Poetry & Healing

I said: what about my eyes?
He said: Keep them on the road.

I said: What about my passion?
He said: Keep it burning.

I said: What about my heart?
He said: Tell me what you hold inside it?

I said: Pain and sorrow.
He said: Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.

-Rumi

I park my old dented mini-van along the curb of the road, beside the small houses, simple houses, a few decades or so old, painted in soft colors, the curbside trees softening and establishing the domestic, ordinary feel of the street. There is nothing really noteworthy about the neighborhood. It is hard to even imagine who lives in these houses, seeming at once familiar, comforting and nondescript. The neighborhood possesses neither urban edge nor suburban affluence.

When I open the door of my car, autumn meets me, the space in between seasons when I have to choose whether I will need my brown sweater or whether I should leave it in the car. Some dogs bark. There is a driveway across from me, with two family cars in it. The drive-way leads up through a chain-link gate to a large yard, obviously, from the toys in the grass and the swingset on the small hill,  belonging to the play of young children. I follow a winding cement walkway to a reed-covered front porch furnished with a large porch swing and pillowed chairs. It has the look and feel of a true sitting porch, like a story in the midst of the telling: the kind of porch that slows down time. The kind of porch you might watch the quiet road from, the park across the street, think of nothing, listen to the children playing in the yard, sit with a mug or a couple of friends who have brought their kids over to play, or your husband after the kids are in bed.

I have brought with me my favorite half-a-century-old book of obscure poetry.

Fold your wings, O Soul, Turn from the far away, / come down from heaven into your small house! / leave your high longing for the invisible. / Can you walk without taking steps? Can you tread on naked air? / Call your feet home, call your heart home, call them to your poor humanity. / Angels are on the road, great stars are on their way to this earth. (Gertrude von le Fort)

I’ve read it aloud to myself many times over the last week since I received the book as a gift and I have been biding time until I could sit on the porch with the three other women who gather here each week and share it with them.

Sitting quietly after the reading, we recognize things together in the silence: things difficult to articulate, things so close they are hard to see, like the children running in and out of the house, climbing on and off our laps.  We talk of transubstantiation: the ability of poetry to help see the extraordinary in the ordinary, or at least to remember what we forget, that this moment, when we bring our full presence to the sharing of a poem, to the writing of our own -  is a sacrament – a visible sign of an invisible grace. We read together Denise Levertov poems, Matins and Talking to Grief.

One of the women shares how after she had packed her things to move to college, her mother met her at the door, fell onto her knees and grabbed her daughter’s clothing, crying, “Don’t go! Don’t go! Let me do it over!”  We are trying to remember not to forget. “Call your heart home: down to this small porch,  the busy afternoon ahead, the dinner to be cooked, the poetry being read, the tired child climbing on your lap, these courageous, struggling, triumphant women laughing together in the midst of it all.”

I had gone back to school to study poetry as a single mother of four children. I had bypassed getting a bachelors degree in my younger years, opting to spend my twenties raising small children and traveling across the world. And though Poetry seemed like the least practical thing to go back to school for, I knew from the deepest parts of my bones this was what I was made for. I showed up to my adviser's office the first day and said "I am going to find a way to do what I love, serve my community and support myself and my children with it as well." So I procured a grant to start teaching poetry as a path of healing for other mothers. I knew poetry wasn't something that stagnated between the brick walls of high school exams and college classrooms, but that it had the power to uplift, comfort, heal, transform. Those women and I were never the same after that class together. And I began teaching poetry anywhere I could get a foot in the door.

I now teach poetry as a healing path everywhere from the VA hospital, birth centers, public schools, universities, homes and conferences to an old converted barn out in the mountains to a small group of people who gather around a woodstove with tea in the winter. While I could say with Van Gogh that  “art is to console those who are broken by life,” it is also true that art is something that came before our brokenness. It was natural to us as children to create, and become so absorbed in the process that we lost all sense of time and place. In that way, art and writing help us to return home to ourselves, to the tender and wise parts of us.

As someone who has recovered from PTSD, I have been grateful for the term "Post-Traumatic Growth" - the acknowledgement that spiritual, creative and inter-personal growth can arise out of the same place as the dissolution from intense fear and anxiety. Poetry was such a profound part of that process for me - to help me not only reintegrate into my life, but also come to terms with the exquisite beauty of my life as a result of all I gone through. Marion Woodman writes, "At the very point of vulnerability is where the surrender takes place - that is where the god enters. The god comes through the wound.”  And it has been true for me that everything which might have hurt me is the means by which I offer myself to the world. Goodness has filled in so exquisitely the caverns that grief has hollowed.

I have seen over and over that when we all show up with open hearts, poetry does the rest. Learn more about how you can work with me towards your own path of creativity and healing.  Or, follow me on Patreon to receive poems, inspiration, writing prompts, and insights from my teaching.