Did Summer forget to show up this year? How have we been so fortunate? Who in his/her right mind would have guessed we’d see 70 degree days in the middle of July with low humidity? Life continues to surprise. It disappoints then uplifts. Hits the ground, then takes off to the sky.
I began my second poetry residency at Murray State at the end of last week, which means I was bombarded with reading, writing, and discussion of poetry for 9 solid days, in a haze of sleep deprivation, inspiration, interesting conversation, and a mode that almost felt like survival to try to soak up as much knowledge and experience as possible.
I love the moments when people who are committed to some sort of art are in close quarter. There is such an electricity in the air. You look around and see people doing this thing you love, doing it well, and you just want to do it that much more. The great example is Paris in the 20s when Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, and many many others were living within walking distance of each other. Murray probably hasn’t quite reached Parisian status yet, but it’s certainly helped me grow as a writer and taught me so much about navigating this crazy new world of getting yourself and your art heard.
When you’re writing or constructing anything creative, you cycle through a series of roller coaster up and downs, where you feel like you could change the world down to wondering why you bother making anything up at all. It’s strange how quick it can happen and what can set it off. I feel humbled every time I talk poetry with someone. I see what he/she has done and realize his/her unique vision and unique skill. I can’t help but compare and wonder if my vision and skill compare. This is, of course, not fair, because we can both do our thing and come up with something great. I’ll also feel humbled when I get a compliment and think about what brought me here and how so much of it came from love and luck. I have a tough time feeling cocky in this world, regardless of what I feel about my work.
I was disappointed in the middle of the week, walking home to find that the dove nest on the ground was gone. This was a nest that had fallen out of a small tree in the yard of a law office near our house. A good friend of ours found the nest and babies on the ground, and she declared an emergency. She found some cones and a bowl of water, and surrounded them in hopes they’d make it. I’ve seen birds fall out of the nest many times, and I’ve seen most of them die. Magically, though, the mother dove continued to care for her young. I’d walk by each day and find the mother sitting comfortably with the two small birds or somewhere nearby gathering food. It seemed like a miracle that I would find the little guys chilling in their spot day after day walking home.
On Wednesday, though, the cones were moved back to their spot, and I quickly realized the nest and birds were nowhere. I wondered what happened, then realized the grass was shorter, and farther along in the parking lot a team of mowers were loading up their gear onto a trailer. I don’t know if they destroyed it or moved it or what, but I didn’t hold out much hope that these mowers had had the same concern as our friend last week. Again, I know birds die a lot—there’s a bird pancake on the sidewalk right in front of our house. But what was going on here seemed like a community-wide interest. It seemed like this success story against the odds. And they are no longer there in the spot under the tree, not because they fell too hard, not because a cat or raccoon ate them, not because the mother abandoned them—but because it was that time in the week to mow.
What a story it could have been—if they had decided to just mow around them until the birds were old enough to fly away—what a unique anecdote to go home and tell people each day and week. “Yep, those little guys are still kicking. It beats anything I’ve seen. They have their little spot, and we’re just going to let them have it.” Instead, our only story is that the boring grass in the boring yard outside the boring law office is once again restored to its boring length. It gave me a sick feeling in my stomach—I had hoped for something cooler, something more uplifting.
That’s one of the things that motivated me from a young age along with my good friends at camp. When we finally got our chance to plan something to create a schedule with activities and lessons and worships, we remembered all the days we spent sitting too still, bored, longing for something that would reach inside us and speak to use. We had seen glimpses, we knew it was possible. We had years worth of ideas stored up, that we couldn’t wait to unleash. And when we did, we watched each other and amazed each other. Each time I’d watch Steven or Randall come up with something new, I knew I couldn’t stop—I knew I had to keep moving, because I couldn’t let them pass me too far—I had to stay with them on this journey.
We brought into our lessons, stuff from music videos we’d seen, we wrote radio plays, we swam in the pool with construction paper cut outs full of words, we used the woods, the river, the sky. We saw break-throughs and felt feelings that seemed miraculous. Sure, we were borrowing, sometimes outright stealing, but we were shaping it too. Then we taught people how to do it—we fostered people who went on and did things sometimes far greater than we had done. And it started for us, realizing that there could be something better, that doing exactly what had been done wasn’t enough. There was something special in us that needed to be added to the story.
As I write these new poems full of my fascination with ghosts and animals, mythology and history, life and death, and how everything is connected, I’m learning more and more what it is I need to share with the world through this medium. I’m learning how to send my words out to the world, and I can feel myself getting closer. I am making more and more friends who are so good at this too. They make me want to travel down that road with them. At our closing banquet, many of the students read their work. We listened, we laughed, we made that grunting noise you make when something resonates with you. With so many of them, I found myself thinking, “damn, that was good.” We are setting out. We are taking off.
This morning I returned to the radio station and checked on the pigeon babies I’ve named Ballatolli and Pirlo who were born on a ledge on the eighth floor of the fine arts building. When I first checked, only one of them was there. When I checked again, both were gone. Then, in the early afternoon, both were there on the ledge, looking at me with one eye, head turned to the side. They’ve learned to fly. Only a month ago, they were in small white eggs. They’ve shed their yellow feathers, filled out, turned the gray and black they were born to grow into.They are entering that bigger world. I did not know when they would fly. It came sooner than I expected.
This weekend, my good friend Danielle visited, and we spent two days climbing trees. We went over 40 feet above the ground into the canopy of a Chestnut Oak then a White Oak. It is relaxing and exhilarating to enter into these new worlds. We go out into the woods and find a tree that speaks to us. We throw ropes into the tree and climb. When we finish, we take the ropes down, and there is no sign we were ever there. But, as I go home, there is much left on me. I smell the bark in my fingerprints, my hands swell from holding the rope, images of the canopy return when I close my eyes. These feelings, this life, I must find a way to keep sharing it. I must find some new expression, some new language. Something that will make it all new, something that will make me new again.