I didn’t know I loved the spirit in soil deep under reed marshes connected to it through my bones a vision of roiling life
I didn’t know I loved to sing that song could make me cry joy a quick moment on the backs of notes voices together light to dark
I didn’t know that I loved sense of place color memories until they were gone layered goodbyes in dim sunlight dusty motes on gray air
I didn’t know I still loved touch thought it dried and done but not forgotten only to find a fire so ready lit my blood sang even as I would cry aloud
I didn’t know that I loved words that they would fill every empty place pull me with them words from my eyes words from unheard thought
I didn’t know how much I loved my life sweet along with sharp and hard rushing in over tidal flats escaping just as fast that I could cherish it not just live it
____________________________________________ This list poem came out of a short poetry workshop taught in 2015 by the poet Doug Anderson. We read Things I Didn’t Know I Loved by the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, and were prompted to write our own list poem by the same title. This is the revised version.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” said Charles Dickens. Actually he only wrote it. Dirk Bogarde, my favorite Sidney Carton, said it with eyes shining in the dark. Words reduced to threads at the edge of a frayed cliche. Being able to hold thoughts in my hand for a while as they dribble down the length of my fingers, to land drip sandcastle upright as words on paper. It took forever to learn, but I have no regrets. If only words could cure the world as easily as pull the wool over our eyes. If widdershins could disperse oil spills or brillig or gyre could hoist a lance to run neatly through the heart of hate. That kind of thing. Words for the worst of times.
My mother once said that one of Martha Graham’s dancers was awful to her husband and little boy, but when one saw her on stage none of that mattered any more. My teenage psyche salted that one away as ammunition for the future.
Originally this was going to be a plaintive piece about my mother, life with a parent whose art was in many ways more important to her than her children, something like the childhood she herself had experienced as the daughter of the composer Mary Howe. Years on the memories don’t have the power they used to, because along with having a fairly self-absorbed modern dancer mother, I’ve come to appreciate an artist mother who painted zoo animals, including a never-forgotten giraffe, all over our Colorado Springs bathroom walls.
I had a mother who continued to learn and grow and create well into her eighties, who regained a love life in her sixties after a long drought, meeting a wonderful man who was her partner for almost twenty years, who took photos while she sketched, and was her personal “sag wagon” driver on the many Cross Minnesota Bike Rides she did. I had a mother who morphed from a modern dance teacher and choreographer into a fitness visionary and advocate for home-bound seniors in the Twin Cities. I had a mother who loved me, but couldn’t always show it.
No turnaround happens all at once. My friend Susan was a magazine culture writer in Washington, whose perk was tickets to everything, and she loved to take friends along on their birthdays. One year she took me to the Trocks, aka Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.
We watched this all male dance troupe perform technically brilliant and hilarious parodies of ballet and modern dance. Re-imagining Pavlova’s “dying Swan” with molting feathers. A hysterical Dance of The Little Swans. Side-splitting send ups of Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Doris Humphrey.
Enjoying dance without resentment for the first time in years, I knew exactly what I was watching, understood the finer points of the parody, appreciated the incredible technique and elegance of those men en pointe, all of it a gift from my mother. That night proved to be a small but steady turning point.
I’ve come to terms with my mother’s humanity and limitations, acknowledging her often ill-expressed love, and eventually moving on, setting aside things I now understood better and for the most part no longer mourned.
With emotional dreck hoovered away, my brain cleaner and tidier, it began to imagine again, eventually leading to a creative bender of sorts that shows no sign of slowing down.
A few years ago life took a powerful turn. I joined a virtual creative group, and cannonballed into the deep end with little idea of what direction to take. I still find myself zooming about, trying things that look interesting or challenging. At first it was easy to hang back. Now I know the answer is to acknowledge whatever shows up, look it straight in the eye — and give it a shot. The way she used to.
I need a little more time say a month added to each day For love so that its echoes will remain when I am gone To listen once again to live voices in sustained pianissimo And to capture light the way I see it
In song, music puts its hands around my heart and my words think tears are a puddle to splash through, shoeless. Color often stops my breath, and I am its willing prisoner. A sudden memory coming on fast might need release. Any of these call up joy or tears, and it is all wonderful. To me. When the signal comes they might glide to me in a waltz, or whirl up on the skirts of a wild mazurka. Better yet, ride in on the smoothness of an alto sax.