Tuesday, I was at the dentist for a temporary crown. I should have been there 90 minutes tops; the hard work had been down the previous week. But because my teeth have a will of their own, and for a few other, unexpected reasons, I was in the dentist’s chair for four hours, four hours of alternating intense work on my mouth and waiting.
So, I wrote a poem, the one I posted yesterday, “Once a Place.” Six handwritten drafts, redrafts and edits, all done while my mouth and sinuses felt like numbed cotton. The idea had been in my head, prompted by a photograph of me at 5 years old on my new Christmas bike. (It was red, with plastic streamers coming out of the handle bars.) I found the picture, one of many, in an envelope from a cousin in Shreveport; the photos all belonged to my grandmother and had been sitting for years in the accumulations of the long life she lived. (My family is Southern; we get around to doing things like cleaning out relatives’ estates when we get around to it.) (My grandmother died in 1984.)
I’ll likely write about some of the photos another time; quite a few of them are pictures of my father as a little boy in the early 1920s. It’s almost impossible for me to imagine my father as a child, but there’s the photographic evidence. And he looks a little like me but a lot like my younger brother; the resemblance is almost uncanny.
I found that picture of me on the new bike, and began to consider that only two years before that picture was taken, that front yard was part of a shallow swamp. Somehow, bike and swamp connected in the dentist chair, and thus the poem.
A poem in the dentist’s chair: for me, a kind of mixed metaphor summarizing 2009.
I rediscovered poetry this year, in terms of reading it; I discovered it, or perhaps it discovered me, in terms of writing it. And now I help edit an online poetry journal called TweetSpeak Poetry.
I had never had a broken bone in my life; this year, I had four – ribs, to be precise, courtesy of a bike crash (and no one blame except myself). The upside of spending my first night in the hospital since 1974: I read L.L. Barkat’s Stone Crossings straight through in the dark hours of a summer morning.
I started this blog in March, and I’m awed by the people I’ve met because of it, the talented, gifted people who share their gifts for stories, for humor, for art, for encouragement, for a good rant, for unorthodox and off-the-wall thinking, for faith, for life. I’ve learned about farm life in ways I never could by simply reading news stories. I’ve followed the progress of a pregnant mother through to the birth of her son, and how she managed a toddler in the meantime. I’ve seen one friend publish a book of poems and another get a contract for a novel for publication next year, and got to share in the joy and excitement of both of those achievements.
I’ve found new friends, so many that I’m still surprised. I’ve found and been edited by good editors, who are so good that I don’t mind being edited by them for guest blogs posts and online articles because they’re improve what I write. (I do mind being edited by people who don’t make improvements but are doing other things, like promoting agendas.) I’ve read stories that made me laugh out loud and stories that brought tears to my eyes.
I led a team at work that accomplished extraordinary things, achieving things no one thought possible. It was amazing to be a small part of that.
My wife and I learned that, come March, we’re going to be grandparents. A whole new chapter of life is starting.
I read a few outstanding books, a lot of good books and a few not-so-good books. I was introduced to a a genre of writing called something like Stephen-King-like-Christians-horror-suspense-scare-your-socks-off. And the debate that’s continuing to grow about what is, isn’t and perhaps should be “Christian fiction.” I learned that if you write a review of a book, and you’re honest about your reaction to it, you better be prepared for the imperial storm troopers to attack.
I learned the kindness of strangers in comments on blog posts, both my own posts and those of others.
So yes, 2009 was, for me, a lot like a poem written in the dentist’s chair. And I’m grateful for all of it.