I started writing poetry when I was 12 years old. I found it to be an acceptable outlet for my feeling feels, but I also wanted to branch out into new forms of creative writing. My court-appointed psychiatrist told me that writing was a wonderful way to express myself. I sound like such a dangerous badass saying “court-appointed psychiatrist”. It sounds way less cool if I say “my court-appointed psychiatrist who was designated my case to determine that I genuinely was assaulted and needed said restraining order”. That’s not a fun story. So let’s pretend I was a badass who got into a knife fight at the age of 12.
I began with nature, mostly. I would go to my grandparents’ lakehouse when I was visiting them in Chicago, and I would sit outside, staring at the murky pond covered in algae and fuzzy dragonflies. I found it pretty peaceful to just write down what I saw. I didn’t think of it as poetry, I thought of it as short observations. I’d never really read poetry before; I just knew the famous ones like “The Road Not Taken” and “The Raven”. My babysitter (who I like to think of now as my big sister) bought me a book of poetry when I was 10 and moving to Florida. I was only 10, but she got me The Norton Anthology of Poetry, a book I have used in college and graduate school many times. I go through it at least once a year of my own accord and marvel at the pages I’ve dog-eared and the passages I’ve underlined.
What did Trisha see in me then that I didn’t? How did she know I would benefit so greatly from a book of poetry, even before all the “bad stuff” happened? Whatever she saw in me and inspired in me stuck.
I found my diary from when I was 13/14/15, my diary from when I was 16/17, my diary from when I was 18/19/20/21, and the journal on the top is my current one. I always keep a journal of sorts, and I always save them.
I like being able to catalogue these in a dusty drawer and taking them out occasionally to see if my problems nowadays are as bad as they were when I was younger.
…is that weird?
Anyway, I found a bunch of my old poetry and was kind of thrown at how dark it is. I wasn’t expecting it to be so heavy.
Nobody is me. Nobody pretends to be me.
Only I am me. I am my own person.
I am nobody else. Why would I want to be?
Nobody else knows what is inside me. Only I do.
My soul is my property. Nobody can take it away.
My life is my own. I don’t want anybody else’s.
But I don’t want my own life.
I don’t want any life. I want peace.
That’s pleasant. I wrote this in January of 2005, a few months before my 17th birthday. This big yellow journal is filled with crude drawings of razors, scribbles about death and hatred, and even a page in which I drew my hand covered in blood. My own blood. I made a blood-binding pact with myself on this page to never try suicide again, that it was never going to be worth it.
Dramatic. But looking at this page makes my stomach hurt.
Page after page of promises to myself of happiness and joy, yet they didn’t seem to work at the time. What did work was constant therapy and getting the hell out of high school.
My next journal picks up in the end of 2006, a few months after I started college. Again, I see this pattern of emptiness and empty promises of an “awesome life”.
It gripped my hand until I lost bloodflow.
I couldn’t let go.
It took me down to the lake, holding out for moonlight.
We had to wait.
Never did it say a word, it only showed me.
I gasped for breath as it held me under the water.
My eyes flooded with the black.
I never missed light before this.
Page after page of desperate writing but no connection to the outside world or real attempt to change my situation.
In January of 2007 I wrote a poem about my father drowning me under a dock, but the mechanics, the content of the poem…it lacks. I don’t know what it lacks, but it lacks. Perhaps I’m looking at it six years later through the lens of a future teacher, of a (nearly) 25 year old who has experienced far more than I thought I could.
My poetry starts to shift around this time to the tragic love story. I had a crush on a boy who was seeing someone and I couldn’t articulate how I felt. I’d never had a boyfriend, I’d hardly been kissed, and moving in on 19 years old, I was starting to feel unloved. Ah, now here comes some real writing!
When my body has been
proudly displaying its victory scars
across my chest, stomach, and legs.
When our children have children,
they come visit every Saturday,
when I hold my grandson in my arms.
When my face isn’t the shining ray of light
you knew when we first met,
but my eyes hold the kindness they always have.
When our idea of a wild night out
is dinner at our favorite restaurant,
followed by a long stroll around the city,
wrinkled hand in wrinkled hand.
When I can’t see or hear you like I used to,
but my memories keep you sharp and clear,
like an old picture suddenly restored.
When I’m older than I am now,
Getting better. I’m starting to realize how to write a good poem; it’s not just “OH GOD THIS WORLD IS TOO MUCH!” I’m starting to get it. And of course, teenage love does it.
So we move to July of 2007, where my romantic angst is in full swing.
My head hurts, she said, reaching for a glass of water.
She couldn’t fill her thirst.
Someone like you?
He’s a winner, she thought.
Never gonna find better is more like it.
Turn the page!
He struggled to breathe through the air.
It’s with a K.
He struggled to breathe through the blade.
no more headache.
Lay back down, don’t worry, it’ll dry.
Sticky, she thought.
Sweet Lord, I was back in my land without content. I also had a love affair with line breaks.
So let’s move past the romantic angst. We ended up dating (big surprise!) and we’ve been together for six years. The sad poetry tapered off. It tapered off until about the end of 2008, when all my fears and anxiety came back. But something had changed in my writing. I wasn’t just writing sad words; I was writing for a reason.
Sometimes I feel wonderful and happy; other days
I want to run away from everyone I know and move
to a country where I don’t speak the language
Sometimes I feel incredibly ashamed of my body
and sexuality; other days I could walk the streets
naked for all to view my body.
Sometimes I forget
that I’m anxious; other days I forget
that I’m not anxious.
Sometimes I dream with beauty;
sometimes I dream
I have to remember that
most people feel this
I feel like myself.
I’m getting better at this. Not great, this is still far from awesome poetry, but I’m starting to experiment with enjambment and repetition for a purpose.
In February of 2010, I wrote this. It’s my last poem before I moved to the city.
Because he was an old man at 45,
he had to squint to see my face.
Wrinkled knuckles tightened
around my ears as he rasped
near Death’s door. We spoke of
news and weather, safe subjects.
I noticed his nose was bleeding before
he did. Small, feverish dots landed on
his shoes, he didn’t look embarrassed.
I recalled family stories for him,
he blew bloody snot into a Kleenex.
We never spoke of early morning,
but we spoke of yesterday, and it was enough.
I wrote this about my dad, who I always envision as an old man. I’m not writing about evil, or horrifying death. I’m writing images that everyone can see. I can see them still.
My poetry evolved from a sad life into a new opportunity. I would love to read the notebooks of my favorite poets and pull out the lines that should have made it into their famous works. Writers never think their work is good enough, and I am no exception. I think almost all of this poetry is crap. But I keep writing, and that’s what matters.
I’ll end this with a poem I wrote in my last term as an undergrad, one that sticks with me.
Father tells us the snow is coming today. Too
excited to breathe in the cold, my legs collapse
and I am in angel’s pose, powdered. The dogs are active to keep
early arthritis needs to battle the temperature.
Father puts his coat on and kisses my mother
but looks at the ground. We waltz into the woods,
each tree holding more snow than the last. I wonder
how branches can collect snow when they are barren.
My arms grow weary from winter’s weight-the dogs
pant alongside me, hot from the cold.
Father tells me each winter day is God’s idea of constancy,
yet warmth must be felt in the end. I hold his cold
hand, stumbling over branches who held too much.
My mother hates winter. She cooks to warm herself,
her heated apron strings tickle my ears. Father tells me it is
her idea of Hell, like Dante. I don’t know who Dante is, but I
think it’s someone serious. We cross the ravine, not quite
frozen, the dogs step then retreat. One starts to whine,
but Father calls him ahead. I am warmer the further I go,
Father tells me I can take my gloves and scarf off. I find a
pheasant and run, but I am pulled back. Its body is circular, swollen,
with a small black dot in the center of its head.
Its belly is heaving as wind picks up. Father lowers his gun
with a smile of spring. The dogs run away, and I wonder why they’re
called hounds. The pheasant makes hounds, hees, hounds, like the
kitchen radiator. Father steps on its neck but leaves his heel
for too long. I want to run with the dogs. I am pulled back.