insane — what poets do
Muddy creeks run like clear ones, pushing wild grass silky to the touch causing me to stop and look. The mulberry trees are dormant. A breeze lands on my forehead and bare feet. I’m ready to be in service of the words that will come from silence. To pen from raw passion stirs the heart and to pen what comes from the practice of deep listening over the years is to teach. In this way I am, as a poet, at the service of the voice that emerges from silence. Not of the quiet, but of what silence has to say.
As a poet I may ring bells or burn the dried needles of cedar trees to open my heart. I might pray or drum in community or alone, waiting for the poem to come through the goat skin of the drum beneath the palms of my hands. And if the words should come from a persimmon tree, I let the tree speak of its own sweetness and orange skin. If silence comes and speaks while sweeping the floor, I stand still for the words that have been waiting in the greater abyss, perhaps for a thousand years.
As a poet, I look into the faces of suffering, still their eyes in my mind. I change how their suffering might be expressed creatively and hand it back in poetry hoping it speaks to the suffering even though I have never met them and they may never read a single word of my writings.
I am certain the words I write have been heard many times but arranged in a different way. But still I weep after giving birth to words that repeat themselves every generation, perhaps keeping alive a message from the beginning of time.
On the other hand, I listen to that which does not utter a word. A storm is heard and I hear the wings of birds I cannot see and I cannot always capture such in words. Water running over my hands makes me wonder how gardenias feel in the rain and I don’t know so I don’t say. I sit in the rain and hear ocean waves lapping the shore sixty miles away and this too is indescribable.
I have known poets who have scrubbed floors while taking care of other people’s babies, picked fruit in the orchard, lived on a reservation or in a hut, distant and unknown — their words scribbled down on paper bags. Their creative force remains inaudible. Their unique imaginations unheard. Their audience is looking for them but we don’t know them yet. Strangely enough, isolation can be solitude. It can be the muse, the light by which one becomes a poet and finds solace in words that are filled with contradiction.
In searching for sanity, the dispossessed seek to overcome obstacles to creative expression — one being the fear of their own “room,” be it a place or their inner world. For one’s creativity can be seen as inadequate, or solitude can easily be seen as a selfish luxury for the privileged. Some poets may never have had their own beds, let alone their own room, in which peace could arise. I have asked myself, is it okay to take up time and space to listen when there is so much to do? And if there is plenty of time, space, and resources must it be shared so as not to appear greedy? Will the time and space vanish as quickly as it came? Is it okay to write of despair, if it has proven to have more strength than happiness, and therefore feels more persistent and reliable? Has my poetry ever been an uninvited guest, showing up when I’m busy, and I have ignored it or didn’t have the courage to deal with what this guest has brought to me?
My poetry has shattered inside me when the truth is held down. Exposure is frightening and truth can be left to rattle in the wind. My mother’s caution passed through generations warns me not to speak ill of the family, much less speak about anything that is considered “the family’s business.” You must say nothing beyond the walls of home, even if the silence speaks it. It may destroy the image you have worked hard to sustain. If you write, there would be written proof that you are in fact insane and as imperfect as you might feel. Secret cries at night are heard by Kuan Yin. You did not seek solitude. It was already in bed with you when the lights went out at night and you were intensely afraid of peace because it feels good. What did you give up?
Sometimes when I awaken, my tears are dry, but I still taste the bitterness of nightmares. I have tasted them many times and have swallowed them down quickly, hoping to free myself of them. Sometimes it does not go down so easily. I realize that the nightmares are as real as the poetry. In fact, I am certain that the poems and the nightmares are often bound together in a twin relationship to be reckoned with.
Fortunately, poetry is permeable. It comes through brick and mortar, cracked stucco, rotten wood, mud and straw. Poetry has come from the interior of churches, synagogues, plantations, reservations, pueblos, castles, slave cabins, brothels, teepees, monasteries, caves, classrooms, farms, kitchens, front porches, backyards, sacred circles, jungles, rivers, oceans, mountains, and meadows. Within the various interiors from which poetry ascends, we hear the inner voices from those living in between the cracks. We hear the brutal honesty of our physical existence, our emotions, and our spiritual landscape. And some of us have been persecuted for revealing humanity without its clothes on.
I have an insatiable appetite for what the earth offers, and I want to write down everything — including love or especially love, attained and unattained, as there is no other aspect of human nature that is inevitably associated with poets.
Poets are indeed ready, in service to the silence found in vast fields and meadows, oceans and seas. If we have not already done it, poets will overcharge the world. Poetry will continue to strike lightning so that everything is seen.
I walk quietly in the middle of nowhere. I see a fox prance between the juniper and sage bushes. The crackle of gravel beneath my feet startles it. I’m jumpy too. The fox enters the tall grasses where I can no longer see it. I move forward aware that the desert is quiet, and I’m not alone.
From Upcoimng book: The Deepest Peace: Contemplations From a Season of Stillness by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel – Coming from Parallax Press – Fall 2020