Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vol. II Senior Year

The first time I remember really appreciating poetry was in 12th grade when my AP English Lit teacher did a poetry unit. I did not find this to be an easy unit. My friend Shirley and I would read the poem of the day, scrutinize the questions on the worksheet that Mr. Biggs had handed out, and try our best to answer the questions (Who is narrating this poem? What is being symbolized in the 8th line? Why is this memory significant to the narrator?) and what I remember was that, inevitably, we would get the absolute wrong answer (Oh, the birds aren't actually birds, they're bombers, and the poem is about war, not about a spring storm...).

But somehow, during that month-long unit, I learned to love poetry. I read poems and wrote poems, and began to appreciate the art you could create with words, sounds, symbols, punctuation, indentation, in a way I had not really appreciated before. Poetry, more than prose, takes time to read and understand - it requires you to immerse yourself in it, to study it, and the demands that it makes of the reader also mean it can be incredibly rewarding.

These are three poems I wrote around the time of our poetry unit. The first two I wrote on my own initiative, independent of any class assignment. The last one was a class assignment, and I didn't like the assignment. I thought it belonged in elementary school, not an AP English literature class. But I made the most of it. See if you can figure out what the assignment was. (I've embedded a hint.)

I. Window View

There were dinosaurs under the hills,
Century-covered by dirt-blanket quilts
of star-patterned pine trees, springing
from lifeblood that flowed

Mountainous monsters, waiting to rise
from billion-year slumber,

Earthen folds, stone-solid creased,

And ancient heads rearing up to watch
our lonely car speed

Long car trips when I was little frequently took us through and past mountains, going between Colorado (where we lived) and Utah (where both sets of grandparents lived). I remember staring out the windows at the mountains, and in my mind they looked like giant dinosaurs, buried under centuries of earth. I would imagine them raising themselves up out of the dirt and rocks and trees to become dinosaurs again, and this image has stuck with me for my entire life.

II. Saturday Shift

The door is open
and I walk in.
She sits
propped up by pillows
and draped
in a robe
(pink - a perfect match),
tied modestly over
a paper hospital gown.
Her eyes
blue and shining
behind wrinkles
and folds,
and she smiles,
and nods -
oblivious -
but with keen interest
in what she thinks
she sees.
Her smile shakes me.
Not because it is
or forced
or plastic and unreal.
It is sincere,
Yet her words betray,
as she speaks,
that there is much
she does not know
about herself.
She speaks,
and sweet music
from an aged and swollen form
she smiles,
though an IV pole
speaks illness
and a hospital bed
speaks weakness.
She smiles,
and her eyes speak all.
"Nearly blind," she says
at her own debility.
Those eyes -
seeing only forms,
harsh lines
and defects
seeing only

And the colors are beautiful.

I used to volunteer Verdugo Hills Hospital on Saturdays, a little local hospital near my home. One day I delivered a meal to a woman who seemed perfectly normal when I first walked into the room, but after a few moments it became apparent that her reality was very different from mine. Something about the encounter really shook me, but also really touched me. I have a hard time explaining why, and maybe that's why I felt the need to try to put it in poetry instead.


Cautiously walk across the cold tile floors, and
Everything you see will be forgotten
Classrooms and images may seem cemented until
Endless years of higher education have
Neatly packaged
Today's clear pictures into distorted images
And false memories masquerading as true.

Views from the hallways
As they stood a year ago, already shift.
Lifeless photographs capturing a moment
Lose the thousands less memorable, and someday
Every memory will lose colors of reality
Yellow-aging in carefully treasured boxes.

1 comment:

Abominable's Main Squeeze said...

Oh, oh, oh...I know, I know, I know!!! (Hand waving wildly)

(Enjoyed your poems!)