"You will find poetry nowhere, unless you bring some of it with you."
This week has found me at the task of integrating my new teaching schedule with the first days of school for two of my children. I am re-learning what it is to be an educator of "teenagers" as I work now with the full-time college freshmen of our thrumming city campus. They don't respond in the same ways as my "adult" night-students always have...don't seem to have the same self-awareness or inherent desire for growth and change. At nineteen, they figure, they know everything they'll ever need to about life and the world...and now that they're "grown" no one needs to teach them anything. My class is a burden they must shoulder on their path to their "real" ones. Add to this the ache for my steadily growing-up children who tear headlong onto the bus each morning, bound for their own adventures away from me. Had I not carried poetry with me in my pocket, I surely would not have found it this week...
But, I did.
About three weeks ago, I was re-introduced to a Vietnamese poet from the 18th century, Ho Xuan Huang (Spring Essence), when I browsed the bookstore shelves and saw this title tipped over onto its thin spine. I had read her before in a Women's Studies literature course as an undergrad--but, years and miles have passed since then and her poems lit up on the page for me. Ho Xuan Huang was a concubine in a Confucian dynasty...she had no control over her body, her sexuality, or her life. But, she did have full autonomy on the page. Her words are bold, sensual, and often got her arrested for their brazenness and thinly-veiled political commentary. When I was given the thought this Poetry Thursday to bring a poem with me wherever I went...I decided on her "Autumn Landscape".
Drop by drop rain slaps the banana leaves.
Praise whoever sketched this desolate scene:
the lush, dark canopies of the gnarled trees,
the long river, sliding smooth and white.
I lift my wine flask, drunk with rivers and hills.
My backpack, breathing moonlight, sags with poems.
Look, and love everyone.
Whoever sees this landscape is stunned.
--from Spring Essence: The poetry of Ho Xuan Huang--
I brought poetry with me...and found it echoing everywhere. I think I knew that when the drought here broke, it would have to break big...and so it has. Rain falling intermittently all week--a grey sky as I write these lines. The leaves are stirring softly...Leaves, grasses, and plants all going green again before Autumn opens up her box of paints. Ho Xuan Huang's words, "Drop by drop rain slaps the banana leaves./ Praise whoever sketched this desolate scene: the lush dark canopies of the gnarled trees..." resounded through me when I walked outside. I've been drunk on the rain all week...My pocket, and yes...my backpack "breathing moonlight, sags with poems." So does my life lately, it seems. Every day, some new line of poetry uncoils from my pen. I know it "should be" the reviews I have due again and the edits for my novel...and the new fiction "thing" still ineffable, still raw. But, these poems keep tracking me down. An old muse I once sought after relentlessly...for years, coming close--traveling to find her--a muse I'd decided to shelve in pursuit of the goddesses of fiction and essay. Now that I'd moved on, like any fickle love--she's interested in me again. Ho Xuan Huang's poetry reminds me of the writer I once thought I was...the one returning.
But, the line "Look, and love everyone," became the one that would carry me through class sessions where the student burst, "Don't you know we have lives and other classes!" when I assigned the homework...and when it was easy--when boy-o smiled before bed and said, "You're still my beautiful angel,"--when Petunia read me a poem of her own with the serious inflection of a master in her voice--when Rosie clapped her sweaty palms over my face and confided, "You're big fun, mama," at the library. "Look, and love everyone," is a lesson for me. One I'm working on...for the guy who cut me off in traffic on I-95--the lady last week who I hated my Rosie on sight, just because she is ROSIE--and for myself. I sat by the mirror this week and heard myself whispering, "Look, and love everyone. Whoever sees this landscape is stunned." We are all too busy to look, to love, to be stunned by who we are...by who others are.
A poem, well-chosen, in our pocket can alter the whole landscape.