the fault in our stars

Of course I should have foreseen that it would take someone else’s writing to make me write again, as I am that type of writer.  A word, a phrase, an idea and metaphor and an entire body of work of someone else’s helps me to rediscover my own genius (I use this term loosely).

And so it was, or is, with The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.   The book is technically in the “teen” genre (or so says the baby blue sticker imposed on it by our town’s library) and was apropos recommended to me by my teenaged daughter #1.  This book is teen literature in the same way that the Harry Potter series is kid’s literature, meaning that it is and it isn’t only for the targeted younger reader, as its messages and themes are perhaps equally relatable when taken beyond face value as an adult.  And that is part of the insidious beauty of this book;  as an adult reader you have little expectation of greatness when picking up a teen book.  The main character is a funny, intelligent and irreverent teen, who happens to have a terminal illness, which she has thus far managed to dodge with one  miracle fictitious drug intervention.  The irony is that as adult readers, we can be unarmed by the insight into life and life’s mysteries offered by a teenage girl, who by identity and number of years walking the earth, has experienced so much less life than you, but also so much more given her inevitable (like us all) but accelerated (unlike most of us) march to the end of life.

The main character’s star-crossed lover has also looked death in the eye, but has beaten his cancer, at least for now.  He understands the tenuous dance between life and death, fear and love and all the lies between, and they become each others confidants in a world that is so real yet unreal for them.

There are so many single words, short phrases, clever literal and liturgical references in this book that make the writing brief, yet beautiful and poignant.  Some of the lines that struck me the most:

-A fear of oblivion and a recommendation to ignore it

-the late afternoon light heavenly in its hurtfulness

-there was no through (as in friends helping me through my cancer)

-incessantly reminding your lungs to be lungs (and at one point reminding them “to get their shit together”)

– the only solution was to unmake the world to make it black and silent and uninhabited again, in the beginning when there was the Word.

-the world went on as it does, without my full participation.

-some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom.  And in freedom, most people find sin.

-that feeling of excitement and gratitude about just being able to marvel at it all

-if only my memory would compromise

-some infinities are bigger than other infinities

-I thought being an adult meant knowing what you believe, but that has not been my experience.

-I  believe the universe wants to be noticed.  I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.

-so much depends on this observer of the universe {my side note, which quantum physics has proven at a sub-atomic level}

-I owed a debt to the universe that only my attention could repay, and also that I owed a debt to everybody who didn’t get to be a person anymore and everyone who hadn’t gotten to be a person yet.

 

I was unarmed by the voice of a teenager inflicted with a terminal cancer, who can not breathe- the one vital life force we can most easily take for granted.  We can all take in her sermon-of-sorts because we aren’t expecting it, and we haven’t already steeled ourselves to the fact that it’s coming.

The book was made into a movie.  Who should play the lead male character was decided by a social media vote.  This is where I start to lose my visceral connection to this book.

My daughter asked if I wanted to see the trailer when I was about 1/5 of the way through the book.  “Absolutely not,” I said, “I want to picture the characters as I picture them, not by how and who they were cast.”  “Yah,” she said “I kind of wish I’d finished the book before I saw the trailer.”

I’m struck by the vast expanse between the star-crossed lovers with the remitted cancer and slow terminal illness, while my own teenaged daughter’s greatest current medical malady is acne, which I am gently reminded of while crying through the conclusion of the book, when her dermatologist’s office calls me to refill her prescription. And I thank my lucky stars that that’s the extent of her needed medical intervention.

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Calistoga

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biking through half-lit evenings
of childhood summers
cricket songs
in dark freedom
of pedaled breezes
hair flowing back
song of youth
I am older now
but perhaps more free
in mind, in body
but the remembrance feels freer than all

let me go
cricket songs echo
cloaked in cool darkness of summer nights

my face younger
my worries less solid
it all lies before me
the fears, the dreams
losses to come
wisdom to gain
suffering with a longer term purpose

I am older now
with children of my own
who don’t bike at night
that freedom generationally lost
like my own childhood
years ago

sky where roof used to be

Sky where roof used to be
where everything you’ve lost is found
air full of past
burn destructed and then reborn

belonging in harm’s way
courting gratitude
for memories held that don’t
wisp away like smoke
embers fall from grace

ledges of life
roughly reassembled
out of synchronicity
papery images of past

going home
I drive by
burned roof open to moving sky

This poem was inspired by actual events (I guess all poems are, in one way or another).

One morning, driving to school, we noticed that a house on a street near the school had partially burned. My youngest daughter remained fascinated by the sight of it for weeks, as did I. We wondered what the story was: who lived there, were they OK, and what caused the fire?

Then the story appeared in our local paper. A woman had lived in the house with her cat, she had Alzheimer’s. Her son lived next door. Early one morning she was sitting out on her front porch when a neighbor (not her son) noticed the fire and helped get her off the porch and save her cat. She may have left the burner on, heating water for tea, she can’t remember. No one was hurt in the fire and everyone is grateful. It was her dream house, it will be rebuilt.

A few days later, driving by the remains of the house I was struck by the phrase, “sky where roof used to be” as through the jagged hole in the damaged roof you could see the juxtaposed blue sky and the clouds moving through it. I was inspired to construct a poem based on that phrase and the story of the woman, and wanted to have a photo of the damaged roof with the sky. I kept meaning to stop and take the photo. One evening, driving home from back to school night, I remembered again that I needed to take that photo. I kept driving as I felt the pull to get home as I’d been gone for several hours. Then something inside compelled me to turn back and actually get the photo taken.

The next morning I drove by the house again and the roof remains had been demolished to make way for the rebuild.

I finished this poem a few days later.

Appropriate language

The longer I stay away, the more daunting it seems to come back…  This is my blogging experience.  I have been writing…some.  Following is a work I produced at a summer writing program (SWP) way back in June. It was such a blessing to have been able to take a week out of a busy summer home with my kids and devote it to writing.   The poem includes borrowed words and phrases from poems of Alice Notley and Doug Oliver, old American folk music, and some Bob Dylan songs, which means it is an appropriated language poem of sorts, which is double layered in here since Alice Notley’s “In the Pines” poem (which is one of the sources) also contains appropriated language.

I
And you go walking
flurries on the other side
featureless trees alive with night
clear to the bottom
uneasy in their resting place
will to go, jettisoned, distracted

II
The usual crowd was there
wrong about everything
think how they sound
lonesome eerie veiled sound
of the periphery
holes filled with background
burden
glory well of sorrows
flashes false
a price is no price
subtled in habit
arrow on the dark night of grief
taking down the stars above
plantations burning

III
a bird, end down, slept in the pines
a movement takes under
seems to be all there is
if the cold wind sun never shines
where will you go?
tears are calling
to cross over everything unresolved
crickets, not a word of good-bye
going home travel loves motion
white linen
my magic, god like mysterious fortune
a face you almost remember
there’s plenty of rest here
heavily guarded, my own soul.

Poems wisdom transfer

In an age if sound bit spoonfeeding
is it fair to require so much work?

interpretation through experience
(and dictionary consultations)
to unlock
the hidden meaning in your prose
or pride?

without accessibility, what is it but idle
fodder for the trained elite
to be discovered and dismissed?

yet answers gotten freely
through no effort of your own
blow off quickly in idle winds as well
so what is the poet and the philosopher to do
but embrace the unraveled paradox
as truth

with me, the bride of cleverness,
(overlooking it’s divisive powers)
seeking unity.

There’s a reason it’s called a living room

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These objects
are not yet ours
in our home
new and lovely, smelling of pleasant stores
visually appeasing
my sense of ownership
and borrowed space.

Too beautiful to be not functional
but the tempered balanced arrangement
scares my use until later
maybe I will light that candle.

For now I wrap myself in a throw
and then will attempt to arrange it
back like it was
rumpled yet beautiful,
actionless, yet foretelling diagonal movement.

Patterns and blues intermix
to break my matching rules,
yet it works better than matching
it complements
for matching creates precise limits
and I want to embrace it all instead
yet have a unifying sense
of belonging
together.

Just enough, not too many
singular pieces to be traded in and out in the future
perhaps repurposed in another room
or life
new with old, never completely starting over
bringing in pieces from the past.

In a room of living that I once said was dead, redundant space.