Friday, December 10, 2010

The Lump of Coal

My mother, Anne Lodge, is an abiding source of inspiration in…to…for my writing and my life. At a recent visit to our family farm in Ohio, she handed me a faded photocopy of something she’s kept around. This scrap, along with so many slips of paper, snips, quips, quotes, make their way, if she sees fit, into my fortunate hands. The latest was a quote from the poet William Matthews (1942-1997 ). He’s credited in the clipping with “a lucky wit” and “startling intelligence” and offers “a short but comprehensive summary” of all the subjects for lyric poetry:

1. I went out into the woods today and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious.
2. We’re not getting any younger.
3. It sure is cold and lonely (a) without you, honey, or (b) with you, honey.
4. Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness, and vice versa, and in any case, the coin is too soon spent and on we know not what.

So, yeah, this about sums it up. What’s left out are the particulars that bring these themes to life-- startling metaphors, unique turns of phrase, specific images, the grace notes and voicings on any artful canvas or in any room that sing to us the songs of ages. While any story, song, play, dance, or piece of art might tell us the same things again and again, it’s of course how they do so in new and surprising ways that lift and lead us.

Nor does Matthew’s summary speak to the courage it takes to truly live inside his/our themes. Or to come out from underneath the bushel that hides us from ourselves and the world; that gives any of us permission to look, see and say from the deepest parts of our uncensored selves what is true of our experience in the world. I guess Matthews had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when we wrote his summary, given that he was a prolific poet and could not be diminished by his own ironic point of view. I happen to agree it’s healthy not to take ourselves too seriously about too much of anything. At the same time, if we’re intimidated, or down right bored by the so-called limited subjects available –to whatever it is any of us confronts every ordinary day, we miss a lot. It could be the risk of devastation, the toil of reconstruction, and every little death and rebirth it takes to live into a life.

I went into the woods today and fell down in the snow. My face was cold. My body warm. The sun trickled through the web of tree branches and I rose to meet it. The snowsuit-clad child who came alive inside me reached for the sky and together, we floated up . Call it what you want, but I was in no way alone. The air crackled with connection. It was, you know, sort of religious.

We’re not getting any younger. Well, I know I’m not. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window glass this morning and wondered who the silver-haired woman looking back at me was. On another day, I might grieve what’s gone. Today, the scent of my teenage daughter’s shampoo in that same silver hair confused me. I did a double-take in the window, then thought I might want to have breakfast and a nice long chat with the woman who gazed so frankly at me over her reading glasses. She intrigued me.

It sure is cold. Well, literally it is these December days. And loneliness is most often temporary. AND It is real and it hurts. I think we need to call it out when we’re feeling it. Unspoken loneliness is dangerous and the journey through is never ever easy. Let’s look out for ourselves and one another in this realm.

Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness…the coin is too soon spent. I cried suddenly and raggedly in my car on the way to pick up Dan this week with the radio news of Elizabeth Edward’s death less than 24 hours after reading in the papers about her grave condition. It was like a lightening bolt struck through me. “No, I thought…not yet!” In that moment, Elizabeth Edwards’ was the face of any number of loved ones and friends -- of me, for god’s sake! There I was driving through my beloved snow-covered town, in a menopause-fueled eruption of random grief for the passage of time, for the ways good people -- all people --die, and the circumstances of any life lived flip heads to tails with happiness and sadness in ways we cannot control. Anything any of us are able to think or feel or do to make sense of this over a lifetime is a blessing for the journey.

Below is a good poem from William Matthews for the season; for poets and writers or anyone in need of seeing something more in a lump of coal than a rocky threat. Let it keep the fires of life-force and inspiration burning year round for you. May your holidays be fueled by love, by light and warmth, wherever you are, whomever you are with.

Poem (The Lump of Coal My Parents Teased)

The lump of coal my parents teased
I'd find in my Christmas stocking
turned out each year to be an orange,
for I was their sunshine.

Now I have one C. gave me,
a dense node of sleeping fire.
I keep it where I read and write.
"You're on chummy terms with dread,"

it reminds me. "You kiss ambivalence
on both cheeks. But if you close your
heart to me ever I'll wreathe you in flames
and convert you to energy."

I don't know what C. meant me to mind
by her gift, but the sun returns
unbidden. Books get read and written.
My mother comes to visit. My father's

dead. Love needs to be set alight
again and again, and in thanks
for tending it, will do its very
best not to consume us.
--William Matthews

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse

1 comment:

  1. Beth, I am reading this early in the morning in India. It's lovely and makes me miss the warmth of the poplar grove schoolhouse and the voices of the women, including yours, with whom I spend Wednesday evenings.