It suddenly struck me — I the one who loves science, data, facts and reason — that when push comes to shove, it was poetry I could count on. Poetry knew where hope lived and could elicit that lump in the throat that reminds me it’s all worth it. Science couldn’t do that.
This piece in the New York Times hit all of the softest spots for me, so I had to share.
I didn’t have parents who understood poetry, or thought it was valuable for anything much. But I was a thirteen year old who would have gone without shoes out of sheer despondence and force of will. Thankfully, I had a 10th grade English teacher who recognized that. She taught me about poetry, and encouraged me to write. And I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And all the things I most desperately needed to write about, I just knew were safe with her.
I even remember the very day in class when poetry suddenly clicked for me. And so many other things clicked… We were reading in our anthologies of American poetry, and the poet was Bruce Springsteen and the poem was Thunder Road. And my life was never the same. In so many ways.
There were ghosts in the eyes
Of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road
In the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they’re gone
On the wind so Mary climb in
It’s town full of losers
And I’m pulling out of here to win
It elicits that throaty lump when I think just how important she was to me, now twenty years out. But she and I worked so hard on my writing together and her approval meant the world me. She was the person who convinced me to go to college (despite teen-angst/despondence), even arranging my scholarship at Wright State, where I started out. I remember her helping me fill out the application, because I couldn’t bring myself to touch the paperwork.
And all of this despite she retired before I even graduated. Once I went off to college, I sent out a few letters to check in, and I loved receiving her replies. She had that immaculate cursive handwriting that no one has today, because no one writes by hand, except the very dedicated poet-English teachers. But I went out into the world. And I stopped writing letters. And I’m sad to say now I’ve lost touch with her and I doubt she remembers me. Though I remember her voice and her nod, yes! this is a powerful phrase.
When I read the NYT piece, now as a mother, recalling the pain and isolation of my teen years, as a poet — it resonated in deep places. If I could tell Mrs. S. one thing1, it would be, Hey! I made it! I did not evaporate at 27 like I thought I would! I have a great life I love. I’ve never published a damn thing worthwhile, but last week, at open mic night, I got up on stage at the Kava bar and read two sonnets that I wrote.
Because that’s still my anchor. Because for me, poetry is still, always the place hope finds a voice.
(This post is terribly written, I know. But I’m having feels and I can’t help it.)