Day 28! Out of 30.
Today marks the 28th day of the Tupelo Press 30/30 poetry challenge fundraiser that I have been participating in. Wow. I kinda can’t even believe that I have written 28 poems that I am not loathing to share with the world. And they add up to forty-one (41) whole pages! That is at the top-most end of conventional chapbook guidelines (if not past), or the equivalent of half a full-length manuscript.
Along with wanting to do my part to help raise money for such a significant independent press, one of my hopes with this activity was to push myself to get further along with the manuscript I’ve been working on. And I did. But what surprised me was where the poems came from when I just wasn’t feeling touched by the demons of poetry (of which there may have been a few occasions).
Firstly, I did what I always do – read poetry. Not my own, someone else’s. I turned to either people I’d never read before, old favorites, or new. The stack on my desk right now has Philip Levine’s The Simple Truth, Meg Day’s Last Psalm at Sea Level, Marvin Bell’s The Book of the Dead Man, Stacey Waite’s The Lake Has No Saint, and David Hernandez’s Always Danger. Of course I also read stray poems online, the poems of my March 30/30 peers (which are so good!), and my students’ poems. It was actually participating in the poetry writing activities I gave them in class that helped me come up with ideas on the days when I felt most depleted.
When I teach creative writing (this is an intro class), I always write along with them during the exercises. Sometimes it’s a form they’re required to participate with – we just did an abecedarian based on Natalie Díaz’s “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation” a litany using Joy Harjo’s “She Had Some Horses,” a sectional based off Sherman Alexie’s “Crow Testament” – and other times it’s just an idea to free write about. The one we did the week before spring break, I made up on the spot (not something I normally do). I was going to have them engage with this long list of possible titles they generated at the beginning of the semester, but at the last second I heard myself saying, “For your free write, let’s practice anaphora with the phrase ‘You wouldn’t remember this.’”
It’s not wholly unlike me to want to write about memory. In fact, most of what I write about engages with the past in some way, usually looking to the past as a way to account for the present. Memories of situations with parents, friends, lovers, a moment of discrimination at the farmer’s market, moments when I had the chance to be kind, and I didn’t take it. These things are never far from the surface. But I hadn’t intended on doing anything with memory that day, but I’m glad I did. Of course, the “final product” (shit needs some concentrated revision) that went up on Tupelo’s website is a poetic manipulation, something added here, a little something cut out there, but the seed of the memory caught me off guard.
It was one of those writing moments where I lose track of time and forgot we were writing in class and I’m supposed to be in charge. I told them we’d write for five minutes, but almost ten went by before I noticed. Luckily, it seemed most of them were caught up in their writing too. When I asked them to share whatever they feel comfortable with from their free write, one student began crying. This person recently lost their grandparent. She said that though she wasn’t going to share what she wrote, she wanted to say how glad she was that we wrote with that phrase. It had felt cathartic and particularly poignant since her grandparent had Alzheimer’s.
Below I’ve provided my poem that stemmed from that writing exercise. It was posted yesterday as 27 of 30.
I Still See You In My Dreams
You wouldn’t remember this,
but the night you knocked
on the front door of my mom’s place,
just half past midnight: Docs muddy,
pants stained, a crumpled paper
grocery sack carrying the shreds
of shirt left after they cut it
off your chest in ER, (a souvenir
you said) I washed your hair
in the kitchen sink.
And because you don’t remember this,
you won’t remember how we tipped
the chair against the edge of counter top,
propped with an old edition
of the Webster’s dictionary shoved
under the front legs – fitting
considering the ways words
had always carried us.
And because you don’t remember that,
you won’t remember you closed
your eyes, while I ran the water
until it was warm, used a cup
to wet your hair, just the way
my mom used to when I was a kid,
placing my hand at your hairline,
making sure to shield your eyes.
The shampoo smelled of lilacs,
the scent intensifying while steadying
your head with my fingers, my thumbs
rubbed circles over your scalp. Foam
building suds dripped down
my wrists, skated through your hair.
You kept your hands folded
in your lap until I pressed
closer to the counter to turn back on
the water, fill the cup once more.
I wish you remembered this:
as I leaned in to rinse
the remaining lather, your eyes
still closed you unfolded your hands,
wrapped palms to my hips, pulled me
down onto your lap, the weight of both
our bodies balanced precariously
on those two shuddering legs.
You never opened your eyes.
Just rested your cheek
against my breast. Silent.
And that is how we stay
forever in my memory.
Thank you again to all of you who have been reading the poems, sharing them, and donating. I have been so greatly gratified by the responses I’ve seen online. As I mentioned before, we are down to the wire. If you have not yet had the opportunity to donate, wrote it on your to-do later list and then didn’t, now is the time. And it’s not like you give with nothing in return. Not only have we eight poets on the site been pouring our poetry hearts out to you, but we all have extra incentives along with Tupelo’s; the best one being that if you buy a yearly subscription. You’ll get all the titles they publish in a year—10 books of poetry and prose for $129. A pretty awesome deal (and if you’re cheap like me, cost effect too).
And when you donate, don't forget to choose my name from the 30/30 Poets drop down menu. I hope to be sending an incentive your way at the end of the 30 days!
To Donate: https://www.tupelopress.org/donate.php
For all poems from each of the poets for the last 28 days: https://tupelopress.wordpress.com/3030-project/