When I Used to be a Poet

I wrote poems about the river in Goshen, Virginia back then…

Twenty years ago, I left college for New York, eager and aware of the adventure before me. I lived in the city! I worked at a newspaper, calling France, Zambia, South Africa, Canada!

On Tuesday nights, I went to the Village – a wondrous new world of hippies and poets and earthy folks who wouldn’t compromise their dreams for anyone’s ideal – and gathered in a packed apartment with writers of all stripes for a workshop that lasted late into the night.

Back then, I was so alive.

I wrote aching essays and powerful poems about my desire for the kind of love that rocked the house. I had hushed, intense conversations with much-older men who found the passion of words as heady as I did.

I danced in nightclubs with my friends and had half-price happy hour sushi with my colleagues. I was chagrined and edited by a redhead in a white turtleneck with armpits stained yellow and long pointy red-polished fingernails. I loved the heartbeat of the city because it matched the fervent beating of my own.

The view was often this gorgeous from Peg’s farm outside Staunton, Virginia

I earned next-to-no money, but I loved life and I was FULL. I had more than enough. My bank account grew. I never worried about what would come next. I just lived in the moment and the moment carried me…to Ireland, to Washington, D.C., to graduate school in Vermont, and back home to Michigan.

I don’t know quite when it was that I stopped riding the wind and started worrying about tomorrow. Somewhere in there, the passion luster faded and I started working. You know what I mean. We all work – but it doesn’t feel like work if you’re loving life and if your passion drives whatever work lays before you.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually love what I do. But that intense passion at some point stopped steering the ship of my life.

This is where I went to grad school for an MFA in Writing, focusing on Poetry: Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont

Perhaps it’s the grown-up charge of babies that changes us. The presence of another being for whom we have to provide – and not just today’s meal, but tomorrow’s and the next day and college tuition at some far-off point.

Perhaps that’s where we go wrong. People with far less means than I feed their children just fine, and many kids have to work their way through college and come out better for it.

Perhaps it’s just the getting-ahead-of-ourselves that does us in. The what-will-happen-tomorrow conversations in our head that have no opposing point of view.

When I lived in Washington, D.C., I rushed out of work many Fridays and hopped into my black Ford Probe to drive three hours south to Staunton, Virginia, to Peg’s farm, where a bunch of grad school poets gathered with wine and late-night conversation and the kind of attention to words that most people will never know.

The thistle is a hardy flower that grows in the toughest of conditions. Think it might be a beautiful metaphor?

I love the words. I love how they feel on my tongue, and I love the power they have over all of us. Choose this word, make a friend; choose a different word, make an enemy. What power.

The words don’t come when we’re hamsters on a wheel. They come when we are right-here-right-now, when we don’t rush through our days but savor the moments like lemon drops. They come when we step outside into the rain instead of lamenting the hair-frizz result of it from behind a closed window. 

The words come when we stop trying to find them. They come when we stop searching, period.

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