Two weeks ago, I took a lovely two-day workshop with Kim Stafford, a poet and teacher at Lewis & Clark College. The course was offered for credit and was full of graduate students in counseling and education, not the usual suspects at a writing workshop. Their thoughtful responses to Kim’s prompts and suggestions turned my own writing and reflection in a whole different direction.
I write poetry only occasionally—as a gift for my friend Amy, say, when she turned 50 or as a thank-you to my friend Diane for the use of her beach house. But there in the presence of Kim’s poems, and those of his father, William Stafford, I found myself inspired to think about emotional and spiritual reality in more lyrical terms than the kinds of journal writing I do.
My memoir (Sober Truths: The Making of an Honest Woman) was my first real foray into turning my past into something creatively imagined and executed. Working with Kim, I found odd bits of memory coming to the fore, asking to be played with. And so I did. Here are a couple of my efforts:
The Tenth Moon
On a windiest night, Charles and I stood in the middle of Pearl Street. We had eaten. We had not yet explored each other’s skin.
The indigo velvet of early October cradled us. Rushing clouds veiled the moon, then parted for the passage of six Canadian Geese.
We stood arms around each other, our nervousness set aside in the hallowed clamor.
The moonlight followed them, then followed us as we migrated up the dusty stairs to the brown corduroy bedspread.
We did not take flight, Charles and I. Never seen again. But tonight the voices call South, and South again, and I do.
Now I remember the fat man in his flowered yard, the cane he leaned on, the finger he beckoned with. His eyes were lost in the flesh of his face, and they never looked right at me. The candy he offered me stuck to the damp of his hand.
And now I remember his wet lips on my cheek, the claw of his hand on my upper arm, wrenching free, heart pounding, running home . My mother’s fear turned to fury at me, when I believed I’d escaped.
I remember too, years later, the glow of the Christmas lights, the toddler’s tuneless crooning, the room awash in laughter and white elephants.
Listen up, stars – My mother, old now, eyes distant, voice matter of fact. Her father’s typesetter pushing her up against the wall, his beard rough on her chin, the candy to buy silence. I hold her hand and say nothing.