A poem by Sharon Brogan (see www.sbpoet.com)
What's In My Journal
after William Stafford
for Niki Robinson
Bits of bone. Smeared snot
and belly-button lint. A few
bells and wind-chimes. Cat
cries; dog dreams. Scraps
of night: train whistle, stars,
early and late snow.
Snippets of the seasons: wild
tulips, roses, chrysanthemums.
Sea salt. The taste of pineapple.
Supple limbs, and stiff joints.
Crows, crows' nests, crows feet.
Crystal candle holders.
Candles burnt down to wax puddles.
Oil lamps. Flashlights. Heather.
Goldfish slipping through water
of all colors. A color that has no
name. Spider webs. Spirals. Maps
and charts of faraway
underneath caverns and caves.
Feathers. Beads. Pebbles and stones
from rivers and seas. Fingernail
clippings. Sharp-toothed beasts.
Tribbles. Bonds, thick and broken.
Shells. More spirals.
The first handout for the Life Writing: Journal & Memoir class that I'll be taking (starting Thursday!) is this poem. William Stafford was one of the first 'professional' poets to look at my work. He liked it. He told me to send it out, and I did. It was accepted, and published, and I felt -- exposed.
I haven't seen other poets write about this; most write about the effort to get published. But surely my reaction can't be unique?
Of course, this was many years ago, and now I put my poems out there every day. And I think of Stafford often, with gratitude for his kindness and encouragement. He advocated writing a poem every day, even in months that are not April.
Sharon is about my age, about my same Myers-Briggs (either INTP or INTJ), and similar in other ways except that her solitude is enforced by chronic illness and mine is a matter of choice and practicality. There are no tribbles in my dreams. Quite a lot of cat hair, though.
I, too, haven’t seen other poets write about this phenomenon of feeling exposed -- which isn’t quite the same as wanting to assume a false identity as so many writers purporting to write nonfiction appear to be doing lately. At least two of my email correspondents regularly disguise themselves to others and, of course, those who successfully disguise themselves to me are unknown. But I have my suspicions.
What about me? On ASLE some years ago someone pretended I was two gay men who built a straw bale house on the East Front of the Rockies so they could go hunting together. Only a few days ago I pretended I was a seven-foot, three-hundred pound former basketball star -- that was transparently defensive. Of course, if I told you who I really am, you wouldn’t believe it anyway. People have their standards and stereotypes.
After my mother died and I was looking through her daybook for ideas for a eulogy, I found she had saved and repeated a line from Maya Angelou to the effect that somewhere down in the very heart of her, there was a secret part that no one knew or would expect or could share. I’ve preached about the impossibility of anyone REALLY ever knowing about the inmost part of another human being, even if we show and explain it to someone, even if we are skillful writers.
It is the essential loneliness of each of us to which we are doomed at the level of the zygote, when the brain begins to form, because we are created out of the dice-throw of meiosis, not cloning, and because every environment is a process and that changing set of influences molds and edits what our genes cause to form, so that we, too, are processes with only enough consistency to have an identity. Like shells, we add new layers. Like shells, we protect our soft inner parts that other entities might eat. It’s simple self-preservation, but not our only strategy.
Writers, of course, are skilled at producing so many alternatives and misleading clues and invented points of view (though what is being viewed may not be invented at all) that they are like those insects that imitate sticks or the moth wings with huge staring owl eyes. And then the reader’s inner filter and viewpoint, especially the “moral” ones that pass judgment, may prevent access to what the writer is “showing -- not telling.” It’s pretty easy to hide “in plain sight.”
What makes us want to hide? I know my bio of Bob also reveals me and that in rejecting my portrait of him, some people will also reject me. I know very well what I intentionally hid and why -- but there are other things that other people spot that I’ve never suspected. Oddly, they are as likely to be good things as bad. In fact, we often hide good things about our selves from our selves. In therapy groups, this is often the information that is hardest to get to people who need to have it.
But the literary scandals about false memoirs, at least the ones that the media identifies as false since memory is always limited, are all about people who pretend to be much worse than they are: they are criticized for being nice people in reality, or at least coming from “nice” backgrounds instead of being addicts and criminals. A few writers are smart enough to go with it, add to the dance of the seven veils with even more layers of deception, hints at abuse, psychosis, evil twins, Kabuki masks and costumes. The TRUTH, you can’t HANDLE the Truth!! Especially if it’s not sensational.
William Stafford has been exposed as a thoroughly decent pacifist who deeply cared about his students and who rose early every morning to lie on his couch and catch bits of the real world in words. SB has explained who she is on long lists of factoids (see her website) and facts (unsorted) that are amusing and in the end... not enough for you to find her in her apartment.
And me? Enough people in my life have said, “Oh, I know YOU! I know ALL about you!” when they didn’t at all. They wanted to control me. Not that I controlled what they knew -- it was limited by their own agenda and knowledge of the world. They only saw small parts and when they tried to add them up, much was always missing. So why should a writer worry? It’s really a publicist’s problem: how to position the “product.”
DNA would prove my bits of bone, smeared snot and belly button lint are mine alone. It snowed again this morning. Look for Sharon’s poem about snow at her website.
...What would I want from you
if you came to me now?
To lie together, comforted
by feathers. To speak quietly...
No need to tell the truth. What is it anyway?