but now I’m mostly at the window

If I had started this blog two years ago, I would have posted something by Billy Collins within the first few days. He was another poet that my beloved 11th grade English teacher (I know you’re reading!) introduced us to during our American Lit class. I loved Billy Collins for his accessibility and his knack for celebrating the mundane… Having read most of his anthologies, I now see him as a one-trick poet, but he certainly does it well and I give him credit for being one of the few poets actually making a successful living off of his words. Who knows if I would have kept with poetry if it weren’t for poets like him. So here’s a Collins piece that I still adore–I actually wrote about this for my last English paper in high school (for another beloved teacher) instead of writing about the Emily Dickinson poem I had previously chosen. There’s just something about this poem that so deftly captures a child’s fear of growing up… and letting go.

“On Turning Ten”–Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

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Happy Birthday, friend

One of my best friends from high school, Michelle, has asked for me to post one of my own poems today in honor of her birthday. If you have been reading this blog, you know that I have refrained from posting my own work–but who can say no to a birthday girl?

I wrote the following piece in a delightful poetry class I took last quarter–the first I have ever taken–and it is appropriate for today because it is about another birthday, the 8th birthday of a boy I baby sat this summer. The assignment was to write a sestina, which is a structured poem composed of six-six line stanzas and a tercet. The words you use at the end of each line in the first stanza must be used at the end of each subsequent stanza in very specific permutations; in the final tercet, two of the words must be used in each line. It sounds sort of confusing but its easy to understand once you see an example.

I normally find rigid structures somewhat intimidating, but once I got into writing poem, I discovered that it was sort of fun to stretch the possibilities of language and play with the different meanings of words. Anyways, here it is. Some of the line breaks are a bit wonky because of the blog format.

“Letting Go: A Sestina”–by Natalie Jabbar

On that summer day you turn eight years old, the two of us blow bubbles
in the small front yard, where the crinkly crepe streamers that lace
the hedges flutter eagerly like they’ve been anticipating this day forever.
For an hour, we blow our morning breath into those flimsy plastic yellow
wands and I teach you about geometry as our perfect soapy spheres sink
into the grass, bob over the fence, pop into filmy streaks against my glasses.

We float back inside and gulp down tap water from peeling Disney glasses,
then tiptoe around jigsaw puzzles, fossil kits, birthday parcel bubble
wrap that snaps with our step until we reach the couch and slowly sink
into silence. You sigh as you stare at your freshly unraveled shoe lace
and I realize that what you really want today is not a glossy yellow
truck but the ability to banish helplessness and Velcro from your life forever.

“I’ll never ever ever be able to do it! This is going to take forever,”
you grunt at me as your eyes grow like letters under magnifying glasses.
I remove your sneakers, placing one on my lap and the other on your yellow
cotton shorts and begin to lead you into bunny ears until you bubble
over with frustration as your loops fall apart. When you drop the frayed lace
from your hands, I gently put it back, refusing to let your spirits sink.

We go under and over, loop around tighten until the simple mechanics sink
into your mind and travel to your hands and all of the sudden forever
is now and you’ve got it. For your birthday, I have made you into a master of lace.
Watching you untie and tie, untie and retie I blink hard behind my glasses,
and command my tear ducts to close as a knowing grin bubbles
out of your mouth and you leap from the couch, a disappearing flash of yellow.

Waiting for you, I think about my eighth year and the flowered yellow
dress my mom wore as she scrubbed eggplants and apples in the kitchen sink
and the way she would cradle dish soap in her palms and kiss bubbles
to me when I walked by to tell her my worksheets were taking forever.
I remember her eyes tenderly smiling at me from beneath her big glasses
and the way her wet hand gently touched my cheek as if I were made of lace.

Oh and those looks she gave me when I first leaned over to lace
my pale pink sneakers and then her surprise when I tied a thick yellow
ribbon into my hair all by myself while she was drying the wine glasses.
I remember the way her loud voice would sink
to a whisper when she told me I’d be her child forever
and the way I could taste her love in my mouth, as stinging and real as those dish soap bubbles.

Waiting for you, I wish I can lace up time and hold it captive before it sinks
out of my grasp. I dream you will not yellow with age, you will be eight forever.
You are outside, blowing bubbles alone now, as I sit here, wiping my glasses.

you glow on the street like a neon rasberry

I don’t have time to linger on this post, unfortunately, but here is a poem by another strong female poet who knows how to pack quite a beautiful punch. Marge Piercy was born in Detroit only 8 years after Philip Levine (see previous post) and was the first in her family to attend college. She has written so many poems that it was hard for me to choose just one, so if you like this one, please let it guide you to others…

“To Have Without Holding”–Marge Piercy from The Moon is Always Female

Learning to love differently is hard,
love with the hands wide open, love
with the doors banging on their hinges,
the cupboard unlocked, the wind
roaring and whimpering in the rooms
rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds
that thwack like rubber bands
in an open palm.

It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives.

It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch; to love and let
go again and again. It pesters to remember
the lover who is not in the bed,
to hold back what is owed to the work
that gutters like a candle in a cave
without air, to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

I can’t do it, you say it’s killing
me, but you thrive, you glow
on the street like a neon raspberry,
You float and sail, a helium balloon
bright bachelor’s button blue and bobbing
on the cold and hot winds of our breath,
as we make and unmake in passionate
diastole and systole the rhythm
of our unbound bonding, to have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced.