Teacher and philosopher Adin Steinsaltz writes in his book, My Rebbe, about a holy person, “…we see the connection with the beyond or hear it more in the spaces between sentences….As they speak we understand that there is more above the line and below the line or between the lines.”
Poetry and holiness are intertwined. Poetry lives in those spaces between the lines: in the layout on the page, the white spaces, whether it is formal or free verse, what the poet says, hints at, doesn’t say, the grammar and punctuation, the connotation(s) of each word, and so much more. It’s what makes me come alive when I write and edit. There’s that initial impulse, a word or line pops into my head or something startles me and lurks until I write about it. Like the time I was sitting on the M104 bus going down Broadway and saw a man with one leg shorter than the other, wearing a black leather shoe with a tall heel to make up the difference. I started writing about the man and the wife who loves him, makes his breakfast and kisses him goodbye each morning as he goes to work. I missed my stop.
It’s only in the last months that I feel poetry lurking. My father died three years ago, and I wrote four new poems during the first year. Then I stopped. I couldn’t and didn’t want to write anymore; I just wanted to be quiet. I didn’t want to talk most of the time, never mind try to write. Then I stopped thinking about it, stopped caring about it. I kept in mind something my poetry teacher, Mary Stewart Hammond, said when I told her I couldn’t write. “Sometimes you need to live your life, not write about it.” I no longer worried about what something meant. I was still noticing connections, but I let them fall away.
Recently, I watched an interview with Sarah McLachlan where she talked about losing her father in 2010 and releasing her new album in 2014. "I don't think anybody gets to this point in their life unscathed," McLachlan said. "I'm 46 years old and this is the time when parents die, when big changes happen."
"When you were dealing with all that, where were you musically?" asked [the interviewer]. "Nowhere"…."I would play music, but I didn't have it in me to write anything," she said…."My father passed away almost four years ago, and it kind of took that long for me to recognize what I'd lost and what that meant to me moving forward, but also what he'd given me." I know exactly what she was feeling. After my father’s death, it was not a time for writing; it was a time for grieving, for mourning, for reflecting.
At first, I didn’t care if my poetry came back. But after two years, I thought it might actually be gone. I tried to write a few times, but I had no inspiration. A few months ago while visiting my mother, I went to the basement and into my father’s tool room. After he died, we couldn’t clean it out. There were too many memories. He was a tool and die maker. I looked at the jars filled with nails, screws, washers. On his work bench were micrometers, screw drivers, levels, hole punches, two blue cotton aprons and other tools I couldn’t identify. I opened my father’s wooden tool box, and right there in the top drawer was Revelation. A Philip Morris product. “The perfect pipe tobacco” written in red on the beige tin. When I opened it, I saw several short, round pieces of metal with sharpened ends that looked like crayon tops. The tin had been in there for over thirty years and even though he’d shown me his tool box and explained to me the function of each tool, I never really noticed it. Until now. Poetry was swirling so fast in my head that I could barely keep up. I ran upstairs and started writing; a few minutes later, I had filled up two sheets of paper.
My father always encouraged me in my writing, was so happy when my book, How to Spot One of Us, was published, and always interested in my teaching and readings. My father was there, helping me to move forward, encouraging me to write again. Poetry hadn’t left me.