the poetry of the soul’s home

(here I am listening to some of the brilliant writing shared on Sunday)

Good morning on a Tuesday. This morning is bright sun, warming my chilly apartment, is homemade oat & oat flour Irish soda bread, is a happy puppy settled into a sunspot, is the steam from the green and mint tea flourishing into the sunlit space before me. This morning is Cheb i Sabbah radio on Pandora, is time for morning pages at sunrise, is settling back into home after three days in Atlanta. This morning is Rumi and Minnie Bruce Pratt — this is a morning for poems.

What is this morning for you, so far?

I want to tell you about Atlanta, about the home-ness of it for me, and about a quiet Sunday morning in one of the last feminist bookstores in the country, and inviting a group of Atlanta writers to ease–through their writing–into their bodies. I love that Atlanta — being there feels, in certain ways, like being home. In this case, when I say home, I mean Omaha. The neighborhoods that I tend to spend time in when I visit the ATL feel like neighborhoods around the cities where I grew up — the bricks; the old broken concrete; quiet, tree-lined streets with sidewalks on both sides; a downtown that goes dead in the evening and on the weekends, but tears the sky with bright and building; the sprawl of new money, new building, too many highways; people who make eye contact and nod hello when you pass them on your early morning walk; air that smells like the middle of the country; mulberries in the summertime; cardinalsong all year ’round. There are little neighborhoods that remind me of Dundee or the Old Market.

Yes, Atlanta is hotter than Omaha most of the year, and though there are folks living in Atlanta from all over the country, you can hear the South in most folks’ voices. Omaha is a much whiter city than Atlanta, too, of course. But there’s this way that Atlanta, like Omaha, invites me to slow down. When I’m in Atlanta and it’s warm (it’s almost always warmer than the Bay Area), I want to take off my layers and ease back into my skin. This happens to me in Omaha, too, in the summer: it’s just too hot to move fast, to wear too many clothes. My hips learn a different language, and remember how to speak it.

The biggest reason that I have such warm feelings for Atlanta is, though, that my dear friend Kathleen lives there. I’ve gotten to visit the city quite a few times since she moved there, and I am finally learning my own way around. I want to know the place that she has chosen as home for herself so that I can share more of that with her. In offering home to one another through our friendship, we can expand the geographical possibility for that particular love.

I was in Atlanta for a bit of vacation and a bit of work: On Sunday, I got to gather with a group of writers at Charis Books & More (in Little Five Points) for Embodied Words, a writing workshop that invited us into our bodies through our words. Participants got to first, try on writing as an embodying practice, and second, bring more sensory detail into their writing, so as to bring the reader more fully into the body of their character’s experiences.

I arrived at Charis at about 10:30 (we were scheduled to begin at 11) to find the door locked; I discovered that the bookstore does not usually open on Sundays until noon. I looked around a quiet Little Five Points; the air was warmish around the cool breeze, and a few folks were wandering in small groups, headed for coffee or breakfast, walking dogs, bringing Sunday to life. I sat down on the bench outside the bookstore’s front door and ate my cheese biscuit (everyone should keep a cheese biscuit handy for just this sort of occasion), drank some tea, and breathed.

I’d spent a bit of time earlier that morning wandering around the Poncey-Highlands neighborhood (when the cafe I’d wanted to write in awhile wasn’t yet open; Atlanta was sending me a message about showing up too early), thinking about what I hoped the writing workshop would offer to participants: I wanted us to reconsider the uses of a freewriting practice, to acknowledge the way in which just sitting down with notebook and pen and writing can be an embodied/embodying practice. We bring to the process our breath, the work of our shoulder, arm, neck, back, hand muscles; we bring our past sensory experiences in order to explain what we or our characters are experiencing– our bodies both channel and inform the practice. What if we allowed that process more intentionally?

There are so many reasons we don’t want to be in our bodies, reasons we want to escape, reasons we want to be out of this skin, these nerves, this memory that our bodies hold. Our bodies have stories to tell, and those stories sometimes sound different than the stories that rinse only through the head. The body-psyche has its own logic, its own language, its own curiosities and questions, its own memories. We don’t often ask our bodies to speak to us — I have been afraid of what I would hear, afraid of the pain that my skin or organs hold. But when I situate myself inside the language of my body, I learn new things about myself and my capacities, and I make room for release of stories that I no longer need to hide from. I wondered, is embodiment the poetry of the soul’s home, the skin of this entrance to the now?

The Charis staff person arrived after I’d been waiting just a few minutes (thank you, Ollie!) and I got to be in the quiet magic of a before-opening bookstore: talk about an erotic experience! By eleven, eight of us were circled amid the poetry, sexuality and lesbian fiction sections, ready to dive into a couple hours for our body stories. I am so grateful to those writers who gathered on a Sunday morning, for the gorgeous and risky words that were shared, for the powerful conversations we had about how difficult but/and beneficial it can be to write the physical experience of emotion, to stay centered in the sensations of the body, even when the songs the body is singing seem to resist language completely.

We had time for several writes, and at break time we stretched a bit and connected with one another; I left them with some quotes about writing and embodiment, a brief bibliography, and further writing exercises. Then we got to hug and chat, got to avail ourselves of the wondrous offerings at Charis, and we held our bodies gently as we moved into the rest of our days.

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For our last prompt, I asked us to think about a part of the body we had a complicated or fraught relationship with — and asked us to write about what words we would write on that part of our bodies (I got the idea for this prompt from Lou Vaile — thanks, Lou!). Here was my write in response to that prompt:

On my right breast is the phrase thank you, grafted tight across the biopsy scar, this lip of release, a thin pucker, a place where instrumentation invaded what had kept itself contained for twenty years — and through the scar seeps old storying, the imprint of wrong hands cupped around what used to be just bud. I write thank you for the gift of these tears and stories and memory and shedding–

Let that be your prompt for today: are there parts of your body with which you have a complicated relationship? What words would you write on them? Why? (Or, if you are nano-ing and want some different insight into your character, consider what words your character would write on their body.) We just wrote for three minutes at Charis — you could take 5, or 8. Or 15. Wherever your writing seems to want you to go.

Thank you and thank you for the words you body holds and is ready to sing.

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