Poet Behind the Poetry, CKP’s special blog series in honor of National Poetry Month, looks behind the scenes of a writer’s creative life.
My Next Small Thing
There’s a meme going around writer’s blogs in which writers talk about their next big thing. I have been asked a few times to post about my next big thing, and I cringe each time. How can I explain?
I never talk about my next big thing. It’s bad luck to do so. It’s like talking about your wishes or dreams. Or hopes. I like to tuck those inside, a drawer or a safe place where no one will find them. Because they lose something if they see the light or enter someone else’s mind. They’re like photos in a dark room. They have to develop in their own sweet time.
Am I superstitious? you might ask.
You bet I am.
I don’t step on the cracks in sidewalks if I can help it. I hold my breath when I pass graveyards. (I don’t want the dead to listen in on my thoughts or borrow my soul for a day or a night.) And I duck when I go under a bridge. And if there’s a silence at a cocktail party or in a crowded room, I know the dead are trading place with the living. They do that all the time. They have to. They have to hang around for our last breath when they will carry us to the other side. And who knows when that will be?
That’s just the beginning of my list of superstitions. But I don’t want you to think I’m crazy, even if I am. A little.
To be fair, I was raised on superstitions, so they’re a habit. A way of thinking or being in the world, which is a hard place to be if you think about it too much. So I try not to think about it too much. Some days I think I will drown in worry when I think too much the way things really are on earth.
I try to think good thoughts then.
Of course, that’s a superstition as well. Usually it’s told in the negative. If you think bad thoughts, bad things will follow.
I remember my grade school teacher, Mrs. Ward, said once that bad thoughts are birds. The bad thoughts will pick your soul apart one piece at a time. Each time you think a bad thing, it takes a bit of you with it. No matter how hard you try, you can’t call it back. It’s out there, building its nest in the world.
I remember watching robins building nests outside the classroom window with twigs and pieces of colored string and threads of a dress they must have picked off a playground. They worked fast. Even when the wind blew the nest down, they built another the next day.
I worried about my mean thoughts. Back then I despised the most popular girl in the class. She was so blond and silky and mean. I remember her yellow pony tail bouncing when she shook her head from side to side and smirked. She was always butting in line and whispering behind my back and pinching other girls.
Don’t think about her, Mrs. Ward said. Think good thoughts instead. Mrs. Ward had orange hair and lips and shoes.
But how do you think good thoughts? I wanted to know.
My father used to say: If you have something nice to say, don’t bore me. Nice, I think, he equated with lies.
Think of three small good thoughts each day, Mrs. Ward suggested.
So I did. I began to collect them. Making myself think up three at a time.
Good things come in threes, as do bad. (That’s another superstition, of course)
So one list read like this:
1. I have 3 new pencils today. Dixon Ticonderogas. I love Dixon Ticonderogas.
2. I have the best best friend. Anne Marie. She’s the only girl who will come for a sleep-over because Dad makes my friends eat whatever we have for dinner, even if it’s liver and turnips.
3. I scored 2 goals in soccer today!!!! 2 is lucky and 2=blue.
(Back then I liked to think of numbers as colors.)
Years later, I still keep a list at the top of my page. I start by writing three good things. And then I keep adding to the list.
That’s how I begin poems. In order to write, I must have a list.
My next small thing? A list. A list that begins with 3 good thoughts. Because thoughts are like birds, and I try to catch them on the page, one by one.
On days when I don’t write at all, when I don’t even begin a list, I think of all those birds that flew away.