This year, I entered into the most profound experience of grief I have ever known. Nothing could have prepared me. I heard the deafening sound of the universe ripping apart. Desperate for an anchor, I turned to poetry. My copies of Stephen Cramer’s “Shiva’s Drum” and Andrea Gibson’s “Pole Dancing To Gospel Hymns” never left my hands. I breathed the poems. A line from one of Gibson’s poems became my mantra, and I’ve whispered it within myself over and over and over again throughout the agonizing hours, days, weeks and months. I wrote it down and taped it to my nightstand. It is the first thing I see when I wake, and it has been my motivation to get out of bed every day since. As time has gone on, I have had to relearn how to try to live. Some days I succeed, other days all I can tell myself is to try again tomorrow. The day I got my camera was the day I was able to put the poetry books down and re-enter the world. I named the camera Sidney, after Sidney Freedman, the psychiatrist from the television series M*A*S*H. Sidney is helping to show me the light and remind me why Rumi danced.
By Andrea Gibson
I grew up in the town that received the first distress signal
saying the Titanic was going down.
It was the only thing we were ever renowned for.
In fact, we prided ourselves on our failure to save the sinking
which is maybe part of the reason I prided myself
on drinking my first fifth of whisky at eleven years old.
It’s cold where I come from.
I learned to drown young.
At fourteen I showed up to my 8am high school art class so drunk
my art teacher took a month-long sabbatical to reevaluate
her ability to make the world a better place.
When she returned she had a face like a gravestone
with an already-passed death date.
I sometimes wonder if I killed her.
Which is maybe part of the reason
I sometimes paint this world prettier than it is.
Have you ever had the feeling you owe somebody somewhere
a really good reason to live?
To grow old?
To be ninety-eight-and-a-half
with a laugh like broken glass
so whenever folks walk barefoot
they’ll get hidden pieces embedded in their souls?
I’ve spent too many years
sewing my tears together with thread
and hanging them like Christmas lights,
spent too many nights watching the sunset
on the edge of a knife’s glint
to wanna let myself or anybody else drown anymore,
so call this poem shore
that when the message in the bottle finally arrives
it’s not gonna ask what broke us in half,
it’s gonna ask us why we survived.
Why did Rumi dance when his beloved died?
Why did children search Hiroshima’s sky for the moon
when their wounds were still open as hope’s suicide note,
when clouds were still bleeding?
Why did Frida Kahlo sculpt a paintbrush from her scars?
My mother says the thing about wheelchairs
is they keep you looking up.
Says forests may be gorgeous
but there’s nothing more alive
than a tree that grows in a cemetery
and sometimes it’s the cup that’s half empty
that fills the heart so full
it could pull a bow
above the strings of a row of combat boots
and make them sing like a pair of lovers calling each other’s names
into the echo of the Grand Canyon.
Three years ago my niece’s eyes
kept the needle from my sister’s veins
for the very first time.
If I could collect that day,
the sweat from her shaking palms,
the cramps knotting like a noose in her gut
I would have the stuff of monarchs taking flight,
of nights when the smoke of burning flags
floats across our borders like a kiss.
It hit 170 degrees in the locked trailer of the truck
when the women locked hands and sang so hard
the Texas desert shook
like the hearts of the folks
who would find them still alive.
Why did Rumi dance?
We have cried so hard our tears have left scars on our cheekbones,
but who finds their way home by the short cuts?
You wrote your first song on a homophobe’s fist.
She wrote her first poem on her mother’s dying wish.
Sometimes the deepest breaths
are pulled from the bottom of the ocean floor,
and if the soul is a mosaic of all our broken pieces
I won’t shine my rusted edges.
I’ll just meet you on the shore.