Where poems come from
Drinking coffee, waiting for the courier. Two owls hoot love notes to each other in owlish Morse code. Or maybe they’re discussing strategy. It’s hard to tell with owls.
Hummingbirds buzz at the feeder. In between sips of sugar water, they fret about their babies.
My cat rolls over and stretches like a piece of elongated orange taffy.
That’s the news from home. I have to wait for bulletins from more distant worlds. The courier is distracted and disorganized. No FedEx-to- my-door deliveries from this character. Not until she’s good and ready. Then she tosses out memos, letters, bits of ephemera collected over a lifetime. They float down like leaflets from a vintage airplane. Usually one at a time unless she’s cleaning off her desk. Then they fall like confetti.
A current of warm air, like a sigh, nudges an old photograph in my direction, sepia toned and faded. The edges zig-zag, as though cut with pinking shears. Within its borders, a solid, fifty-ish woman braids the hair of a young girl. Both are in plaid dresses. The angle, taken from the side and a little behind, is intimate and tender. A private moment and a casual photograph in a time where most subjects were front facing and grim.
I pin the picture to my bulletin board.
Next, a scrap of newsprint with a photograph of a girl and a cat catches my eye. It hangs in the air as though time has stopped, but I think it’s more likely that it can’t make up its mind which way to go. I have to rise from my chair to grab it before it gets away. The headline reads “Schroedinger’s cat rescued by young girl”.
In the meantime, a strip of newsprint has landed on my desk. I think at first it’s been dyed in a coffee stain to look old, but it’s the real deal. A birth announcement dated 1792. A baby girl named Sarah Grimke, born November 26. Her name rings a bell. I turn the paper over and discover the strangest thing. Her eulogy is printed on the other side. Born into a wealthy Southern slave-holding family, this baby was to become an outspoken advocate for the antislavery movement.
The bits of paper have stopped and I wonder if my dispatcher has dozed off. Then I see a hand drop one flimsy yellow square which sails this way and that, taking forever to reach me. It has barely any weight so that gravity and air physics are in a sort of soft competition.
It’s a post-it note. Probably her grocery list. I’m annoyed with the courier until I read and am warmed by the words. ‘Remember, I Love U Sweetheart. The Past is the past, so let’s not take it home with us. I just want to Love U, and be happy.’ A smiley face punctuates the end.
A page torn from a book is next. There’s nothing written on it but raised dots embossed on paper. I run my fingers over them like a blind person and wonder how I’m able to read it, but then I’ve always felt my way through words. I translate the bumps which ironically read, “What is the use of a book,' thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?”
Daylight is seeping into the black sky. I am running out of time but I need another story. Something with more substance.
I open the window to welcome the changing of the guard. There’s always a first bird who announces the exact moment of dawn. The other birds wait, like me, to begin their day song.
Still no more news from the courier. The sky is rapidly changing. More birds join the chorus outside, oblivious to my schedule.
When I think I’m going to have to grab some generic filler, I receive a note from the past. My heart stops when I recognize the handwritten poem is actually lyrics to one of my favorite sixties song.
Unfortunately copyright laws forbid me to quote, but it’s a bittersweet song written by Graham Nash inspired by a Diane Arbus photograph titled ‘Child with toy hand grenade’. We couldn’t understand our parent’s world any more than they could understand ours, but our wars had become more complicated than theirs.
We believed so passionately in the power of love. Our hair was full of flowers, our hearts full of hope for the future.
Now the stars are fading back into the brighter light of morning blue sky. My little ‘rag’ now seems irrelevant in the glaring light of day. The ‘real’ headlines bleed us, like vampires, making us wonder if there’s any reason for hope. A world gone mad, each day a descent into more chaos and violence.
Voices of reason are obliterated by the clamor of discord. The princes of peace are not considered newsworthy. Everyone is shouting and no one is listening.
The editor demands my copy. I know he’ll just print it as it stands, especially at this late date. So I insert a picture of my cat in the blank space at the bottom and turn it in, but I’m disturbed by this edition. I hate leaving on this depressing note. At heart, I am an optimist.
The pressmen are warming up the drums when my capricious courier decides to fling something else out her tower window.
It spirals downward in a nosedive like a crippled angel; wings splayed, it makes a clumsy landing on my desk.
It is a sheaf of stapled papers, neatly typed with references and cross references to source material. At the top is this quote. “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Mahatma Gandhi
I read on, hardly breathing and not wanting to stop. My agent, obviously on a mission to save me, has outdone herself. There are pages of quotes.These are not timeworn platitudes, but wisdom that resonates because of its universality. The kind that only comes from those beings who are rich in spirit, pure in heart.
Luminous words from saints and sages.
Insightful words from poets and philosophers.
Healing words from the wounded.
No bumper sticker buzzwords for the attention deficit. These take time to digest.
The elders have spoken. Wise men and women whose spirits endure through their words. Words I needed to hear.
I run to the print room shouting ‘Stop the Presses!’
This time they wait.