I open the book and the spine makes a stiff, cracking sound. This volume has sat on my bookshelf for many years, gathering dust. I realize, as I flip through the pages, that I have never read the Editor’s Note in the front. I do this now, and wonder why I didn’t before. It tells a little of the selection process for publishing literary works, this volume being the second volume of The Louisville Review that contains “The Children’s Corner.” They have collected poetry from around world, written by children under the age of 18. I never thought of this as much to be proud of, never gave it a second thought, but now as I thumb through the stiff pages and read words printed twenty years ago I am strangely moved. My poem, written when I was around 15 years old, is on page 49. Part of me still wonders that it has a place there.
I have pulled this book from the shelf because we are studying poetry this year, part of our curriculum involves the weekly study, reading and writing of poems. I never really thought to study a poem, poetry to me seemed intuitive, something I feel rather than think. Most poetry instruction I had in school did little to inspire me to write (or read) anything poetic…lengthy descriptions of A-B rhyme scheme or iambic pentameter never lit a literary fire under anyone I know. So I have been pleasantly surprised to find that I am enjoying reading Painless Poetry aloud to the kids and using it as a springboard for discussion and writing.
It was during one of these discussions that I remembered the poem in The Louisville Review and so here I am, holding this piece of the past, thinking how young Fifteen seems now and how old it seemed then. Poetry and I, we have a history and this is a part of it I wonder how I can pass poetry on to my children without the bitterness of it, wonder if the poetry I write now conveys joy as well as it channels pain, if they can grow up with poetry as a joyful way of celebrating words and life as much as a way to rip raw pain from inside, put it down in concrete form to look at face-to-face.
I realize that they are starting this journey into poetry with a clean slate, the baggage is mine and there is little chance they will pick it up. I realize that poetry has been a secret thing of mine in many ways, a scar to hide. That even now, as I have been writing and sharing it in a very public way, I struggle with this.
I read the poem, read it again. I decide it isn’t that bad, really. I brush the cover lightly with my shirtsleeve, wipe dust from the top of the book. I place the volume on top of the stack of school books, ready for the day. Today, I will share this with my kids. I will trust that they will take poetry and use it in a fresh way of their own, I will count on the fact that scars heal and are not inheritable.
Poem for a Dyslexic Counterpart (1989)
What do we add up to, you and I?
If I could remember the word
maybe I could spell it out–
is it “irony”?
An eleven-year battle with words, letters, and numbers
as if these were part of life, itself.
No combination of words can make a flower bloom
no letter can describe a baby’s sigh,
or a lover’s kiss, or a silver moonbeam.
No number can count the stars in the evening sky
or rate the laughter in a friend’s eyes.
To you and me, these words come slowly
like snowflakes on your tongue
you reach out to touch them
and then they’re gone.
One step forward, a stumble back
the apparition is there
sometimes we see the vision
sometimes it slips away.
But there are times when less is more–
“Admiration” has more letters,
but how can it compare to “love”?
I have seen a flower in bloom,
heard a baby sigh, understood a kiss,
studied a moonbeam, slept beneath the stars,
and shared the laughter in your eyes.
I have struggled, have laughed and cried,
have loved and hated, have sung and smiled and run
with all the people in this life we share
I believe that all we need to know
we knew at the moment of our conception
and that is love–
and all the letters in this world
and all the words they spell
could never equal this elementary emotion.
Will you love poetry more
if you need it less?
My children, take these words
and bend it to your will
use it to speak, to shout, to sing
your hearts aloud.
Take these lines and mold them,
they will be your soldiers
an ever-changing army
at your command.
Form your battalions
line them in formation
and send them forth,
fearless and strong.
Late to the party, but the poetry prompt at High Calling Blogs this week inspired me to write down what I was thinking today as I prepared for school.