Camping last weekend was the first time I’d ever seen a Chinese lantern. Men whose vehicles I’d earlier half-jokingly called “douche-SUVs dragging douche-boats” invited us – me, Ashley, Tyler, and Chris – to watch them launch it. Someone drove by and joked about how the lantern was a large condom. When it finally hovered from the men’s hands we watched for as long as possible, going back to our own earthbound fires while the one we celebrated burned itself out in the dark.
After we came back Sunday, Ashley posted on Facebook about the trip and our friend Joel commented asking what it’s like to go camping with writers. We’d already murmured about it around the fire, how glowing we’d felt away from words.
* * *
April was National Poetry Month and of poems I saw posted online in commemoration, this one The Rumpus showcased on April 8 was my favorite, called “Ghosts Keep Us Moving, Stella Said, Think About a Field at Night, How You’re Always.” From the title I was gone, hopeless; this wants you where it is, breathing its air from the first moment. Here’s a part:
I love this because it doesn’t feel like reading so much as ingesting straight experience. That this is how I most simply/honestly know how talk about why this moves me feels weird because 1) I really value and enjoy words in and of themselves, it’s not like I always want to forget they’re there 2) I make an assumption with that statement/sentiment that reading itself can’t be unfiltered experience, which I don’t actually believe, and 3) a poem getting me past its words seems benevolently deceitful. It couldn’t get me past its words were it not for the quality of and attention paid to its words.
But sometimes I do want to forget they’re there.
* * *
Ashley and I perch on beached ends of dead trees criss-crossing the lake. We trade “I remembers,” digging exes, family fall-outs, direct quotes from people who love(d) us from shallow graves ‘til we go quiet. When we don’t talk it still feels like a confession, some knotty, delicate mess presented in absolute safety.
* * *
Tyler and I watch open-mouthed as grass shimmers, tree tops sway in and out of shapes like animal faces in the wind. We laugh about being post-poetry, all I mean, who even needs words anymore.
Near the fire Chris tells me something I know, something about a pretty intense time in my recent past. Something unsurprising, understandable, sad. For a little while I thought that time was buried but it keeps coming back in my writing and conversations, refusing to rot.
That it haunts my thoughts is good, I’m learning. It keeps them hurrying away from complacency.
Here is the end of “Ghosts Keep Us Moving…” which grabs me for a couple reasons:
What we need is often what we’ve tried to bury and will eventually unearth itself with vengeance. How gorgeously “Ghosts Keep Us Moving…” sings that here. Like the title says, what stalks us keeps us living and pushing to be more alive. That these phantoms exist in dirt doesn’t just make me think “buried” but also “tangible;” they wait in fields at night, flower-scattered woods, the material everything where living happens.
I couldn’t ever be permanently tired of words – I love them, how I lead my measly ghosts by the wrists at all is through them – but having the chance to forget or run out of or lay them aside is sometimes when I appreciate them most. Like I said earlier, part of what I enjoy about this poem is how it feels more experiential than verbal. There is graciousness to a medium that lets you forget its existence for the sake of worthy experience.