On Fridays I work a half-day at home, and every other Friday afternoon, I see my therapist. That Friday seemed like any other. I sat at my desk, sipped coffee, read student assignments, and provided written feedback using Word’s “comment” feature. I gazed intermittently at the grey skey outside the window. Taking a break between students, I checked “The Time is Now” for a writing prompt. Part of the Poets & Writers website, “The Time is Now” offers free weekly prompts for poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. I felt like writing something other than “you have a modifier problem in this sentence” or “a transition between these paragraphs will create a sense of flow.” That morning, the poetry prompt I read was this:
I clicked the hyperlink to read Kien Lam’s poem (I invite you to read it here). Then without thinking too much, I opened a fresh Word document and started to type couplets. The apocryphal story of your birth incorporating a fantastical tone. This is what I wrote:
Like everyone, I come from a mother.
I curled in a womb until the time of my
birth, when the veil between worlds,
like a fully ripened cervix, was thinnest.
A beldam from the other side
invaded the plexiglass cage where I
lay on my belly, helpless, hours old.
That witch, she pulled me from my
crib into the stars, shrieking with
laughter as my limbs contracted in fear.
She claimed to be my true
Mother, but her touch was icy
and her tits were cold and milkless.
I hung from her broom until
November first, when a meteor
carried me, feverish, back to my crib.
I recovered there, alone, sucking my
thumb for comfort. Nobody knew.
From that time, grief has grown thick
as a callous to shield me from assailants:
For example, my Mother might try to
pierce me again from the other side.
I didn’t toy with the poem too much—this is pretty much as it first flowed. At 1:00 p.m., my half-day of work over, I gathered my things, including the poem, which I’d printed out, and drove to my therapist’s office. I read the poem to her. I realized as I read it that it wasn’t just the prompt and Lam’s poem that had pushed the words out—it was remembering the story my mother had told me: I’d spent my first days of life separated from my parents, lying tummy down in a crib in the hospital nursery. My mother had a fever, and they put me in isolation to “protect me.” My father was at home caring for my two older sisters. I wasn’t held in my parents’ arms for days; I didn’t hear their familiar voices that I’d heard daily in utero. I lay there alone, not knowing when somebody would come to me. A connection was broken. That was 1958; I hope this separation between baby and parent wouldn’t happen today.
Writing the poem and reading it to Nancy felt like rupturing the dam holding back feeling and understanding. A river of sadness and comprehension washed over me. Pieces fell into place. My therapist’s contribution was to help me see the link between the absence of my parents’ touch and their voices in early infancy and my difficulty trusting connection in relationships.
For a day or two, I felt high with the transformative knowledge. It explained so much. Writing that poem had planted a seed, so I decided to change my writing practice in 2023. My memoir (Sow’s Ear), novel (Geraldine), and book of linked short stories (Deedee and Stan: Domestic Stories) languish in folders on my desktop. I don’t want to continue to stew about “getting published” in 2023, to desultorily send my work out to indie publishers. I want to write. The time is now. So, I signed up to receive weekly writing prompts, and my aspiration is to use the prompts to write, if not weekly, then often, sometimes writing poems and other times fiction and non-fiction.
I want to focus on the practice of writing: an embodied practice, a way of touching into deep feelings, into life’s mystery. My experience of writing “Hallowe’en Baby” was profoundly moving. I don’t expect all of my writing next year to be equally therapeutic, of course. However, I believe many revelations will emerge from writing this way.
I’ve started on this week’s poetry prompt, following the Seamus Heaney poem, “Postscript”: “think back to a natural landscape that has made a lasting impression on you and write a poem addressed to a loved one that describes this unique terrain’s lasting beauty.” I realized, with sadness, that I’ve spent most of my life indoors. I can’t remember many natural landscapes that have made a “lasting impression.” Perhaps two or three. So, that’s quite a discovery! And it makes me want to get outside to observe the trees and the ocean, to feel the wind and sun, to watch the sky. It makes me want to go different places, to travel, to soak up the transient beauty of this world.