Poetry and homage

December 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

2010, a year spent with my head so far up my ass that I didn’t even realize that one of my favorite poets died.

Overstatement, obviously, but in today’s New York Times Magazine, there was a short biography on the poet Lucille Clifton, and it reminded me of a poem that just hit me so hard, in high school, again in college, and again right now. It’s the first time I’ve read it since I had Lena.

the lost baby poem

the time i dropped your almost body down
 down to meet the waters under the city
 and run one with the sewage into the sea
 what did i know about waters rushing back
 what did i know about drowning
 or being drowned

 you would have been born into winter
 in the year of the disconnected gas
 and no car    we would have made the thin
 walk over genesee hill into the canada wind

 to watch you slip like ice into strangers' hands
 you would have fallen naked as snow into winter
 if you were here i could tell you these
 and some other things

 if i am ever less than a mountain
 for your definite brothers and sisters
 let the rivers pour over my head
 let the sea take me for a spiller
 of seas    let black men call me stranger
 always    for your never named sake

Lucille Clifton

I read this in high school, I don’t remember where, and I didn’t get it at first. For a while, I remember. It was just the words really, how it sounded when read out loud, and it didn’t need any more meaning than the crescendo of if i am ever less than a mountain/for your definite brothers and sisters… the well-placed enjambments and pauses, ah…this poem, this poem to me exemplifies what poetry has the power to do.

Okay, and then I became more worldly and figured out that it was about a miscarriage, and it really started to make sense to me, and the words that I had previously loved for their simple beauty together combined to tell a story as deep and full as any novel. And the images became as real and hauntingly beautiful as the words that created them. Isn’t that cool, I remember thinking, that a poem can do that?

In the world of facebook and twitter and blogging, the invention of tabs within internet browsers, I have become an expert multi-tasker. I am able to look up articles on PubMed, check genes and chromosome positions on UCSC genome browser, while simultaneously watching clips from the Daily Show and keeping up with celebrity gossip blogs. It is the gift and the curse of my generation.

The one thing I haven’t been able to multitask on is writing. Do you remember when I used to like, write poetry? I mean, I did, I swear. If you don’t remember I don’t blame you, but I did.

Things are slowing down now. Lena has the wonderful ability to entertain herself. There are less tantrums (at least for this month), and I’m learning again to have time for myself. I’ve started to work on some short stories, some poems, and a new year’s resolution of mine is to go to an open mic and read a poem. I used to love reading poems aloud. I never had too much confidence in my writing alone, but I did have confidence in my delivery, in my ability to convey to an audience with my voice, what maybe my words alone could not. (This is why, and I’ve always loved when we did this in my creative writing classes, sometimes the most helpful thing is to hear someone else read your poem aloud. You can see where they think the emphasis and pauses should be, and then you rewrite and revise based on that.)

Oh what was I saying? Oh yeah, that I’m writing more. And I read this poem this morning and that line, that if i am ever less than a mountain line, hit me again. Brought tears to my eyes again. Those words!

IF I AM EVER LESS THAN A MOUNTAIN.

if i am ever less than a mountain

anyway. It’s the tagline to my blog now, for the moment. I just want it there to remember (though I could never, ever forget.)

It’s wonderful here, today. 4 inches of snow, Lena and I still in pajamas, enjoying the spoils of christmas, love, and a happy family.

Happy Holidays, everyone. And I wish every one of you the best for the New Year.

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