Howe's talk of poetry akin to spells got to that funny place inside me where the light can pierce the dark. Oo oo, I thought when Howe said, "... we all need to walk around with, a handful of counter spells, you know. And, and poetry, when you think of its roots, you know, is that." I bought her book The Kingdom of Ordinary Time so I could sit with her words on my search for counter spells.
Today, Marie Howe gave a talk at the fest about writing and poetry. I had missed her poetry reading on Opening Night so in hopes of arriving at the start time, I hustled to Alden Library- in case you noted a black blur streaking up East State Street. Except she wasn't first so I was alright, and Brian Doyle was wonderful, but I'll save that thought for another time.
Marie Howe told us that poetry holds a silence at the center of it, "the what that cannot be said or reduced." Though I'm no poet and know nothing of the craft, her words rang with truth. She read poems to us, and then she talked us through the fine words and quiet places.
Howe gave us a writing assignment to contradict ourselves to force ourselves from where we want to go. The writing prompt? "I did not know...."
I wrote this when I got home:
The Man Who Could Not Hug
I could not imagine myself sitting and sitting and sitting. I became a nurse full of busy-ness, action, stuff to do. Sometimes I watched the dying or listened to the pain. Sometimes I held a hand or shed a tear. Sometimes I polished old skin until it gleamed. Sometimes things smelled awful but still the moment was tangible with presence and ripe with palpation, it was real stuff.
Now I sit here with words. Words do not smell or weigh of anything and yet with my words I want to take you to a hospital room where a man’s blood pours out, gushes like a spring river, from every cavity. The smell of lead or maybe something dying permeates the moment. The rustle of blue plastic pads and the hum of fluorescent lights are punctuated by the color of dark red as hands and arms disappear into deep cavities of a man's body.
Someone at every limb pours something back into him. Still his insides seem to be faster than us. We press on, we dump, we’ve got replacements, we can keep this up. In my memory, there are ten of us to the one of him. The senior nurse tells me, we can do this. I nod my head unsure, but keep my eyes on my hands, my work. I have never seen anything like this. I will never again because I choose other work, later, but in that moment I am appalled at how close to the edge we are.
We fight, each on our front, with his body at the center in hopes of restoring him, of calling him back. Our weapons are blood and fluids and medicines. It goes on and on for hours. When I leave at the day’s end, empty plastic bags liter the floor.
Almost a year later, he returns to us. He walks into the Surgical Trauma Unit to say hello to a place he can’t quite recall, but his family can. He comes back to see the place that saved him only it never works quite like that. We, doctors, nurses, techs, aids, and other personnel, instead gather before him. I remember wondering what do we expect from him? Turned out that it was as if he knew that we had played a part in saving him. We did, but then it was if he had returned to save us with his words.
This man with no arms, not anymore, he tells us this, “I miss being able to hug someone. I didn’t know how important that was when I had arms, but now that I can’t, I know it is the greatest thing I’ve lost.”
I turn and walk away so I could stuff my heart back down into my stomach or under it or wherever the hell it is supposed to go or stay.
My damned heart sneaks out when I’m busing doing other things. I’m that weepy soul that cries over every little thing if I don’t keep a collar on it. I pull, it tugs, shimmies, and morphs as if Houdini. I keep telling the story of the man who could not hug, but until now, I did not know that it is because I’m hiding from the pain.