Tuesday, June 21, 2011


The org I work for co-sponsors writing workshops at places like community centers and senior homes, and we spend a lot of time talking about how literature enables self-expression, healing, etc. When you say something enough, it becomes an abstraction. But lately, while crashing a couple of workshops in the name of evaluation purposes, I’ve been floored by the power of writing-as-therapy, to the point of getting choked up by my own tragic profundity (an embarrassing, little-discussed side effect of being a writer). Yesterday at the Burbank Senior Artists Colony—where I totally want to while away my golden years sculpting and writing plays—the teaching writer passed out fortune cookies and asked us to write poems based on our fortunes. Mine was “YOU DESIRE TO DISCOVER NEW FRONTIERS”:

You begin like all pioneers,
your ears full of stories:
streets of gold
milky rivers
open-armed natives in need
of restaurants and apothecaries.

You think it’s only a matter of packing
the right iron skillet
handfuls of healing herbs
as light as your young heart.

What they do not tell you
--because there is no they,
because this is not a journey
from which people return—
is that you will abandon
that good pan
at the first river crossing,
that the river is not milk but disease,
that the disease would only be visible
under the lens
of a machine not yet invented.

At the second river crossing
you will leave your small dog,
but her whimpers will follow you
across mountains,
for there are mountains
too, and snow, and all the things
you thought you left behind,
and new things:
war whoops in the night
new kinds of lizards
different shades of sky.
All of it fascinating,
worth recording,
if you hadn’t burned
your paper for warmth.

There is no third river crossing,
just strange spiky plants
and a longing at the back of your throat
and a feeling that you have no right
to complain: You chose this
passage. You left
your dog, and if you hadn’t,
you would have eaten her by now.

There is another side,
you suppose, a world
with the ocean on the wrong side,
but ocean nonetheless.
Another unexplored land
that is not land,
that will drown you. Some nights
when you lay beneath
the wagon watching trees
turn to monsters,
you dream
of that land,
that ocean, transformed
but still salty on your tongue
or maybe that’s just the first sign
of dehydration.


CC said...

Lovely poem! A little dark, but aren't we all sometimes? I like the little dog. She'd be happy to feed you.

Raardvarks said...

Sounds like a fun exercise, I will try it the next time I get a fortune cookie! Writing is often my therapy, not sure what I would do without it.

BTW the last fortune cookie my girlfriend got was "Boats are in your future". How profound for a waterfront restaurant lol!

Peter Varvel said...

The problem with the current culture of blogging, keyboard typing in general, and endangered handwriting/penmanship, is that I do not hand write journal entries as much as I used to - and I miss the free and regular therapy that came with it.
This poem . . . why must you wrench my heart so? (and also, thank you).

Cheryl said...

CC: Thanks for being an optimist. Someone has to be. :-)

R: I predict a fabulous boat poem in your future!

PV: Don't worry, it's all metaphor. No dogs were harmed in the making of this poem.

Stephanie said...

I love poetry, and this is beautiful. It's a little sad, but I love the line you wrote,
"All of it fascinating,
worth recording,
if you hadn't burned
your paper for warmth."

I can relate to that regret of writing something (or wanting to write it) but then either losing it or not doing it for some "other" reason.

See how you set a great example for me as a writer? Thanks for the continued inspiration. :-)

Cheryl said...

S: I was thinking about how, when life is its most powerful, the last thing you want to/can do is write. Writing is simultaneously a luxury and a necessity. But hopefully it gets tucked away for later.