Winter Solstice I. Dark One Christmas, my mother gifted me my childhood silhouette in a silver frame: a featureless profile in black, set against a white background. I recognized the weak chin and the errant curl flipped below my crown. What better self-portrait of youth than a faceless one, lips gapped as an accessory to take in more air? That little girl was all shadow, swallowed by the too-brightness around her. And she had no eyes — nothing to bring in the light right there in front of her as she turns away to face the coming of the longest night. She cannot see that this darkness means rebirth. On Winter Solstice the ancients say the sun is born. I wish I could cut an aperture in the dark form, save her from a lifetime of blindness. II. Light I open the mason jar, switch on the fairy lights — a string of fireflies animate as if it’s June and I’m capturing lightening bugs in the backyard. I screw on the metal lid and recall how the real ones flickered, then faded overnight. I lift this gift from a friend, unblinking, bold, brilliant: a beacon lit from the inside. And the stars start out on their cold slide through the dark. And the sun kicks inside the dark womb of the moon. * Italicized line from “Clear Night,” by Charles Wright
Published in Anti-Heroin Chic, December, 2019
Where I Begin Again
Two months past the Winter Solstice, and I’m two months into my new life as a graduate student. Just a year ago, this plan was only a seed in my brain, but I followed the flow in a confluence of events and stumbled upon a graduate program in poetry that welcomed me into its fold: the Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College. All the check marks fit into my neat little boxes—excellent faculty, exciting writers-in-residence, reasonable price, and on a woodsy campus near my beloved Boston, where so much of my history resides.
I could not have predicted the hold poetry took on my soul. Part prayer, part meditation, poetry is a lifestyle, a life force, central to meaning-making at this developmental stage (yes, we are always in a developmental stage!) when understanding where I’ve been and how I got here occupies the mind. For me, using poetry as a tool, I step into the future. What will I leave behind? Studying the craft of poetry gives some intention to this question. I intend to gain clarity around this with each piece I write.
There are advantages to returning to school at age 62, one of them being a pure motivation to match my written work with my intention. I’m not bogged-down by ego-driven ambition. One could say that being a relatively new writer at my age precludes any sort of notoriety. I’m in this to learn. I am in the enviable position of a woman who has already paid her dues in the workplace, has raised two sons, and finds herself with the time and the means to begin again. A friend of mine noted that most people are winding down at my age, but I’m in a different position. My progress was slowed by downed trees. I am nearly 16 years sober, but it’s been a hard-fought journey. I am most grateful to have emerged from these woods—late, but not too late, never too late—to rejoin the world.
Disadvantages do exist in this scenario: I am often befuddled by what it is I am trying to say. I bring to every new experience a lifetime of memories and preconceived notions. Some may call this experience wisdom, but sometimes it’s difficult to wade through the committee in my head to distill the center in a poem. Psychologists call the ability to weed through information to find what’s important, “saliency determination;” I must have a deficiency there, now that I’m “awake.” Everything seems important to me. Writing poetry forces clarity—an exercise, or rather a practice, in awareness. In this way, composing poems fits into the framework of recovery: it is a significant part of my spiritual life.
I approach this work with a sense of gratitude. I’m grateful to have found, with fellow writers, an engaged community. By pursuing a graduate degree, my main hopes are continued growth and to be able to contribute, after so many years of absence, in a meaningful way. A new year, a new decade, a new life. This sun kicks inside the dark womb of the moon.