dish: The scoop, only bigger
Shhhh. I held up my hand to silence the chattering ladies sitting around a fire in our mountain cabin. It was nearing midnight on a Saturday.
A faint whistle chirped from down the hall. Leaving the group of women, I felt my way in the dark along the wall toward a closed door.
Yes, the sound was definitely coming from inside the bedroom where a troop of seven-year-old Girl Scouts were “camping” heel-to-toe in sleeping bags on the floor. I slowly pushed the door open, peering in.
“Mrs. Keefe, Mrs. Keefe!” S sobbed. “I’m lost! I’m lost! I need to go to the bathroom but I don’t know where I am. You said if we get lost to ‘hug a tree’ but there isn’t a tree, so I stayed where I was and blew my whistle!” She held up a plastic orange whistle on a lanyard. We’d given all the girls a whistle at the beginning of the trip before heading out on the first hike.
Biting my lips to near bleeding to avoid laughing I helped S to the bathroom, turned on a nightlight, and returned to my fellow Girl Scout leaders around the fire to report that at least one little scout had fully learned her safety lesson for the day.
“If you get lost, hug a tree, stay where you are, and blow your whistle.”
This story flashed back brightly yesterday while having a conversation with my friend, D, the kind of friend who will read poetry because I write it and I’m working on this crazy poem-a-day in July project. D is a brilliant retired high-tech software expert who can speak in acronyms like IT, HRMS, and ISM and know exactly what they mean.
“But I don’t get poetry,” she says. This is a difficult thing for her to admit; she’s really really smart. She’s so smart, in fact, that I’m pretty sure she does “get” poetry, but she doesn’t realize the things she intuitively picks up on are in fact some of the elemental wonders of the genre: poetry’s rhythm, its imagery and word play.
D tells me – in that way of good friends being kind so maybe they’ll lie a tiny bit – that she likes my “One Poet’s Trade” from Day 6. (You can read it here; scroll down to Day 6.) She shakes her head as if trying to dislodge water from her ear. “But I don’t think I get it.”
“What do you get?” I ask. What I really want to know is which tree she’s hugging. I wonder if she recognizes the repetition of sounds, if she notice the two-line stanza structure, if she notices the ways each first line word and second line word are related to each other.
“Well…I hear some T sounds that are the same and some V sounds are the same. And it’s all a list. The list is in two-word order but I don’t know why.”
I nudge a little. “What if I told you that each first word is a tool of some trade? And what if I told you that each second word is a body part.”
She pauses. Thinks. “Then it goes in order from your head to your feet!” I nod.
“But what about the end?” Ah yes, what to make of those last lines? Who is this “you?”
I don’t answer that for her. I invite her to ponder.
And then I have a bright orange whistle of an idea.
For one week only, from July 7 – 14, if you make a $25 donation to the 30/30 Project, “In Honor of Catherine Keefe” I’ll give you all the navigation you need to get out of the woods for Day 7-14 poems. Message me here as a comment in Backyard Sisters, or find me on Facebook. You can pretty much ask me anything: the back story behind the poem, how it developed, the language decision-making process, and what I was hoping the poem would invoke in a reader.
In return you can tell me where the poem succeeds or fails for you, dear reader. As Anne Stevenson once wrote,
The poet needs to reach out to people he or she has not met. That someone will read your poem and say ‘Yes, that is right; I know that, I recognise that.’ I think poetry always has that interior communicable strength.
Here’s to “communicable strength” and divulging secrets. This Backyard Sister is willing to dish.
p.s. Please note that it takes up to a week for Tupelo Press to notify the poets of donations made in their honor. The minute I hear from the press, I’ll open up to you.