Sunday, March 14, 2010

Poetic Echoes

The Echo Of
Night in an ancient city; I match your footsteps.
Walking alone where many have walked over much time,
where I have walked many times, where you…
Walking together with you.
And the aged stones of the old buildings hold
the wisdom of eternal time. They glow softly with
soaked moonlight and hold the night
for an extended moment
in which our footsteps leave a single echo.
What does this city know of us together?
More than we each know of ourselves,
A single moment glowing softly
that we let fall into eternity, hidden
among stones.

A few weeks ago I shared with two rather new friends some poems that I had written in high school and college. They received a quite enthusiastic reception and one friend has been urging me to post my poetry more regularly. A lovely and most appreciated suggestion, especially since I fell out of the habit of weekly posts (a new year’s resolution) all too quickly. But all written pieces represent moments in time and revisiting old pieces that one has written is even more intense than rereading works that had been significant at earlier stages of life, whether difficult or beloved. In both case one re-acquaints with an older version of the self, but one’s own words are even more potent reminders and evidence of past life. Poetry, with its immediacy and bareness of form, can be particularly wise and difficult; this particular genre has been weighing heavily on me since I returned to it.
Two incidents account for this. The first is that an old friend came to visit and the visit was difficult. Actually, it all but ruined the friendship, although on account of my excessive acceptance and generosity (please read this as self-blame) I held my tongue and did my best to host. The danger in not speaking up became clear when as a thank you he sent me some poems written about his NYC visit, many based on observations that I had made. What are the limits of poetic license? One poem, dedicated to me, re-imagined my apartment as a servant’s room, haunted by a former occupant mysteriously murdered, the case unsolved. It made my blood run cold and I realized that this friendship was dead and buried.
In the mail this week I received my college alumni magazine, with the note that an old friend had died by her own hand. She and I had fallen out of touch a while back but I would occasionally run into her. I remember our last real get-together taking place the week that Yasser Arafat passed away; we sat in a hummus joint downtown and I translated the Israeli news blaring on the television. The media were following the story but an official announcement was yet to be made. She and I were good friends in the early nineties when we both lived in DC. Both transplanted New Yorkers, we delighted in taking long walks together (as few others did there) and sharing literary and intellectual conversation. Her death was announced in the papers and the news is three months old but somehow I missed it and feel badly, both about losing touch and for not knowing. I have been rereading her work this week as that is the only thing I can do to process and remember her. It is beautiful as ever but so much sadder; it feels rewritten in light of the future that had not yet come to pass.
Alas. I should bring up something positive. Poetry was an early love of mine and one of my favorite activities in high school was the literary club, which I co-directed my senior year, also editing the annual journal. At the time I was concerned not so much with the quality of my work as with the joy of the activity; I loved reading and writing and discussing poems. It has been such a treat to go back and re-read these pieces, recognizing myself, my history and my ability with delight. These are not embarrassing snapshots (why did I ever think that I looked better with bangs?) but rather lovely captures of key moments and knowings that have given me renewed strength and dedication to pursuing more such joyful and thoughtful creative activity, not to mention writing and communicating with greater sensitivity and fortitude. I am somewhat in awe of the voice of my younger self and wonder how she could have grown into one so much less sure. Time is a funny process, as is its companion aging. May they and all other processes and forces bless us with many opportunities to recognize meaning and beauty, both fleeting and eternal.
©2010 Leah Strigler


Lucy said...

Leah, as I have said to you before, looking at stuff I'd written in my twenties, I often think how smart I used to be! Tho I trust that person is still in there, I doubt you ever lose your younger self entirely...

chayaruchama said...

I think, dear ones-
That there is a fearlessness which we possess in earlier years...

One has to learn to fear.
You only realize how mortal you are as time unfolds, and accumulated experience.

I marvel at the depths of your souls, and your ability to express yourselves.

Ask Leah said...

I agree with you both!
The "echo" that I was going for was that things outside of ourselves, such as our moments of experience and creative expressions, "know" more about us because they contain traces of our earlier selves. I agree that as we evolve we do not lose our earlier iterations, but they shift in different ways.