One of the only certain things

Lately the first few lines of Alice Walker’s “How Poems are Made: A Discredited View” have been floating around in my head.

Letting go
in order to hold on
I gradually understand
how poems are made.

This poem (full text available via google books) is one that has been with me for as long as I have read poetry. It was one of the first to really capture my imagination (there was an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem that inspired me before I fell into Walker’s work, but since I don’t remember what it was, it obviously did not stick).

I have been making reasonable progress on my poetry goal for October. I have written or revised 24 things so far, putting me only two days behind. I have been frustrated, though, by the loops I find my creative brain caught in. One of the loops I predicted. It’s no less frustrating for that. I still can’t capture the images I want to capture. I still can’t make the emotions I feel make sense on the page. It is a new loop, though, and while I’m mildly annoyed that my brain is quite so caught in it, my frustrations have less to do with being caught in the loop itself than they do with the fact that the poems I have been producing from that piece of inspiration are utter crap, trite and pointless.

The other loop is what brings me back to Walker’s poems. It is a loop that I think, to varying degrees, I have found myself caught in every October for the past seven years. Indeed I wonder now if I was starting to fall into it last year when I conceived of the idea of dedicating my October to poetry. And it is weird, perhaps, to find myself so melancholy still over a friendship that ended more years ago than it lasted (by a factor of two at this point) but I do. More often, frankly, than I’d often care to admit.

When I lived in the Victorian house South of downtown I used to go driving on the days when my brain couldn’t let go of its sadness. Usually I’d head East, driving whichever way the spirit moved me and turning over the pieces of my angst in my head until I felt like I could go home and face my life. One of my favorite things was crossing the LA River downtown. The First Street bridge always made me happy. There is something I love about concrete to begin with, and the history and the majesty of that bridge managed to always shake at least a touch of a smile from my lips.

The bridge, that drive, was also symbolic of a piece of my personal history. The aforementioned emotional loop started in late October, 2003. I drove across that bridge one morning, completely unaware that I was heading toward a conversation that would fundamentally change the nature of a friendship that was still practically an acquaintanceship. It changed, too, how I thought about all my relationships, how I thought about myself. That afternoon launched an intense relationship that I don’t think I could accurately characterize if I tried. It left me all at once questioning the very nature of trust and connection, while still trying to forge meaningful connection. For a long time after that afternoon I really believed that I would never really trust anyone again. And even now, seven years later, I am more guarded than I used to be. I am careful in what I expect from people. I hear “maybe” in sentences that don’t contain it. I’m not sure how I moved from being sure I would never trust again to merely being cautious. I think I ultimately simply decided that I would rather be trusting and wrong than full of the uncertainty that plagued me.

I stopped the practice of driving as meditation sometime shortly after Brad and I started dating. I didn’t have as much time. I didn’t have as much angst. I slowly began to heal from those strange years, to not need to run away from myself. I sometimes take the long way home still, but I don’t remember the last time I set out with the intent of just going without knowing why. Last Friday, though, I found myself downtown with a bunch of time to kill before meeting friends for dinner because traffic was better than I’d expected. And so I headed East, drove across the First Street Bridge, thinking of all those years ago, of all that pain. I had not been there since the goldline extension was built. I’m sure I’d read at some point that it would use First Street but I’d forgotten. The bridge is now only open to cars going East. The westbound lanes are now light rail. The feel is totally different. I was left feeling sad, like I had lost something.

At the same time, I am completely for more light rail in LA. And somehow this particular modification of the city’s geography is a relief. History marches on and the landmarks of my memory change. I spent the weekend flipping through old livejournal entries from 2003, 2004, and 2005. I reminded myself of exactly why I’d let go. I reminded myself exactly what it was I was trying to hold on to when I let go in order to hold on. I reminded myself how much happier I am now. A few weeks ago I reached out in a gesture that was partially meant to, if not revive our friendship, at least open the door to communication again. It did not have that effect, and for awhile I was treading water with my grief. Slowly, though, I am realizing that I am better off, that the grief needs to go. I haven’t figure out entirely how to let it go. I still feel caught in the loop, but it is evolving, becoming about letting go, about accepting and moving on.

There are few things these days that I feel like I can depend on 100%. Change is one of them.

Still. “There is a place the loss must go. / There is a place the gain must go. / The leftover love.” I’m still figuring that part out. I imagine there will be poems as part of the process.


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