For my mother.
Breathe, little hummingbird,
As she whisked her wings and
Showed me how to fly.
We perched together,
Her and I
Upon the shadow rimmed daffodils
Set against a bright mountain.
Sing, little hummingbird,
As the stars kissed the pond
And it wasn’t so cold after all.
We gazed at the stars
Her and I
The electricity in the darkness
Bouncing brilliantly off her beaming face.
Wait, little hummingbird,
As we watched the moose glide
Bending back glistening blades.
We admired his gentility
Her and I
The smooth calmness of so great an animal
So carefully combing through the dandelions.
Breathe, little hummingbird,
And I smiled at her and let it all go
Determined to follow her anywhere.
The reader brings his or her own experience to the poem and creates meaning. Here is my experience.
In order to prevent deportation (and respect visa regulations for Americans) I have to leave Indonesia every 30 days. This allotted me the absolute fortune to spend five days in Phuket, Thailand, from last Saturday (May 4th) until Wednesday (May 9th). I loaded myself up with reggae music, a notebook + strong pen and a book, ready to spend my days snuggling into the sandy beaches and surrounding myself in words.
I realized quite quickly that the book I had borrowed from the library for the voyage was a dud. It shall remain nameless because it is probably only a dud for me.
There are no bookstores in Phuket, so I lallygagged around the hostel scouring the lost and found and community areas for books that had been left behind by other travelers.
I found one. Only one.
The Dean’s Watch, by Elizabeth Goudge. “A warmly human story of nineteenth-century provincial life”.
Not really my cup of tea. But I was eager to complete my aesthetic back in the sand, so I decided to give it a whirl.
I love a good book, one rapt with tragedy and depth and soul, but I don’t…emotionally attach myself to them very often. If you take “emotional attachment” to be “crying” and “other sentiments”. I haven’t cried at an ending since I read Diana Nyad’s Find a Way last year. And that was because I was proud of her accomplishments. The last book of fiction that elicited tears from my face was Where the Red Fern Grows in fourth grade.
But. Snuggled into the sand of Phuket, Thailand with Elizabeth Goudge’s book in my hands, I found that “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” (or by it’s tagline, or by the synopsis on the back) came to be wildly good advice. Goudge, you were of the brilliant type. The characters are phenomenal in this story, just—I feel like I need to pause and brush away a tear, because I am so passionately in love with all of them. I want to be them. It’s bizarre, really, for me at least.
These emotions rising inside of me are 30% exceeding expectations and 70% the work of a genius who deeply understands humanity. In light of this raging emotion within me, I would like to compose a letter to Miss Montague, especially, because I love her and she deserves it.
Dear Miss Montague,
I know you don’t know me (you being fictional and living in the 1870’s and all) but I am one of your biggest fans. The way that you listen to people with your attention so completely undistracted, your focus so completely maximized. You make people fall in love with you because you hear who they are, and for the first time, they get to hear themselves, too. You never complain. You never voice your opinion unless directly asked. You never give advice. You simply listen and ask the right perfectly right questions. I want to be like you.
When you asked Mr. Peabody to tell you his news, did you realize that was what he needed? Someone to ask him about his mind and what is going on with his life, instead of simply demanding service from him? When you let the Dean cry on your shoulder over his disaffectionate cold wife, you didn’t move a muscle in case he remember how inappropriately intimate that was.
I love that you are disinterested in fashion. That you are devoutly religious but so open minded. I love your compassion towards kittens and bell towers and fine clocks. I love that you took a vow to love, because I agree with you: there is nothing else so profoundly interesting as treating each other with love. When your brother pushed you down the stairs in your youth and damaged your legs permanently, you never once made him feel more guilty than he already did. In fact, you took great pains to show him that you found value in this unexpected turn of events. That you find value in the immense suffering you face at night because of the injury. And what was the result? He became your closest companion. The love you gave him returned to you, and your happiness increased way more than if you had made him suffer like you.
Ahh, you’re truly brilliant. I look forward to reading more of your story, getting to know you more. I wish that I could sit in your parlor with you and have a glass of champagne and a tea biscuit. I know you would listen to me, too, and welcome me.
I want to be like you.
For additional mind-boggling quotes from The Dean’s Watch please click here to go to my reading list.
Better than that, though, just go find a copy of the book itself. Maybe tucked away in some forgotten bookstore. It was written in 1960 so it’s still out there. The level of self-examination within this book is intense, and I can only say that I haven’t read something that makes me really analyze my own behavior and instincts in quite some time.
A week or so ago I received an email with the following poem. I asked the poet if he would allow me to feature it on the Hydrogen Jukebox because I think that it is brilliant. Brilliant and in alignment with the purpose of the Hydrogen Jukebox .
I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
Patrick Thomas King
It’s an easy walk from love to hate
The path lies smooth, pebble free
I start the journey without delay
Unconsciously impelled, till
Well on the way
No sign posts there to prompt my feet
Just trudging forward, the trek
When I arrive it’s cactus dry
Desert sand and parched wasteland
I rest and sigh and say goodbye
We learn and master and cultivate passion through practice. We aren’t born with the ability to read. We aren’t born with the ability to do woodworking. We aren’t born with a longing for the perfect cup of coffee. Everything is a practice. Even passion is a practice; we practice and practice and in this manner we cultivate our own passions. We truly can learn anything.
Except the ability to sleep well on a train.
That is most definitely innate and predestined.
There are simply those who can sleep well on trains and those who definitively cannot. There is no sense in practicing anything, because in this case it has long been decided for you. You cannot learn to sleep well on a train. This is not something that can be taught to you.
I was traveling by train to Bogor, Indonesia last Tuesday and I was given the pleasure to witness this art form in action.
I snuggled myself in the cushy blue velvet seats of the woman’s car (the first and last carriage on the train), and after thirty minutes of a rocking, sunny lull 40% of the carriage inhabitants were dozing.
There were those who were dozing well and those who were not (and it’s got nothing to do with practice).
I wanted to applaud the woman across from me (the one sporting a fetching pink mask) for her immaculate posture. Head resting back, arms tucked in, body aligned head-over-heart-over-pelvis. She remained that way too, perfectly aligned, perfectly balanced. I couldn’t stop watching her, she was sleeping so well.
The woman directly next to me was Blessed Sleeper’s juxtaposition. She was like a fish out of water, flailing to and fro, head leaning towards my shoulder leaning closer closer leaning towards my shoulder getting closer when jolt! her subconscious would reprimand her and jerk her back to alignment. She lacks the sleeping well genes, I thought to myself.
If the sleeper is tiny, like the little boy in the blue t-shirt, the sleeper may curl his or herself up and sleep in that manner. Infinitely more comfortable than proper alignment. Alas, that stage of comfort only lasts seven years or so and what are you going to do with the remaining years?
I related most directly with the woman flopping herself next to me. I lack the sleeping-well-on-public-transportation genes. For long-standing proof of that, here is an excerpt from “Dorothy Got Lucky with the Tornado: A 78-Hour Journey Back to Kansas” on my account traveling from Rome to Ljubljana on a night bus:
I scale the steps into a second flixbus, this one destined for Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia. I choose my seat wisely: perfect distance from the bathroom, comfortable enough to produce a restful night’s sleep, east of the bus for a good sunrise viewing.
The bus is relatively empty which is good: taking a night bus is one thing, but taking a night bus when you are packed like a peanut with a bunch of slightly sweaty strangers is another.
And see, I’m a floppy sleeper.
I begin well, you know, upright and normal; good sleeping-on-public-transportation form with head-over-heart-over-pelvis. But then as I trance into deeper stages of sleep, I begin to flop. Flop to the left, jerk myself back to stage one sleep. Flop to the right, jerk myself back to stage one sleep. Flop again, back and forth.
Sometimes I wonder if I weren’t the inspiration for the “whip my hair back and forth” music video.
A half hour into the haul we make a stop, and a tall, gangly gent climbs on board, over-eager with his thumbs hooking around the straps of his backpack. We make brief eye contact: this is bad.
There are certain tactics you have to learn to if you want a successful, smooth long-long-soverylonghowmuchlonger bus ride: you can be friendly to the other passengers (indeed, should be friendly, they’re human beings after all) but not too friendly. You’ve got to be just the riiiiight amount of unapproachable to deter anyone from sitting next to you.
At the time of above-mentioned eye contact with Gangly Gent, I am nodding along to some Nina Simone. Gangly Gent gets the idea that my nods and eye contact were to be interpreted as, “come join! Let’s be friends forever!”
He makes his way up the aisle, locking eyes with the seat next to me, and the entire time my eyes are slowly squinting and my eyebrows are slowly knitting in a last effort to subconsciously deter deter DETER!
Finally he gets close enough and my facial features relax into the societally-appropriate “you’re a human, I’m a human” expression. He sits next to me, we shake hands, I attempt to subconsciously warn him of my sleep-flop disorder.
Fast forward about four hours: it’s midnight and I awake with a start, my head very INAPPROPRIATELY making a home against his upper arm.
Damn the sleep flop!
Blissfully, he’s passed out. Or dead. His neck bent at a bizarre angle, head back, mouth cavernously open. His breathing sounds like an asthmatic cat attempting to purr.
I lightly wind my head back to the center, softly wiping off the little drool spots that have blossomed on his sleeve. And we fast forward about four more hours:
It’s three a.m. I awake with a start, my head AGAIN nuzzling against his arm. Sleep flop! I panic and check his face: nope, still dead. Crank crank crank, wipe wipe wipe–leave no trace, Josie, just like the woods–and we’re good to go.
I would hope that one day I could learn the art of sleeping well on public transportation, but I fear that will never be the case. It is simply not in my cards.
To you, if you be one of those preordained like Blessed Sleeper, I say enter into the circus or try and capitalize on your God-given gift. Not everyone is like you, you know. You could make a killing.
To you, if you be like me, I say always have tissues and apologies handy for wiping away drool and explaining your actions. Although it tends to be an ice breaker, so that’s a plus.
At the moment I am in Phuket Thailand fleeing the country of Indonesia so I can renew my visa for another go-around. The topic of artful public sleeping arose when I walked past someone who was sleeping like this:
I thought to myself, wow. I really get him. He and I are brother and sister in sleeping.
Peace and blessings,
Beats. Eyes open legs stretch roll out window open.
Deep breath long stretch meditation pose vinyasa.
Cold shower long fresh pure wet hair towel off.
Boiling water over coffee grounds over oatmeal stir with spoon add honey.
Sip savor chew write.
Clothes in shampoo in laptop follows extra underwear one sweater zip closed.
Wash dishes lights off air conditioner off door locks.
Air humid skin sticky walk walk walk.
Door opens air cool select water select peanuts thank you have a nice day door closes walk walk.
Smile. Hello. Airport please. Terminal 2, I think. Thailand. United States. Teacher for two months. Yes, I love Indonesia very colorful very tropical very friendly. Yes the traffic sucks. How much? Keep the change. Yeah you too.
Excuse me? How do I get to Terminal 3? Thanks. Kuala Lumpur first then Phuket. Yeah, solo. No boyfriend.
Shoes too? I don’t have a belt. Where’s gate 1?
Excuse me, I’m 5B. Water, please. Eyes close head leans baby cries stomach drops.
Seatbelt sign off click click click grab backpack. Thanks, you too.
Excuse me, where’s L9? Thanks. Shoes too? I don’t have a belt. Phuket.
Do you accept visa? Vegetarian panini and espresso please.
Are you waiting in line? Toilet flush hair in ponytail check email read book.
Excuse me, I’m seat 28B. Are you A? No problem. Criss crossed eyes closed headphones in reggae.
Can I have a boarding card? Thanks. 5 days. Just visiting. Yeah, solo. No boyfriend.
Taxi? Bangtao Beach. Bang-tao. Chillhub Hostel. Here’s the map does that help? Thanks, keep the change.
Hi, I’m Josie. Rozell. American. Yeah, solo, no boyfriend. Oh lovely, perfect. Shoes off door opens air cool.
Backpack unzip wash face brush teeth go pee whoa that’s dark drink water. Change clothes put on shoes.
Start walking door opens air cool select grapes select water bottle select red bean paste filled green tea cake thanks have a nice day.
Door closes sandals walk on concrete suddenly Adaman sea heart beats sandals walk on sand sun starting to sink.
Lay out blanket criss crossed drink water eat grapes watch sunset ocean on fire purple sky smile so much smiling.
Music in reggae on eyes close body sways sun dips ocean swirls purple sky.
Breathe breathe dance. No one sees me. Dance reggae sun gone.
Dark night lightning flashes reggae beats thunder beats lightning over the sea.
Fold blanket put in backpack throw away trash drink water walk walk.
Just sit anywhere? Red wine and bruschetta, please. Write poetry read book listen to lightning listen to thunder to rain to tropical rain.
Ah, perfect, thank you. Swirl sniff sip ahh. Crunch sip crunch sip ahh.
Check please. Have a nice evening. Walk walk light rain heavy thunder big lightning.
Wash face brush teeth snuggle into pajamas.
Thunder crash lightning outlines window tucked under blanket cool air headphones in Lost in Translation.
Power off. Snuggle under covers don’t set alarm eyelids waver breath slows deepens eyes close.
Day one in Phuket.
Peace and blessings,
She takes a shower every day and cuts her hair five times a year
but secretly she longs to be adventure girl.
Swinging from the trees and bathing like a Victorian monarch
half naked crazed and dreadlocked
living with the birds and sister to the wind.
She doesn’t care much for the colored slips of paper
the machine spits out at her
and she doesn’t understand why people bleed each other in their hurry to obtain.
She buys a second pair of black flats that she secretly
doesn’t want to need
because the only flats that adventure girl wears are the color of skin.
Skin that’s been moisturized with sunlight
She eats with a fork and spoon but what she longs for
is a good helping of uncivilization, please,
they can keep their colored paper.
She loves her skin that shines like silk and
she doesn’t understand why she is asked to poke it
and scrub it and slash at it so much.
Let me go into the jungle please, she thinks
as they take her further and further into the museums and restaurants and concrete stillness
and ooh and awe over plastic imitations and tamed recklessness.
She wants to see real recklessness.
She longs to eat with her hands and run bare shod in the grass and taste sweat and sea water and golden sunset rays and
never mildly discuss weekend plans or where are you from or how do you like it here or what are your plans for after this
because adventure girl doesn’t plan a lick,
her being sisters to the wind and all,
so why can’t she do the same?
She sits in her plastic blue folding chair that is squished right up next to the sliding glass window
and it’s dark outside and hot but the door is open and the breeze is fresher than in here
as she stares at the three little stars that have fought their way to her eyes,
struggling against the power of the city lights
and smoggy polluted clouds of anguish
she understands them. She is one with them. She, too, is fighting her way to the surface,
Struggling against the might of the skyscraper scraping at her skin making it milky;
she doesn’t want to be milky.
She doesn’t want to be so clean
What she really longs
for is to be
The reader brings his or her own experience to the poem and creates meaning. Here is my experience.
You want to do what? Have you
saved enough? Are you
old enough? Who will you trust?
But aren’t you scared? How will
you fare? Are you really prepared?
Haven’t you heard? Those lines
are blurred, you can’t be a bird,
you can be cured.
I don’t think I would
I don’t think you should
you’re not prepared
you’re not a bird
you’re not scared enough
you’re not tough enough
How can you dare?
You’re not prepared.
Recently I have been swaddling myself in quite the hefty amount of poetry, and publishing a fair amount of it, too. I had tagged myself as a creative non fiction writer, damn it, I never thought that I would enjoy poetry. Especially to this degree. I find, however, that recently it has been the static frequency on which my soul communicates.
But. That is not to say that I (the poet) am the speaker of these poems.
Many times I very much relate to the speaker, and the poetry reverberating around my body is truly the articulation of my own experience. But it is a mistake to believe that what you (the reader) hear is me. It is a mistake to think everything a writer crafts is an expression of his soul. Otherwise we would have Stephen King with a bunch of unmarked graves in the backyard, wouldn’t we?
The poet reaches towards a place unaccounted for within the human experience and paints a poem from there. It can be observing interactions from those around the poet. It can be inspiration from other works of literary merit. The “point” (controversial idea) is not always to “get it off my chest”. For me, I write and publish poetry to share and articulate and encapsulate a degree of the human experience.
I don’t write to unleash my inner turmoil upon the world (well, I do write some of those kinds of poems, but they go unpublished, thankfully). I write because I know how refreshing it is to read something that resonates truth within me. Something like Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider” or Tennyson’s “The Poet”.
Let me give you an itty bitty sample poem that I wrote a few days ago.
Feverish, my fingers grasp the blunted edge
Of the cliff and my legs swing of their own accord
Slipping against the loose gravel.
When I wrote that, I was sitting on the curb waiting for a train to come. It was hot and I was sticky and to get my mind off this endless waiting, I was staring at a little red ant trying to make his way in the world. I was thinking, how is she feeling right now, as she trudges along the curb, clinging to the side, sometimes slipping a bit? That curb must feel like a mountain to her, a cliff of sorts.
And so I wrote that. Just briefly. Etched it onto my Moleskine notebook as I waited.
If one were to couple the poet and the speaker, one might assume that Josie (poet) was having a huge, weighty struggle of some sorts. Some kind of looming death. Something deep and unleashing. But you see? I was simply waiting for a train to come.
If someone—the sort of someone with a weighty burden, a looming death deep and unleashing— were to read this and think, yes! YES! That’s how I feel! It doesn’t at all matter about me (the poet) or the ant (the inspiration) or the train (the situation). The only thing that matters is that the someone feels represented. Feels articulation. Feels some sort of relief from not knowing how to catalogue the experience inside.
But take “Afternoon Rain”:
This is my favorite kind of world—
The kind of world where I don’t have anywhere to be
But under this firm clay tile
Listening to the thick drops of rain
Plummet down upon the earth.
This world I’m under is cool and delicious
And smells like a candlelit dinner after a lonely afternoon.
I wrote that sitting underneath a clay tile while the world poured around me, thinking desperately thinking, my God, what a brilliant world! As you can see, if you watch the recording, in this instance the experience I am dwelling on comes from within me.
But but but, and LEAN IN CLOSE:
That still doesn’t mean I (the poet) am the speaker!
No, the speaker is the unassuming wisp that pours from my fingers. The speaker is what connects the reader to the poem, not the poet. The speaker takes on a life of it’s own and it has to in order to reach the reader. Perhaps what I’m trying to explain is that the soul of the poem is not the same as my soul.
You can absolutely hate me and still get something from my poetry, because it’s not me speaking to you. It’s something within the soul of the poem speaking to you, and something within you, too, speaking back. It’s not about me (the poet) or the ant (the inspiration) or the train (the situation) but about you (the reader, the soul, the life force).
And don’t be scared for me if I publish something intense. I could just be sitting on a curb somewhere.
Peace and blessings,
This is the situation.
It’s dark and cloudy. You can’t tell if that smoke is from the burning trash or from your lungs. You’re trying to rush and you don’t know why your feet won’t obey. Obey whom? You don’t know that either. You don’t know who’s in charge.
Just that you aren’t.
Somewhere in the darkness a match lights. The smoke thickens. Stars fall gracefully but it’s loud and startling. You don’t know why your feet refuse to move. You’re standing on a pile of plastic and the plastic is melting and demanding you join. It’s hot and getting hotter and you feel the stars fall around you and you shout but no one can see you.
The plastic raises itself to graze your hand as if a child crossing the street and although it burns you and the tiny hairs lacing the back of your hand scream at you to do something, anything you cannot. The plastic snakes around your hand and wrapping itself around your wrists. Sheathes. Lazy, it curls itself upwards, gathering strength from the sea of plastic in which you are immersed. It becomes a shell, molding itself to your body, casting your body, absorbing you.
A thought. The breath of your thought wisps in the cold dark air.
Another wisp joins the first and there is a jolt of electricity. They fuse. Weak, but, pulsing. Like eyelids after a long sleep.
More wisps. Lazy. Pulsing. The plastic is swimming past your biceps, your arms to your side. It approaches your neck now. Climbing and snaking and you are powerless.
You see it. In the darkness it is cast translucent and the smoke from the burning trash—your burning lungs—outlines the sea of white and green and brown. It is stark now and daunting and you want to close your eyelids but you can’t they won’t obey. Obey whom? You don’t know. You’ve never known.
Another breath launches itself and fuses and there is a spark and a jump and you feel something. Death? The plastic has cocooned your neck now and you see it, thick and hot and sweltering. You try to close your eyelids but they won’t obey.
The spark is greater and it’s blue and it’s hot but no, that’s the plastic, but it feels different this time.
The smoke from the burning trash your burning lungs is rushing up to you now and soon the plastic sheath will consume your mouth and your nose and your eyelids and you will join the sea and all you see is smoke and it’s hot but it feels different this time.
Why does it feel different?
What is that? What is that? Why does it feel so different? Has the oozing pith slowed it’s course? Is it…receding? No, surely no, that can’t be, it’s hot and the smoke from the burning trash your burning lungs your burning flesh but something is different and it’s different.
Your eyelids focus on pulsing blue light pulsing strong and smokey pulsing against the shell on your hand and your find your hand melt and you wiggle your fingers your fingers can wiggle but how? Obey whom? Who’s in charge? Your hand is free now and your fingers can wiggle and there’s smoke so much smoke from the burning trash your burning lungs—but wait.
The smoke. It isn’t the trash. Not the lungs. It’s blue smoke. The wisp. The breath. The breath of thought.
It smells like song and your forearm is free and you touch the plastic on your shoulder with your free wiggle fingers and it’s soft and flakes. You brush your fingers against it and it flakes. You rake your fingers against it, brushing, scrubbing, pulling, freeing and your shoulder is free and the smoke is against your neck and your neck is moving and you turn your head and you think away the plastic cocoon the plastic sheath.
It falls like sheets like dried paint like corn flakes into the breakfast bowl it falls. You lift your foot. You kick, you free yourself from the sea and the blue light smoke from your breath punishes the plastic sea and you are free and you are moving and you are rushing and there is light, where is the light, what is that light, where are you going, you are moving and you are rushing and the plastic is flaking and what is that light, that one, right there, that one—yes, that one! Yes, right there, there is something in that light, that blue light cast so silhouette against smoke stars fall and it’s graceful and not so loud and what’s in the light, there is something there, you see it, you can smell it, you reach out your hand and you brush your fingers upon
She had fancy people feet, and
I’m not talking about the shoes.
The breath she was breathing was the wind
And her exhalations were danger and
Rolled into a pancake. She seemed to
Know herself; seen by the way she
Held her handbag so tight against
Her white billowy blouse
As if the world were to end soon but
Her wet wipes would remain
And if she held on so tight she would, too.
She knew where she was going, for her
Fancy people feet never failed her, so it seemed,
The chalky toes hid beneath folds of lavender leather whispered
Fond secrets to each other between
Every delicate bounce.
She was so cool and suave like
A pat of butter rolling around a hot skillet.
And you almost bought it all, too.
Her lips were pursed and the little cracks
Were white tiger stripes on a pink coat
And despite her stubbornness to survive, oh,
Despite her cleverly applied fancy people feet—
She was just like me.
And my feet were wide
And bound for the end of the world.