Poetry Notes

I’ve been questioning my place in poetry. What is my voice? Why am I writing? What is my purpose? I want everything to mean everything. And some days, it does. On some days, the answers reveal themselves, probably because I’ve spend so much time questioning myself, there is little I can do to avoid the response.

Juan Carlos Galeano, a Colombian poet and professor at Florida State University, helped me answer some of these questions. Galeano visited Montana to show a recent film he produced on the Amazon River and to solidify and promote a program that will bring Montana State University Billings students to the Amazon to study in the coming year.

During a reading of his poetry, where he shared original poems in Spanish and translated versions were read aloud by Montana poets Tami Haaland and Bernie Quetchenbach, he described the process of writing poetry as psychoanalysis in reverse.

“As poets, we have spent so much time trying to become children again—to become like it is. Our bodies are part of the whole thing, the universe. It’s going back to that certainty.”

I am a poetry teacher working with elementary school students. I bring lessons to their classroom, yet the children are the ones who teach me the pure and direct nature of poetry. In one of my favorite lessons, we read Charles Simic’s “Stone.” The students then work with various stones and crystals I bring into the classroom and imagine the inner life of rocks.

…From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river,
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen…

Galeano has translated Simic’s work into Spanish. He is attracted to Simic for reasons I imagine I am: Simic eloquently contrasts our natural surroundings with our modernity. Galeano himself is an eco-poet, and his work too merges a modernist view of the world with a connection back to the environmental and the mythical.

“The study of nature and poetry are very related,” he said. “Poetry is a medium that allows us to feel the world with others and with our surroundings. We allow our mind to be inhabited and inhabit [these natural worlds]. There’s a reciprocity, an acknowledgement that we are part of the whole thing.”

In his work, Galeano gives the weather report, as told by the weather. I heard the winds of my childhood along that forgotten path that connects me to the places from where I came. I was reminded that I, as we all are, am a transformational being in a world of dualities.

The ideal world of a poet is making those many connections that are not possible in other narratives, creating those moments of awakening—a brief turn that poetry can take, suddenly revealing a commonality that changes everything, even just for a moment. Poets have a spiritual view of the world, Galeano describes, but it’s not directed by religious ideology. He speaks of an equality among species and a coexistence that requires the construction of a new set of ethics.

Of the Amazon, he said it’s like Billings, just “a different inflection of the earth.”

As Charles Simic titled one of his collections of poetry: Somewhere among us, a stone is taking notes.

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The Hunt

On the solstice
of summer
In the light of a full moon
I tried to linger, standing
In the shadow of an aspen
So the moon could not see
I called to my
Savage blood, to the
Siren inside
Trying to stir the parts of me
That came before
All I could see was you,
Walking a circle around me
I stood as the earth
You were the moon
Around us the fire’s light carved
Shadow into a ball held
In your outstretched hand
That night six screech owls landed on the roof
Calling out,
They hunted while we watched
The owls have not returned,
But robins nest in the maple
On the solstice of summer
They guarded the nest
As I stood
Ragged earth hiding
From the light of the moon

Material Girl

I’m a recovering maximalist.

A comfort-seeker at heart who fantasizes of minimalism, I’m a material girl.

I’m a classy hoarder, a furniture junkie, a closet-runneth-over capitalist.

I’m the shopped-till-I-maxed-out fashionista, a wanderer of malls, reader of the Sunday paper advertisements.

I dream of the Target good life.

I’ve entered Targets without intent, just for the smell and the comfortable consistency of well-lit isles stocked with life-altering things.

Oh, how retail feeds my shopaholic soul.

I’ve once been comfortable in Bed Bath and Beyond, climbing shelves, reaching for pristinely bent plastic, perfectly puffed pillows, and piffles of problem-solving poppycock.

I’m a credit report-carrying member of the I-once-had-a TJ Maxx, Pier One, Home Depot, Furniture Row, AND Sears credit card.

I’m a former member of the never-ending debt cycle, the girl with the perfect paring of Amexs, MasterCards and Visas.

I held in tandem an American Express Blue AND an American Express Delta SkyMiles. I had a CitiBank rich with rewards AND an Edward Jones MasterCard that earned me points for retirement.

I never made it to the promise land of reward-laced kickbacks and compounding points.

Instead, I cashed in my retirement fund to pay my debts.

Oh, plastic.

I’ve frozen those magic cards in Ziplocs filled with water. I’ve also discovered that the numbers are still readable if you freeze the cards just right.

I’ve chopped them in two, only to find that online shopping is still just as simple to complete with a severed credit card.

I’ve ground those babies, shredded them to unrecognizable bits, only to find a new ones in the mail, shiny with promises of more things.

I’m interest barren.

I’m a debt-saddled homeowner with a shed I’m still paying for.

I hold garage sales so I can park in my garage.

I nearly buried myself in my things.

Nothing in my home was empty, nothing was spacious, nothing was free.

I couldn’t quiet the need to transact.

So I changed how I transacted.

I sold the furniture I collected, replaced it with my father’s childhood writing desk, my favorite family’s vintage dining table they sold when downsizing, and a 1930s shipping trunk for a dresser.

I hauled garbage bags of clothing to second-hand shops, gave armfuls of linens and kitchen gadgets to thrift stores, and took down any art that wasn’t made by a friend or didn’t have an experience attached to it.

I got rid of my second and third set of dishes and unpacked my “special” collection for daily use. I took the blankets my grandma knit out of storage.

I stopped applying for credit cards. I asked credit card companies to stop sending me offers. I closed every account I’d ever opened.

Today. For the first time in my apply-now-no-interest-for-six-months-eligible life, I am credit card debt-free.

I may live in a material girls’ world.

But I am a credit-card-debt-free girl.

I Believe in Love

I believe in dresses, just short enough
Or long, so long you step on them
I believe in making your own shorts
And in shoes you love so much they fall apart before you say goodbye

I believe in surrounding yourself with flowers
Just because
I believe dog snuggles make days less lonely
As does hand holding

I believe Sundays are good days for self-love
Saturdays for self-care
Fridays?
Re: The Cure
Thursdays, let’s love again
Wednesdays for the fight
Tuesdays are for brightness
And Mondays are for new light

Though it may seem elusive,
I believe love is in windy days
In early spring and in salt air
I believe love is in alone time and in overwhelming crowds

Love is movement. Love is shared time
Love is the time we take to know us and the time we take to avoid us
Love strikes the unsighted
Surrounds the wanderer in veils
And brings beauty her cloudless shine

Love stitches our distance, shouts our differences, and quiets our fear
Love is an uncomfortable curiosity
No matter how much we feel it, we want more

We’re taught to seek love, yet love lives in us
We are never without love
We are never alone

I believe in love

{Painting by Jenna Lee Gallery}
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Breathe Bassist Matt Smiley + Poet Anna Paige

All in for Soloist + Breathe, a collaboration with Matt Smiley, on his album The Avant Garde:

I wrote Breathe from a stairwell of memory, a back-of-bar kind of encounter. When Matt asked me to send him some recordings, this was fresh off a bar napkin. I’m honored to be included. Find the full album at Matt’s bandcamp.

Heart Hacks

This is for the hacks.
For those ass poets who write
THIS IS FOR poems.
For the wake-up-put-on-a-little-makeup alarm I snooze five times a day.
For the backspace. The backpedal. The back paddle. The delete.

This is for the daily scroll.
For the time I lost reading lists of
WHAT I COULD BE/SHOULD BE/WANT TO BE DOING.
For the conversations I didn’t start, the hands I didn’t hold, the hug
I could have held six seconds longer. Just six.

This is for that, “Don’t worry, but your father is in the ER” text
For that call from the hospital when you’re a thousand miles away,
and your best friends are collected in a waiting room,
and no one knows if she’s okay.
For the tumor they found, the piece they removed,
the collection of people making decisions around a hospital bed,
and the sickly feeling of relief you get when you’re so glad it isn’t you.
For that Life-Is-Short-You-Could-Get-Hit-By-a-Bus-Be-Nicer-Live-In-The-Moment stuff
That is so difficult to take seriously.

I’m not here to tell you what you could/should/want to be doing.
I am going to say that I feel like a hack every day.
I HAVE GOOGLED MYSELF.
Stalked my own Facebook profile. LIKED my own status.
I tweet just so I can say I’m on Twitter.
I untag unflattering photos.
I work in marketing. I edit my life.

We all do this, we all work in marketing.
And we’ve all been wounded.
We’ve all crashed our hearts for someone we truly believed in.
We’ve all edited. Deleted. Forgot.
Forgot what it feels like
to trust like no one ever broke us.
Forgot how to love without fear
That we won’t be loved back.
Forgot that we really just have now.

So this one’s for the Please-God-Dance-With-Him advice that I took.
For bare-footed waltzes and Motown Mondays.
For Fuck-You-I’m-Pink lipstick and never saying goodbye.
For mornings through car windows and sleeping in tents
For afternoons spent playing records and champagne before noon.
For hand-ground coffee under shared grey skies.
For bicycle rides home.

This is for all you stubborn folks,
For all the messes we’ve made,
The love we gave,
The pieces we seek.
This is for your summer smiles,
Your winter blankets,
Your autumn sigh.

I forget when sharing your beer
That I’ve drank alone.
I forget the day’s ruins
When I hear you say goodnight.
I forget when singing in your car
That I ever felt like a hack.

Thank you.

Marginalia

You are the marginalia in my mind
Lingering in corners,
a slow dance at the end of the night
As though draped in fur, you carry such dead weight—
Cradling your loss as if it were alive
Only in the starlit solitude of night do you shed your cloak,
Exposing such thin skin marred by time
Keeping your secrets

I cannot trap or tame you
Instead I wait for you to drop your weapons,
Leave those carcasses of memory
and come unbridled to the table
I wait for you in the dim hallways of evening,
While the skies turn silver grey

In the golden light of morning, when slowly you rise,
Do you cover your skin and hold your heart still while your blood churns,
The floorboards cracks, the sky ascends?
We are part fire and part dream
Broken lives that haven’t been broken yet
Beneath our covers, hidden in the mess of being human,
Underneath the sweat and bruised skin,
Below the calluses in the most sensational places
Is that dangerous ground we tread
When we pull our hearts from their cages
There’s a million things that could go wrong
but it’s worth the risk if just one moment
Is that moment when everything changes,
When the world stops and starts all over again

For every grey departure, every sky clinging to blue tears,
every awakening that brings you that same heartache,
Learn to speak with the mirroring of the sun
There is no forward or back, just now
Just now and you
Blood buzzing, heart running

Spring

There’s emptiness in spring,
Hollow feelings that pieces of you are missing—
Pieces lost across such vast spans of time
where no one ventured out.

Shallow, your breath is stale. It quietly pushes your lungs
back and forth, a rhythm of blood pulses.
Behind you are winter coats and pricks of bone,
Empty shells for the tired and brittle.

Those promises you made under blankets,
that things will get better—
They lie dormant within your muscles,
memories of times when you were stronger.

There’s hunger in spring, a craving for lost things.
Slowly you begin to recover a sense of belonging,
A sense that the world is not such a solitary place.
Broken hearts like broken bones
begin to stich themselves back together.

There’s beauty in spring,
The ability to withstand flood, the skin to burn,
a freshly picked flower that knows its mortality.
Among shifting seas of green we fumble across the raw landscape,
collecting bits of ourselves like bread crumbs
that hungry birds did not locate,
trying to find our way home.

White Christmas

They told me to dream of a White Christmas.
The one that catches in your lungs and just won’t let go.
The one that renders the world into soft focus,
like the muted stillness that covers the yard after a fresh snow.

This White Christmas—it’s not even white, but pink, glowing,
Like the fuzzy calm in your brain just before you awake on Christmas morning.
At that first kiss of light you lie very still,
listening intently for movement about the house.
In anticipation you creep down the hallway and perch at the top of the steps,
craning your neck to see if there are presents, hoping that Santa liked your cookies.
Outside it’s crisp and blindingly white.
Inside Christmas glows like the sun on your face on a bluebird day.

This White Christmas is limitless…
But the days after … the days after swirl like liquor in coffee
muddied with bits of grind.
The days after are leftovers, paper on the floor.
Debt collectors and missed birthdays. Toys that break.

This White Christmas is a cavernous horse,
its belly full of arms. But we welcomed the gifts,
held out our arms and found gratitude in possession,
For what is our love if not things we can display?

When they pushed that wooden horse to my door,
I opened it.
And in that moment of vulnerability, I wish did not beg
for a return to before, to a place where things did not consume me.
For it’s just things.

I’ve dismantled this “White Christmas”
Packed it away in boxes lost in time.
All that’s left are someone else’s memories—
Decorations I can’t throw away:
Stockings stitched with names,
popsicle stick ornaments and brittle candy canes
Photos glued on paper cups, cut to resemble snowflakes
With baby faces and bright doll eyes.

I have a thousand letters to write, not to ask for something new and better, but to forgive.
I forgive these promises made under Christmas trees.
And the gifts of hollow chocolate Santas—
I forgive myself for always hoping they won’t be empty.

My gift to you is a gift of place
A Christmas village filled with collections of families skating on year-round frozen ponds.
In the front window of their homes Christmas trees adorned
with strands of white pearls and delicate glass ornaments
are never taken down.