Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Yesterday afternoon...

as I walked to the studio, I was reading something by Natalie Goldberg that hasn't left me since. It's long, but I'll share some of it.

How Poetry Saved My Life
"I was in my early twenties and knew nothing but a hunger, a wild restlessness, an unease. I had no landing place and no direction after I graduated from college with a BA in English and found no one who wanted to hire me for the sake of literature, the one thing I loved faithfully since ninth grade. No one even seemed to value it. I was bewildered and out on my own in the big, non-matriculated world.
Then one exquisite October afternoon, sitting on a futon in a communal house on the corner of Hill and Olivia in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1972, I experienced time collapse and space move into rivers. The wall exploded into a bath of black crows and electricity passed through my burning hand. No longer did I push words around on a page. A town, a bakery on a street, a friendship I once loved, all shimmered. A hold thing had happened. I had written my first true poem. Poetry was no longer relegated only to the realm of dead white men from the seventeenth century who had lived across the ocean and filled my classroom textbooks. Poetry was mine. A synapse had connected. I could write.
For the first time I noticed trees and flowers. I learned names: Russian olive, elm, oak, peony, geranium, petunia, marigold. Details mattered. Cracks on sidewalks, broken glass, worn stop signs, everything spoke to me. Rock, leaf, car. I rode rushes of thought with my cheap pen. I gripped a spiral notebook.
Poetry, I whispered, poetry.
My mind extended over clouds, insects, birds, small lost countries. I now had a purpose, a direction. My grandmother's soup exposed layers of possibility, my father's white starched shirt held my attention. Tomato soup, Brillo, World War II, ceiling paint, Ohio, this knee, that clock, his ring, all had weight and gravity. A kiss was no longer just a kiss-- let it crack open a line for me. Let my heart break. I knew nothing. I received all.
Before poetry, I was lost. Now loss had a smell, a color, a texture. A fast train could split its side. I held lost childhood, lost shoe, lost moment. They belonged to me and I was found.
There was nothing I couldn't speak about. My most mundane experience could take shape. If I peeled a grape, land slid in Caracas. If I bought a pair of pants, there was rain in the Sahara. Do you see it? A woman mattered. She had muscle and the force of storms."

I read that while walking. Walking and reading, walking and reading. Sometimes I feel like I could walk forever. This book, Top of My lungs, is a book of poems, paintings and this essay. This woman inspires me. A few years ago she helped me to break through in my own writing. I'm not sure how, except that I carried her words around inside of me. It was a mixture of many things. Tasha, Jonathan and I were talking about that yesterday. I remember the exact moment it happened-- that words took on a life of their own. The world split open like an egg, its insides spilling out. The same thing eventually happened with painting. Maybe the two most incredible moments of my life. Like crossing that high mountain pass in the Himalayas that I thought I might never reach, but did-- nothing but deep blue sky, snow, and silence. Strange moments--these things that lead you to the other side of existence, when time collapses, when breath and air become something other than expected. It is a falling-- deeply, deeply in love. With no way of turning back.

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