I Find The Sea

I thought, I can watch a BBC mystery show or I can post the third piece. Virtue won. Vice can wait twenty minutes.

This is another single syllable vignette, again set in Kuwait. I’d wanted to write about my sea walks for a long time. This form works but I think a long essay is waiting its turn too.

I Find The Sea

I find the sea one year. I take my girl and boy south and walk a path lined with palm trees. We are slow. We stop to look at ants, dirt, leaves. I hold my boy while he sleeps and watch my girl kick sand. There is a place I like to stay. It is at an edge. I look out at the sea and think. The weight of my boy and the hand of my girl make me turn back.

There is a walk I love, the sea at my side, my girl and boy near. They play while I look at them and think how much I know and don’t know at once, and how much I want for them and me and us. They can’t know all I hold in my mind when my breath goes tight. My girl runs at me. I catch her. Her hair smells like the sun.

The sea is new each walk. I go for that. I like to see how the sun and sky work the sea to make it gray or blue or green, to make it calm or loud, flat or heaved. My son likes the men who fish. They cast a line, pull it in, send it out. They shoo the cats who want bait. One man shows my boy the fish he caught, a slick fish with wet eyes.

One day we walk on the rocks. The path is too smooth. In my mind, I go where I can see my feet are the first feet to walk these rocks. I feel a kind of wild. You can, I tell my boy, and he steps a gap. There is trash in the cracks. My girl is mad at the trash. She wants to know why.

I lose my fear to the crash and turn of the waves. I am small and loved. That truth is good. Let me hold on. Let my girl and boy know I will not let go. And one day, give them a sea to go to, where they may think.

The Appeal Of Single Syllable Writing

Clearly, not demonstrated by the title or this first sentence! Today I joined a class for their WP and wanted to write

I tell myself

except myself is two syllables so I came up with

I tell my mind

Single syllable writing is cracking open my expression the long (short word) way around and while I won’t make this a signature style, I’ve knocked out three Kuwait vignettes. And paradoxically, as I’ve reduced my syllable count, I’ve also written about depression, something I write about often enough in my WP but over many pages. In these latest pieces, I allude to my depression without explanation. I’ve gone on many sunny day trips carrying rocks without names.

While I didn’t intend to write depression into any of the vignettes, I did because it was there, a middle gray I sometimes live in. But what also shows up is plain thinking, lovely habit. Very often hiding in thinking (gray or bright) is prayer.

Since one syllable words stretch syntax and create unexpected poetry, I play with imagery too.

The Ridge

We are where there is flat sand and swooped sand. We go off the road, bump on a soft track, pass parked trucks and cut to the ridge. For a few hours it is our ridge to climb and scuff. My girl and boy start up the slope, fall, get up.

At the top I look for a way down. I did not want to come. While there is light I see mess is here too. I tell my mind, Look up.

We make it new. We know sand but not this sand. We know the sky but not this piece. I help my girl and boy walk down the ridge. There is a tail in the path. A dried, scaled tail my girl and boy poke at, pick up. They want to know who wore this tail last.

The sun falls from the sky. I am cold.

We have a fire and warm our food. My boy kicks sand on the meal. I eat the grit, breathe smoke. The stars are near and they are what I need. I wash the grit from my mouth and eat the stars.

I ask for more.

My girl and boy smell like fire. They have sand in their hair. I think, We might stay. We might be a kind of wild. But we leave. We go back to the lights we can see, the lights in a line.

Single Syllable Writing

I’ve been thinking about how constraints allow a different kind of creativity. Last month students tried two poetry exercises I promised would yield poems they wouldn’t have otherwise written. Safe bet I was right. And you’ve experienced the same in your writing when you follow a prompt or form.

This week I gave another challenge: single syllable writing. This is an old favorite that slows me down. I start with an idea and then spend a lot of time staring at the ceiling. Try it for ten minutes. Write a poem, journal, draft a story.

I decided to write about going to the desert last winter to see the kites. I went with that idea because kite is a single syllable word. After finishing the piece I thought about what else I could tell using one syllable words. I’d like to draft another two or three vignettes of our life in Kuwait and see how they read as a whole.

See The Kites

One day we go see the kites. We drive to a stretch of sand and wind and walk to where men send kites in the air, the strings staked in place. The kites are big. On the ground, a kite looks like a tent laid out. In the air it takes shape, sharp and bright on the sky. We squint, point. There is fish. There is a bird.

The wind plays with my girl’s hair. The wind takes my boy’s shout.

More come by noon. The kids run, yell, laugh. I stand back. I like to see how the day looks. There is a tent where tea and snacks are served. Out front of that, rugs are laid on the sand and chairs set so we can sit and look up. The kites whip and flap, dive and rise. Kites crowd the sky, some so close I think their strings weave knots. They snap and shake, dance and fall but don’t come loose. My mind goes still. Wind goes through me. The sun keeps me in one place.

There is still day left when we go. Out of the wind there is no sound. The kites get small. Blue dots, orange squares, green tails on a white sky.

& Other Places

A year or two ago I saw a picture of dead Syrian children in a street, their bodies piled against a cinder block wall. The photo was published in the paper and nothing was blurred to make the image easier to look at. What I remember most are the shoes because some of the children were too young to tie or buckle their own shoes. I looked at their shoes. When I help my son with his shoes, I’m bending or kneeling in front of him. He plays with my hair or gives me a hug. I kiss his forehead and say, Let’s go.

Shortly after Friday’s attack in Paris I saw a picture that reminded me of the Syrian children. This of a man on the streets of Paris, covered by a sheet. I thought of the Syrian children because at the time I’d wondered what we’d talk about if this pile of children were British or French or American. And now, instead of a Syrian or Iraqi man covered by a sheet, here was a French man and what will we talk about now? I was sad. And I was sad later because I read about Beirut and thought couldn’t that French man on the sidewalk just as easily be Lebanese?

There is a writing exercise I like because the process distills an idea or narrative. I was writing about the attacks and bombings already and this confined my expression.

The exercise is called Ten To One, taken from What If? and it works like this: ten sentences, the first with ten words, the second with nine and so on until the last sentence is a single word.

I Read About Paris

He is on his back on cement, under a sheet.
Only one hand, the white cuff, dark blazer shows.
And the soles of his shoes splayed, relaxed.
He might lay like this while sunning.
Someone knows him but hasn’t heard.
I have seen him before.
He is from Paris.
And other places.
From Lebanon.


For an interesting perspective on media coverage of Paris and Beirut, read David A. Graham’s essay “The Empathy Gap Between Paris And Beirut” in The Atlantic.

Lovely / Interesting Unread Things

I’ve been writing about my early teaching years. Below is a WP selection.

I started writing again my second year of teaching. I filled one or two notebooks that year. I couldn’t think what to write unless it was a draft example for my freshmen or sophomores. My classroom was next to the Spanish room and Karla was patient and kind to me for the three years we were neighbors. Between periods, we’d chat in the hall. I got to know her like that and on inservice days, during after school activities and on shared car rides. Karla had four little kids at home. She talked about weekend birthday parties, family dinners, trick-or-treat. There were a few women I knew during that time that I looked at and thought that’s what grown up meant.

One day I found out she’d taught English but switched to Spanish. Students choose to take a second language, she said. I got it. It makes a difference, to teach a class students elect. I taught required English, ambivalent about my job every third day. Karla told me about a friend who’d quit because his students sucked his love of literature dry. This was a passing period conversation, an offhand anecdote of my fear. The bell rang.

I remember introducing writing practice to my students at that school. I wasn’t sure how it would work when we started because I lacked a steady practice. But we began anyway, ten minutes at a time. I learned to write again.

When I started writing again, with my students, I decided not to stop. I thought about that teacher Karla mentioned, wondered if he’d quit writing poetry or reading dense Russian novels because he had to grade American lit analytical essays. Even then, over a decade ago, I had a sense that if I let go my own reading and writing, I’d resent the profession cutting into the two pleasures that made me want to teach English at all.

I just finished reading a bunch of student poetry, first fruits of consistent WP. I’m encouraged by how many of my students went for it, playing with metaphor, sound and form. And I’m reminded again how tough it is to put ourselves on the page, to choose honesty over fear. Years ago, a student left her notebook for me to read. I still remember what she told in her bubbled script. I finished reading and cried. Sometimes writing our selves on the page is enough but this girl needed more. So we all do, when our admission, memory, dream, want, fear, joy, insecurity or hope whispers share me. I want to know why that is, for my students and me, and for others who write lovely / interesting unread things. I think about that girl who left her notebook, or a few of my students whose poems I just read. I peek into the lives sitting in desks in front of me. There is honor and pleasure to this work.