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Catch a Poem by the Tail
A few nights ago, I woke at 3 AM with half a chapter pouring from my bones. In a half-in/half-out moment, I tried to talk myself out of waking and typing out the words. It was so late, the middle of the night. Surely I’d remember them come sunrise if they were meant to be. And then my inner voice called bullshit. The words were screaming to be let free, to be given ink and parchment. Anne Lamott reminds us always to carry a pen because those words, those wild and wondrous words, are floating through the atmosphere always, and they are searching for portals to make them seen. If we aren’t ready, they will keep floating, moaning, howling for a pen ready to go – for a laptop ready to spring open.
Instantly, a memory flashed to my mind — I was sitting at the dinner table of a dear old friend, wood grains polished with love and oil passed on for generations. That table had been carried on a wagon across prairies, the one fine heirloom an ancestral mother could not part with. I put my hands on her layers, delicate and smooth after years of life, and listened as my friend told me the story of Ruth Stone.
He’d watched Elizabeth Gilbert give a Ted Talk where she said, “As [Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields, and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air, and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming (because it would shake the earth under her feet), she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, run like hell to the house as she would be chased by this poem. The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so she could collect it and grab it on the page when it thundered through her. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her, and she would miss it, and it would continue on across the landscape looking for ‘another poet.’ And then there were these times. There were moments when she would almost miss it. She is running to the house and is looking for the paper, and the poem passes through her. She grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and she reaches out with her other hand and she catches it. She would catch the poem by its tail and pull it backward into her body as she was transcribing on the page. In those instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact, but backward, from the last word to the first.“
I remember gasping when I heard this story for the first time. It felt familiar. I write like this. I write from the middle, sometimes the near-end even, and then go back and slide words around to say what I’d meant and what the words wanted to say all along. I amend the page so the work can be what it wants to be.
I am a vessel, but I am not the words. I pour my soul into this pigment and paper, and at the very same time, I am aware this is a holy dance. This is a ritual of the most sacred kind. Both of us are meeting here, at this moment, sharing this space and these words at the exact same moment.
I have a confession. I’ve taken to sleeping with my laptop. I do not mean this metaphorically. My laptop, with her salty stickers and scratched-up cover, is lying flat on the sheets beside my pillow as we speak. It is currently 2:24 AM, and I am sitting upright, with my glorious new readers on, typing these words to you, my loves. By now, Steve is used to this. He sometimes sees me dozing mid-sentence and slides my laptop onto the floor, but more often than not, he kisses my sleeping cheek, lifts his pillow, and moves to the guest room. That’s the magic of twenty years together. He knows he married an artist, and he knows that the more in the flow I am, the better. So, we make room. We let it be unconventional and strange. We smile and roll our eyes and shoulders, and then we pop champagne and celebrate when all our little eccentric pieces make gorgeous new things. Books. Art. Conversation. Podcasts and meetings and mile markers. All of it belongs. We are teaching our kids to do the same.
Recently, I took advantage of a free hotel credit and booked a room just for me. Our home doesn’t have a bathtub, and I have learned that I am a woman who needs a bathtub. So, from time to time, I find pockets where I can stick a pin in life and slip away. I pack my 89¢ Target lavender facemask, put my phone on silent, slide into a too-hot bath, and let my playlist lull me into bliss. When I told Mercy that I was going away for a night, she smiled and coyly joked, “OMG, Mom, go ahead and take a selfish!” (her Schitt’s Creek reference is the affirmation I need to confirm I’m on the right parenting track.)
So, here I am. Sleeping with my laptop. Waking at all hours writing strange and wonderful things, stacking them into Google Docs like I’m Gandolf fighting for Middle-earth. It is that sort of season. Not all are. But I am reminded of what Mother Taylor said about writing folklore during the pandemic, “This lockdown could have been a time where I absolutely lost my mind, and instead, this album was a real floatation device for both of us.” I was living in a cabin in the north woods of Arizona a year after Taylor wrote folklore. I played that album every single day. I was mostly alone, except for my two feral kids, my two feral dogs, and the wild deer who said hello every night at dusk. I stopped social media and social real-life, quit drinking, and let the words flow. And they did. I wrote Slow Burn, my part of it, in those three months. Granted, it was a very raw and rough draft, but I loved her just the same. The world had stopped. We were all on our own, kid – and as I am learning with my toes dipped into midlife, everything is an invitation.
Every experience. The good, the bad, the ugly. The strange and unruly. The wild and unknown. The difficult, the struggle. The brilliant and sparkling laughter of it all.
Everything is an invitation.
I love the spectrum we are building as a society, especially my fellow Xennials, our precious ragtag bunch of free-range adult children who grew up and decided we are more than the binary of thought, of belief, of gender, of sexuality and identity. Ugh– I love us for that. Can we take a moment and slow clap for having the audacity to take the pen back and write our own narrative? May we continue to push the boundaries and make more room, adding extensions to our tables, pulling folding chairs from the garage and stacking couch cushions to make just one more spot, and one more still.
May our kitchens be messy
because we’re slopping plates
of spaghetti for our neighbors
and for the parts of us we’ve forgotten to feed.
May the hunger within us be satisfied
with scoops of I see you
and heaps of I believe you
and especially, especially, seconds of you are not alone, and you belong.
I recently gave up lotion because I read about the dangers of PAH’s and once you know, there is just no unknowing. So — in my quest for what-else-to-use, I have fallen in love with fractionated coconut oil. Here is the link, so you can too.
This book. I am still digesting it, still processing and untangling what it meant to me, what I wanted it to mean, and what I wonder it could mean if the author were to write another one. I love women who write.
The kids and I recently created a Monarch Waystation in our front yard. We planted milkweed and registered our yard on the national registry, and you can too! It was a really fun and meaningful experience, and we’re excited to (hopefully) see some monarch caterpillars on those leaves come late spring next year! (just in time for Slow Burn!)
These linen sheets. I have them in rust, and they are a dream. Get even softer with each wash.
This playlist is perfect for when you want to be in an instant good mood! It’s also perfect for when you’re cleaning the house and feel like dancing while you mop.