At the end of a long day of gathering stories and packages of knowing, a circle under baking sun and beside wind-whispered stories: “Don’t leave your spirit out there,” he said, affably, one eye on the eagle floating in the distance. “Sometimes we leave our spirit behind.” And a girl seeking home for years finally understood where she had left her spirit years past and would need to go collect it in order to move on.
They say stories stalk us:
Maybe twenty two when I confessed to my Uncle Charlie that I wasn’t really answering my calling, and he said, “S
o why aren’t you?” And I couldn’t answer. Really.
Twenty years later, an Elder who adopted me into his circle told a story of his Charlie, and said, “The ancestors are there when we ask them to be.” I looked for my Charlie, but he wasn’t in the chokecherries. Nor was he on the steep hill out of the valley where I huffed for breath and laughed with neighbors about maybe needing to pick that old fitness regime back up again. He wasn’t floating on the wind with the eagle who came to visit out our final circle. But he sure was on the bus on the way home, and nudged me gently, “Are you answering your call?”
That uncle who first showed me how to not get lost in the woods. The uncle who passed before I got to know him as a grown up, who saved a thousand lives, judging by the former students who attended the memorial service. My Charlie sure did meet me on the sunbaked prairie, and nudged me toward my north.
It takes a lot sometimes to move off what we think we know and for years I found home in pushing back on impossible. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s stories, stalking, but I find myself pushed off what I knew to be true. The stories have always been there, calling. I just couldn’t hear them. Really. “The truth about stories is that’s all we are.” But sometimes they’re carried by the wind that blows hard for six hours under prairie sky and leaves my skin pink in spite of SPF60. The stories are stalking if one just sits still long enough to listen.
Well, it looks like I’ll be ending my poetry month experiment with 19 out of 30 poems written. In no particular order, my learnings from this project:
1. It’s hard to be creative on demand. For me creative work comes, unbidden, while my hands are busy with other things. Riding bikes. Wandering.
2. Judgment hurts.
3. It’s hard to take risks in front of peers.
4. Writing every day kept it at the forefront of my mind. Publish even when the poem feels a little weak.
5. Mentor texts are so necessary! We learn by reading a thousand examples and studying a few in depth.
6. Poetry lives between the lines. It takes patience to read and write.
7. The speed of writing poetry is liberating for kids (and me)… they can draft, revise, and edit in a single period.
8. Fatigue makes it hard to be creative. When every minute is full there’s no time for thoughts to bubble up.
9. The deadline of a poem a day was tough for me. I like that I can whip off a poem in a few minutes of writing, but the poems that actually meant something to me took many days to wrangle onto a page. Sometimes the wrangling lead me back towards my preferred genre of narrative fiction. So, while I didn’t meet my goal of 30 poems in 30 days, I did dust off a couple of short stories and found the courage to hit submit and another is simmering on the back burner.
I think this year’s iteration of poetry month was probably one of the most rewarding for me as I jumped right in and took risks alongside my students. I’m proud of the work they created (and a little proud of the work I created beside them).
Sit somewhere quiet
Calm your logical brain
Prime your heart
Relax and read between the lines
Sit and think on it
Then go for a walk and think some more
Now read it again
As with a story told by an Elder, the meaning drawn from the poem depends on the reader
My hair smells of sweetgrass
And my belly is full with tea, and berry soup, stew and bannock
My feet remember the rhythm of the round dance drum
Even if it took all day to find it
And I am grateful for the gifts of stories and opportunity
This girl away from home, always seeking, embraced by a new circle and Elders willing to claim her and teach her
I got derailed by a poem that hurt my heart and made me cry
And, no, I won’t share it yet because it’s still too raw
So here, instead, is a poem about seeking a poem
It’s the place I smash into 10 000 piecesAnd my me is carried away on the faintest breeze
And I get to live in my heart and lungs and legs
Instead of in my head
Fish tank, gurgles,
Dog nails click over hardwood,
Silence, thick, descends
Dreams live in places with people.What if what keeps us up at night isn’t the blue light from our devices but dreams longing for somewhere to live?
I’m taking a break from poetry on day 12 of my regularly scheduled poetry adventure to explore being stalked by stories, an idea shared with me by a colleague and a wonderful teacher to me in the midst of delving into boxes of artifacts with Saa’kokoto.
Stalked by stories; that lessons the listener needs will stalk us through stories until we learn them.
Moments when the elusive feeling of knowing how the story goes are like vapour that slip through my fingers and the tighter I grasp at them the more elusive they are. But there is a cumulative effect of stories and the ability to see the connections. The knowing how the story goes doesn’t ever last long, but the brief glances are pure brilliance. Read all the stories. Listen to all the stories. Learn all the stories. Only in looking back do the stories begin to connect.
I see the value as a teacher in loading my students full of stories and all the context possible in the hopes they, too, will look back and see the connections and pay them forward. Today, I am the recipient of enormous gifts and my heart is full while the scent of sweetgrass lingers in my hair. And I am obsessed by the stories that continue to stalk me. I am the lucky recipient of these stories today. And for today, at least, I know how the story goes.
Thomas King writes: “The truth about stories, is that’s all we are.” And borrowing the words of a writer whose words have endured for me is about as poetic as I can get today, friends.
I read some snarky tweets about amateur poetry,
And now I feel self conscious.
*learning for the classroom: judgement is ouchie