About nine months ago, I conceived. I remember this lovemaking session vividly. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. This is a PG-rated post, or maybe a Ph.D.-rated post on self-love and how to be. This is the story of how I began to nurture a new me, one I could bring forth into the world, crying, screaming, laughing, and learning
It was early March of 2020, and it had been raining for weeks. We were just starting to hear about the virus that would disrupt our world and our relationships with ourselves, others, and how we see reality. I had signed up to take a class on Poetic Medicine, with the founder of this movement, John Fox. It was dark outside; the days were still short and the nights long. I already felt like I had been quarantined due to the relentless rain that seemed to have stalled over the metro Atlanta area for most of the year. I craved sunshine and a shift in perspective.
I didn’t know a soul when I arrived at the Decatur Healing Arts center. Many of the other attendees seemed to know each other. I didn’t let that bother me, or at least I made a conscious effort not to be concerned about it. I was there to learn about how poetry related to therapy and mindfulness. If ever there was a class tailor-made for me, this was it. I could not miss it. So, I drug myself out of the house and into the cold, gray drizzle to take a seat on a small, hard, folding chair among strangers.
After the words of welcome, John Fox started a slide presentation. “Uh-oh, I thought. This isn’t what I signed up for.” On the screen were poems written by others who had been through this exercise, along with some of his own poems. He read them once, shared some background information, and then reread them. He was talking at us about poetry, trying to show its healing effects. It felt sterile, lecture-y. Intellectually, I agreed with what he was saying, but I wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t integrating and experiencing the transformations for myself. Then, everything change. He asked for our participation.
He gave a prompt, a line from a poem, and asked us to write our own poem about it as quickly as possible without overthinking it. We had five or so moments to do this. I felt a rush of adrenaline, fear, doubt, an egoic desire to produce a masterpiece in less than five minutes. Already, others around me were scribbling on notebooks balanced on their laps. I was wasting time arguing with my better angels. Finally, I heard a voice that said, just tune in and put down whatever comes up, let it flow.
The first prompt was: What if my words. Here’s the poem that came up and out once I tuned into what wanted to emerge.
What if my words
Dried up, shriveled like prunes
Became as barren as the Sub-Sahara
How would I revive them?
Would I learn another language?
Start reading Pablo Neruda
And hope that by saying “nada”
You hear “nothing”
Or, what if my words betrayed me?
Came tumbling out
Clown after clown from a tiny car
Honking and flopping and belching
Every secret absurdity
How would I stuff them back in?
Too little, too much, and still
Words are never quite right
There has to be another equation
Another way of saying
I have no idea what I’m doing
But I like it here.
Rereading this poem now, I can still feel the emotions, the fear that my words might not come, that they may betray me, that others would find them foreign or unrelatable, that somehow all this effort was absurd and silly. That no matter what I wrote or said, it would not come close to capturing what I meant or wanted to say. All those doubts I’d had for years about being a writer, specifically a poet, found their way to the page, and the effect was cathartic.
I was practicing radical self-love and acceptance.
Within every good poem, there is a surprise for the poet. The biggest surprise for me was the way the poem ends. “I have no idea what I’m doing/ But I like it here.” It was one of those Eureka moments. I did not have to know how to do this. I just had to lean into it, let it happen, and try. After all, writing poetry was something I loved to do, and I loved being in a room surrounded by people who loved and valued poetry. I had, in some small way, found my voice again and brought it forward. I was honoring a part of me I’d ignored for too long. I was practicing radical self-love and acceptance.
We took turns reading our poems once, then going around the room and hearing what words or images stayed with people, what they’d gotten from it. Then we reread the poem. Rereading is now part of my practice. I read every poem aloud twice. It’s helped me process the poems more thoroughly.
It was the closest I’d ever felt to being heard, to being understood, to being successful.
I took my first turn, reading What If My Words, with a shaky voice. I waited with a noisy heart to hear what others had to say. “Clown after clown,” someone said. “Honking, flopping, and belching,” someone added. “Dried up, shriveled like prunes,” another said. I was astounded; they had not only listened to my poem; they were able to recall it. Then, John Fox said, “I have no idea what I’m doing/ But I like it here,” and “Woah!” A flood of emotion came up, breaking down the barriers I’d so carefully constructed. It was the closest I’d ever felt to being heard, to being understood, to being successful. It was what my friend Sarah Elkins would call “a rockstar moment.” I read the poem aloud again; this time, there were some audible “Wows.”
Was this what it felt like to be proud of yourself? Was this what honoring your true self felt like? If so, I was hooked. And, it wasn’t just me who fell in love with something inside themselves that night. Reader after reader provided a new glimpse into the heart of our shared humanity, into what it means to wrestle with desire, ego, consciousness, and mortality. There were many more wow-moments. It was like being at a Woodstock for brave words.