I just got home from a poetry reading. I don’t go to as many of them as I used to, because my poems have always been so personal, and I have felt like I was oversharing and that I needed better boundaries. Usually, at this place where I go for poetry, it’s very political, about Chicano pride and Nuevo Mexico heritage. The poet laureate gives a workshop twice a month that delves into culture and ancestors. I’m often the only white person in the room, and I wonder if I have the right to speak. Part of what I wrote once to read aloud in that workshop was that my role in this situation is to listen.
I do have ancestors, though, and I do have heritage, even if I don’t exactly take pride in it. Our family has a matrilineal oral tradition, passed down from my grandmother to me, and the burden is on me to tell the story. So, I do what in the Pagan tradition they call work. I collect images of Hippolytus, Phaedra, and Theseus on Pinterest. Another Pinterest board is dedicated to The Glass Menagerie. At the community art center, I find a slide of Theseus, hero who slew the Minotaur, in the shelf dedicated to found objects. I carefully break the glass to remove the film. This is my work. It deals in a tragedy with no heroes, but no true villains either.
My grandmother’s father killed his son, her brother, who would have been my great-grandfather. A stepmother was involved. There are slaves who don’t want to leave the plantation because they have nowhere else to go. Or so my grandmother says. In the not-so-distant past I was involved with a man 14 years my senior. 46 seemed so old at the time. I thought of him as a dirty old man who was molesting me. There was an equal age difference between me and his son. I got out before his paranoia, and my confusion, led to a mutually destructive end. I’d found Jean Racine’s Phaedra in a literary anthology I was carrying with me during my mother’s hospice and death, which my then lover helped me get through. I thought it was synchronous.
I’ve written enough about that to fill a book. Most of it is stream-of-consciousness. I used to write eight pages a day, after someone told me that’s what Stephen King did, and I learned it’s also what you do in an MFA program. I got compared to Hunter S. Thompson, who I still haven’t read. The problem is what to do now. I feel like I’m starting from scratch each piece I write, when really, they go together, interlocking to tell a story. But who’s willing to read a 500-page Word document?
Tonight, the featured poet was selling chapbooks. When I asked him how he made them, he said he downloaded a free program. He printed the copies himself, whereas I would have to use Kinko’s. His book was only fifteen pages, because that was how much the software allowed, and I would like a longer book, but it’s a start.
Tonight helped me decide that I do want to keep going to these open mics. The featured poet wrote about mental illness and his Irish heritage. He wiped away tears as he read. I’m torn. In poetry, there is the need to delve into deep emotions, to be brutally honest, but part of what I perceive as my recovery involves creating stronger boundaries. I’ve worked on not sharing too much, like the time I told a woman I met on a depression website about my fear of the gynecologist, over lunch the first time we met face to face. I need to write a poem about overcoming that fear. And it will leave me feeling metaphorically undressed. At the workshop where I’d read aloud about having nothing to contribute and being there to listen, a woman came up to me and said that my poems about my family were important. That helped me want to continue also.