“honey people murder mercy U.S.A./the milkland turn to monsters teach/to kill to violate, pull down destroy/the weakly freedom growing fruit” – June Jordan, “In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Some people, honey, some people murder. The whispered words drop into the ears of her little daughter, asleep now, only four years old, hardly able to understand such a thing. When you are four you should not have to understand such a thing. She hopes the hushed midnight escape has been forgotten, her child’s car seat in the back of the Honda Civic, all the clothes that would fit in the trunk jostling with last-minute gathered toys, a few books, goodnight bedtime books, just enough to escape from what should never be in the life of a four-year-old child, as they travel through the night to who-knows-where. Some people murder. But, God willing, no more. Not here, she prays. Not here.
“an epic gridlock not even a cat/could gnaw through,” – Mary Karr, “A Perfect Mess”
Her daughter arranges the cars evenly. Every space on the small carpet filled. All facing straight ahead in the same direction, each perfectly spaced from the next one, as though pieced together in a jigsaw puzzle. At four, does her daughter remember those several nights they slept in the car – thankfully the cold weather had not yet come – is this why the girl seems so intent on placing the small cars carefully in the preschool room, where she comes each day, in such order and precision? And what has all this done to her daughter’s sense of security? she wonders. She has a job in the preschool where her daughter is, and every day she sees her line up the cars just so. The other teachers have noticed it too, she guesses, but they say nothing to her. She knows they know. But they are kind. So few kindnesses in the world today. Tomorrow, yesterday, crazy running threat; but today is just today.
“Now winter nights enlarge/The number of their hours;” – Thomas Campion, “Now Winter Nights Enlarge”
Just before the child turns five she gets a clue the worst may be over. Some knotted riddles hint at the twists of life and the paths one must take to survive. Outside the window of their little apartment, next to the sidewalk where they will walk to Kindergarten for her daughter next fall, she sees pussy willows. One morning they are just there, as if magically created by some invisible hand. The soft furriness of the little bud capsules at the ends of slender brown branches reminds her of her childhood in Seattle, of the small gray pelleted twigs, every year, on the shrub next to the porch of her childhood home. Long before leaves appear, these little catkins are suddenly in evidence. No leaves yet. But she sees by the pussy willows the promise of leaves. And that is somehow enough. It has to be enough.
About this post
Finding inspiration to get started writing is an elusive thing. I have a favorite Northwest poet, Jordan Hartt, whose book Leap came out in 2015. I believe that every poet is different from every other poet, and Jordan’s work is of a surprising style and format. When I read Jordan’s poem “A Deer in the Salal” and because it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I was inspired to write “The Onward Journey, the Outward Hand.” Jordan’s poem begins
the ocean at high tide, she runs on the trail salal walls thick on either side of/ her the wind overhead tearing branches from the first at the cafe, she serves/an elderly man coffee he coughs and spits on the newspaper spread out on/ the table she shoulders through salal into a small clearing raging wind through the firs (36)
(the slash / indicates a line break)
As you can see, his work is both unusual and powerful. Big thanks to Jordan for his work, which inspired mine!
p.s. Here is a photo of salal, a native Northwest forest groundcover (I love this plant!)
And here is the cover of Jordan’s book: