In which Your Humble Blogger relates how she got back into the swing of things with her writing (it involved scaring herself and then looking for tokens of comfort):
"The Old Woman Remembers"
The old woman remembers
nothing except the piano.
Every morning, her husband fights her
to accept that he has to wash her face,
and he sits next to her while she crumbles
at the thought of using a fork to eat.
He does not watch her in her private time
when she is sitting on the bench
and her feet are attempting the pedals.
He waits at the window
for the illumination that breaks from clouds
like the breath of a child
who has beaten the others in a race.
The old woman's husband does not look
at the old woman remembering the piano.
He looks at the light on the windowsill.
For him, they are the same thing.
* * *
Yesterday, I went to the library; I consider it a treat to myself on my errand-running days. (Hey, who just shouted "Nerd!" back there? Quiet, you!) The library has one of my favorite poetry anthologies in its stacks: A Book of Luminous Things, edited by Czeslaw Milosz (who himself is just an incredible poet). It's a collection of poems from around the world, many written in the twentieth century (if you know someone who needs evidence of what modern poetry has to offer, I highly recommend having them pick up this book). Sometimes, as much fun as it is discovering writers and finding new stories or poems or styles to entertain your brain with, it helps to go back to familiar material that provides comfort and allows you to remember what you love about the medium.
The library was one of the first places I hit after returning from the warehouse trip in September 2010. Actually, I think it went library, then grocery store, and then maybe bank. :p The poetry I chose to arm myself with (along with Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual, because I sure needed repair help) was the work of Philip Levine, a poet who's still alive and working, though he's quite older now. I had stumbled across his work by complete accident several months back; his most recent book of poems, News of the World, was on the "new releases" shelf at the library, and the jacked design was simple and elegant enough to interest me. And I was so glad that I picked it up, because, as I found out, he's considered one of our great living poets, and for good reason. He's got that Walt Whitman folksiness in that he writes about the lives of members of the regular working class, but his language is so tight, and the narrative feel of his poetry is so strong. He's just a damn good story teller. (And he's also anthologized in A Book of Luminous Things -- isn't it great how this all comes full circle?)
Levine's narrative style is what I think influenced the shape and style of this poem, which is alright; considering that it's a free verse poem, I think that the line breaks fell in places that lend to nice little twists. The motivation for its subject matter came from, well, my life. In addition to worrying that I had lost my ability to write poetry while at the warehouse, I was plagued by another, recurring fear that I have -- the onset of Alzheimer's. No, it's not something I'm worried about developing soon, but it seems to have hit everyone in late age on my mother's side, and so sometimes I feel that I only have so many years with a functional brain in which I have any chance of getting my writing done. Fear can be a great inspiration some days. At least it got me back on the horse.
(Oh, one other way that my life inspired my poetry: After the warehouse trip, I took some of the money I earned and bought something that I had wanted for a long time. Let me tell you, there's nothing like trying to play a musical instrument again after years of not playing it to make you feel really, really old.)