Even though my days as a poetry graduate student are far, far behind me, I still seem to have some of the self-perception issues that plagued me in the day. You see, the job of a poet (at least as I see it) is to say something essential; say it with an economy of words-- only the right words; transmit messages that are encoded and decoded, so they are sort of an app that shows up and opens itself to the reader-- enacting, running the program.
The problem is, I don't have the will to be a poet. I have the ideas; I have the language; I have the spiritual desire to make things. I am just afraid. I am also inconstant. I distract easily. I am a magpie of ideas and images. Oooooh! Look at the pretty over there! And zap, moving on.
Except, recently, after a long blogging hiatus and exorbitant facebooking, I signed up to audition for "Listen to Your Mother". LTYM was started last year by Blogstress with the Mostess and Jewish Humorista Ann Imig, who also happens to have a son with the same name as mine, and who is a parent at my son's former preschool.
Last year I did not read at LTYM. I feared "I am woman hear me roar" or, worse, Hallmark theater. When I dared peer into last year's video of LTYM, I was blown away. Nothing of my fears. But fierceness. FIERCENESS. And people I couldn't have imagined listening to, I listened to. They had something to say to me.
So when I saw the call for auditions this year for LTYM I said to myself SHIT. I don't want to do this I do NOT WANT TO DO THIS. But my mother self said Screw you it'll be good for you. Mother knows best, doesn't she? Crap.
I struggled and struggled. What did I have to talk about? What DIDN'T I have to talk about? Fret fret fret frette. Frette is a bedspread. A yucky bedspread. Write anything.
So, on the urging of a friend, I wrote a poem. I fell back on writing a sestina, because I love sestinas (I particularly love this sestina from Elizabeth Bishop called "One Art"). I love the repetition of the end words. So, here was my sestina. Not perfect, but not half bad:
Sestina for Six AM
I woke up at six.
Through the monitor, my daughter was having a serious word
with the assembled animals in her bed.
What I understood was only a fragment,
some misbehavior. Some laughing. Stop!
The wards were getting restless. I the mom! I mom!
Then the rankling, like a cup against metal bars. Maaaaaaaamiiiiiiiiiiii
as if suddenly she were reminded of my existence as the six
o’clock alarm clicked on at five past to stop
her machinations. She utters THE word
which makes all things happen; which lifts her from her bed
into the morning which continues like a fragment
of some conversation from the night before, not rested, but embedded
and continued. Even Dora calls out from the infernal talking dollhouse, “Hola, mama!”
as if we must be surrounded by things that fragment
our thoughts to not let us get too deep; The six
year old slumbers on. Sometimes I can hear the murmur of unintelligible words
through his door, a flow that doesn’t stop
even when it seems like all motion, all thought should stop.
It’s like constant traffic, even in bed.
Syllables being hatched and born into words.
What is that like? To be born into words, like mom
came to mean ME six
years ago (I have to count on my fingers), as though even that fragment
of control, of time, escapes me. I peel fragments
of the orange and place it on the tray, in front of my daughter and stop
in thought. Or out of thought. Then she counts back to me-- to six
though she does not-- cannot-- understand numbers. She sings No more beeeehd
because it makes sense, doesn’t it to her? Mom
is the beginning of word.
are just a convenient way of taking fragments
and making sense. Yes, slivered, mom
is elemental, full-stop.
Developed or grown from seed in the world’s flower bed.
In the beginning, God created six
days and rested on the seventh. Mom has a word
for Six AM. It is eternal. It does not rest; it fragments.
Stop. Go back to bed.
But that was just what got me started. Now I was furiously trying to find something else-- I was NOT going to read poetry in front of an audience again. N-O-T, as in NOTHANKYOU. Then a friend-- Jen over at the Checkered Chicken-- encouraged me to write about my relationship with my mother.
So apparently that's how I ended up reading on Mother's Day in front of 350 people at the Barrymore Theater in Madison with 12 other amazing mothers. I still can't believe I did it-- mostly because I can't believe what I said IN FRONT OF 350 PEOPLE, including, apparently, former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. Really? Did I really have to clue in the Feds in front of Russ freaking Feingold?
I guess I did. I will post the video as soon as it is up. In the meantime, believe me that it was great and awful and freeing. And now I'm here doing the blog thing again because what more can happen to me if I don't try? Nothing. Nothing will happen if you don't try. Things may happen TO you, but they won't happen FOR you.
So listen to me. Pretend I'm your mother. I'll make you eggs. Now get out of here.