Using My Words
by Marian Kent
“Help Me, Erica Jong”
my name was Snidely Green.
Today, it’s Guardedly Optimistic:
Requiring External Validation.
My real name is Mama, Mama, Mama!
Tomorrow, it will be
Bellowing My Poems From That Rooftop.
My secret name
is Tender Roots
Toward a Half-Century
How I Got Here.
Nearly twenty years ago now, before love, before family, before most of what is now, I found myself shut down and not accessing my true self. I wasn’t aware of it. I was just going along.
Occasionally I would experience a lucid moment in which the real me came to the surface, and meeting resistance from those closest to me, I would push those thoughts back down. Usually with a note to self like this is the path I’ve chosen or I signed up for this and it will be this way forever.
Still in my young thirties, I was flat-lined, plateaued, in a trance. Sighed and kept going.
I had dumbed myself down and mostly numbed myself as well.
The spell was broken one night while I was driving home from work. Michael Chabon was being interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. As I drove and listened, I was completely blown out of my complacency.
Here was my favorite novelist, talking in the exact same way he writes, smart, funny, passionate, articulate, and with LOTS OF BIG AND WONDERFUL WORDS. Like, this guy does NOT DUMB DOWN. Not at all.
I had read all of Chabon’s books, including The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a truly fantastic, beautiful, and challenging work about which he was being interviewed. But it was Michael Chabon’s voice, his spoken words, just talking, answering questions about his book and his life, that reached me. I remember sitting there in my driveway as the interview ended, considering what in the hell I would do next.
Hearing that interview set in motion a series of events over the following months that upended everything I knew and completely changed my life’s path. For the zillion-times-over better.
What I am so grateful to have learned from Michael Chabon, or what, really, he reminded me, is that It Is Important To Use Your Words. To speak truth to power, if you will. Don’t dumb down or squelch yourself, not for anyone.
I remembered the quote from Audre Lorde taped to my refrigerator but not actually seen in a long, long time: I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.
Fast forward to May 2016. May is my birth month, and this month, I turn fifty years old. Fifty! What?
This year, I was privileged to attend a Michael Chabon reading, and to thank him and present him with copies of my books. And with a bit of tremor in my hands,
how words are magical
how writing them down
gives me superpowers
how reciting them aloud
makes the flush rise
from my core to my face
as a woman perched
on a folding chair
watches my lips
I know by heart
by read from the page
just to be safe
(“With a Bit of Tremor in My Hands” from Heart Container)
Even approaching fifty, sometimes I still require reminding. Sometimes I revert to my lucid incantation: I will use my words. I will use my words. I will
Write the moon and the stars
and meditation variations
write the songs of horseflies
on compost butterflies lighting
the reediest mullein spike out
back write hope
write the rings
in your maple tree stones skipped
across open water
or hurled in anger
rhymes marching shouting cracking
frustrated tears voices
cracking the sidewalk
cracking buckling splitting wide
engulfing voices in awful arrogance
demanding averting but still
you must write it all down
write the abstract crazy
the real of it all
the blood the beaten down how
can this be
the shot how many times of it all
(“Shot in the Back” from Heart Container)
Yes, I must remember to use my words. Because now the stakes are incredibly high. My children are watching.
My notebook falls open
to a page of ballpoint pen drawings
by my son, who had been sitting
on a curb waiting for a parade.
My own scratchings scarce, inspiration
is welcome when it surfaces.
Who could fail to be moved
by his steady requirement to draw now,
on this curb, on a restaurant placement,
a napkin if that’s all there is?
(Put this in your purse, Mama.)
My children remember the admonishment
of an artist to never stop drawing,
evoking this advice constantly
and with reverence, as though told
from on high instead of under a tent
at the Westhampton Fall Festival.
Obviously, this is a good thing,
a lucky thing, a moment’s one-off words
etched deep in the psyche of youth,
the notebook that is life’s pleasure,
treasure a mother hopes
will be unearthed over and over,
the mind’s riches providing sustenance
for a lifetime of waiting on parades.
(“Waiting on Parades” from Heart Container)
Purveyor of pretty words and superheroic verse Marian Kent lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts with her husband and two children. Her third full-length poetry collection, Heart Container, was recently released by ALL CAPS PUBLISHING.
Marian’s earlier collections are SUPERPOWERS or: More Poems About Flying (2013) and Responsive Pleading (2012). You can find a great quantity of Marian’s poetry and other missives at her website: www.runawaysentence.com.
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