June 14, 2020
I am always looking for ways to quiet my mind, because it’s an extraordinarily busy place. Right now it is the sun on my skin as I sit out on my balcony in a modicum of clothing. The sun’s warmth on my belly is enough to occupy my thoughts. I close my eyes and imagine myself filling up from the outside in with healing warmth. I imagine my skin becoming less irritated, healthy rosiness returning to my cheeks, my brown hair streaking with gold. It’s a kind of meditation, I guess, invigorated by the cool breezes that flow over me and the scent of blossoming trees in my neighborhood.
Poetry does this for me, too: when I am writing a poem, even if it’s only for a few minutes, it fills me up. I don’t necessarily go into a trance. I don’t get all the way quiet. It’s more like the quality of energy is different. Associations come more freely. Instead of harnessing the power of my brain and setting it to work on problems, my brain is using me. Many writers, like Natalie Goldberg, have referred to this as “channeling.” That’s an almost – match for me, though I think I am channeling myself, not a higher power.
My soul gets quiet when I read poetry, too. Poetry can tell stories and inspire action and get us fired up (of course), but primarily I see it as entering a moment. A lot of poets work in a sort of meditative mode; Mary Oliver and C.D. Wright come to mind, along with prose writer Marilynne Robinson. Finding these contemplative examples helps me live in the world of the poem for a few minutes. It is essential self-care. I don’t pray; this is close.
I hope you can find some quiet moments in the coming week. With so much of the world in an uproar and feeling so unsafe, preserving quietude feels important. I’m trying to take on and question this silence — my silence, and my peace, and the privilege that grants me these things — in the poem below. I wish everyone’s mornings were as alive and as safe as mine.
See you next week,
The man next door whistles “Ode to Joy”
Sunday is for strawberry jam
and flowers in a blue vase
the pollen I’m finding on my floors
and the songs I hum when I sweep
a question for my coffee
what will you make of words today?
what mess could be swept up?
I ship nothing home, take nothing with me,
start each day
Poems to Read this Week
I will continue sharing the work of at least one Black poet here each week. It is a reminder to myself that Black history could fill every month, and that I could read Black poets forever and never run out of poems. Today, one of my favorites from Ross Gay.
The following three poems are from American Poetry Review, July/Aug ’19, which can be purchased here. I think they are their own versions of contemplative moments, but they also complicate the idea of silence.
Why Not Me
We Know It’s a Spell But We Don’t Know What For
Thank you for reading. If this post contributed to your life in a positive way, please join me in donating to my friend Martez’s efforts to provide self-care kits to high school seniors in Alabama.