Since I was a wee bit one, my mom would read poems to me. She loved William Blake above all else. I’m not too sure Blake’s poetry was readily understood by my young developing brain. However, my mind did gain an appreciation for words, cadence and overall rhythm. Although, I laughingly note that I never did realize I had a bit of a New York Puerto Rican accent, whereby my “TH” sounded like an “F”, until I left the Bronx for a boarding school way up in freezing Massachusetts. It was criminal that there were times I would crawl and slip and slide my way to an 8am math class to only find that the math building’s doors were frozen shut. Oh, what I would have given to have had text messaging back then.
My mom’s schooling ended right after high school when she went on to work in a garment factory in Brooklyn. Despite what was going on nationally at that time, she barely partook in the women’s movement. When I interviewed her for a political science feminism class, she thought I was talking about things in one of my fantasy short stories. That is when I discovered Bell Hooks and understood a bit more the two worlds I was living in and negotiating. Anyway, my mom recounted her factory work wherein she worked side by side with “Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Italians, Irish and Jews.” For her, it was a first-class education in cultural psychology, anthropology and linguistics. The bosses (all males) at the factory were a bit cranky and wouldn’t let the workers (mostly female) sing. The women, though, wanted something to help pass the time. They would gossip and chatter, but that only went so far in entertainment value. Consequently, my mom rhymed. She memorized poems and would recite them. She would then go on to create her own and perform them for her colleagues. She always had a notebook with her. She was truly poetry in motion. The cadence, musical and incantatory effects were as good as a song helping mitigate the mundaneness of the factory work. Poetry was pure escapism. It worked in the factory line. Her tales enabled me to embellish the images of the Charlie Chaplin classic silent film “Modern Times“.
Everywhere you turned within my mom’s house you would stumble upon books of poetry. She had lived a hard life and those verses were often her life line. Upon her death, I wanted to hold onto a few of those books of hers. Sadly, all I got was one book- the last one she had been reading when she died. As she suffered a stroke, her last book fell with her. It is now in my home office. Occasionally, I flip through it but I can’t bear to read it. Not just yet. On the one year anniversary of her death, I spread her ashes in Austin for it was always her dream to journey to Texas. Whilst spreading her ashes, I read a few William Blake poems. After which, I left the poems on my office shelf. The poetry in me had been silenced.
This past year has been a difficult one for me in that numerous work challenges, and subsequent corresponding health issues, arose. I don’t shy away from a challenge but they were quite numerous and required me to refocus my skills in a new way. I started the year with great accolades for one of my fresh pressed blogs on in-authenticity and I thus felt a renewed vigor for creative writing. However, by summer time, I was literally in pain from too much work writing. I had to undergo three MRIs and discovered I was claustrophobic. And the powers that be just did not understand the physical and emotional toll. But being inside the MRI machine made me center and steady myself. I started counting. I started rhyming. The poetry in me had been reawakened.
I began to write poems the second half of this year. Some individuals have noted they are a bit dark and twisted. But all of my poems, I assure you, are built on emotion and necessity. I felt a grand emotional swelling rising from deep within my chest, cheeks and teeth. I think that in everyday parlance those are referred to as called heartburn, lockjaw and grit. Poetry allowed me to express my anger in a way that wasn’t specific and by which many could relate. I once wrote a poem about my morning trouble in trying to tying my shoelaces but it never came off about that. Said poem came off as about a quest for freedom. Poetry, in its abstractness, is about the lives of every man and woman. It’s ironic that poetry is sometimes portrayed as so distant or hard to understand, when it reality it’s your own life breathing into it. In addition to my quest to air my emotions, as my arm hurt more and more with no diagnosis in sight, I wanted to write but felt unable to write much long form. Thus, short poems while providing me with an emotional outlet and ventilation system, also enabled me to keep writing in spurts pain-free.
I was asked at lunch recently, why write poetry? I’m a research scientist by training who is supposed to write cookie cutter academic dribble for ten other people who are required to read an assigned article or who are looking to see if they are referenced. Once, an academic reviewer rejected one of my scientific articles saying it “was too beautifully written.” But scientific analysis and poetry can co-exist in the mind and off the same fingertips. I hope that reviewer soon attains a new understanding of discourse and writing.
This was the year I was meant to take up poetry and channel my mom’s lifelong passion. I wasn’t ready before. Poetry must come from necessity to air and untangle (or maybe even tangle up) emotions. By no means am I a great poet, perhaps not even good. But I’ve got the fight, love and DNA to keep on trying.