How did this man enter my life? How did his poetry spill into my life so completely? He’s been in my bed so many times… and I can’t even remember where I first met him?!?
I can remember when poetry itself decided to explode into my life. Fourteen years ago and newly in Austin, Texas, I had ended up on a Chamber of Commerce committee for the arts in charge of a member happy hour. I scrounged up a list of artists from somewhere and invited them, too. I figured it might be easier to raise money for the arts if more people actually met artists. The sociable was only marginally sociable when two longhaired young men in combat boots suddenly stormed in, shook my hand off of my arm, jumped up on two chairs and began performing. Loudly, and lyrically. Inexplicably, and perfectly. Just six minutes of lapidary words and ardent emotion, and the entire room was transfixed.
And, I was hooked on the burgeoning Poetry Slam movement. They had been there to announce a fundraiser and performance the very next week for their team to attend Nationals. National what? Team who? I went, and I was blown away. I knew that I was in the presence of art at its source, which is of course the heart brimming to overflowing, and I knew that my heart needed art like this.
A few years later, my heart was bursting. The first nights of separation from one’s own children are inexplicable, and very imperfect. In the actual days and arrangements that begin a divorce, again and again you say “Goodbye!” and “Have a great time with your daddy!” with as much fierce love as you can muster because you want more than anything for your precious ones to hear that it’s really going to be alright. Then, you close the door and hear nothing.
During that time, I was doing a good job of getting out, socializing, attending events and more. But, at some point you get in bed and it is only you. Poetry was helping me understand that this is not a bad thing. That this is the elemental thing, regardless of how many people we will ever be with or surrounded with or love with or more. That, fundamentally, we are always alone. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke was something of a connoisseur of solitude. He said, “It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.” He also more famously said, “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.”
Rilke has also become a dear friend, but it was E. E. Cummings who climbed into bed with me. I know the first book to climb into my hands was this one with the turquoise and black cover, 95 Poems. From whom or from where, I have no idea. What better description of a spiritual book can there be? One of those many quiet nights in bed, I sat up and began reading every poem out loud. Slam poets had taught me the importance of the voice of poetry, of speaking it in order to really hear it. The first verse of E. E.’s ninety-second poem helped me speak to my girls through the ether…
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
More and more poems. More and more nights. More and more beautiful gifts like this. Even more, though, the words gave me this one elemental gift—I heard my own voice. It’s so hard to explain, but I began to hear myself in a way unrelated to communication. We talk illimitably every day, and we think in infinite clouds of words. But, in a twilight of inherent solitude, I was hearing not only my own presence, but the validity of that presence.
Several years before, I was just hanging out with my daughter Larkin, then only five, when I said something I’d been saying a lot to both of my girls. In a rigorous effort to assure that the fundamental voices inside of their young heads were fundamentally positive—as opposed to the voices that had filled my own young head, shaming voices I was spending years in therapy to eradicate—I said, “Larkin, remember, you deserve to be happy.” She squished up her nose and looked at me with quizzical eyebrows. I thought it was because she was getting sick of hearing this. Instead, with the bemusement attendant to something being so obvious she replied, “Well, so do you, Mommy!”
The fact that I was so floored, and so choked up, speaks louder than any more words here. I will simply close with a few more words from Saint E. E., both as a gift and as an illustration of just how much our hearts can grow, and brim.
i thank You God for this most amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)