Take a Risk, for Goodness Sake!
When I first read the magical “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” in eighth grade English class, I was enchanted by the poetic imagery Robert Frost created using tightly constructed sentences and well-chosen words.
For me, Frost created an enduring mental picture of a hard-working man stopping his wagon to watch the lovely dark and deep woods fill up with snow on the darkest evening of the year, his little horse giving his harness bells a shake to ask if there is some mistake. Similarly, William Carlos Williams’ iconic "Red Wheel Barrow" left me with an indelible image of a simple farm implement that so much depended on, glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens. And I retain a graphic mental image I won’t include here from a powerful poem composed and read aloud in my college poetry seminar by a fellow student named Pat, now the prominent political satirist and author P.J. O’Rourke. Neither P.J. nor I was foolish enough to try to earn a living as a poet—we both went the way of journalism—and I don’t know if he ever has published a poem. But I know that although I always have written poetry, I have never published a poem, which might seem curious, as my features, columns and news stories have appeared in print and online regularly since I was19. Why? Poetry is too risky, too personal. What if the poem is rejected? What if friends or relatives think they see themselves in a poem and are hurt or angry? Both strong possibilities.
So, it took a mite of courage for me to enroll in a class through Pitt’s Osher Institute titled “Poem Making: Writing Towards Healing.” I wasn’t grieving; it was the only poetry course offered. Turned out, though, that like the rest of the class, I had plenty of life experience to draw upon, as our instructor, a retired therapist, read compelling contemporary poetry and encouraged us to use lines from those poems as ”prompts” to write and then read our work to one another. My fellow writers, many active in poetry circles for years, were talented. At the end of the first session, I forced myself to raise my hand and read my poem and was relieved to receive generous comments and lots of support. I got to know a little about these diverse but kindred spirits as the class progressed. One was a retired Methodist minister and one a retired rabbi and math professor. One had sadly left a successful marketing career in mid-life because of a heath issue. One had lost two husbands in the past five years. Another, whose poems typically were humorous, broke down in tears on the last day, as she read a metaphorical poem about her late husband. As our work revealed, everyone had experienced joy and pain.
I don’t know if my colleagues really liked my work—but they offered enough encouragement for me to continue writing. So I’ll take a risk and share a poem—this one about risk taking. Fittingly, it also invokes my first muse, Robert Frost and another of his poems, "The Road Not Taken."
For Goodness Sake
I want to return to the road not taken,
To risks I rejected because people warned,
That path goes nowhere—
You’ll be lost, frightened, perhaps shamed.
You could fail, get hurt, even die,
Or worse, end up alone, no husband, no family.
Stay the course your parents, Miss Manners
And (oh, we almost forgot) the Bible tells us so.
Will you all be quiet, please?
Oh, for God’s sake, shut up.
I jump up from my desk in the loft,
Slip through the window, slide down the roof
Shimmy under the backyard fence
And thread my way through thick brush
To a secret meadow that muffles their voices.
At the edge are two narrow roads.
I hesitate for a moment and look back,
Only to see my sweet dog has followed.
“Wanna go for a walk” I ask.
He jiggles for joy, sniffs, sneezes
And confidently chooses our path. I follow,
Hoping to meet the person I could have been
Or perhaps once was.
But we’ll be home for dinner.