A friend and I are sitting across from each other at a picnic table sipping iced coffee when a wasp flies a tad too close (they’re always a too close) to me and I convulse into a frantic fit.
“Sorry,” I say. “I cannot help it.” I truly cannot. I see the wasp or hear it, and my mind sends a message to my body to react like a fool.
“That’s okay,” my friend tells me. “I’m afraid too, but I’ve decided I’m not going to be afraid until August.”
I laugh and shake the ice around in my drink. “That’s very rational of you,” I tease.
“That’s when they’re mean,” my friend says.
I want to tell her wasps are always mean — that they are the epitome of evil — but that would seem, well, mean.
Instead we continue to chat while I consider what it would be like to put off fear for a bit.
Walking home, I decide that there are three remedies for what is clearly a phobia:
- Immersion Therapy
Story sounds the most gratifying, especially if I’m the one who could write it. Besides, it worked with spiders and also rats after I read Charlotte’s Web. Recently, L.L. Barkat sent me a dare: “to explore nature, beginning in whatever small ways [I] might find.” Wasps are part of nature, I consider, as I walk home from my coffee date. I wonder if I could do for wasps what E.B. White did for spiders.
The question intrigues me enough to keep me sitting outside on my porch staring at a miniature pine tree we string twinkle lights on each December. There are wasps setting up camp in it now.
“There’d have to be a love story,” I think, as I watch them fly in and out of the tree, noticing that I wasn’t clenching or holding my breath as they flew so close I could hear them buzz.
“Mom,” Hadley says interrupting my manuscript dream. “Did you hear about the murder hornets?”
“Yeah,” she says, standing on the cement and surveying the yard. “They’re all over Tik-Tok and Instagram,” she tells me, waving her phone in the air like a witness.
“Hadley,” I say. “You don’t get your news from Tik-Tok and Instagram.”
Later when I am folding laundry, Hadley comes into my room and asks me to braid her hair. I say yes, and she climbs onto my bed and hands me a brush and elastics. She does not talk about the murder hornets. Instead, she repeats parts of Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken from memory.
“Hadley, where did you learn that?” I ask.
“Tik-Tok,” she tells me.
She tells me that people are using the poem to illustrate (perhaps explore) the different decisions they must make as they grow up. “You know, the roads are a metaphor,” Hadley says.
“Want to hear the legend behind that poem?” I ask, hoping she’ll say yes.
She obliges, and I continue.
“It was written because of a dare.”
I secure an elastic around one braid and begin another as I tell Hadley what I was told years ago in a classroom from a professor who was delighted by the tale. That Robert Frost and another poet were walking in the woods and Frost declared it possible to write a poem about anything. The other poet said, “Impossible,” but Frost insisted it was quite possible — that poetry is everywhere — if you’re willing to start with what you find.
“Okay, fine,” the poet said. “Write a poem about these two roads in front of us.”
Here is where I imagine Frost saying, “Dude, seriously? This thing writes itself. Gimme a real challenge.”
“So it came from a dare?” Hadley asks.
“That’s the legend.”
I finish her second braid and she checks my work. Satisfied, she leaves and moves on with her day.
I continue folding laundry and thinking about dares and nature, and eventually I leave the laundry because I want to learn about the murder hornet. Are they true, or is this legend?
They are a headline in The Washington Post.
I print out the article.
I read it.
I circle words that strike or startle me.
I attend to something else besides my fear, explore what I find and see if poetry indeed knows no boundaries.
along comes a creature
it has a toehold
it is indeed a fearsome thing
put the hysteria aside
people are now more aware
figure out how to live
There is much in the news these days that is overwhelming, confusing, and so very dark. How about a dare: explore the news for poetry. See if you can find a poem in what you read. A poem to delight, a poem to grieve, a poem that articulates the senseless. I have faith they’re out there.
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