Monday, October 19, 2009

Saving My Life With Poetry — Elizabeth Garber

In my Cohousing life, I organize the monthly Open Houses -- Maypole dances, Live Chess Match, bulb planting-- for our community and guests, yet here I want to give a glimpse of my other life.

It's five fifteen am and the sliver of the waning moon is bright outside my back window. I'm wide awake, settled onto my couch, a shawl around my shoulders and knees, cup of hot tea on the table in front of me, my laptop ready to go. I have two hours free to write before I get ready to meet my first acupuncture patient at eight o'clock. I'm a writer and this is my idea of a happy morning.

The summer I was ten, in the 1960's, I decided I was going to be a writer. I opened a new notebook and wrote down the title of the novel about a girl in the 1880's in my village in Ohio. But I didn't know where to begin. At our little library, I read biographies of girls and drew drawings of clothes a girl would have worn. Yet when I stared at the notebook, I couldn't imagine her life or who she was. Finally I tore out the page and began a journal of my summer telling about camping in the backyard with my best friend, getting scared and coming back into the house.

I kept journals for the next forty years, and began writing poetry in my late twenties. The first line of a poem would appear on a walk or while sitting in nature. I'd grab pen and paper, catching the poem as it poured. This was a perfect art form in my life as a mother. I carried a notebook and sometimes when driving, with my kids asleep in car seats, a poem might arrive. With the notebook across my lap, (not looking down, I promise!), I scrawled ragged jumbles of lines across the page so I wouldn't lose the poem.

When my younger child left home, taking her lively daily conversations about life, music and school, I decided to start an MFA in Creative Writing in a low-residency program. Two and a half years later, the erratic untrained poet has become a steady writer with a nearly finished book-length memoir of my childhood in that old-fashioned village in Ohio. I've come full circle. I imagined the life of a girl in another time and filled the blank page my ten year old self yearned to write.

I imagine ahead to when we live in Cohousing, finishing my cup of tea and morning writing, and walking out into my Cohousing life. I'll be ready to plant a garden or cook a meal or perhaps read something I've just written to a friend over breakfast.

The Day After She Finishes Driver’s Ed My Daughter Suddenly Notices I Write Poetry While Driving

“What are you doing? You can’t write and drive!”
She’s aghast, watching my pen scrawl across the open notebook
on my lap, as I drive one handed north up Route 1.

“Mimi, I’ve written nearly half of all my poems while driving
since before you were born. When else can moms write poetry?
I’m completely focused on the road and another part of my mind
is free to write. It’s great!”

“I want all your mind on the road!
I don’t want to die just because you have to write poetry!”
She pulls the paper and pen out of my grasp.

“Mimi, it’s not just for poems. It’s for making grocery lists,
and making sure I don’t forget things, like that you need ballet shoes.
And lots of people drive and eat!
Please may I have my paper and pen back?”

“No! You can eat and drive, but no poetry!”
She says with determination as we continue up the coast.
I’m left empty handed, soothed by the billowing
indigo wash of lupine in meadow grasses following the road.

An expanse of white paper stretches out in my mind
and no way to etch the day across it.
I have to be patient until I drive off alone
and can once again save my life with poetry.

1 comment:

  1. So sweet to hear your co housing, poet, writer voice in yet another venue dear friend. Love, Martha