Looking down from the road
I spent five days last week writing poems at Esalen, a beautiful site high on a cliff in Big Sur CA.
I go to this particular workshop almost every summer. Led by poets Ellen Bass, Dorianne Laux, and Joseph Millar, I always learn some lessons about writing poems, I hear excellent poems read by my fellow poets taking the workshop with me, and I never lack for something to write my poems about.
This year I wrote six poems using prompts given at the end of each day’s craft talks on: 1) a coming into consciousness poem, 2) a poem with sentiment and no sentimentality, and 3) a poem using various line break and syntax techniques. We also beg our leaders to give us a list of ten words and an assigned phrase with which to create a poem. Once in a while we’re asked to include our pick of a body part, season of the year, or time of day.
Writing to a list of words is like solving a puzzle. But sometimes the poems turn out just plain silly. This year I wrote a couple of silly poems and a diatribe focusing on the word “junk.” I couldn’t resist writing a rant about how junk food connects to our current childhood obesity epidemic.
Here’s one without any of that silliness. The assigned words were: effluent, cauterize, jowls, flange, egg, phobic, chew, skunk, floor, gels
And the phrase was: “What falls away”
(By the way, it’s always okay to use any form of the given words.)
The bathhouse built into the cliff
Now for the poem:
I have my mother’s jowls.
Deep furrows from
my lips to the sides of my chin
create flanged sacks
wanting to reach
toward the floor.
I also have her deep lines
just above my eyebrows.
Every time I look up,
she haunts me
years after her death,
leaving me phobic
that the ravage
to my once egg-smooth visage
will go on.
Your face has character
But I know it as the first signs
of what falls away,
of what becomes skunk-like effluent.
There is no way
to cauterize the progression.
Only what’s left is
to chew and swallow it down,
to gel with it and acceptwhat’s yet to come.