“[Writing is] like standing on the edge of a cliff. This is especially true of the first draft. Every day you’re making up the earth you’re going to stand on.” ~ Peter Carey

INAUGURAL POETRY CHALLENGE FINALIST

Here is the first of the four finalists. I am reprinting them in the same order in which A Poet Reflects post them. Unfortunately, I was unable to figure out how to copy the mp3’s of each poet reading his/her work. Click on the link above to go to the original posting and to hear the mp3.

Contours of the Heart

I prefer the late and lonely hours of the night
to the bustling hours of the day,
for in the quiet dreaming hours,
the hushed thoughts of the heart surface.

I prefer the quiet clarity of sipping on simmering tea
to the bold clamor of coffee upon the tastebuds.

I prefer small rooms to grand palaces,
simple celebrations of everyday wonder
to extravagant fanfare.

I prefer a blue sky of clouds to a night sky of stars,
though both sing to me of freedom and wonder.

I prefer solitude, even the ache of loneliness,
to following the aimless crowd.
I prefer to be true, I prefer to be different.

I prefer the sorrow of wisdom and the pain of truth
to the foolish bliss of ignorance and illusion.

I prefer to dwell in possibility.
I prefer the lovely intangibles,
and the invisible treasures of the heart and mind.

I prefer words to photos, because rarely can a photo
capture the contours of the heart, mind, and soul.

I prefer the quiet intimacy of books
to the vortex screen of television.

I prefer listening and observing to speaking,
and when I “speak,” I prefer to write.

I prefer the involved and intimate whisper of pen upon paper
(even the messy scribbles and crossing-outs and rewrites)
to the more disinterested tapping of typing on a keyboard.

I prefer to let my fingers stumble along in slow dance
upon piano keys, because some secrets of the soul
can only be unlocked in music.

I prefer beautiful words that sing,
thoughts that breathe.
I prefer to write my tears on paper
or to sing them in songs.

I prefer walking as my mode of transportation,
to feel the ground beneath my feet,
the quiet reverberations that resonate
with each step I take.

I prefer to take the road less travelled,
to let my hopes and dreams unravel
in ribbons of words and wind,
ever tangling and untangling.

Though I love the new morning that comes with the sunrise,
I prefer sunsets, for as light shines brighter in darkness,
so love and life are set ablaze with deeper meaning
in the face of approaching death.

Though there are not enough hours in a day,
and time is rarely on my side,
I still prefer to take my time,
to live at a slower pace,
to savour the moments, to live deeply.

I prefer creation and renewal to destruction.
I prefer faith, hope, love, and life
to apathy, cynicism, and indifference,

Because life is a gift,
though weighed down by gravity,
and my life is but a breath,
sustained by God’s grace and mercy.

And that is why I prefer poetry.

Poem written and read by www.puddlenotes.tumblr.com

” . . . When light spreads over the pastures like wings, and fans a secret color into everything, and beats the trees senseless with beauty, so that you can’t tell whether the beauty is in the trees—dazzling in cells like yellow sparks or green flashing waters—or on them . . .” ~ Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

 

Night by Burlacu Lurie (Pixdaus)

                

“We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related . . . We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Fall (Pixdaus)

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday . . . no wait . . . that’s a song. It’s eleven o’clock on Saturday, no crowd rushing in. My mother’s house is finally, thankfully, quiet. Earlier today when the television was actually turned off, I managed to sit down and actually get a signal. I turned on the music, opened a new page, and just as I prepared to write, my mother awoke on the couch and said, “You don’t mind if I turn on the television, do you?”

What could I say?

She is much better, though. Much more mobile, even took a shower on her own today. I think that we may have conquered the stomach problems (hope beyond hope), and I am preparing to make the gradual move back to my own home. Tonight after I finish this post, I am going to go home to sleep. Corey has a shift, and Brett is away at a conference, so it seems to be perfect timing as far as going home to my own bed.

I know that I am hesitating, and I realize why: Each time I have thought that things may be getting better, getting well enough that I could go home—at least at night—something has happened, so I am reluctant to think that the situation may actually be stable enough for the transition, that, and I would feel horribly guilty should something happen if I were not here.

It’s actually the same logic that kept me at the hospital for 20 hours out of each day when Caitlin was ill. Oddly enough, it was one of the times when I had actually gone home for a nap and a shower when the hospital actually called to ask me to come back as soon as possible.

Such has always been my luck.

“Not yesterday I learned to know
   The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow
But it were vain to tell her so,
   And they are better for her praise.” ~ Robert Frost, “My November Guest”

Autumn in Chairi Lake (Pixdaus)

Many thanks to those of you who have sent well wishes and have asked about my mother. Thanks also for the reminders to take care of myself as I do tend to ignore my own signals when someone close to me is in need.

Sleeping on the couch hasn’t been too bad for my back, but lately I have awoken with a very sore neck. I could sleep in my old bedroom, but it just doesn’t seem right somehow. Since my mother has come home from the rehab facility, she makes her way to the living room couch by 8 a.m., and the television goes on shortly after, so I head to my old bedroom to try to catch a few hours of morning sleep, this after making her coffee, getting her breakfast and meds, and feeding the cat and dog.

I have planned to set the alarm at home so that I can get here in the morning to take care of things and then perhaps play the rest of the day as it comes. As tomorrow is November 7, a particularly painful day of the year for me, I don’t want to set any kind of schedule for myself.

To be honest, the melancholy crept up on me this year. Being so prepossessed with my mother’s health issues, I have had little time for great introspection. Then I found another envelope of photographs containing pictures of all of my children when they were quite young. Within these was a picture of me in the hospital holding a newborn, and I had to think for a moment to identify which birth it was. The telltale sign was the gown that I was wearing—sleeveless, white cotton. Brett was born during a record heat wave, but for just a moment, my heart had tricked my memory into believing that I was holding Caitlin.

That was all that it took: a photograph, one second in time, recovered accidentally while dusting a box on a shelf.

“Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it must have once called to them—
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.” ~ Dorianne Laux, “For the Sake of Strangers”

Autumn Leaves (Pixdaus)

Truthfully, I don’t really know what to call this state of being, how to classify it, how to give it a name. Is something real if it is unnamable? Does something truly exist if it cannot be molded and shaped to fit into a specific niche?

Perhaps, then, this state is the actual grey area, or twilight zone—the fictive terminator between night and day. This state of existence does not bear scrutiny since it does not in fact exist, or it exists only in that nanosecond the comprises the movement from night into day.

Do I even know what I’m saying here?

I only know that a few days ago my mind was wholly unoccupied of anything of consequence, and then today I woke with weight on my chest so heavy that I felt as if rocks were being piled onto my body, like the “wedge-shaped core of darkness” that Virginia Woolf spoke of in To the Lighthouse. It is invisible to everyone else, but it is there, nonetheless.

“Once more
Uncontradicting solitude
Supports me on its giant palm;
And like a sea-anemone
Or simple snail, there cautiously
Unfolds, emerges, what I am.” ~ Philip Larkin, “Best Society”

Solitary Swan on Lake in Autumn (Pixdaus)

I want only solitude and quiet, to be alone and to be left alone, to have no demands made of me so that I do not have to force to the surface the persona of a normal person, do not have to cloak this ache with the mask of normalcy.

I want mountains and trees and the sweet, sweet smell of cold, fresh spring water running over mossy rocks. I want to feel the chill of air on my face and to smell the earth, to inhale the natural descent into decay that is autumn and to walk beneath a tarpaulin of the burnished reds and golds that precede the naked limbs of winter.

I crave a retreat from sound, a respite from the everyday clicks and hums that fill my immediate environs. At this very moment, this is what I hear: the ticking of the living room clock, the annoying click of an anti-bug device in the kitchen, my mother coughing, the gunfire rapidity of the keys on the keyboard, and an insistent, low hum from somewhere indiscernible.

These things I want; these things I need; these things I crave like a balm for my soul. These things will continue to elude me for now.

More later. Peace.

Music by Starsailor, “Some of Us”

 

The Road Less Taken

Point Woronzof Park along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail AK

 Point Woronzof Park Along The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Alaska by Janson Jones

 

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood

edward-hopper-rooms-by-the-sea-1950
"Rooms by the Sea," Edward Hopper (1950)

Today, my mind seems to be going in seventeen directions at once. I feel that I am being bombarded by thoughts and feelings too complex to unweave. Part of me is in Australia where a dear friend is going through some major life difficulties. To worsen things her daughter is also ill and experiencing ups and downs.

Another part of me is thinking about the wife of one of the writers whose site I visit. She, too, is ill and awaiting some kind of relief from her doctors.

Another blogger, one whose writing is just amazing, is anticipating the death of her beloved dog who has been with her for years.

A poet with whom I try to stay in contact has just lost her nephew. Her words are full of pain and sorrow, yet they are hauntingly beautiful at the same time.

Yet another compatriot is awaiting the birth of his daughter. The excitement that he is feeling is palpable, making me excited for him.

It’s so hard in some ways to be connected to so many people, to be intimately familiar with their lives and their loved ones. These connections bring me laughter, insight, opinions, joy, and sometimes, heartbreak.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 

It is the empathic side of me that feels too much, that perhaps delves too deeply into the pain and joy of others, leaving me bereft at times, and full of inner delight at other times. I have always been this way—too willing to take on the emotional burdens of others. I remember being a young girl and feeling such complete despair when one of my friend’s dogs was hit by a car, and then being filled with delight when a neighbor’s dog had puppies. Granted, these are probably normal childhood emotions, but it is hard to put into words the keenness I have always felt emotionally, the incisive way in which my emotions have held sway for as long as I can remember.

Henry County Indiana from When Worlds Collide
Henry County Indiana by Julayne from When Worlds Collide

I remember being devastated when someone I worked with at the newspaper died after a bout with cancer. And how absolutely crushed I was when I heard that John Lennon died.

My emotions have always guided me, which is why, I suppose, I have the incredible highs and merciless lows in my life. I’m not suggesting that this is the preferred way to live. On the contrary: There have been many times when I have wished that I could simply turn a switch, turn off everything that I was feeling. There have been moments in which I would have given anything not to be able to feel. To be numb, completely without thought, emotion, or concern.

No one has ever accused me of being a Stoic. For me, nature is not rational and perfect. I do not see everything from a fatalistic viewpoint. In Stoicism, whatever happens, happens, and nothing can change that which is determined, so there is no point in questioning or trying to alter things that are not within the individual’s power. I would never have been able to converse with Zeno, the father of stoicism and his philosophers of the porch. For each statement made, I would have asked why.

But why? Why does this happen? Why didn’t that happen? Why? Why? Why?

For me, every change is felt, not just within my psyche, but by my corporeal self as well. It’s as if my body is a barometer to my soul.

Admittedly, pure elation is an emotion that eludes me much of the time. That’s not to say that I have not been elated many times in my life. Of course I have: when I first held each of my children, on the day that I graduated with my B.A., when I finally completed work on my publishing degree, whenever I finish a piece of writing that I feel certain has come together well, each time that Corey returned home safely after being on the water, each accomplishment in my children’s lives, to name only a few.

As I have mentioned, the beauty that I find in the smallest things—flowers, birds, beautiful images, music, words—brings me a tremendous sense of inner peace and can affect my mood and sometimes reverse an impending low.

But spontaneous elation? I am mystified by people who are like that. You know the ones—they are genuinely happy most of the time. Very little seems to penetrate their cheery dispositions.

To be honest, I am uncomfortable being around people who are like that. Something in me tries to find the falseness behind the cheer. But sometimes, there is no falsehood. These people are happy, with every fiber of their being they are happy. I don’t understand that, nor do I particularly care for it, or perhaps the more accurate statement would be believe it.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not wish unhappiness for these people, but to have that much happiness all of the time? How does one go about feeling the inevitable calamities in life if everything is always good? Positive? When faced with tragedy, to speak homilies such as “well, it was probably meant to be,” or “you’ll feel better soon” seems to ignore the pain. And if pain is ignored, if the individual does not allow herself to move through it, embrace it, and come out on the other side, how can any knowledge be gained?

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 

Bear Lake Trail Everglades Fl by JJ
Bear Lake Trail, Everglades, Florida by Janson Jones

Admittedly, I am a cynic. I question everything, take nothing at face value, and tend not to accept glib explanations. Am I proposing that that is the way to live life? No. Sometimes, I wish that I could just enfold myself in the easy answers, ignore the nagging doubt. Wouldn’t that be easier?

But then, I would not be true to myself if I did so. I question. I doubt. I wonder. But once I believe in something, I will argue vehemently in support of whatever it is that I believe.

For me, the path isn’t always clear. Where it is going is never defined, but I would never change that. The not knowing is what allows for exploration, what encourages the soul to seek out the truth, even though the truth is not always what we desire or what we are prepared to accept.

The truth is such a complex animal. It changes with the wind. It is ephemeral. And that is why the search for it is usually not well-trodden nor lit with beacons pointing in the right direction.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:

andrew-wyeth-easterly detail
"Easterly" (detail), by Andrew Wyeth

My life has been one long search for beacons pointing the way, but just as sailors have been misdirected by false light, I too have been misdirected: by believing the words of the wrong person, by holding dear to someone who was not worthy of my heart, by listening to misleading echoes.

And then the path becomes unclear, no boundaries, no borders. And at these times, I have become lost. Yet I have always made my way back, whether it was a friend who guided me, or my love for someone or their love for me, or just being attuned to my esse—I have always managed to find my way home.

For me, the lie is the worst thing. It rips apart the existing reality. It causes shifts in time and space, and as a result, things must be moved around until a new pattern can be formed, and the result is a grey spot where the truth used to be.

But then the opposite holds true: each new friendship, each new person who enters my life in a meaningful way also causes a shift, but the resulting move to accept these new people into the fold increases the beauty of the tapestry, enriches the colors, emboldens the pattern.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 

Even though I may wish at times that I had it within me not to feel things so deeply, I know that that will never be. I have my peaks and my valleys, and the movement between the two is an amazing journey, regardless of the pull on my psyche or the taxing of my constitution. My emotions are my plinth: They bolster me and keep me buoyant. But more importantly, they allow me to open my heart to others, to sustain my empathy, to avow the truths of my soul.

Arctic Valley Chugach St Prk Anchorage by JJ
Arctic Valley, Chugach State Park, Anchorage by Janson Jones

Admittedly, the pinnacles of my highs and the chasms of my lows do not make me the easiest person with whom to live, or even, to love. But I hope that the ferocity of my loyalty and my unstinting willingness to follow those for whom I care into the breach help to compensate for my ever-shifting spirits.

And so it is my hope that all of those individuals who I mentioned in the beginning of this post know that even though many miles separate us, my heart and my thoughts encompass them as fully as if I were sitting across the table from them, sharing a cup of tea.

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference” ~ Robert Frost
 

edward-hopper-houses-of-squam-light detail
"Houses of Squam Light" (detail), by Edward Hopper

I do not know where my path will continue to lead. I only know that I am willing to follow it to its end. I hope that along the way I continue to meet new people, to enter new lives, to touch those who seek comfort, to share in the great moments of bliss, to ease the way for those who will allow it, and to love and be able to call myself beloved.

It is these stops, these waysides that make that path more enthralling and that make me want to continue on this journey. I do not know the full purpose of my quest; I only know that it began years ago and that I still have a long way to go, many more observations to make, and more words to write before I reach my inn.

I’ll leave you with this track from Die Romantik. Haunting song.

 

More later. Peace.

 

The Road Less Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.