This poem incorporates an image I had in one of my blogs about writing, and that image was of walking on thin ice.
It was not my idea to write this poem. A friend suggested I make a poem from the concepts in this passage of my blog about writing:
"Writing is like walking on thin ice. Life is often like walking on thin ice, too. Writing and life. These things are not the same, but both are ways of walking on thin ice. One teaches us how to do the other better. We get solace knowing that at least there is help out there, and that we are not alone in this world where the surface is everything, and it is frozen, maybe."
I wanted to expand this into a more spiritual space to make a poem out of it, so I incorporated God and prayer. Also, time and its flow and stasis was a metaphysical concept that made its way to the fore as I worked with this passage from my blog.
Words are the way I glide across ice.
The sun slips whispers into it. Just footsteps,
Just a way of going forward, instead of back.
You cannot go back.
Life calls us to places. I am listening, but unsure of where to go
next. Paris blue in my mind tonight blows
like the gentle bridge in wind,. Tomorrow will be Rome Red.
Should I stay? I seem to slowly be taking root in frost.
I am walking on the frozen Charles River.
Boston is okay, but I always feel like I’m in purgatory.
I used to dream only of Cartier Bridge, green
Above the St. Lawrence as it slipped by Montreal.
Places get into you. Places leave you before you leave them.
That’s what Montreal did to me. I was sitting in a park
Listening to the late spring birds, and the city
Made plans without me. But those birds
Are in my heart. They get to your golden center,
And burn there. You can never leave them.
The birds know us. Maybe they deal with God
More directly than we do, those spirits with wings and feathers.
They fool us into thinking they’re simple
So they can glide, incognito, into our souls.
See the sparrows hopping there, along the train tracks,
Looking for seeds, fallen there like green shadows.
Home is ice to me. It still seems foreign
To my skin, though, all that frozen water. Then, slipping under.
When I go home, and I’m talking about that place
Where the spirit bathes, when it gets tired,
Then finds solace, I find a golden light.
It’s the same gold light that flies down with the sparrows.
When you drown, once more than enough times,
You learn you can breathe under the world of waves.
It is winter, now, and the snow is piled high in the streets.
It gathers black shadows. It spills gray into gray wind.
In some dangerous version of things, unlike the regular
Workaday clockwork dangers of life, I am drowning
Under broken ice. I feel this even as I sing a typewriter
Into a little way of scribbling. Ether gets under my finegrnails.
Pearls stream in my hair. I am strewn with shipwrecked treasure.
I begin speaking to myself.
You’re a fish. You’re a fish-girl. God has His hand in this, or some
Other way of shape-changing. You’re looking
For gold and white and black
Pearls, for seaweed, for meaning. This is because you are a mermaid.
Myth is one thing, but to change into the myth
Is different. You didn’t know you had that malleability
In your blood. You’re just you, but you wish
You’d be given credit as a mermaid. Not so easily,
Though, does the world give its titles
To us. We have to earn them
Over and over again. Swim. Swim down and up.
I wake up. I come up for air and light. A hole
In the ice is cracking, making a bigger hole. I was just bathing
In ice water. I was like those Scandinavians and their winter
Ritual of jumping into frozen rivers. It’s over.
We have to write
Our stories into gemstones, or prayers,
Or ice, sometimes, when we can, or when we just feel
That ice is the most appropriate material. Some things
Were made to melt. Not everything needs
To be permanent. See this tattoo? It’s a temporary
Butterfly. There is nowhere
Safe to be—it’s all a madhouse or a street
In full throng of a summer crafts fair. My mind
Is no exception. Do not expect calmness from this poem.
Along those hot summer street fairs
Where hippies sell their paintings
Of multicolored spirals. Let’s get sublime like lions’ heads
Floating in space. It’s the zodiac speaking to the Leo
In my father, again. He had such a mane of red hair
On his intellectual skull as he went around quoting Jesus.
That’s what you get to be like when you’re born
With a Bible under your belt. I, too, swirl in outer space.
I look for echoes of scripture to exonerate. Truth is weird.
I am writing
My story, feeling it like a deep seed, a begonia bulb
That will blister orange everywhere when it blooms. I sit at a desk
In a New England snowstorm, siphoning sunshine, wondering how to write
My stories down. One day they seem silver, another day,
There’s gold at their center. I just don’t know where to begin
In this complexity. I’m just a writer with memories. Sometimes
I feel so far away from God. The river is the ice
And it is the idea I am writing about, even when I say
It’s summertime and there’s a bazaar on Brookline
Avenue, and I’m making my way among woven baskets
And wind chimes made out of kitchen cutlery.
It’s lovely, but stifling. Beauty is for sale, but there is another type
Of beauty that’s not for sale. When we look for it,
We’re skating out there to the edge. Paradox goes like this:
The edges of things are the hearts of things. What’s out there,
Way out there, is deep within. A dark pulse quivers with tender light.
It’s called gliding on thin ice.
Doing this double-entendre is what life is about. Time is the price
Of the ice. It’s frozen, spacetime is,
Past, present, and future, yet what runs underneath
The deep freeze is time, too, that water flowing so freely.
The magic is that sometimes words and tears come so easily,
And it’s all red and blue. It’s purple. It’s gleaming
Like mist off a cold river as the last days of winter rise
In temperature, just enough to begin some other season.
In this life it’s called waiting for the ice to break once more.
Beneath the surface glitters hope and despair,
Love and hate, prayer and fear, over and over again in waves.
I can get there sometimes. Sometimes, though,
I can’t, and I stuck here in this greasy moment
Called, “Now.” A soup can is my love affair,
And for dessert there is a donut. I ask, “Why?”
And I mean the universe to answer me when it can,
On its own time. I’ve learned you can’t push it.
Peaks follow troughs in the ululation until the horizon greets us.
You sometimes need to say hello to the line
Dividing here from there, awakening from sleep.
Wave agitates wave in a rainbow of the wave
In the mind. The subconscious plays with ether
As well as water. We breathe wherever we are, in,
On the in-breath. We transform its pulse in our hearts.
We can be the light. We can be, at moments, everything.
Yet this journey catches us on its hooks.
We cannot get away from being snagged, now and then.
God answers prayers in this strange world
Where we are all strangers to each other and ourselves.
Only at moments do we join in a comfortable knowing,
And then that moment goes up in smoke. Like smoke,
It lingers. Like smoke, it scents a room for a lifetime.
It ripples like darkness catching glimpses of the light.
I do not know where I am supposed to be in life.
I am always both above and below the surface of the ice.
It’s winter once again. It was spring for a while
But the circle of time comes around again. All is white with snow.
I’m in my coat made for the extreme
Arctic. I’m on some imaginary river, where a group
Of men are ice-fishing. They’re not looking at me.
If they were, they’d probably wonder where I was going,
So hesitantly, trying to make my way to the other side
Of the bank. From here to there is a lifetime.
It’s everything we are, and are not. You can tell me things,
And I’ll listen, and maybe you will change me, or maybe you won’t.
This is the way the treasures revealed themselves to my heart.
Some things can’t change. The dichotomy of what’s frozen
And what flows is something I’ll still be chained
To in my journey. We’re all chained
To the stasis as well as the rushing onward.
I try slipping out of those chains
Only to swim beneath the river’s surface
In a dreamland tropical sea. It’s summer again,
And the pink sun drinks the water. There, orange
Fish careen with coral. Some way of tropical being.
There is a way of breaking free
Of the ice, but then it’s all something else,
And I don’t know what that is.
Jessica Harman is a poet and fiction writer living in the Boston area. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including, “Bellevue Literary Review,” “Arion,” a Boston University publication, “Nimrod,” “Spillway,” “Stand,” “Tears In The Fence,” and “Rosebud.” Her book of poetry, “Dream Catcher,” is available here, and from Aldrich Press. A second book of poems, “Sky Juice,” is forthcoming from Propaganda Press in the summer of 2013. You may find her on her poetry blog here or facebook here.
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