LIFE-BUILT POEMS: Living Out Loud

LIFE-BUILT POEMS: Living Out Loud

I am one of those poets Life built:  I have no “creds” as a poet, but I do know that making poems helped me keep my head straight through a number of karmic dust storms that blew away the world as I knew and liked it.  I guess you could call it home-grown, dirt-cheap psychotherapy.  All you really need to do it is paper, a pencil, an awareness of the need to mend the broken circle of your life and a heck of a lot of hot air….

Lotus Bud Opens
Lotus Bud Opens by James Diedrick via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

The Sufi mystic and poet, Melvani Rumi wrote, seven centuries ago, “Don’t be satisfied with the stories that come before you; unfold your own myth.”  That’s what a Life-Built Poet does.

My idea of “poet” is someone who loves words.  The dictionary (preferably unabridged) is this kind of poet’s Bible.  The etymology of words — how they began, how they change in meaning and develop nuances over time, and how they die when they’re neglected — that’s a fascination for this kind of poet.  Why one word or phrase works and another doesn’t…the TASTE of words…their music and the rhythm of strings of them — that stuff’s exciting to me.

My Life-Built Poems are meant to be read aloud.  Sometimes they even need body-English.  (Once I constructed a “poem” using my ch’i kung moves.  I wanted to see if I could do one that was mostly non-verbal.  THAT was fun!)

For a while I did poems that grew out of my word-for-word translations of Hawaiian traditional songs.  Hawaiian-English dictionary in hand, I’d go through a song, putting down all the possible English meanings of each Hawaiian word.  I kept the structure of the song intact.  I listened to the music and cadence of the syntax and word patterns.  Then I constructed a poem (which usually had  nothing to do with the subject of the song).  I shared some of these poems with a kumu hula, a dance teacher, who told me she could hear the “seed-song” under my words.  It was a cool exercise, but terribly labor-intensive.

Another thing I notice about Life-Built Poems is they require facing (and feeling) every emotion that comes along.  Absolute honesty is necessary when you are in the middle of radical discontinuity.  THAT is the price the poems demand of you.  The Real is you are pulling out your guts and checking them out, playing oracle games with your own entrails.  You hope for some elegance, a little bit of artistry, but, for real, the poems only work if you don’t “overcook” them.

So… in this blog I’d like to share some of my Life-Built poems with you, and maybe some of the stories behind them or how they came to be.  You’re welcome to share poems back, ya know.  Or you can comment as you like.  I do appreciate feedback. I’m trying to find a direction to take with this stuff.

Is anybody interested in trying their hand at building their own poems?  They don’t have to rhyme, but they can.  They don’t need a form, but sometimes it works better when they do.

This poem came to me nine months after the death of my husband Fred.  We had been married for almost 27 years and were having a grand time being symbiotic when he sustained fatal head injuries in a car wreck.  I had always played with poetry for years.  After Fred died, though, I just slogged on through the days for a while.  When I started doing the poetry again, the poems were…different.  They were not just about playing with form any more.

This one’s called…

WHAT YOU TOOK….

When you died, Ei Nei, I dropped ten pounds.
Our friends said it was the grief.
I joked that you loved my sweet ‘okole so much
You took it with you,
And scandalized their true hearts yet again.
You would’ve laughed and probably agreed.

I don’t tell them — no I don’t —
About the other things you took.

You took your arms,
Corded hard with your strong passions,
That cradled me quiet as I drowsed
That picked me up each time I stumbled,
The peacefulness enfolded in them,
You took that with you.

You took your voice:
The way it resonated through me,
Sending echoes through each cell,
Winding around my heart
And pulling me to you, time and again.
You took that with you.

You bound me to you, then you went away.
You took a lot of things when you left.

You took your mouth:
Your teasing and your laughter,
Your “betcha-can’ts” and “you-better-nots,”
That made me so wild, I’d want to hit you
Until your goofy smile melted me silly.
You took that with you.

You took your eyes:
The fierce tenderness that held me,
Flashing hot at my proud challenge,
Softly glowing and content,
Intoxicating to the core.
You took that with you.

You took a lot when you went.

You took your hands,
Their gentle, solid strength,
Their familiar, clever touch
That reached into the soul of me,
And always drew me in.
You took that with you.

You took your body:
That hunting-cat tightness,
The warm, sweet hardness of you,
Lithe as a serpent, flowing against me,
The heat I craved, my best obsession.
You took that with you.

Ei Nei, I can forgive you taking all of that…
Most of the time, I can.
But, oh, how my tears well up,
again…again,
Mourning the loss of all the dreams
The two of us flew when we were friends.

You took that with you too.    

[In case you don’t know, ei nei is Hawaiian for “my dear.”  The word ‘okole means “butt.”]