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Caution: Poetry at Work

December: Works for an occasion

December 1

Poems composed for a special occasion are not always "sharable" to those outside the circumstances of the writing. Sometimes, though, an occasional poem captures something that has potential to go beyond the situation. I wrote this poem for my son, who had decided on his birthday to purchase a digital piano for his tiny Manhattan apartment (with headphones, of course). I started out simply wanting to wish him a happy day, and by the end, realized there was something about the two images of beads and keys I would perhaps like to explore further one day. This is the poem for the occasion, used with permission of my son, to whom the poem now belongs.

A tiny birthday poem

Birthdays thread charms on a chain
each one speaking the language of its now:
womb by favorite chair in the library,
lullaby by the vendor’s morning banter,
pastrami piled high on Saturday pancakes
and after-school zucchini bread.

It is all one and unimaginable in its strangeness,
one bead knowing nothing of the other
except that they stroke the same wrist.
It will have been a known unknowing,
a knocking against a depth of time
that stories long to tell.

Add this bead to the string –
a table readying itself for a keyboard,
88 keys enfolding primers and progress
and meeting of hands and minds
and a space to keep safe all the wild fragments
that make us wholly who we are.

--Karen Lynn Erickson

Invitation for your writing:
Choose an occasion within your family's traditions or from the calendar of your culture. Generate a list of objects, sounds, smells, memories, images, thoughts that you associate with that occasion. Write each one on a different slip of paper or card, and spread them out before you. Move them around, looking for connections of sense, texture, taste, emotional resonance, or any other organizing theme, then re-organize them by color or size or chronology, or any other category you see emerging. Then write a poem incorporating the pieces that fit whatever threads you discovered as you improvised.

November: Life Works

November 24

This poem ponders the relationship between dreams and life, between the stories we tell about ourselves and our deepest truths. How do we narrate, revise, retell and talk over our life-work, our essence? Poetry can give a slanted entry to other modes of consciousness, to reminders of the untamed portions of our stories.

Hide and Seek

       palimpsest: a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the
       original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of
       which traces remain. (Oxford Dictionary)

We inscribe our day on the palimpsestManuscript page
of last night's dream;
the scratching of the day-pen crowds out
the murmur of night voices
that whisper inscrutable things.

If we could remember,
our lives would be changed utterly
but we dip the pen instead
and mark the page.
This is life, we write, what I write with my hand

And so we are not what we dream
but neither are we entirely what we seem
as we follow the slow progress
of our pen on the vellum of our skin
our day, our year.

We write a story on the palimpsest
of the shaved-down hide of our dreams.
Sometimes I see I am leaving too much behind
too much unsaid, my deep self scratched down
and covered over by someone else's text.

--Karen Lynn Erickson

Invitation for your writing:
Leaving a blank space under every line, write or type a lyric description of a dream or memory or imagined experience. Free-write for 10 minutes -- just write without planning or editing what you are writing; simply try to capture the image without worrying about accuracy or consistency. Next, in the spaces between the lines, revise the description with a more logical, consistent, "reality-based" version. Which elements do you retain? Which do you replace or revise? Is there anything "more real" about the dreamscape version, in terms of insight or perception?

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