It was my last year at UCSD. Two long twelve-hour days each week down in San Diego. Busy young family life at home. I tried to keep mornings normal the days I wasn’t in school—making breakfast, packing lunches, fluffing dirty gym clothes in the dryer with a softener sheet if they hadn’t made it into the wash, sitting up on the counter to fix hubby’s collar as I gave him his morning kiss. I was absent for all of this the days I left by 5:45 for school. This finishing college after a twelve-year break was a team effort. Two extra-long days seemed to work better for us here in the final stretch than three regular ones. Hubby would drive the hour down to San Diego every Tuesday after work so we could eat dinner together before my evening class. Pastrami and Monte Cristos, their signature fresh pickles and amazing coffee at Samson’s Deli in La Jolla, just up the road from campus.
As full as my schedule was, I’d added one class I didn’t need just to keep me going . . . a Creative Writing Poetry class. Crazy, right? You would think so, but I’d learned by thirty-five the respite it would provide my creative soul . . . in the middle of all the have-to’s. With poems due every week, everything became fodder for a poem. The bevy of quail framed in morning sun on the backyard fence, the moving shadow on the water from the thirteenth-floor lecture hall above the ocean, a visit to New York City the week of a hundred-year snowstorm that shut it down (I’d come to do research for a baseball book about one of the “Boys of Summer”), memories of mud pies and the smell of supper out the window after dark, a basket of Indian Corn at the farmers’ market . . . even our morning kiss. I know, these don’t sound like the stuff poetry is made of, but you might be surprised. You use what you have. Poets always have.
While I love being able to choose free verse when I write (“Just write a paragraph and put it on the page in the shape of a poem,” I used to tell reluctant high school poets), there were the expected parameters for most assignments that required paying attention to subject, structure, rhythm and meter, and rhyme scheme. Not to worry, I’m not planning to launch into a poetry lesson here, lest you feel yourself slipping away . . . as I do when someone starts talking math, my brain sliding into a gray hallway searching for an exit.
Why am I talking about this poetry class? I just this weekend found the manilla folder of poems with their dates and the professor’s comments scrawled in blue or green ink! (These were the days when you still had to turn in an actual paper copy to the professor who would pick it up and read it while eating his lunch or drinking a late night cup of coffee. You also had to climb three flights of stairs to his office for an audience if you needed an extension or explanation for a grade.) A virtual time capsule from 1983 buried in a box of pictures in the closet. Of course I had to sit right down on the floor and read them! I am particularly entertained by the parody I wrote of Jenny Joseph’s “Warning” (“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple…”) I think I got just about all of that right!
I’ve copied a few into a Poetry Page here on the blog: Time Capsule 1983. If you are a poetry lover or writer or tinkerer you may find them entertaining. Some read like first drafts . . . and probably are. Some work, some don’t, but I’m including them to give you permission not to be amazing all the time. As simple or silly or soulful as they are, I am nonetheless inspired to start writing poetry again—as if it were an assignment. What did you use to do that fed your soul? I’m giving you an assignment: Do it.
Rituals Warm muffins and orange juice Brown bags folded twice on the tops of their notebooks Brush your teeth? Homework? Milk money? I hear the bus—love you Kisses at the sink Cool lips Warm backs. Sitting on the kitchen counter Fixing his tie A cologne-scented kiss Warm lips Warm neck A private joke— Rituals that weave an invisible thread Binding me To him To them.
Check the Poetry Page: Time Capsule 1983 for a few more . . .