It was almost ten years ago when I learned my friend and co-worker, Carolyn, had taken a new job and was moving out-of-state. It was a good opportunity—and she would be closer to her family and to the man she would eventually marry. Still, I was sad to say goodbye. One night, shortly after I learned she would leave us, I dreamed that I was standing on top of the Eiffel Tower looking down. There, on the streets below, I saw my friend Carolyn, wearing a red dress and smiling radiantly. The next day, I wrote these lines, which I read to her at our morning staff meeting on her last day of work:
it’s the way of
to push against the
frozen ground and
poke a sleepy face
through the snow-
and how must
it feel when the
hard shell of the
wide open and
was hidden strains
it’s the way a
star erupts into
from the inside
out and shines
for miles and
it’s the rock
hewn into form,
given a face by
time, with edges
away, rough places
broken and blasted
star on fire
this is the way
to dance through
donning a red dress
in the springtime
“Where did that come from?” Carolyn asked. But I saw her smile. And when I gave her the paper copy, she took it from me and held it between cupped hands, as though it was a firefly that might take flight at any moment.
Over the years, I have gifted poems honoring weddings, births, expectant births, birthdays, deaths, friendships, a new home, embarking on faraway travels, love for a pet, and Christmas tidings. Among others. Each time it is the same. The recipient startles to see a sliver of their person captured in verse. The poem says they are seen. Often, years later, they recall the words of the gift back to me and confide how much the words still move them.
As your Poet Laura, I have been savoring chocolate in all its various configurations (you simply must try this recipe for French hot chocolate—the perfect thing to sip in front of the fire on these long, chilly nights), steeping in poetry, and gathering up words that make me catch my breath. But ever since Tweetspeak announced Generous as the 2021 yearly theme, I can’t stop thinking about the many ways poetry gives. And here we are, in the season of giving—the time when we carry our loved ones with us even more than usual, holding them in our minds as we lift gifts up to the light.
Why not give a poem? If you don’t think you can write one (I would say give it a try anyway—there are books for that!), there is sure to be a poem already out there, begging to be gifted to a special someone. Indeed, all you have to do is search for the quality you want to celebrate in the recipient. Take our “generous” theme, for instance. A quick Google search for “poems on generosity” yields a wealth of possibilities. Here’s a portion of one I found by Kahlil Gibran titled “On Giving.” This is the fourth of five stanzas.
You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.”
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, or receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life—while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.
[listen to a lovely reading of On Giving in its entirety]
For to withhold it is to perish. This line feels especially relevant during these days of social distancing and quarantining. As we are faced with the fragility of life and a lonelier holiday season, it seems more important than ever to share our affections openly. Poetry makes a way.
Over the years I have noted that poetry is similar to flowers—one rarely purchases it for oneself, but upon receiving it, the world immediately is cast in a more beautiful light. One of the most memorable gifts I’ve ever received was a copy of Sonnets from the Portuguese from a suitor. He penciled in some of his own words beside several sonnets, forever linking his name with this treasured collection. This memory never ceases to transport me back to my younger self, and that volume still holds a place on my shelf.
This is one of the gifts of poetry: how it can carry you to another place, another time.
But gifts of poetry need not only be for the romantic. The most obvious beneficiaries are children. In Jim Trelease’s The Read Aloud Handbook the author asserts that, “Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein, is so popular with children, librarians and teachers insist it is the book most frequently stolen from their schools and libraries.” Children have a natural affinity for poetry that must be nurtured. Not only does reading poetry have emotional benefits for children, it can help them become better thinkers as adults.
We all have shared moments in time worth preserving in verse. To write them down, and give them away, enriches and colors in our memories… like a woman in a red dress on the streets of Paris.
Photo by Joe Lodge, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Laura Boggess.
A Novella From Laura Boggess
Lyrical and whimsical writer Laura Boggess brings us an inspiring story of one woman’s quest to put her life back together. Poetry plays a part. But not before a book gets delivered to the wrong house on a windy, impossible day.