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Friday, August 19, 2016

Poetry in Transit: After the flood

I almost didn't submit for Poetry in Transit this year.

The theme of Poetry in Transit for 2015-2016 was "River," and for my submission I asked myself what I most thought of when I thought about the Susquehanna. I remembered sunrises and sunsets spent on the Nanticoke-West Nanticoke bridge. I remembered blue shadows of the bridge on the ice. But most of all I remembered the haunting images of stains left by book covers on the ceiling of an aunt's house in Wilkes-Barre after the 1972 flood, and the piles of accumulated treasures, trinkets, and mementos, waterlogged and left at the curb in West Pittston for weeks following the 2011 flood.

Susquehanna 

Books  pressed against the ceiling
a lifetime of memories at the curb
Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" at sunset
unseen fish breaking the surface of morning
girder shadows blue on the ice
thus will I remember you

The theme for Poetry in Transit 2016-2017 was "Flood." But I felt like I had already said what I wanted to say about floods. Anything else might feel forced, even redundant.

Besides, I wasn't feeling very poetic around the time the call for submissions came out. I had recently lost my muse, and I was in a pretty bleak mood.

For the past few years I have had a muse in my life. She was young, beautiful, and an amazing poet and writer. I was infatuated with her from the first time I had read her writing. I met her in person nearly a year later, completely accidentally, almost but not quite completely at random. We had a story together that was long and complicated or painfully simple and trite, depending on your point of view. We were never really a couple, but we did a lot of things together, and I got a lot of poetry (and several short stories) out of the deal.

Everything came to an abrupt end earlier this year. My muse was out of my life.

The aftermath hurt like hell. The past few years I had spent catering first to her needs, then her wants, then her whims. I had prioritized her above everyone and everything else in my life. When it was over I looked back at the wreckage of my life and realized what a mess I had made of my relationships with my friends and my family. I remembered the happy, fun things she and I had done together, places we had gone together, and now those memories all seemed tainted, ruined. I remembered how I had felt about her, and wondered if I would ever allow myself to feel that way again about anyone else.

As I tried to think of something to say with the theme of "Flood," nothing came to mind. I was blocked. I kept coming back to what an idiot I had been for imagining things might turn out differently than they had.  Any damn fool could have seen from the beginning that this was how things would end. It killed me to realize that everyone else had been right and I had been wrong. The worst part was how inevitable it now seemed. How predictable.

As predictable and inevitable as a flood coming to a community built on a river.

I knew then that - perhaps not for the last time - she had once again served as my muse.

I jotted down some lines. Revised them. Revised them again. Agonized over one word. Changed it. Changed it back. Erased the whole thing and started over.

Eventually I was done. I submitted it. Then I contacted a friend and told her I had found my poem.

This is dedicated to everyone who has been through a flood and survived, looked at the destruction it left, picked up the pieces, and got on with their life. It's especially dedicated to every person who sees it while riding the bus and thinks, "Yep. I knew someone like that."


After the flood

She tore through our world
turned homes into rubble
covered memories in muck
ruined all that we loved
But we have survived
We have rebuilt

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