I Can't Help It
Dear Creative Imaginations:

Writing Challenge: Textuality #6

(So sorry I missed doing a prompt on Friday. Friday was A Day. So it just didn't happen!)

Welcome to the Inspired by Poetry Week of Writing Challenges! Before you freak out, don't worry: you won't be writing poetry (well, you can if you want of course! I would be thrilled!), but responding to it. There are sparks all over the place in poems! So. You simply read the poem, then respond. Your goal isn't to analyze the poem. It's to use it as a starting point, a way of evoking an emotion or an experience within yourself. You can use my suggestions in your response, or you can go somewhere else—where ever the poet took you. Here's today's poem:

 
The Pond
   ~Mary Oliver
 
Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them—
 
the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch
 
only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?
 
I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided—
and that one wears an orange blight—
and this one is a glossy cheek
 
half nibbled away—
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.
 
Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts
 
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
 
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
 

Today's Writing Prompt:

Respond to Oliver's poem. Some topics you might write about: perfection, flowers (lilies specifically if you wanted), nature/being outside, "the white fire of a great mystery" in your own life, what you want in your own life (Oliver wants to be willing), how you "float a little above this difficult world," or anything else that felt like a spark to you.
 
My response:
Last spring, Cindy gave me some lilies. The kind that come in pots, that linger for a few weeks, flowering through Easter until the blooms start to droop, the petals dropping off in odd numbers. The fragrance was sweet, a white, startling scent that spread throughout the house. Even the corners of closets had a faint lily swirl.
 
But I left them too long. I should have watered them more; the soil grew dry, the stems became stalks, and instead of furrowing down into a new dirt home, they died and I threw them away. There wasn't any decay of the lily-pond sort, no dampness, no slumped purses full of decay. Instead, just: withering away.
 
Maybe that is the perfect metaphor for my own sort of imperfection. Not wet and fecund and blowzy. Just...fading. Just needing something, more sun, more water, more something I cannot find in my current environment. I feel, sometimes, trapped like those plants, unable to move, incapable of changing the environment so I can get what I need. So I can blossom again. And it might be too late for blossoming anyway. At least this year.
 
Still, there is a sense of hope this poem gives me. It is not that the looking for perfection that matters, or the fact of the existence of imperfection. It's not even the acknowledgment of failure. It is the turn that happens at the word "still," it is the willingness to say "yes, but there is also this." Despite imperfections, despite the failures and the unfinished, if I can just find that ability to say "still," perhaps I can find the way to wander into my own great fire.
 
(all maudlin sentimentality inspired by Mother's Day. It will pass soon!)

Comments

stacyj

Amy,
Wow -- love this poetry challenge. You are such a thoughtful person. I LEARN so much from you. Thank YOU!

Hopefully I will make time to respond to one of these challenges. Not today, but soon.

Wendy

"Just...fading. Just needing something, more sun, more water, more something I cannot find in my current environment. I feel, sometimes, trapped like those plants, unable to move, incapable of changing the environment so I can get what I need. So I can blossom again." This is me, as well.

I recently had the chance to talk to our old marriage counselor (not an old man, but a counselor from the days of our marital separation, not seen in eight years). He passed on his number for my husband, but I placed a call.

I described the feelings you just articulated (although my articulation was a bit fuzzier). His assessment? I'm not the kind of person who does well sitting in a parking lot (my stay-at-home existence in this isolated countryside with no intellectual challenges on my horizon). I guess I don't do well floating at the top of a pond, either.

As I was thinking of ways to get myself in motion, blooming again, the only thing I keep coming back to is that I would love to teach a writing class for teens. Wondering how I can make that happen.

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