Sunday, April 22, 2007

Life is a Poem

We went out on the water yesterday, taking the boat out for the first time this season. It was unseasonably warm, in the low 70s; last weekend, it snowed. A lot of people went out in boats yesterday. We stayed in the river; as we neared Erie, we found it to be just too windy. But it was a beautiful day. Just two weeks of school left, and then it is time to devote myself fully to my writing projects.

A former student e-mailed me a few days ago and asked if I would say something about the Virginia Tech shootings. I didn't want to say anything until I knew more. Now that I know more, I feel I still don't know enough, will never know enough, and I seem to know less as the days go on. If I'm ever to write about this, today is the day. If I wait until tomorrow, I never will. So this entry is for you, Megan.

Megan, you were concerned about his writings. My Imaginative Writing students this semester were also concerned about that, and we devoted part of a class period talking about the shootings. The students were mostly concerned that all this would somehow affect how their writings would be viewed by their teachers. Writing involves vulnerability and students need to know they can write about dark things without being labeled "disturbed." I assured them that this incident would in no way affect the way I viewed their work.

I read the two plays that the shooter wrote. Taken alone, the plays would not be evidence of depravity. They were immature and poorly written. But if an author's works are the measure of depravity, all authors are in trouble. Stephen King would be in our deepest, darkest dungeon.

Apparently, the shooter showed many signs of needing help, and it's a shame he didn't get the help he needed. It seems he had been hurting for a long time and that he possibly had a psychotic break. What all the survivors are going through I can't imagine. I think a lot about the shooter's parents and sister in particular, for they are in a most awkward position now--and will be as long as they live. I hope they can soon find some peace.

A few days ago, I ventured to YouTube and saw that parts of the shooter's video had been posted there. I looked at the comments posted for one of the videos. I was disappointed and saddened to see so many crude, cruel, bitter things being said. Once in a while, we bloggers experience this: a person hiding under a mask of anonymity saying terrible, hurtful things. It seems to me that we don't need anymore hatred and bitterness in the world; there's too much already. Public discourse has become crude; people in all walks of life have become mean--they no longer see with the eye of the heart, as Native Americans say.

As ever, I look to literature to steady me, to feed me, and just this morning I found this poem from the collection Teeth. It serves as a reminder that hands don't just destroy, whether with guns or words, and that's what's important for me to remember right now:

Consider the Hands that Write This Letter
by Aracelis Girmay
after Marina Wilson

Consider the hands
that write this letter.
The left palm pressed flat against the paper,
as it has done before, over my heart,
in peace or reverence
to the sea or some beautiful thing
I saw once, felt once: snow falling
like rice flung from the giants' wedding,
or the strangest birds. & consider, then,
the right hand, & how it is a fist,
within which a sharpened utensil,
similar to the way I've held a spade,
match to the wick, the horse's reins,
loping, the very fists
I've seen from the roads to Limay & Estelí.
For years, I have come to sit this way:
one hand open, one hand closed,
like a farmer who puts down seeds & gathers up
the food that comes from that farming.
Or, yes, it is like the way I've danced
with my left hand opened around a shoulder
& my right hand closed inside
of another hand. & how
I pray, I pray for this
to be my way: sweet
work alluded to in the body's position
to its paper:
left hand, right hand
like an open eye, an eye closed:
one hand flat against the trapdoor,
the other hand knocking, knocking.


Anonymous said...

I agree, Theresa. And love the poem. So glad you posted it. Teagrapple.

Anonymous said...

"Death be not proud, though some have called thee" John Donne

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee, 5
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell, 10
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

This is the poem I was drawn to- considering the eternal impact of the hopeful lives of the victims- and the lost creative potential of all involved. Thank you, Theresa, for addressing this terrible tragedy.

Erin said...

Theresa, thank you for this post. I, like you, have spent a lot of time thinking about the shooter's parents and sister. I can't imagine how difficult this must be for them--having lost a son/brother, having to come to terms with the mentally imbalanced person he had become, having to deal with the public's view of him and of them as a result. It is a tragedy in so many ways.

I've been speaking with Mike (my b/f) about the shooter's writing and the effect the situation may have on creative writing classes. Mike told me that his work was poorly written, and also mentioned the unfortunate things posted online about it in discussion boards. I myself have not ventured to read his plays. I feel my stand at this point is to pay as little attention to him as possible.

Beautiful poem! I will post this by my writing desk!

Judith HeartSong said...

I am glad you wrote this.

What a time we are living in.

V said...


in his bed
never used to the smells,

his voice now a blink
of an eye,
his dinner by tube,
breathing assisted.

reading done by an aide
slovenly written magazines
who is this week`s star?

oh, but the memories!
daydreams escape him
into the arms of Mary.

twenty years of love
and desire
wreaking havoc on

and then the truck
monstrous, growing
crushing them
sending her to heaven
and him to bed.

he used to fear death
and its questions





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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

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