All the leaves are falling in our front yard, the old sugar maple and its windmill seeds, and I just said to my friend Kristin, “Isn’t it weird that leaves actually fall? Look they are falling!” And they were. All over the picnic table like words on a page. Or maybe that’s too easy. They weren’t like words. Let’s not take that leap yet. They were just like leaves, simple and brown, and crumpled.
It’s easy to want the metaphor. It makes life easier. I was recently reading this book, The Happiness Hypothesis and the author Haidt says, “Human thinking depends on metaphor. We understand new or complex things in relation to things we already know.” And, “It’s also hard to think about the mind, but once you pick a metaphor it will guide your thinking.” This, I think, is a powerful argument for the necessity of reading, writing, listening to, and memorizing poetry. What if it can help us organize our weird life's journey better? What if what it accomplishes is simply that life can be more easily lived, can be made beautifully clearer, can be shrunk to a size more swallow-able?
When I was fifteen I understood loss by repeating the Bishop line, “I lost my mother’s watch once,” which meant that great loss was still to come. Heartbreak was to me the Robert Hass line, “Bees in the heart, then scorpions, maggots, and then ash.” Homesickness was the Yeats line, “ I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.” And so forth. If what Haidt says is true, then these lines are actually allowing me to understand my own life in a way that makes it more manageable.
And that doesn’t even begin to tackle what might be the benefits of making your own metaphors to help you through the tougher topics. Those of us who write, know this to be true. What you cannot explain, you can at least explore. You can find a way through it. Or simply find a way through.
That made me think of the swimmer, the fabulous female powerhouse Diana Nyad who used the phrase, “Find a Way” to help her cross shark-infested waves (I know, I know, why?). “Find a Way” is so much easier than saying CROSS THIS ENTIRE FREAKIN’ GULF OF MEXICO.” Find a way. Find a way. Find a way. All the way across the gulf.
And some how we do. I've been saying that to myself. Find a way. This is new for me, as it used to be "Choose a way." I am finding a way to do this.
In California, I read poems in my hometown bookstore. Oh the crowd! Oh my home town heart.
In Kentucky, I taught and read and mingled with the amazing minds of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference.
And then Lucas and I got to play host to Dawn Lundy Martin, Stephanie Hopkins, and Kirstin Dombek. We sat around the fire pit and talked about the power of narrative, the possibility of language, and then it all got a little fuzzy. Oh bourbon in the bloodstream.
And now, on Thursday I read for the young adults of Teen Howl and then fly to Brattleboro for the Literary Festival. And the poetry doesn’t stop. It finds a way. Find a way. Find a way. The leaves are actually falling and they are not like words at all. The words come from you.