Journal

My Life in Poems

by | Aug 10, 2014 | Books

I wrote my very first poem for a school assignment in the third grade. I remember the exhilaration I felt when the words came to me and I realized, “I can do this.” I wrote many poems for my teacher, Mrs. Blank, that year.
I don’t remember them, but I remember the delight I felt in writing them.

As I look back, I realize that writing poetry rather quickly became a vital way for me to observe the world and process my life. I remember the poem about our backyard mimosa tree, that opened its leaves in the morning and closed them at night. There was the poem welcoming my mother home from the hospital with a new baby. Then came poems of unspeakable grief after my baby brother’s death of SIDS later that year, and poems of utter joy and the sense of the miraculous two years later when a new baby was born.

Others kept diaries; I wrote poems. Years later would come the one about my newlywed apartment with its peeling paint, decrepit pipes and army of cockroaches. There was the one about wanting desperately to be a good mother but feeling overwhelmed after my third – or was it fourth – C-section. There were poems about migraine, love, marriage, about having my two-day old first grandchild wrap her little fist around my finger.

There were the sonnets written in the hospital as a form of prayer while my teenage son underwent chemotherapy, and the sonnets of joy and gratitude when he came through it, thank G-d healthy and ready to take on the world.

There were poems about writing poems, poems that were stories and poems written for family occasions. There were those written to understand the spiritual lessons of a family conflict, a car accident, a terrible fall. There were poems of awe and sudden, unexpected connection with G-d.

And today, by the grace of G-d the poems keep coming – part meditation, part prayer, part art. They are my anchor in the visible world and the ribbon that connects me with the invisible.

Here are a few poems that I’ve written over the years. “Release Me” is a sonnet written during an unaccustomed period when I could not seem to carve out time to write. It is unnerving for me to read it today, because about two years after I wrote it I suffered a literal, catastrophic fall and broke my jaw and my ribs. It tells me we ignore our inner promptings at our peril.

Release Me

I prayed for light, dear G-d, so I could see;
I’d groped around in darkness far too long.
So You lit up my sacred path for me
With painful shocks whenever I went wrong.
And so I learned, but still my courage fails me.
But why? What power holds me in such thrall?
I beg You, G-d, please heal whatever ails me,
But I cannot take another major fall.
And while it’s true I know my path by now,
Yet others’ wishes still take precedence.
Does fear of censure override my vow
To You, or do I doubt my inner sense?
  Whatever phantom captor stills my pen,
  Release me, G-d, that I may write again.

“Formation” was written at the beach and completely surprised me. I thought I was simply writing about seagulls. But it turned out to be about something else entirely.

Formation

Seagulls in precise formation.
The shape: a children’s kite.
Above the waves a constellation
Of gulls in graceful flight.
Then one falls out, goes off alone.
The others circle round,
Escort him back, reclaim their own.
The raucous cries resound!
  Does he feel joyful, thus included,
  Or weep at freedom just eluded?

“Whispers” is a poem for children about writing poetry. It came unexpectedly to me as I prepared to give a poetry workshop to third grade girls!

Whispers

I do not know where morning went;
  It up and ran away.
I did not see the time I spent
  On my new poem today.

For I was caught surprised again;
  It nabbed me in the shower.
So dripping wet, I grabbed my pen
  And then forgot the hour.

I did not eat; I’m barely dressed.
  I know I’m running late.
But I’m elated, not distressed,
  For nothing feels so great

As when a poem is coming through
  And I am hardly there.
The only thing that I must do
  Is stay alert, aware.

With pen in hand I write the words
  Whispered in my ear
By fairies, elves, or little birds
  Or maybe… G-d is near,

Giving me these words to write –
  It’s been this way before.
I pray my poems will bring delight
  And please, G-d, give me more.

And last is the first. I don’t have most of my childhood poems, but I’ve never forgotten the very first one. Written at the beginning of the school year, it was called simply, “The Fall.”

The Fall
(New York, 1959)

Some leaves turn red and some turn brown,
Then the leaves come tumbling down.
The birds fly south and go away;
They will come back in April and May.
Now we can’t go in the pool
Because we have to go to school.
Before we know it we’ll have snow –
I like the summer better, though.

I don’t remember them, but I remember the delight I felt in writing them.

As I look back, I realize that writing poetry rather quickly became a vital way for me to observe the world and process my life. I remember the poem about our backyard mimosa tree, that opened its leaves in the morning and closed them at night. There was the poem welcoming my mother home from the hospital with a new baby. Then came poems of unspeakable grief after my baby brother’s death of SIDS later that year, and poems of utter joy and the sense of the miraculous two years later when a new baby was born.

Others kept diaries; I wrote poems. Years later would come the one about my newlywed apartment with its peeling paint, decrepit pipes and army of cockroaches. There was the one about wanting desperately to be a good mother but feeling overwhelmed after my third – or was it fourth – C-section. There were poems about migraine, love, marriage, about having my two-day old first grandchild wrap her little fist around my finger.

There were the sonnets written in the hospital as a form of prayer while my teenage son underwent chemotherapy, and the sonnets of joy and gratitude when he came through it, thank G-d healthy and ready to take on the world.

There were poems about writing poems, poems that were stories and poems written for family occasions. There were those written to understand the spiritual lessons of a family conflict, a car accident, a terrible fall. There were poems of awe and sudden, unexpected connection with G-d.

And today, by the grace of G-d the poems keep coming – part meditation, part prayer, part art. They are my anchor in the visible world and the ribbon that connects me with the invisible.

Here are a few poems that I’ve written over the years. “Release Me” is a sonnet written during an unaccustomed period when I could not seem to carve out time to write. It is unnerving for me to read it today, because about two years after I wrote it I suffered a literal, catastrophic fall and broke my jaw and my ribs. It tells me we ignore our inner promptings at our peril.

Release Me

I prayed for light, dear G-d, so I could see;
I’d groped around in darkness far too long.
So You lit up my sacred path for me
With painful shocks whenever I went wrong.
And so I learned, but still my courage fails me.
But why? What power holds me in such thrall?
I beg You, G-d, please heal whatever ails me,
But I cannot take another major fall.
And while it’s true I know my path by now,
Yet others’ wishes still take precedence.
Does fear of censure override my vow
To You, or do I doubt my inner sense?
  Whatever phantom captor stills my pen,
  Release me, G-d, that I may write again.

“Formation” was written at the beach and completely surprised me. I thought I was simply writing about seagulls. But it turned out to be about something else entirely.

Formation

Seagulls in precise formation.
The shape: a children’s kite.
Above the waves a constellation
Of gulls in graceful flight.
Then one falls out, goes off alone.
The others circle round,
Escort him back, reclaim their own.
The raucous cries resound!
  Does he feel joyful, thus included,
  Or weep at freedom just eluded?

“Whispers” is a poem for children about writing poetry. It came unexpectedly to me as I prepared to give a poetry workshop to third grade girls!

Whispers

I do not know where morning went;
  It up and ran away.
I did not see the time I spent
  On my new poem today.

For I was caught surprised again;
  It nabbed me in the shower.
So dripping wet, I grabbed my pen
  And then forgot the hour.

I did not eat; I’m barely dressed.
  I know I’m running late.
But I’m elated, not distressed,
  For nothing feels so great

As when a poem is coming through
  And I am hardly there.
The only thing that I must do
  Is stay alert, aware.

With pen in hand I write the words
  Whispered in my ear
By fairies, elves, or little birds
  Or maybe… G-d is near,

Giving me these words to write –
  It’s been this way before.
I pray my poems will bring delight
  And please, G-d, give me more.

And last is the first. I don’t have most of my childhood poems, but I’ve never forgotten the very first one. Written at the beginning of the school year, it was called simply, “The Fall.”

The Fall
(New York, 1959)

Some leaves turn red and some turn brown,
Then the leaves come tumbling down.
The birds fly south and go away;
They will come back in April and May.
Now we can’t go in the pool
Because we have to go to school.
Before we know it we’ll have snow –
I like the summer better, though.

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