Monday, July 14, 2008



A Man may make a Remark--
In itself -- a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature -- lain --

Let us deport -- with skill --
Let us discourse -- with care --
Powder exists in Charcoal --
Before it exists in Fire.

Emily Dickinson, 1864


A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say

I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

Emily Dickinson, 1872

Most of my life I have been a fairly impetuous speaker. I could blame it on the stars: Sagittarians are said to be tactless and prone to blurting out their thoughts without thinking. Or you might blame it on self-absorption: I frequently am so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I hardly stop to listen to what I am saying. Or you might say I think best when I'm talking. I tend to hold many vague ideas and beliefs in my head, swimming around lazily, coming in and out of focus, and am often unaware of them myself until a conversation leads to me voicing them. Once I am called upon to give an opinion, I realize that I have slowly been formulating the ideas all along, and they pop into sharp focus, and tumble off my lips. And the same holds true for writing. Often when I sit down to write, I have only a shadow of an idea what I want to say, but once I write a sentence or two, my fingers take over from my brain with minimal instruction and write the words I have been hiding from myself. And I often write without editing, because it often seems to me my words have taken on their own life, separate from me, and it's no good telling them what to be once they have earned their freedom from my mind.

But lately, I have more and more frequently found myself at a loss for words. When called upon to explain what I mean by an uttered statement, or asked what I am thinking or feeling, I have come up blank. Partly to blame for this silence, I think, is a new unwillingness to engage in conflict of any kind. I come from a long line of arguers, and have always held my own among them. Debate, dissent, discord: all have been part of my family's mode of communication and I have never before shirked in making my voice and my opinion heard. Almost imperceptibly, however, I have wearied of this type of exchange of ideas. A reasoned discourse is all very well, but it almost always tends to escalate and I no longer care to climb those heights.

More than a new dislike of my own discomfort at conflict is a new dislike of causing that discomfort in others. Previously I have been so eager to prove my own point that I did not much care whether the other party in the debate could be made uncomfortable. Not to say that I went around picking fights all the time, I didn't. But I never turned away from an offered argument, no matter who was offering. Now I am much more likely to allow points to go uncontested, and am more comfortable in silently holding my own opinion and allowing my adversary to believe I have been out-argued.

One final factor in my reticence, however, gives me the most pause. More and more frequently, when called upon to give voice to my thoughts, I find I cannot find the words. The stream of language I have effortlessly tapped to convey my thoughts all my life is suddenly unruly and truculent. It is as though that stream has been dammed upstream and only a trickle of the most mundane and colorless words can get through. The big question, in my mind, is the nature of that dam. The suspicion has been growing upon me, slowly but steadily, that I have something I need to express, but have not. Day by day this suspicion becomes more clear and distinct, and although I scoffed the idea when it first occurred to me, now I find myself turning it over and over in my mind. Several times I have nearly blurted it out, like the old me would have, but I have edited myself each time. What is stopping me from expressing this thought, this truth that is blocking my formerly glib words?

I am afraid. Once it is said, it cannot be unsaid.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


beware  :   do not read this poem

tonite ,   thriller was
abt an ol woman , so vain she
surrounded herself w /
  many mirrors

it got so bad that finally she
locked herself indoors & her
whole life became the

one day the villagers broke
into her house  ,   but she was too
swift for them  .   she disappeared
  into a mirror

each tenant who bought the house
after that  ,   lost a loved one to
  the ol woman in the mirror :

  first a little girl
  then a young woman
  then the young woman/s husband

the hunger of this poem is legendary
it has taken in many victims
back off from this poem
it has drawn in yr feet
back off from this poemit has drawn in yr legs

back off from this poem
it is a greedy mirror
you are into this poem  .   from
  the waist down
nobody can hear you can they  ?
this poem has had you up to here
this poem aint got no manners
you cant call out frm this poem
relax now & go w / this poem
move & roll on to this poem

do not resist this poem
this poem has yr eyes
this poem has his head
this poem has his arms
this poem has his fingers
this poem has his fingertips

this poem is the reader & the
reader this poem

statistic  :   the us bureau of missing persons reports
      that in 1968 over 100,000 people disappeared
      leaving no solid clues
        nor trace   only
    a space     in the lives of their friends

Ishmael Reed, 1970

Sometimes the problem with poetry is that it can suck me in, capture me, slowly but steadily take me over--not just for the moments I am reading the poem, but after I have put the poem away. This, of course, is not a problem if the poem is uplifting or cheerful or otherwise positive. Other poems, however--the melancholy, the bitter, the hopeless--those poems can bounce around and around in my mind. Sometimes I begin to react to the poem in my head instead of the people and events around me.

It can be hard, too, for me not to take poetry personally, as though it had been written and published just for me to see or hear. As though it were meant for me and each line, each syllable holds a secret message that only I can unlock if I try hard enough. Some will argue that of course poetry is written for the reader and the reader is me. I'm not sure that's always true. Sometimes, I think poems, as well as other kinds of writing, take on their own life, and break away from the author's original intent. Sometimes, I think, poems are written just because they needed to be heard.