Read an Excerpt
IN-VERSING YOUR LIFEA Poetry Workbook for Self-Discovery & Healing
By Cynthia Blomquist Gustavson
Blooming Twig BooksCopyright © 2006 Cynthia Gustavson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIN RE-VERSE
Examining Feelings from the Past
TRAIL TO AN INNER LAKE: VOYAGEURS NATIONAL PARK I am not wanted here. The deer flies' nasty bites invite me to return to trail head, their tornado flight in precision around my crumpled hat rivals the decibel level of Air Force fighters. I follow wild blueberry droppings of bear and buck-unluckily, they've already scoured the bushes and left none for my collecting. Through the briar thicket thunders hoarse blowing of a she-bear, warning, I am not wanted here. As I reach the lake digging hot toes into cool, wet beach, a mother otter chatter-scolds me while loons signal shrill whistles to their twin, frightened chicks. Alert osprey leave their pine perch to fly past tall birches and hide in unexposed trees. I only wanted to know what we had left behind, but like the dolphin who rejected life on land, and so lost its feet, my manufactured shoes slipped on granite sheath and the trail's muddy sloughs. Still I continue exploring, ignoring the "I am not wanted here" signs (poison ivy, nettles) to glimpse the untamed, the unnamed, the unsettled, the domain of the stinging insect, which I have entered with no repellent.
* * *
Examining the Problem Areas
Something doesn't feel right, but the problem is hard to identify. It's time to take the trail inward. As you look for the problem areas in your life, you may find the same difficulties surfacing again and again. Chances are the core of the problem has its roots in your past. It's not easy to look back. Sometimes we have deliberately forgotten the bad times. Reclaiming old memories may initially give rise to defenses such as workaholic behavior, denial, headaches, and anxiety. But the "trail to an inner lake" is an important pilgrimage, even though you may frequently feel "I am not wanted here."
The use of nature in poetry is a good vehicle for expressing feelings and thoughts. What will you find along your trail? What will happen if you wear no repellent?
Begin writing a poem with these words:
"My hiking boots are leather and I carry a big stick ..."
FOUR GENERATIONS OF WOMEN Grandma Anne's nimble hands wove yarn into sweaters the "old country" way, no wrist movement, yarn caught and held by taut fingers. She wove it tightly, smoothly, always her pattern in mind knitting together the sometimes opposite twists for cable or ribbing. We learned it her way. My mother chose not to knit- used her fingers and fingernails to fashion hair, her pattern always in mind combing together the sometimes opposite twists for braid and roll. I knit a little- try to avoid my hair- but write poems tightly, smoothly, always my pattern in mind, twisting words into braids, cables, sometimes warm as Icelandic wool, sometimes snarled and broken. My daughter too has learned to knit in a smooth, wristless fashion, but her pulling is tight, and her color-patterned sweaters buckle beneath the weight of yarns carried behind.
* * *
Family of Origin
Our family of origin is a powerful influence on us, both through heredity and environment. Who are you? From whom did you come? Do you hear the words of family members, relatives, and ancestors in your own words? For better or for worse, these people are knit into our lives.
Choose the person who had the greatest influence on you. Think of a repeating line or phrase that summarizes the passion or essence of that person. Then write it into a poem, using the repeating line throughout.
DINNER NEVER HAPPENED My counter is clean, soft scrubbed, wiped. I have stacked each pottery plate in its place on the shelf and Brilloed stubborn stove spillings. Beneath my slippers beige linoleum gleams, the sounding board swept clean. Dinner never happened. I see no sign of crumb or dish- a wishful thought, to disintegrate the hateful words hanging in the air like garbage buzzing in the disposal, entering the waste stream, then falling to the bottom of forgotten filtration ponds. I rinse the spilled dressing, but the clinging stain of bitter words remains, as I remove and clean and cover and sweep until there is no sign of the mess.
* * *
Denial is a defense mechanism. The term means that we deny what we can't face. The more we use denial, the farther we get from reality and the more false our world becomes. Think about times in your life when you may have denied information or feelings-perhaps in a grief situation, under the influence of alcohol, or maybe when you fell in love. What clues finally helped you remove the blinders of denial? Are you denying something now, maybe something painful from your past? Think about it.
Write a poem entitled Now I Honestly See.
INGREDIENTS THAT COUNT You wanted me thin so I slogged to a group who taught me to read the ingredient list on the cracker box and cookie tin; The magic is in the first four only- after that only trace amounts provide taste but no worry. I'm so sorry I had to stop reading the list when I missed the joy of a butter kiss and chocolate mousse; It became abstruse as I slowly digested your ingredient list and found I was trace and if left out would not be missed.
* * *
Shame is seldom discussed openly in our society, but it can be a sharp tool used by many to manipulate others. How have you been shamed in the past? What sort of words have been used by others to shame you? Were the phrases correct? Who set the standards by which you were shamed? Was the shame engendered in you by one individual or by society as a whole, such as internalized societal norms for weight, beauty, work ethics, and so forth?
Make a list of positive phrases you might say to your own child after he or she has just brought home a "D" in math. Remember always to separate the doer from the deed (for example, "I love you, but I disapprove of your behavior").
Then write a poem about your own experience with shame. Include in it acknowledgment of both compassion and understanding. You might call it "You Wanted Me" or use this phrase to begin the first line of the poem:
You Wanted Me
SILENT STONE Cemetery shadows shift light onto a deserted marble stone Left for forty years alone on my father's grave. The mourners trampled autumn leaves to an open hole of earth, passing before us, Cold as the stony dirt and cut flowers they threw on his shiny steel casket- They left echoing sympathies soon forgotten ... covered with grass. Grandpa knelt too late- life-long anger kept him away, Too old, he thought, to face the loss- he came to the grave one year late And kneeling in the garden alone, sweat blood, until his heart stopped. I've wandered village graveyards wondering of death, looking for fathers and grandfathers, I've made my own rectangle of stone, but for forty years I've not stood at his sacred place, unable to face the engraved image. If I too knelt in that garden's grass what blood would I sweat- Would my heart hold the cold anger of generations? Or by chance could the desire of forty years challenge the silent inheritance of tears?
* * *
Did someone you care about die before you could tell the person how you felt about him/her? Did someone die accusing you of something, or making you feel guilty about some unresolved issue? Is there someone in your life who is so intimidating that you cannot confront that person with your true feelings? Did someone hurt you and then disappear? It's not too late to resolve this unfinished business.
Write a letter in the shape of a free-form poem to this person. Include your feelings, both positive and negative. Be honest with yourself. Express the feelings that others have told you not to feel so that you might be able to let them go.
Your _______________, ____________________
As I stand before this woman whose name tag says "U.S. Post Office, Cindy" I stare at her same name and wonder if her daughter is leaving early, or if she feels as trapped behind her drab counter as I am trapped into express mailing these almost-late applications to places with names like Swarthmore, Pomona, Reed, Rice, places nobody else in Minnesota knows about, but places Britta wants to go next year (in a few months) to college, even though she's only one month into her seventeenth year, a mistake her father and I made twelve years ago when we decided to move to that roughhewn log cabin, surrounded by rhododendron and wild ginger, in a remote Appalachian holler and start a birthing center where our barter payments were most often fresh-caught mountain trout and white lightnin', and put her in the kindergarten there, a one-hour school bus ride down the mountain, leaving home at an early 6:30, five years old, and returning late at 4:30, exhausted and motion sick, and bored, that's what the teacher and the principal labeled it because she had learned her numbers and letters early which was unusual for a child just starting school in Konnerock, Virginia-so they said she had to go into the first grade, which should have been a compliment to have a bright child, but Ed and I just remembered how late he was, a college sophomore before he started to grow another ten inches to his 6'2" height, and couldn't compete in basketball so he became the best student instead, and didn't shave but once a week when we got married at 25- and I was 16 when I got my first period, looking at last like most 12-year-olds, and finally asking Mother to drive to Hank's store two miles south in the little village of Afton to buy me Kotex, but coming home empty-handed because there was a man in the store, so I wadded up toilet paper and cried, and Britta would be late ... and now an extra year late.
* * *
"Losing Time" is called a prose poem, a form that is more like a story than a poem. A prose poem uses long, run-on sentences and as much detail as possible. This poem tells of several decisions two persons made, each of which had a lifelong effect on their child.
Think back to your childhood and write about one decision your parents made that had a profound effect on you. Divide a piece of paper into two columns. In one column, write the positive effects of their decision. Next to it, list the negative effects. Do not leave either column blank. Then, write a prose poem about this experience. You might want to use the following line as a starting point.
When I was ____ years old, my parents ...
FOR D. S. Whoever said it was easy to remember was never abused. Confused dreams become more real than the feelings held in by drugs held in by secrets melted into a steel bullet aimed inward.
* * *
The poem "For D. S." was written for a client of mine who had been sexually abused by her father and her brother. Abuse, however, can be emotional or verbal as well as physical. Think of the times you have been abused by a person whom you trusted.
Expand this poem, listing your feelings.
Whoever said it was easy to remember was never abused.
Confused dreams become more real than the feelings
of _____________________ ________________________ ________________________ ________________________ ________________________ held in by _____________ ________________________ ________________________ ________________________ melted into a steel bullet aimed inward.
Dead End Circle
Write a poem or a promise to yourself in a reverse circle. That is, start your first word in the center and work your way out. How did you or will you get out of the dead-end circle of addiction? How will you stay out?
AUTUMN BREAD I bake bread when outside temperatures fall and leaves heat to brick-oven hues- when wild rice is pounded into boats headed in curved lines toward winter- I bake wild rice baguettes long and tough-grained I boil the wild rice twice as long as white to get it soft enough for bread soft as the loaves my friend's mother baked soft as my mother's voice that morning soft as tears My bread is whole-grained made of wheat-berry and wild rice My friend's kitchen always smelled of yeast- same as mine does now- but she was the wild addition- We were both thirteen but it was her skin and blood that matched the autumn leaves in brilliance- Father called her wild didn't trust the Irish in her No Irish soda bread for them her mother used yeast Even the night he said "No" when I stayed overnight anyway the loaves were rising there- and in her morning kitchen as the telephone rang- rising, as her mother's smile fell, still rising, as she drove me quickly home past brick-red oaks beginning to brown It was then all rising collapsed with the trembling, controlled calm of Mother's voice, "Your father's gone- He died last night- You be strong, we'll make it" My bread is tough-grained hiding soft wild rice.
* * *
I have written dozens of poems about my father's death. Even though it happened forty-five years ago, I am still working on unresolved issues surrounding that tragedy in my early life. When I was thirteen years old, I was under the impression that a strong person doesn't cry. Unfortunately, I never grieved the loss of my father. In order to heal, I have had to relive the tragedy: Where was I, what did I feel, what did I smell, who was there, what was said?
Is there a tragedy in your life that is still unresolved? Where did it happen? Where were you when it happened or when you found out about it? For instance, were you in your mother's kitchen? What smell brings back the memories (coffee, bread, dust, mold, oil)?
Write about the tragedy and include the sounds, sights, and smells that you can remember.
The Scent of Tragedy
Excerpted from IN-VERSING YOUR LIFE by Cynthia Blomquist Gustavson Copyright © 2006 by Cynthia Gustavson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
In Re-Verse: Examining Feelings from the Past 5
Trail to an Inner Lake: Voyageurs National Park 6
Examining the Problem Areas 7
Four Generations of Women 8
Family of Origin 9
Dinner Never Happened 10
Ingredients That Count 12
Silent Stone 14
Unfinished Business 15
Losing Time 16
Irreversible Decisions 17
For D. S. 18
Dead-End Circle 20
Autumn Bread 22
To a Daughter Leaving Home 24
Letting Go 25
To Roxanne 26
Rhymes and Reasons: Looking at Present Critical Life Areas 29
Catbird 1609C 30
Who Am I? 31
Neck Deep in the River, and Swimming 34
Self-Concept: Change 35
Winter Oak 36
Self-Esteem: Strengths 37
Rising Backwards 38
Self-Esteem: Know Your Weaknesses 39
Someone's Fishing at the Bottom of the Dam 42
No Geysers Lifted, Nor Flowers Bloomed 44
July Hot 48
Eagle Free 52
Stress Management 54
1 Am Not Yet Dead 58
Repeating Dreams 59
Motion Sick 60
My Home 62
How Do I Love Thee?: Critical Issues in Relationships 65
From a Ragweed 66
Watching a Man Bring Doggie Bones to a Grave... 68
Is This Relationship Healthy? 69
The Icebox 70
Displaced Feelings 71
First Grade, 1953 74
Didn't Listen 78
The Child I Trust 80
Saying No 81
Potato Arms 82
The Widower Loon 86
The Lone Writer 88
Where Do 1 Fit In? 89
The Nobel Pendulum at Gustavus Adolphus College 90
Under Nature's Wing 92
Inside A Square Bubble 94
Christmas Eve 98
Writing Your Own Lyrics: Shaping the Future 101
Life Cycle 103
For Sale and Waiting for a Buyer 104
Prayers and Poems 106
New Year's Resolutions 108
Frozen Ground 110
New Direction 111
Alice Grows Red Raspberries 112
Moving On 113
Jogging and Veggies 114
Life Changes 115
New Self 117
This Woman's Path 118
Accepting the Road Less Traveled 119
About the Author 123