Seclusion on Sapelo: A Poem

One of my favorite things about staying in a bed & breakfast is the guest book. Although most of the comments people write are pretty lame and boring (our hosts were so nice….blah blah blah), there’s sometimes a good one in there. As a writer, I feel a moral obligation to supply that occasional “good one.”

I recently decided that whenever I see a guest book, I’m going to write a poem in it. I don’t write enough poems these days, and this seems like as appropriate of a poetry venue as anywhere else.

So when I recently spent a weekend on Sapelo Island, I snatched the attic apartment’s guest book on my last day and scribbled down the lines that had been floating through my mind.

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Sapelo defied my expectations of an island getaway and presented challenges and rewards that no all-inclusive retreat ever could. That was the gist of it, and here’s how it went.

Seclusion on Sapelo – Written August 23, 2015

A secluded island escape,

A romantic ideal in mind,

A departure from routine,

A place to lose track of time.

 

Some islands have a tiki bar,

With cocktails crafted to taste,

And a full resort staff,

To show you around the place.

 

But what happens when

The roads aren’t paved,

And the extent of amenities

Is a half-hearted wave?

 

Suddenly your paradise

Requires planning and work,

And finding pristine nature

Is the one and only perk.

 

Have your last six meals

Been cold beans in a can?

Have you given up scrubbing

Off that wet, sticky sand?

 

Another thunderstorm rolls in,

Lightning spreads across the sky,

Wind erases sandy footsteps,

In my hazy line of sight.

 

Seclusion isn’t for everyone

But it’s exactly what I crave

Out here on Sapelo Island

The waves, the sand, and me.

Sapelo

Mastering the Art of Haikus and Haibuns in Chicago’s Lurie Garden

At the suggestion of a couple of the fine ladies in my Creative Accountability Group (CAG) I started following events and happenings at the Poetry Foundation, an independent literary organization based in Chicago. I haven’t been to the actual foundation building yet, but apparently there’s a 30,000-volume poetry library there, as well as a public garden, exhibition gallery, and event spaces.

Each week, I would casually gloss over the foundation’s weekly emails, thinking, “Well that sounds like it might be interesting” or “I should really step out of my weekday routine and check one of these speakers or workshops out.” But I never did.

That is, until last Sunday.

One particular event caught my eye because of three key words: Haiku, Outdoor Garden, and Free.

Lurie1

Photo credit: Daniel X. O’Neil

The Poetry Foundation hosted a discussion on haibun, an ancient Japanese form of poetry, followed by an informal poetry workshop in Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden last Sunday morning. I’d never heard of the word “haibun” before, but apparently it’s a form of poetry that fuses prose with haiku. And traditionally, it describes travel and landscape scenes through vivid imagery. Sounded perfect for me!

A nice young library assistant, Maggie Queeney, began leading the workshop in the Millennium Park Choral Room, which by the way, is pretty hard to find if you’ve never looked for it before. A group of about 10-12 wannabe poets gathered around a conference table with their eyes glued to 4-page handouts.

A Japanese poet named Matsuo Basho originally developed the haibun form in his 1690 poem, The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling.  The prose portion is supposed to describe a landscape that the poet moves through and end with a haiku that has vivid imagery and a 5/7/5 syllable pattern.

After reading and analyzing a few sample haibuns, we all trekked to the Lurie Garden with notebooks in hand. Maggie stopped us at six different points within the garden to scribble down objective observations and free write. Then we all regrouped in the classroom to put it all together.

Here’s how mine turned out:

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METAL WILDFLOWER MAZE: A HAIBUN

One foot in the shade, one foot in the sun. I listen for the comforting sound of creaky wooden boards beneath the feet of uninspired tourists carrying cameras they don’t know how to use. A perfect amount of breeze pushes back a wisp of hair so I don’t have to.

Surrounded by walls of leaves, trapping me inside and holding me close. The tallest of plants stand taller than me, shielding my eyes from what lies on the other side. Can I venture in further and get lost from it all? An aircraft hovers above and a train whistle blows to answer my question: “No.”

Rare autumn sunlight
Creeps inside a walled fortress
Prevents progress from entering

Life is wilting in all directions, yet clinging on with an ounce of hope. Brown twigs and shriveled leaves have been living in the shadow of towering giants, but what sort of life is that? None of the residents have names because no one would speak them anyway.

Fuzzy tan curlicues make me giggle at my own senseless self-reflection and melancholy rant. Will these tendrils fall off like the thinning hairs on my own head?

Bricks have been forced into the ground, shoving grass and dirt far below. Native residents attempt to emerge and remind us of how they once ruled this man-made land. Tiny purple flowers are the only ones thriving in the foreground with mustard greens lurking behind. A salad no one dares to eat because, well salad is not from nature!

Wilting wildflowers
Gasping for sunlight – through
Towering metal beams

A round spiky ball on top of a wavering stem too tired to hold its weight. Perhaps the spikes will make you bleed. Perhaps you could blow them gently into the breeze. Hands begin to feel numb as I scribble down thoughts that everyone else has already thought of.

An incessant beeping for no reason is stuck between my ears. Construction is a euphemism for destruction and my sense of smell is evolutionarily phased out. Foreign phases uttered between the sickly wails of sirens. Always urgent, always an emergency, always in a rush.

Leaves spiral around before touching the ground and peer through metal beams towards the ominous, never-ending sky with one last blink.

A walled maze of leaves
Traps me willingly inside
Shields me from the world

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Lurie

Photo credit: Drew Saunders

If this post sparked your interest, check out the Poetry Foundation’s upcoming events and think about mustering up the courage to show up for something like I finally did. The Lurie Garden also has a few more random workshops for adults this year.

Maybe it’s no masterpiece, but I feel like I really got something out of this particular poetry workshop: a little time in nature, a little mindfulness reminder, and a little motivation to keep on writing creatively – even if it’s just for my own sanity.

Anchored Navigation: A Poem…Six Years Later

Sometimes lines of poetry come to me in a flood, and other times they’re six years in the making. I’ve never put a ton of time into writing poetry, but strings of words occasionally pop into my head and I can’t get them out. To me, poetry is more than rhyming words and structured phrases. It’s a means of safely releasing secret emotions under the guise of obscurity and ambiguity.

I sketched out the rough draft of one particular poem on an emotional evening in February of 2008. I titled it “Captain Steve Part II”, even though the person who inspired it was not named Steve and there was never a Part I.

To say that this poem stuck with me over the years would be an understatement. Its words inspired me to get my second tattoo, a Celtic compass star positioned on my right shoulder, designed to guide me along my chosen path.

The tattoo inspired by this poem - May 2009 - Dublin, Ireland

Tattoo inspiration – May 2009 – Dublin, Ireland

Back in 2008 and still today, I have struggled to find the place I’m meant to be. It’s not here, it’s not anywhere I’ve been before, and I’m starting to think that place doesn’t exist.

Recently on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I dusted off my old poetry journal and began flipping through the pages. The journal fell open at “Captain Steve Part II.” Although I was somewhat critical of the actual prose, the feelings behind it still rang true.

I decided to resurrect and revamp “Captain Steve,” with a new name and a few new lines. Here’s how it goes:

Anchored Navigation

The star that guides through the desert
The compass that guides through the sea
The intricate path I must follow
Towards where I’m meant to be

The map that once held answers
Is practically worthless to me
Uncomfortably forcing me to venture out
Into unfamiliar territory

Death Valley Journey

Death Valley Journey

Refusing to sail along blindly
Focused on the only light I see
Let crashing waves take control
Close my eyes and simply breathe

Wake to the taste of sand on my tongue
A stinging sensation in my eyes
Fall to my knees, frantically feeling
As I throw my hands to the sky

Costa Rica Journey

Costa Rica Journey

There is no guidance in this life
No master plan behind it all
No pre-determined path to follow
No inspiring other-worldly call

So I turn my ear to the sound of the breeze
And wait for a shift in the wind
Scenery changes while I stand still
Wasting away in someone else’s skin

Bald Cypress Reflection: A Pantoum Poem

While driving from New Orleans to Shreveport on New Year’s Day, I pulled over at Chicot State Park for a healthy dose of nature to kick off the new year. The park runs along a 20-mile hiking/mountain biking trail that encircles Lake Chicot, passing by a number of primitive campsites along the way.

The mostly-flat trail meandered across gentle rolling hills and through bottomland hardwood forests. It was a peaceful place, void of crowds and roadside noise.

But what stood out the most to me were the bald cypress trees. Native to southern swamps, bald cypress trees form in characteristic groves and raise conical “knees” from their underwater roots. Their leaves may have been dead, but their preserved beauty provided me with inspiration at the onset of a promising new year.

I chose Chicot State Park as the subject of my latest poem and decided upon the pantoum as an appropriate poetic form. Originating in Malaysia in the 15th century, pantoums are composed of four line stanzas, in which select lines are repeated in subsequent stanzas and take on new meaning when repeated.

With that lengthy introduction out of the way, allow me to share with you the first draft of Bald Cypress Reflection.

Bald Cypress Reflection: A Pantoum Poem

On New Year’s Day in Twenty-Fourteen
A mild Louisiana breeze blew through
Rugged boots trudged toward gentle hills
Along an endless trail of dirt

Chicot Park Trailhead

A mild Louisiana breeze blew through
Bald cypress trees waved side to side
Along an endless trail of dirt
Filled with mystery and ominous warning

First view of the bald cypress

Bald cypress trees waved side to side
Perched in the swamp and coated in frost
Filled with mystery and ominous warning
Silence never spoke so loudly

An eerie stillness in the swamp

Perched in the swamp and coated in frost
My weary legs and wearier mind
Silence never spoke so loudly
Signs of life through subtle reflection

Are those berries beginning to form?

My weary legs and wearier mind
A click preserved the image forever
Signs of life through subtle reflection
Southern swamps swallowed me whole

Snapping a shot along the hike

A click preserved the image forever
Rugged boots trudged toward gentle hills
Southern swamps swallowed me whole
On New Year’s Day in Twenty-Fourteen