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Writing: A Rondo
Where does writing come from?
From whisps of thought,
like the bubbles that emerge
when kids blow through the small metal circles,
that form, quickly, jiggling with sparkles
for the way the sun catches the gleam.
The bubbles release into the air, gone.
But the memory of that escape
and the shape of the sphere sticks.
The back of my notebook fills
and then the ideas
tucked back there with other ideas
listed on the last page
under the hard back cover.
That’s how the writing courses began this past spring, as ideas, whisps of thought released to the open page of my notebook, and tucked in there until another whisp of thought showed up—a writing invitation, books to read, thoughts about how to start each class day. Why can’t I teach the course that guides me to the writing I think I need to do?
The words that show up first on the notebook page stick: Writing about health and healing, illness and wellness. I could write about spinal cord injury, what happened thirty-two years ago when the children were five and three. I could write about May of 2002 when Bill became critically ill after what we expected would be uneventful surgery. I could write about hip surgery, my own a year later, how afraid I was, how truly afraid, and about physical therapy, how to the therapist I was not a broken hip, but a person, and how amazing that was, and how three months after surgery, I felt a contentment and wholeness that I had not recalled feeling before.
Legs parallel. Pull up on the knee of the right leg
Sliding the heel as close as possible.
One, two, three, four, five.
Release. Slide the heel down, leg straight.
Left leg, repeat, twenty repetitions.
Draw up the right leg, heel as close to me
as I can get it.
With the flat of the hand
push the knee across left
one, two, three, four, five.
Then guide the knee right
until the tug of the soft tissue
one, two, three, four, five
count the way orchestra players
Ten sets left. Ten sets right,
Repeat with left leg.
angled at 11 o’clock
to the body’s twelve.
Hold the right knee close to the left
one, two, three, four, five.
Push the right leg far to the right.
Hold two, three, four, five.
Push the right leg to the left
legs again at eleven o’clock to the torso at twelve
hold two, two, three, four, five.
And if the theme of the course is health and healing, illness and wellness, I can go farther with that word “healing” and write about what has carried me through, what has sustained me in the past, what sustains me now.
But I worry. Will I wander into woods, get lost, and not find my way out? Will my students wander, and will I, only a writing teacher, get caught in the dark needles, stuck and pierced by stories too hard for me to hear, to respond to. Will I get caught up, forgetting a second time that I am a writing teacher, not a counselor, and that my posture is to say thank you, to be grateful for my students’ good lives and the risks they take for truth.
So, a year before I can do it, the idea bubbles up. Braveness, I think, putting matters of healing—spirituality, faith, belief—overtly into a course. In the back of my notebook the reading list begins to grow:
a black woman warrior poet
come to do my work,
come to ask you,
are you doing yours,
whose The Cancer Journals
in its last line
tells my story, too:
“I would never have chosen this path,
but I am very glad
to be who I am,
I have been writing in the ways I write now for twenty years. Stacks of speckled journals sit on end in Wal Mart plastic milk crates pushed under the long clothes hanging in my closet. Fifteen more inches of notebooks—books with big black spirals, heavy covers, a thick paper, bound books with paper so smooth words spin onto the page—fill half a shelf on the bookcase behind where I type. I rarely re-read these journals. But I like them near me, words upon words that bubble up in early morning writing when the scene outside is black as India ink, when the sky lifts from dark to blue to pink, when the sun peels white, the entire yard looking like a Monet painting for the lights and darks and shadows.
English 111 students
zip up their book bags
bring their writing to the desk
bustle out the door.
This class is big on God.
The small Pentecostal
asks, can she write about her church.
Yes, but be aware of audience
the effect of your words
and remember that sometimes writing about God
appears to some readers
as heavy handed and judgmental.
She smiles. Thinks she can pull it off.
In her essay the Pentecostal takes the reader
inside to a morning service with her congregation,
finds her place in the pew, has her readers hearing
testimonies, greetings between parishioners and pastor
witnessing. But her readers are not ordered
what to think about it, not ordered
to an altar call.
We readers ride in the passenger seat
with the Baptist, along two-lanes,
he in his truck on one of his weekly drives
at night to the small Baptist church
where he has been a member all his life.
We climb out of the truck with him
sit on the church steps with him
and talk to God
Author’s note: My thanks to Scott Roberts, Richard Robinson and Beverly Hearn who saw poem lines where I didn’t, organization where I missed it, and then called the piece a rondo.