This poem was written almost thirteen years ago, on my fiftieth birthday. It was an exceptional experience because it came with such ease and was written in under ten minutes. That is not the usual. It will probably remain one of my very favorite pieces because of the imagery and the smoothness of the flow I found in those few moments.
When I wrote it, I wanted to put as much of me, my experience, into the writing as possible. I was a new teacher, a free-lance writing instructor and I wanted to use things I taught to express this mile-stone of turning fifty. So here you will find Biblical reference holding hands with Mythology and symbolism, a progression of time as well as age, beginning to ending and back again.
I had never written a birthday poem before, but thought hitting fifty might be worth the attempt. One of my very favorite poets is Lucille Clifton. She writes a birthday poem every year. And although I admire that a great deal, never had a similar urge until I awoke that morning and realized I had made it to the half-century mark. Felt I needed to remark on the occasion and so picked up my pen and wrote one of the fastest pieces I have ever written.
I think there is a slow steady progression of flow and elegance to the poem, which is one of the reasons it will remain at the top of my list of favorites. Being a North Wisconsin hillbilly, one must grab and cherish even a brief brush with elegance when given that opportunity. Clifton uses her poetry to celebrate the ordinary common moments of her life. And in this poem, I feel that I have gotten close to that. One of the stanzas is a direct result of an exercise I asked my students to engage in, and then joined them in doing so.
Unlike others, this poem has never been published until now. However, it has been read publicly many times. When I looked at it this morning, I was surprised to find new curves in what I wrote all those years ago. Not new as in different, or completely unfamiliar, but new as in depth and meaning. That, to me, means it is standing the test of time. One note to the reader: the demon offspring in the piece are not my four children. They are the poems and other things I write.
Years of words scrawled across
a felled forest of white paper. Driven
by this constant need to say myself,
to live out loud, capture a moment,
breathe in the colors of its details,
only to exhale them again.
Sometimes think I must be Jeremiah
choking on the desire to quit. Clamp
hands over mouth, lock tight floodgates,
let lungs fill with liquid language, until
I must drown in this rising tide of syllables.
Instead, I am dark Lilith, expelled
from the Tree of Life by the Queen
of Heaven, who builds her bed with
remnants from my living room. Exiled
into wilderness for daring to express
my right to be equal, have given birth
to demon offspring. Wild like their mother,
they sing a siren’s song, heard only in that
moment of half-wakened dreams.
Risen now, my voice, like the sun
casts no shadow at its zenith. Sweeps
darkness from doorways as it moves
from past into future. Gives nurture
where it falls on small growing things,
and upholds wings for this final flight
into snow-covered mountains.
Yes, I am both, fierce scream of eagle
and quiet whimper of a child fussing
toward slumber. At fifty, still face
death, but can still say, “Come,
sit awhile, listen.”
Elizabeth Crawford 4/9/1996 – 1/18/09*
*Life of the poem, not mine.