Poetry

All posts tagged Poetry

On the point being to keep trying.

Published March 21, 2016 by mandileighbean

nevergiveup

“In the stories, though, it’s worth it. Always worth it to have tried, even if you fail, even if you fall like a meteor forever. Better to have flamed in the darkness, to have inspired others, to have lived, than to have sat in the darkness, cursing the people who borrowed, but did not return, your candle.”
– Neil Gaiman, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a terrible adult. It seems that I never fold laundry, I owe everyone money, I always forgot to check the mail, and I’m constantly drinking spoiled milk. On good days, I am able to convince myself that these minor defeats give me character and make me interesting; they give me something to write about.

And I keep trying, because that’s the point, right? The point is to keep trying.

My author page on Facebook has been experiencing more activity than usual, and I want to capitalize by composing a riveting, engaging blog post, but I’ve been lacking inspiration. I’ve also been lacking motivation. I haven’t written anything. I haven’t graded anything.

Last week was rough.

My twin sister returned to rehab a week ago today. I try to remind myself that relapse, whether or not anyone likes it, is a part of recovery. I force myself to consider the alternative, about where else she’d be if she wasn’t trying to get help. Neither scenario does much to lessen the disappointment, the frustration, the anger, or the sadness. It’s a gross, turbulent mess of emotions that I’m trying to compartmentalize and shrink so that they can be better processed and dealt with appropriately. But it’s hard; it’s so hard.

But I keep trying, because that’s the point, right? The point is to keep trying.

“Because, perhaps, if this works, they will remember him. All of them will remember him. His name will … become synonymous with … love. And my name will be forgotten. I am willing to pay that price ….”
– Neil Gaiman, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury

That wasn’t entirely true, what I said earlier, about not having written anything. I’ve written some things, but nothing I’ve been thrilled with or necessarily proud of. I worry my writing – the themes, the characters, the dialogue – is repetitive. I worry I’ve written all of this before, and that might be because the object of my affection is every character I’ve ever written, is the epitome of every romantic fantasy I’ve ever had, and so it all comes back to him in one way or another. What’s especially troubling, and simultaneously amazing about being a writer, is that I invented this man before he appeared before me in the flesh (talk about a god complex, huh?). In college, before I had ever met this man, I started a novel and wrote, “He couldn’t watch her fawn over another man, couldn’t tell her how he felt because it was too late and he’d ruin it for her.” Swap the genders of the pronouns and I am my own prophet. It’s crazy; I said everything I should have said to him years before I met him. How depressing.

I wrote a poem, too.

I put the kettle on for tea
and pulled my leggings from the dryer
I hope there’s time for breakfast
before I go about setting the world on fire

Burning devastation – turn it all to heat and ash
There’s something freeing about going mad
To face the world with wild, reckless abandon
To give in, to be selfish, to be ignorant and bad

Consequences will come swift and sure
Rolling quickly like so many rocks downhill
But it could absolutely all be worth it
For the liberation that accompanies the kill

What does being so reserved get you,
maybe a curtsy and a smile?
None of the mystery, intrigue and danger
that can go along with being vile

But I don’t think I’d really go so dark. It’s easy to not consider anyone or anything else other than my own wants and desires, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s difficult to do what is right, at least sometimes.

But I keep trying, because that’s the point, right? The point is to keep trying.

On trying not to be ungrateful and having perspective.

Published March 24, 2015 by mandileighbean

Ungrateful+brat+all+i+got+was+coal_5ef563_3156907

“He asked me, ‘How do you keep fighting?’
And the truth is I don’t know
I think it’s funny that he asked me
‘Cause I don’t feel like a fighter lately
I am too unhappy

You’d think I’d get perspective

Can I not accept that my own problems
Are so small?”

– Amanda Palmer, “Bigger on the Inside”

People probably think there’s someone living on my second floor because I’m far too lazy to climb the stairs and turn off the light.  But the truth is that I live alone.  I purchased a home independently and for a woman of 26, that’s not too shabby.  I know that I should be proud of myself and feel accomplished.

But the truth is that I live alone.

In the novel Frankenstein, the monster admits, “I am malicious because I am miserable.”  Conor Oberst expresses a similar sentiment in his song “Lovers Turn Into Monsters” when he writes, “Lovers turn into monsters at the loss of all affection, almost like it was the affection that kept them from being monsters.”

I am alone and miserable, and that makes me malicious, that makes me a monster.  Unfortunately, I’m not even a beautiful one.  I have the career, the house, the car, and my braces will be removed soon.  I’ve published one novel and written my second.  But what does that list of achievements really mean at the end of the day if no one else is impressed enough to single me out in a special and unique sort of way?  My friend half-heartedly joked that I most likely need therapy because I cannot see, or assess, my self-worth unless it is validated by someone else.  That’s weak, isn’t it?  Isn’t it cowardly?  Should I not be brave or confident enough to be alone, to be by myself, to be with myself?  Romantic poets, specifically Wordsworth, talk about “blissful solitude,” which, for me, is a personal oxymoron.  Solitude does not make me blissful, but is that because I’m my own worst enemy?

Last night, I ate dinner alone – as I do most nights – seated across from a vase filled with a dying, wilting bouquet.  I’ve been trying to convince myself the scene was romantically tragic, like I can wear my loneliness in an ironic, fashionable way, like a worn and frayed denim jacket that’s adorned with many pinks, each one displaying incredibly funny and witty social commentary.  Unfortunately, I’m falling short of that mark.  I’m more of a sniveling, unsympathetic victim than an alluring, inspiring heroine.

My mother asked, “If you died, who would be affected?”  To be fair, we were discussing financial planning and we all laughed because it was only poor phrasing and nothing more, devoid of malicious intent.  But man – what a question.

WRITING PROMPT #22: “A couple of goth high school students get busted shoplifting and are sentenced to do community service with Habitat for Humanity.”

To sixteen-year-old Morgan, everything looked like a nail, as she was one hell of a hammer, one that continuously shocked and surprised her mother who was baffled by the complete disappearance of the beautiful baby girl she had once held.  The pacifier and dresses with bows and lace gave way to jet black hair and jet black nails and thick, black eyeliner that made Morgan look more bruised and broken than anything else.  But Morgan’s mother supposed that was the look Morgan was going for, a tormented soul, as Morgan believed she was victimized and persecuted in only the way that a sixteen-year-old girl can.  No one understood Morgan and as a result, everyone was out to get her and no, no one else possibly knew what that was like because Morgan was different; she was special and unique and sensitive and intelligent.  For wanting to be accepted while simultaneously being an alternative to everyone else, while complaining about being ignored and not wanting special attention, Morgan could sure pat herself on the back.  Morgan blamed those contradictions, and the competitive, capitalistic society that put possessions before people, for her shoplifting spree with Alexis.

Morgan claimed that she and Alexis, her best friend, had tried to steal the designer handbags to be ironic.  Morgan asserted that the two girls were making a statement about the dangers of consumerism and the loss of identity, that she had only snatched the purse to transcend the lame chains of the reality that was created by everyone around her except her.  Impassioned though her speech was, it was all bullshit, and the juvenile court judge knew it.  Consequently, Morgan and Alexis were sentenced to do community service with Habitat for Humanity.  And now here she was, hammering nails into boards that created some sort of shell, or foundation, for a home.  Morgan assumed the charitable deed should fill her with some kind of positive feeling, but it didn’t.  It was a waste of time in Morgan’s opinion.  After all, there were murderers and rapists who needed their souls cleansed more than Morgan needed it.  The message, the point of it all, was utterly lost on her.

So she let her hammer fall to the ground.  Morgan released a heavy sigh.

A moment or two passed and then a handsome man shuffled over, bent to retrieve the hammer from the grass, and handed it back to Morgan.  “Here you go,” he said cheerfully.

Reluctantly, Morgan reclaimed the tool.  She said, “Thanks.”  Her tone was flat and even, nearly dead.

“Having fun?” the man asked, evidently entertained by the complete misery issuing from Morgan.

“That’s rhetorical, right?”

He smiled wider.  “Oh, come on; the weather’s amazing, we have air in our lungs, and we’re helping our fellow man.  Life is good, is it not?”

Morgan shrugged.  “You could argue that we’re perpetuating competitive, capitalistic dogma that decrees my house must be nicer than yours for me to feel complete.”

“Why argue at all?”  Morgan only blinked at the man.  So, he added, “Besides, we’re not just building a house.  We’re providing someone with a home.  Don’t cheapen it by claiming materialism.”

“I’m not cheapening anything,” Morgan argued.  “This family only thinks they need this house because -”

“What do you know about this family?” the man interrupted.

“What?”

“Tell me; what do you know about this family?”

Sheepishly, Morgan hesitated before she admitted that she knew nothing about the family, not their names, not their background, nothing.  Slowly, the man nodded.  “This family thinks they need this house because they do.  The father, the bread winner, died unexpectedly last year in a car accident, which left the ailing mother to care for five children.  I say ‘ailing’ to be polite, but she’s dying.  She’s dying of cancer.  The youngest is ten and the oldest is 24, so they need somewhere to live when the mother dies in about a month.  The oldest needs to house his siblings in an affordable shelter and then, somehow, he needs to figure out how to be an adult, how to be a father and a mother, and he needs to figure out how to be sacrificial without being bitter.  He needs to find a healthy balance between being there for them and being here for himself.”

Morgan gulped.  She was swallowing her shame.  She said, “You’re the oldest.”

The man smiled.  “I am.  And it’s a beautiful day.”  He clapped Morgan on the shoulder and continued on his way, walking back towards where he was helping to assemble the foundation of his future.

perspective

On remembering and being thankful.

Published December 29, 2014 by mandileighbean

“Death ends life, not a relationship.”

– Robert Benchley

A beautiful and brilliant man once asked me if I knew what the poet Robert Frost said about life.  Embarrassed, I had to admit that no, I did not.  He told me that Robert Frost said that it goes on; life goes on.  I could only agree because it is a fact and who am I to argue with Robert Frost?  The conversation continued as both he and I commiserated about those minor tragedies and somewhat larger frustrations that so often plague humans as time passes and as life goes on.  I did not give his words much thought.

Until today.

A year ago today, I wrote a blog post which was viewed over 1,000 times, which seems impressive when one considers my average views rarely top 20.  However, that statistic becomes decidedly less impressive when one realizes the views came from mourners and I did nothing creative or noble or bold or entertaining.  I lamented the loss of a wonderful woman and inspiring colleague.  I am glad, and I supposed I could even say proud, that those words offered comfort and empathy to those who were suffering the pangs of such a shocking and brutal kind of grief.  But time steadily marched on, as it always has and always will, and the post, those words were forgotten as acceptance and healing and coping began.  I thought about the absence of my colleague nearly every day since then, rubbing the charm on the Alex & Ani bracelets we purchased in memory of her, but the post and what I had written never really crossed my mind.

And that realization particularly strikes me because since her passing, I have been able to understand her in ways I never thought I would, or even could.  I now teach in her classroom, two sections of the Honors program she built and perfected.  The task is daunting and I constantly worry that I’ll disappoint.  There’s always a special kind of pressure for an alumna who returns to her alma mater to teach, and that is excruciatingly increased when that same teacher is asked to fill the shoes of a beloved, intelligent teacher who passed suddenly.  On the bad days, when the lesson plan goes awry and I feel stupid and small and incompetent, I sometimes silently curse her because I childishly wish she were still here for the selfish, awful reason of relieving me of a burden.  Luckily, those selfish, bad days that I am greatly ashamed of are few and far between.

More often than not, I raise my eyes to the sky and send her a prayer of thanks.  This woman, who is no longer with us, is continuing to make her presence felt – is continuing to teach and inspire.  This year, I am taxed with teaching works I have not read nor studied, the first of which was Hard Times by Charles Dickens.  I should tell you that Charles Dickens was never a favorite of mine.  I considered him overrated, tediously verbose and a generally uninspired writer.  I shared in my students’ misery as we began to read and analyze the prose together, but then something wonderful happened.  We all grew to love the work; our seminars were intellectual and passionate.  The students became more cultured with such a staggering work under their belts, and I became a better teacher – I discovered that I could be an example for my students and that I could not groan nor complain when faced with an unfamiliar work, but had to persevere and connect with it to entice myself to analyze and interpret all it had to offer.  And I only learned this because my dearly departed colleague added the novel to the curriculum.  In true teacher fashion, she challenged a student to rise to the occasion.

Being in her room and sharing some of her experiences, I am seeing life in a new way and for the most part, doing so has made me extremely happy, has made me extremely appreciative and grateful for the opportunity to work in a field which I treasure, and to do so with people who are kind and generous and patient and enjoyable.  I am finally beginning to feel more like a woman instead of an insecure teenager who would much rather run into her bedroom and cry into her pillow while blasting melodramatic music when things get rough and the road gets rocky.  All of this I owe to Tara Gardner, and so this is not a weepy, “in memorial” piece.  This is a thank you letter to a woman who passed a year ago, but whose life was so full and vibrant and inspiring that her legacy is very much alive and those who care to will absolutely benefit from it.

I think back to the beautiful, brilliant man and what he told me.  And I suppose that yes, life does go on.  But I don’t think it does so thoughtlessly, marching like a cold solider across a barren burning field of battle.  Life goes on because it has to, because there are things to be learned, experiences to be valued, love to be lost and won and shared and forgotten, people to hold and scold and remember fondly.  And, I think, because those we have loved and lost wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thank you, Tara Gardner.  You are loved and missed, but please know that you are still teaching and that you are still doing so with amazing skill.

On being worse than teenage poetry.

Published April 27, 2012 by mandileighbean

I teach twelfth grade English at the local high school. I interact with teenagers every day, bearing witness to the comedies and tragedies that fill the hallways, cause lockers to slam angrily, demand hall passes and fill their little worlds right up. I enjoy being an audience member to one thousand mini-melodramas five days a week, and to be honest, I find it fascinating. I don’t think teenagers should be ridiculed and lectured on the importance of perspective because as we age, we lose the passion we once had. I think perspective should only be mentioned when comforting the distressed, and I definitely do not believe that one should be admonished or feel ashamed because they reacted passionately to an event, a person or an idea they felt strongly about. We should forever be passionate.

That being said, I’ve decided to share some of my “teenage poetry.” The following poems were written when I was in high school. Feel free to judge them harshly 😛

“Untitled” (Actually, the title of this poem was the name of the boy I liked at the time, but names have been changed to protect the innocent 😉 )
Even though the words are awkward
And I don’t know what to write,
I’m sure there’s something I need to say
so that I can set everything right.
Sipping liquids that are too hot,
Willing them to burn your tongue,
Feeling a thousand years older
And now wishing you were young.
Sitting at a lonely table
In a coffee shop in the mall
On your hands and knees, I beg you.
I am daring you to crawl
Back to the ones that loved you
Back to me who still does
And maybe now we can share that drink
That never was

Apparently, one of my friends saw this beloved boy of mine at the Starbucks in the local mall, and commented that he was alone, drinking coffee. I loved this image of him – I romanticized his loneliness, enhanced my own desires and wistfulness. That boy was everything to me when I was fifteen and if I am being completely honest, I still think about him a lot. Is it because he’s the one who got away? Is it because things ended so badly? Is it because I feel so stunted emotionally? Who knows?

“Untitled” (This one really didn’t have a title, I promise)
The lines on the page start to blur.
The pain shoots up my spine.
The sweat drops off my forehead.
There’s a pounding in my mind.

One pill, two pills, three pills, four
I took the whole bottle with regret
I downed a whole bottle of vodka
So many things I just had to regret

My body’s shaking and I can’t see
I trip and stumble until I hit the floor
I raise my weary, pounding head
There’s no redeeming light behind that door

There’s no saving grace, no second chance
Someone lied to you, it’s okay to give up
I was close to the edge and I decided to jump
Life was hell, enough was enough

I convulse on the floor, puking in pain
I took my own life without regret
Life was shit so I’m moving on
I openly welcome death

This poem is embarrassingly juvenile; I realize that. Suicide is NEVER a viable option, let alone the answer. The hopelessness that pervades the poem is unnerving- were things really that bad less than a decade ago? They weren’t, but I’m sure they felt like they were. I am not ashamed of this poem, or that I have several suicide-themed poems in my arsenal, because the writing helped me to express all my feelings into something positive, into a creation. The writing saved my life.

“Untitled” (There was a time when I totally titled my poems … this just wasn’t that time, apparently)
fix the seams of all my parts
starting with my broken heart
make me whole, make me complete
get me back out on my feet
but take me by my trembling hand
and help me to fully understand
how your needles and your thread
brought me back from the dead
you breathed new life into me
made me whole, happy and healthy
i owe you every breath i take
thank you every time i wake
because you’ve saved me
you’ve ressurected me
because you love me
i can be
healthy
whole
and happy

There are notes from a math class besides the poem – clearly, I wasn’t paying attention and I need to send an apology to Mr. Savitsky. Not only did I not understand anything that was happening in math class, but I did not understand real heartbreak or recovering from heartbreak. Writing is all about writing what you know and experience. I had very little experience with anything at fifteen – other than the social microcosm of high school – and now, at twenty-three, I feel the same. I have yet to travel, to have a full-time job with benefits, to live on my own, or to experience a whirlwind romance. I crave these things every day, and they do find their way into my writings, but then the writing comes off as cheap and not genuine.

My friend Brandi and my mentor both told me to start living; to finally begin my journey. I vowed to you that I would.

But have I?

On trying to inspire.

Published April 24, 2012 by mandileighbean

I stayed for an hour after school today with two young women from the section of creative writing I am teaching.  We discussed their works, their methods and what their goals were for the rest of the year.  I believe I helped the girls, and the other day, another student said I was the type of teacher that could change a student’s life, that I was supportive and motivational.  Though my goal is to be a writer, teaching and thereby touching lives is not a bad way to make a living.

After school, family came over for a couple of hours and my schedule was wrecked.  I didn’t get a chance to write, but I thought I’d share with you my favorite poem of all time. Hopefully, it can inspire those of you who write.

Enjoy.

 

🙂

 

1. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats         5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….         10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,         15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,         20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;         25
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;         30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go         35
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—         40
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare         45
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,         50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
  So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—         55
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?         60
  And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress         65
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
  And should I then presume?
  And how should I begin?

.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets         70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!         75
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?         80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,         85
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,         90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—         95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
  That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,         100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:         105
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”

.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
        110
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,         115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old … I grow old …         120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.         125
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown         130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
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