he’s in New Orleans and giving me a number where I’ll be able to contact him from now until May.  Do you know how long it’s been since I had a phone number I could dial and connect with Joe any old time I wanted?  Years.  I mean, first he was in Afghanistan, then world traveling, then sharing a phone with the whole Jesuit novitiate.  It’s been a long time.  I got myself and Liv home as quickly as I could, went directly up to my room and called 14.  We talked a long time, the first time I think we’ve been able to talk ourselves out since he left town a year ago.  Then last night I called him again, just because I could. 

Now I’m trying to finish up school projects, clean the house to make a good impression of the potential roommate who might come visiting this weekend while I’m gone, and getting ready to leave for Boston.  Yup, friends, it’s time for the Boston Tea Party!  I’ve been waiting for this since I came home from my first Tea Party last year.  I’m so excited and nervous and stressed thinking of all the things that have to happen between now and when I fly out of Columbus on Thursday.  Thank goodness this year I have a room in the actual hotel, and if all goes well I’ll actually make it out for Thursday night instead of missing my flight like last year.  I’m also registered to compete in the West Coast Newcomers Jack & Jill.  Also, John Lindo owes me two dances.

Eeek!  Just thinking about it makes me nervous.  Breathe, Bernadette, breathe.  Ok.  I’m going to take another stab at that paper writing, and if that doesn’t work, I’m doing laundry.

Jenn just messaged me that K-Mart is selling roses for cheap!   Maybe I’ll have my rose garden after all!

So I was thinking about putting together a few New Year’s Resolutions for myself, which caused me to realize a few things. First, I realized that absolutely nothing that I hoped for last year came true for me. Then I realized that this was because pretty much all my hopes were bound up in Carlos making good on all the promises his flirtatious behavior had seemed to make. I had kindof a half-formed goal of becoming a better dancer, but I hadn’t thought much about what that actually meant. My dancing has improved immensely, but if I were to judge the year’s success by my current relationship status, things would look pretty bleak. Sure, there was the Actual Date with Basil, but at year’s end I’m pretty much where I started. So this year I decided that not a single one of my goals should involve romantic relationships in any shape or form. For a while I toyed with the goal of having gone on another Real Date, but in the end I decided even that was too much. Instead, this year I want to focus on other things, like:

  1. My dancing. I have some basic things I know I want to work on (my balance, spinning, not drifting when I spin, relaxing into the lead, etc.), but those are things I’ll be working on probably my whole dancing career. This year I want to work on my solo Charleston. Specifically, I want to be comfortable enough with it, comfortable enough with my own body, that I can dance a whole song by myself without needing anyone else dancing along side me. One of the very few sad things about PittStop was that no matter how infectiously Charleston-y the song was, I couldn’t get anyone to form a Charleston circle with me for love or money, and I wasn’t confident enough to go it alone. Lucy has traditionally been my steady Charleston-circle partner in crime, but there’s a good chance that she might be leaving town later this year. So I need to work up the chops to go it alone. We’ll see how that goes.
  2. My friends. There are too many people I really care about whom I hardly ever see. This is partly because for the last two years I’ve been consistently choosing to spend my available free time dancing, and too many of my friends don’t dance. Still, I care about them and I don’t want to let them slip through my fingers for lack of a little effort. I’m a person who needs structure, so I’ve been trying to think of ways to structure friend time into my life. So far what I’ve come up with is having friends come over to watch TV with me, now that I actually have a TV night again. I know there’s got to be other ways to work this in. I’d be happy to hear other people’s ideas on this.
  3. My finances. I’m not gonna lie – I’m pretty much a spaz when it comes to money. I do stupid things. I buy stuff I don’t need. I either don’t plan ahead or I don’t follow the plan I have. I’ve bought the financial software, but I don’t use it. I never turn necessary paperwork in on time. I’m just awful at this stuff, and I know it. The accumulated impact of failure after failure becomes so overwhelming sometimes that I become emotionally paralyzed and can’t do anything at all until something snaps me out of it. However, little by little I’ve been improving, planning ahead, taking necessary steps to make sure every thing’s covered. I’m still far from perfect, but I have hopes that finally, this year I’ll get my stuff together.
  4. My writing. I took first prize in a poetry contest in 2007. Now I have two publishing creds under my belt. I’d like to have more. I don’t want to set a goal for acceptances or prizes, but I would like to send out at least two submissions every month. It’s not a lot, but I think it’s an important step for me. In his latest letter Joe sent me information on a poetry competition for a magazine he reads. I think I’ll start there.

And that’s what I have. I think they’re pretty good goals, challenging but achievable. The best part? None of them involve romance!

On Saturday I spent the afternoon working in the kitchen, baking bread for the formal dinner I went to last night, among other things. I was wearing one of my bibless chef’s aprons over a long jean skirt and a grey sweater. My hair was pulled back in a clip at the nape of my neck. At one point I slipped on my favorite new ballet flats to take something out to the trash. When I was outside, I looked down at myself and realized that I was dressed like Cinderella, even down to the shoes. Make my hair blond and exchange the clip for a ribbon, and we’d be pretty much there.

To make the similarity even more exact, later that night I exchanged my work clothes for formal dress, including a long, ballgown skirt and many, many rhinestones (of the vintage variety). The party I went to was, unfortunately, not a ball – although there was dancing, and I danced. However, no one gentleman monopolized my time, and while I did happen to leave at midnight, my car continues to bear no resemblance to a pumpkin, and all my shoes are fully accounted for. Though I did lose a button off my skirt. Maybe tomorrow I’ll hear a knock on the door and open it to find a liveried lackey standing outside holding my skirt button ensconced on a large pillow. When I can produce the matching skirt, he’ll forthwith lead me to his employer, who will be the Man of My Dreams. We’ll live happily ever after, of course. That’s what you do in fairy tales.

Unfortunately, for this to really work, said Man of My Dreams had to have also been attending the party last night. While there were some truly excellent guys at that party, I’m pretty darn sure none of them are the Prince Charming I’ve been waiting for. Sigh.  Though Lucy did award me her personal Best Dressed Award, so I think, all in all, it was worth it. Though you don’t have to take her word for it – judge for yourself (I’m the one with the pomegranate):

B with pomegranate

Sunday when I went home for the Family Christmas Planning Meeting Part II, I picked up the envelope from the Ohio Poetry Day Association, containing a Certificate of Merit for winning First Prize in the Welcome Aboard Poetry Competition, as well as a check for $35. It was pretty sweet. I have to fight the urge to frame the check and keep it forever instead of cashing it. Don’t worry. It won’t be a long fight.

I’ve been working on my final project for my poetry writing class, which involves looking back over the work I’ve done this semester.  In the course of this, I found this essay I wrote at the beginning of the class.  It sums up so much about who I am and what I want to do with my life that I thought I’d post it here.  Enjoy!

The question of what I want to write about is inextricably tied up with what kind of writer I wish to be.  Although I have been writing poetry longer, I have come to realize that my true vocation is to be a theologian.  I anticipate spending much of my professional career writing and teaching about God.  However, theology and poetry have much in common – they are both about something that cannot really be expressed or explained.  God is the ultimate mystery.  No matter how deeply we delve there will always be more depths to explore.  I think every poem (at least good poems) are small mysteries.  A true poem is a sum that is greater than all its parts, using everyday words and constructions to brush up against those depths.  In some ways poetry can be understood as the attempt to use words to show us something that cannot be described.  The theologian would say that this is God.  To be a great theologian is to be a person so full of God that He leaks out of your pores.  One of the ways God can leak out of a person is poetry.  There is a long tradition of theologian poets.  Thomas Aquinas was one.  We sing his great love poems to the Eucharist every Holy Thursday.  John Paul II was another.  I hope that one day I may be one too.

            I was once told that every artist who paints the human figure, no matter who that portrait is supposed to be, really paints themselves over and over again.  I do not know how much I believe it – my source has a history of being careless about the things she cares to repeat – however, I think that there is something to what she said.  We are all of us narcissists.  What we really want to write about is ourselves.  However, there is more to it than narcissism.  The only experience of being human we will ever know is our own.  To know what it means to be human, what distinguishes the human from all the rest of the world, means to begin with ourselves.  If you believe, as I do, that the human person is created in the image and likeness of God, then to know ourselves we must also know God.  And we’re back to theology again.

            They say that St. Francis of Assisi once sat up all night asking God, “Who are you and who am I?”  They don’t say whether he ever got any answers.

            To write about humanity is to write about love.  We are such odd things, we human beings.  We are body and soul, all mixed together such that, even when artificially separated from our bodies in death we cry out to be reunited.  We are fragile and terrible at the same time.  And we do not exist in this world alone.  We live with other people, and interact with them.  Sometimes we even love them.  By this I do not mean romantic love, although that is a part of it, and traditionally the part that poets find easiest to write about.  Instead I’m talking about the blood and bone sort of love, the kind of love that came to us with nails through His hands and thorns on His head.  This is the love that does dishes and changes dirty diapers and takes out the trash without being asked.  This is the stuff of everyday heroism, the stuff that adds up to true holiness, the stuff out of which saints are made.

            So this is what I want to write about: what it means to be human, to be made, both body and spirit, in the image and likeness of God, and what it means to love other embodied persons as we experience it in the most concrete details of our everyday life.  This is a project that would demand the best of both theology and poetry, applied over a lifetime of continuous effort.  I can’t wait!

I offer this small poem for your delectation.  Note: I have no idea who the author is.  If you know, you should tell me.  And with that disclaimer:

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz –
I wonder where them birdies is.
The little birds is on the wing – ain’t that absurd?
The little wings is on the bird!

Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week…