Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
Is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
To find out what it really means.
Life often feels like slipping on a banana peel. I have never slipped on a banana peel, but I know it is a trope used in Charlie Chaplin and Three Stooges films. My life doesn’t feel like a physical comedy, but I keep stumbling over meaning. One event slips away and another appears. It is not meaningless, yet I often can’t hold on to what I am to make of a moment, let alone my life.
Yesterday a graduate student came by to lead us in a two-hour exercise in poetry. My husband and I sat with her in a sun filled room looking out at three of our newly pruned Japanese maples as we wrote the words that would springboard our minds in crafting our poems.
My husband and I took off on a journey of imagery that glided through galaxies and water, in and out of the landscapes burnished by time. We beamed as we read our newly birthed poems. I wondered why, after over four decades of marriage, we had never crafted poems together.
Soon after, I talked with a dear friend whose brother-in-law had a stroke. On his forty-first wedding anniversary, he was wearing a Depends in the hallway of the nursing facility. The contrast of our different worlds tore a hole in my heart. I could barely breathe with the discontinuous madness.
The next morning, my husband and I met with our lawyer to update our will. Leaving the office, I was aware of feeling overwhelmed. The gravity of the death of one of us bore down like a hazy pressure chamber and I longed to get home in our bed and use my inhalers.
Instead, we dropped off belongings at the Goodwill and found ourselves in our favorite grocery store, stocking up for who-knows-what. Dan chose three donuts for us to share and I told him I didn’t need to look at them, as I always trust his donut choices. To my consternation, there was not a single donut I had hoped for. Trying to be kind, I took a bite of each one and felt aghast that he had failed to buy a single glazed raised donut.
What does this mean? Has my husband lost his ability to choose the donuts I want, or have I entered a space of hopelessness illuminated by poorly chosen donuts? Is this swirling confusion real or just a result of too much activity and not enough rest? I feel confused by what a good day is comprised of and how I’ll ever make it to my dying day intact.
Questions about meaning seldom, if ever, move to clarity. The disparately yoked connections between one event and the next exposes that no one but God sees how the sinews of meaning hold together the fragility of life.
I often want to tie God to a chair and beat Him until I find out what it all really means.
If I stop asking the questions, I relinquish my childlike awe and curiosity. If I settle for slick panaceas, then I surrender the thoughtful part of me that knows no simple answer is enough.
I also know that the question of meaning is more than the journey. It is more than letting a mouse probe the mysteries of a poem. After eating a piece of the third donut, I realized we are both alone in the wash of anticipating death and indulging in sugar to escape what we can’t name.
One moment I am creating the inner world of a poem; the next moment imagining a friend in an adult diaper. This can’t be explained; it can’t be given meaning. It can prompt my heart to look into the face of God to ask not why, but who? Not what is the meaning of this, but far more, who is the meaning that holds the chaotic shards of life together?
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of almost 40 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living! bs
As always, thank you for your courageous transparency in your writing. It is a gift. Your reframing of your question – not “what” or “why” but “who” – caught me off guard in the best possible way. I often press in with “what” or “why,” but how much better to press in with “who.” Thank you. Grace and peace to you as you wrestle in the incongruence, ask questions, write poetry, eat doughnuts, and show us the way. <3
Susan, thank you for your very kind words. Who…yes! It is God we must wrestle with and delight with and live with. And being a human being is anything but easy!
One of my FAVORITES!
Nice job Becky Allender!
On Mon, Apr 2, 2018 at 3:33 AM, Red Tent Living wrote:
> redtentwomen posted: “Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins I ask them > to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide or press an > ear against its hive. I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe > his way out, or walk inside the poem’s room” >
Thank you Annie! We should try writing poetry together!
Becky, as always your writing gives me pause as I consider all you’ve written. The depth of it. I loved the analogy of the poem being tied to a chair and us tying God to a chair. Powerful. The questions of life – who can understand God – the tension we feel in this life that is not heaven.
You’ve given me something even better than a donut to munch on today. I think this is a chocolate covered donut – fresh – still warm – no sprinkles – the chocolate is yummy and the donut is soft, moist, warm and very donuty. Please keep writing!
Thank you Barbara! Life sometimes feels like a bottomless pit. Such tension this side of heaven…not always, but certainly more often than I would like.
Your poem caught me off guard. I was deep in the poetry and sprinkles, and suddenly slammed with hard questions. Living those, in the wake of my dad’s death. The unexpected grace of your courageous questions was a gift this morning.
I am so very sorry to hear about your dad’s passing. Loosing a father is very hard. Very difficult. I pray as you wrestle with his death that there is much unexpected grace.
“I often want to tie God to a chair and beat Him until I find out what it all really means…” yep, that’s violently accurate. Staying in the chaos of seemingly disparate truth is hard. I find my tendency is to freneticism to try and force at least one thing make sense to me. Some seasons the Who doesn’t make sense either. Thank you for transparent wrestling.
I loved how you wrote: “Staying in the chaos of seemingly disparate truth is hard. I find my tendency is to freneticism to try and force at least one thing make sense to me. Some seasons the Who doesn’t make sense either.” I wish God would be found in a chair and ready to talk…Maybe…it would be too scary and holy to be in the same room. Maybe a telegram every now and then!
As always Becky, your writing moves me in the best, most uncomfortable of ways. Thank you for being willing to wrestle and write about the hard things of life. Love you.
Thank you. Laurie, can you imagine if we would gather a bunch of friends together and actually get to ask God questions? I would be too scared to be alone. But maybe being with a group of friends…we could find out some amazing hidden truths.
Desr Becky, this writing feeds my soul…I want to trust far more than question the one “who holds…the chaotic shards of life together.” Thank you for this kind and tender reminder. Christine
I hope you know that you are teaching me….and many others….the holy and hard way of trusting in God. You are a teacher to me.
Dear Becky, this writing feeds my soul. I want to trust with more consistency the one who, “holds the chaotic shards of life together.” Thank you for this kind reminder. Love to you, Christine
Yes….Christine!!! You know this much, much more than I do! YES!!!
It is a hard paradox … I seem to find myself in the midst of so mAny painful broken marriages… women whose hearts have long to be cherished… and some nights as I lay in my husband arms… a deep sigh wells up… why me???
If I stop asking the questions, I relinquish my childlike awe and curiosity.
Yes yes… and to be reminded not to dwell on the why but The Who.
Ro, yes….How blessed you are with your husband, body, intellect, career, life, etc. And, I love you childlike awe and curiosity!
Dear Becky, Thank you for your beautiful words that transcend my computer screen and fill my mind and heart, with peace. Your writing seems to always bring peace to me, and for that Im grateful. Teresa
Teresa, peace is priceless. May you be granted peace more and more as you walk in grace and love. Thank you for taking the time to comment.
Becky, how playful while disruptive to be in your days and in your curiosity and in your beautiful awe and wonder. An honor well written. This is a complex world of such particularities and you named many and invited us to pause and notice our own. Your presence and your invitation lingers. I desire to consider more The Who and less of the why for The Who is so loving and kind to be so near with us in all of it, the escapes and the grounded ness. Hugs from Boca Raton, a familiar scent to you I know.
Kim! Hi! Thank you! I love the scent of Boca Raton and love you so much more! This is such a complex world…and it sometimes makes me manic or depressed in ways that I wish it didn’t. I am reading Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamont and she is reminding me of mercy…how much we all need it, live for it and want to offer it to others. Kim…you do this for me. And yes…WHO. It is WHO.
Ugh, the lawyer’s office to update wills. I’ve only done that a couple times, and it seriously disrupted me – I needed a lot more than a donut afterwards! I love how you wove together these stories about poetry, your friend, the reality of contemplating death, and donuts…it is real life!
“The disparately yoked connections between one event and the next exposes that no one but God sees how the sinews of meaning hold together the fragility of life.” I have been thinking about this a lot lately. My tendency has been to endlessly turn things over and over in my mind, trying to work out what something means. This weekend I heard one of my favorite teachers name this as the “anguish of the soul” we put ourselves through, trying to understand something and find meaning…when in reality it is all holy. And then I read your story, and I hear a similar idea – no one but God sees and holds together the meaning. I love how even in those different experiences, God is bringing together what He knows I need to hear. Thank you!
Janet…thank you for your reply. Death and the pending death of our spouse makes us desperate and crazy. And how could it be anything else….It sucks and it’s life and our reality. May we learn to abide in the cleft of the rock and not be shaken beyond a no return. Heave….may you truly be real and I say yes…. it is!!!
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