Sunday, November 23, 2014

Meandering Back onto the Page

I got an email yesterday saying that my friend Cathy had posted a new entry on her blog, Stilwellian. She listed what's she's learned in retirement from BLM, and I had trouble recognizing what she's learned compared to what I've learned, except for the last entry, "I'm good at wasting time." I've found that also. And that's probably why I've meandered off the web page into real time and then wasted a lot of time there.

So I've decided to get back to blogging, to try to blog at regular intervals, and to focus mostly on my poetry, how I write it, what kind of revisions I make, what kinds of incidents, thoughts, people give me a jolt that causes me to write a poem. I know everyone of you out there, all three of you, are very interested in that, so here goes.

Let's start with incidents that have caused me to write a poem. The first poetry I wrote was inspired by flashbacks, dreams, and memories of my combat in Vietnam, being shot at, trying to kill others, and then the process of trying to get my life back together after that. A sound, sight, smell, comment someone made, often caused a flashback, a sudden jolt to my memory that took it too another place, another time.

I had been back in New York a while after my mother died, getting her home ready to sell, and I spoke to a cousin I'd not seen in 50 years. He recommended a realtor. We spoke several times, and I sent him a copy of my memoir, What's It All About, Alfie, a self-published book I wrote specifically for my son, Al, or Alfie as we called him growing up. He called to say that he'd had traumatic experiences in some of the same areas I flew over.

I spoke with his wife on the phone several times when he wasn't home, and she told me that my cousin had been suffering from PTSD since he came home and that he'd refused help from the VA. He was drinking too much and that caused problems. She mentioned that the only pleasant memories he had were of walks with his grandmother, my Aunt Vi, to a granite boulder we called "the big rock." I think as a result of our talks, he did get help for his PTSD and stopped drinking. Those conversations sparked two poems, both centered around that granite boulder. Here's the final one of those poems:

A Glacial Erratic
The large granite boulder has rested
here in the oak and pitch pine forest
for thousands of years. Its top is broad
and flat with patches of yellow lichen.

Twenty thousand years earlier the
Wisconsin Glacier pried the boulder
out of continental bedrock, pushing it
and rolling it until it sat on this hill.

Four children and their gray-haired
guide sit on it in the warm sunshine,
eating jelly sandwiches. They listen
to delightful tales the woman tells.

They play in the sunshine and scramble
on its cracked and pitted gray sides.
This is not their first time at the rock.
Their pied piper, their grandmother,

brings them here often, leading them
on the long, raucous, and joyous trek.
The kids don’t know about the glacier
and it would mean nothing to them.

The kids also don't know that one of them
will be ravaged and scarred by a jungle war
and his memories of these sun-filled days
will help him recover from his despair. 

He will remember his grandmother’s laugh
and those walks to the ancient rock and find
that the gentle power of her love, like the slow
power of the glacier, will conquer his fears.
Published in Emerging Voices, 2014

I took the idea of those walks with his grandmother to that rock, mixed them with my own wonderful memories of my Aunt Vi and trips to that rock with her, and imagined how those sun-filled days of childhood were so magical. I wanted to show that the horror and emotional scars of war could be overcome with love, even if that love was only in memories of a grandmother long dead. An earlier version of that poem didn't have the recovery from the trauma because it hadn't yet happened. Bill's recovery inspired me to write a completely new poem, that has a happier ending.