Notes to Self: Poetry by Michelle McLean

 
 

Notes to Self IX

“Man was born free, and everywhere
he is in chains.”   -Rousseau

Lie you down in the sweet summer grass – 
Feel the sun soft-sweeping your skin;
If you must analyze, let it be
only the Rorschach of clouds;
Offer your palms to the wide open air
and let go
of what shadows the light
in your soul – 
Know you are whole; 
Invite yourself home. 

Get off the freight train of the mind – 
Join instead the discourse of trees, 
sanctuary of boughs
canopied over your fears of
Broken
Defective
Unworthy

Feel the earth hold you
in welcome,  
effortlessly –     
Root yourself in this moment,   
this body
and know in your bones
that you belong. 

 

Let spirit soar over
wounds and words
that have no place
in this space of light; 
Evanescence of angst, 
shedding armor too tight.   

Embrace the space between
chaos and shape – 
The formless wonder
of the felt unknown.
Feel the love you’ve been seeking
in your own, luscious heart; 

Awaken to the breath, 
the nuance of wind – 
This one precious life
nestled deep in your skin. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle McLean is a former high school English teacher, currently a clinical social worker, and has written poetry for most of her life.  Her work has appeared in Quills, Ascent Aspirations, Open Minds Quarterly, Toward the Light, Arborealis, Emerging Stars and Other Voices, and is forthcoming in Joypuke.  She is also a grateful award recipient in the 2007 Dorothy Sargeant Rosenberg poetry competition for “young writers of unusual promise”.  A collection of her children’s poetry placed 2nd in the 2007 WFNB writing competition, and she received an honourable mention for a poem submitted to this year’s competition.  Writing poetry has been both a compulsion and healing process in her life. Michelle lives in Carlow, New Brunswick with her loving family and her two exceptionally awesome daughters – and greatest spiritual teachers – Sophie and Lily. 

 

Writing Poetry Saved my Life: Prose & Poetry by Nancy Levinson

 

I began my writing journey penciling adolescent musings on a “Big Red Notebook” purchased for a nickel at Woolworth’s Five and Dime. In time I went on to reporting for newspapers and magazines, then researched and wrote nonfiction books for young readers.

Never once, throughout those years, did I ever attempt to pen a poem. 

I neither mimicked A.A. Milne, despite having put Wheezles and Sneezles to memory, nor scribbled words rhythmically like Robert Louis Stevenson’s swing soaring up in the air so blue.  I had not even tried to write a poem as short as William Carlos Williams’ poignant plum-eating twelve lines.

When I reached my mid-sixties, my husband, a decade older, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  He had been a loving husband, devoted father, and “by trade” an internist and cardiologist.

I, a loving wife, also became a devoted caregiver over an inordinately long time. Accepting and adjusting to new normalcy meant continual new normals with his increasing decline.

 Limited time and energy robbed my writing life.  How could I awaken and breathe the morning air each day without going into my home office and sitting down to write?

“Are you journaling?” friends asked about our situation. “Are you taking notes? Keeping a diary?”

A diary?  Like – Monday: hard day; went to neurologist this morning; husband refused to speak to him.  Tuesday: he lost the car at the mall. Wednesday:  Thinking of attending a support group. 

NO!  The tedium of such would have crushed me further.  Along with the daily and nightly dealings with dementia, I was unable to research and work on a book, leaving me to feel empty and anxious.  I had nothing to hold onto for myself. 

I don’t recall ever having had serious “writer’s block.”  But I’d heard teachers advise the stymied to sit down and just start writing.  Anything.  Are you hungry?  Thirsty?  What do you see out your window?  Even if you repeatedly type, “I don’t know what to write,”  that sentence can begin to morph into something else.

So, I sat down and started typing.  Anything.  But how I surprised myself! Suddenly I was in the present tense, second person.  I was speaking to my husband. I had no instruction, no guide other than poetry I’d read in literature classes. Moreover, I could never have imagined that “pouring my heart out” eventually would become a book of prose poetry.

I wrote as I lived our heartbreaking lives, the story as we stumbled and struggled, wept, laughed, loved, and kept going.  I didn’t write daily, and I didn’t blather the mundane, but selected events, incidents, and feelings, and the manuscript grew, becoming a meaningful ongoing project.

Swept up in my new-found prose/poetry, this writing helped keep me breathing for more than a decade. Truly, it helped keep me alive!

Oft revised and edited, of course ---here is the beginning :


I (2004)

I love you with a passion and respect
as I never imagined to exist in my adolescent
reveries long ago:
your keen mind,
your intelligence, wit,
your curiosity
about the immense
and the microscopic
your compassion
and sensitivity,
the curve of your crooked smile,
your touch, your embrace —
endear me so that I am often breathless
at the thought of you,
as every evening when you came home
I stirred at the sound of your key.

 

Once you were a physician,
mending the lives of others,
but there are no cures for you.
Once you were a teacher,
sharing your knowledge,
but you are the small student again
needing the most rudimentary of lessons.
Once you were a sailor,
adept with a boat and its tangled riggings;
you knew the warning signs of a storm,
how to take shelter in a cove.
There is no lifesaving float to be tossed,
no inlet to tie up to.
Denial is your marina for a while.

 

You are dying a slow, awful death
and you do not know it.
You are losing your memory, your being,
all that makes you who you are.
You are becoming less—
less my lover,
less an individual,
less the man I have known.

 

I whisper, oh, please remember
always my love for you.
But you will not remember.
You will forget my name, my face.
Will you puzzle at me,
as a stranger? Recoil in confusion and fear?
Or might an apparition appear momentarily
or a perfumed scent of my body drift by to remind?
and I will excite you again.

***

You awaken, cheerful; pause at the window,
a Bronx boy admiring your California garden,
suffused in early morning sunlight,
the lush grass,
graceful lemon tree,
white roses lining the low cinderblock wall.
In the kitchen you pour coffee in a mug
as always, fill milk to the brim
and open the newspaper to devour the news.
It’s demanding for you to concentrate,
you confuse political figures with one another,
you remain long with one photo and caption – or small ad.
I stand at the doorway, viewing the kitchen
drawers and cupboard doors opened wide,
bills, advertisements, empty envelopes,
strewn right-side up and upside-down,
duplicate notes to yourself adhered to the refrigerator door . . .
You do not see the same disturbing picture that I do.

 

I grieve for the many years I have left
preparing to live without you;
your death while you still breathe!
I mourn all that I have taken for granted, the loss
of our everyday occurrences, the mundane
and blissful; disagreements, frustrations, ire’s fisticuffs.
I admit to having felt ever deserving; now bolts of reality—
who of us is prepared for such an end?


The book, MOMENTS OF DAWN: A Poetic Memoir of Love & Family, Affliction and Affirmation, was published in early 2013.

My husband died in May that year. 

Currently,  I am attending poetry classes and workshops and writing stand-alone prose poems.  I am pleased and honoured to have many published in a wide range of literary journals.

 

About the Author

 

 

Among Nancy's children's books are fiction, biography, historical fiction, and easy-readers.

Award-winning titles include Christopher Columbus: Voyager to the Unknown; and Clara and the Bookwagon.  Her prose poems have appeared in literary journals such as Poetica; Blood and Thunder; and Touch: A Journal of Healing.  

A nonfiction piece, "Online Dating in the Golden Years," is scheduled for publication in an anthology, Getting Old.  Nancy lives in Los Angeles.            

 

Sweating & Blinking: Memoir by Dylan Jewers

 
 

Dylan Jewers is a writer from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. During 2013 and 2014 he spent 17 months in Montreal, where he wrote the vast majority of his composite novel First in a Chain of Lakes. While in Montreal, he also wrote the first draft of Sweating & Blinking, the manuscript where this excerpt comes from. 

He has been published in Scrivener Creative Review, The Brooklyn Voice, Pictures & Portraits and BareBackLit. He currently lives in downtown Dartmouth and works on the Halifax boardwalk.

 

An Exclusive Excerpt from "Sweating & Blinking" 

For the month of May, I subletted a relatively cheap room in an old apartment building near the Atwater Metro Station. I had started working in the Plateau just weeks before and had little money. I bussed, trained and walked to and from work. I hung out with Mary Anne in her Plateau apartment. I hung out with James, in his Little Italy basement pad. I wrote when I could but the majority my time alone was spent sleeping twelve, thirteen hours a day, stealing my temporary roommate’s weed and food, smoking on the fire escape, reading The Journal of Albion Moonlight, and watching Trailer Park Boys in an attempt to curb my homesickness.

I shoplifted regularly; sausages, mini cans of maple beans, pints of ice cream, cans of beer. I sold off books I’d brought and purchased. I bummed money from Mary Anne and James. I got twenty here, twenty there from my mother and father. I ate as much as I could at work. At home, even with the help of stolen ingredients, my meals were small, bland and disappointing. The roommates were rarely around. This normally suited me quite well. I didn’t particularly like them and they didn’t seem to care much for me either, but there were nights spent alone and bored and uninspired where I sat up wishing the door would burst open and the two of them would be followed by a mob of fun, exciting people bearing beer, weed and pizza. That never happened. 

I would go for walks around the neighbourhood. Down St. Catharine to Cock n Bull for a pint and up to Concordia for a free meal at the student soup kitchen. I would sit in Cabot Square right outside the Atwater station and write little poems. I would bring Albion Moonlight and read and smoke on the statue, occasionally peaking up at the Inuit prostitutes with missing teeth and beautiful smiles, the skinny black junkies on rollerblades, the two Native men with scraggly beards and bottomless 40 ounces, the big leather bound biker with pills in his pockets, the sleeping homeless and malnourished dogs and the seemingly clueless families eating lunch at the picnic tables.

Sometimes the riffraff would ask me for smokes and change. Sometimes the prostitutes would ask for beer. One afternoon, one sat on my lap and stroked my face telling me I was hot. I quickly shoved her off me and got the fuck outta Cabot Square. 

Towards the end of the month, the internet cut out. I was moving in with Mary Anne the following week and my roommates were both moving out, so it wasn’t dealt with. I spent much of that week at the McGill library using Mary Anne’s account. I was bumming around the library, stoned, sad, bored bored bored and I decided to type my name in the google search engine. The third link had the name of one of my stories with my name right next to it. I clicked on the link and there it was; a story of mine published in a New York online magazine. I instantly thought to what Saroyan had written in the preface to The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze about when he learned he was to be published and how it was the greatest moment of his life. I'm not sure it was for me, but it certainly came close.

Over the years, the majority of stories I've sent out to various magazines around Canada, UK and USA have been given no reply. Some youth magazine outta Boston wanted one when I was seventeen, but I didn't get back to them in time with the edits they had requested and missed my chance. I once received a rejection email riddled with both spelling and grammatical errors. I laughed and quickly forwarded it to Mary Anne. The email had lots of constructive criticism-- more than any other rejection letter I'd had the misfortune of reading. I had expected them to pass on it, considering it was a stuffy Maritime university journal, but I never expected them to fuck up so many words and sentences.

I was fifteen when I wrote my first complete short story. Like many kids, I had notebooks filled with half-finished drafts of novels and movie scripts, but had never taken the time to put final touches on anything. There was an old Asian man with three teeth who lived on my street growing up and I wrote a five-hundred word piece on him one afternoon during math class. I read it over and over again and was happy with it. The following week I wrote another, only this time it was close to twelve-hundred words and was completely made up. It was about a married couple having an argument over an ugly piece of furniture.  I showed both of them to a few friends and they seemed to enjoy them. They encouraged me to keep writing stories. I spent the next few years reading all the great short story masters and continued to write as many as I could. Most of them weren't very good. They were contrived and elementary. Mary Anne helped me reach that conclusion and after months of rethinking my process and approach, I began writing again, only this time, the stories sounded more like me, and had more to do with things I was familiar with and not just reworking’s of old Bukowski and Carver tales.  

The rejections and the ignored stories didn't keep me from writing. It was still exciting to know you were trying. All a rejection letter meant was you were trying, and being ignored made you want to be better.

So seeing a story of mine published, finally, made everything seem alright. The idea of going hungry for another night and stinking like crotch and ash didn't matter as much after that. I stared at the screen and read my story through a few times and smiled wide. I emailed it to Mary Anne and a few others and went back out into the Montreal air grinning and twitching like any other corn toothed madman.

 

Series Postscript: As a writer, Dylan found meaning amidst struggle by focusing on his publication. In your life, when you're struggling, what aspect of your world has the potential to imbue your experience with meaning? How can you use this aspect to add more intention to your thoughtscape?