In a feature titled Poets I Didn’t Study in School, PeacexPeace sheds light on the unsung poetry of conflict. And in a confluence of literary minds this National Poetry Month, Akhila Kolisetty prompted a reflection on the poets of our lives. In a notebook with a yellow straw chair on the cover, I capture the stanzas that caused a small gasp when I first read them. They range from words out of a newspaper article, to half a line from Mary Oliver, to dozens of verses out of Elytis’ The Monogram.
My childhood was a collage of setting out on the road to Ithaca and “να εύχεσαi να ‘ναι μακρύς ο δρόμος…“ and “nobody, not even the rain has such small hands.” Tucked onto a fridge in Washington D.C., I found Mary Oliver: “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.“ In the remainders basement of the Harvard Bookstore, Neruda came into my life. And at an outdoor bookstore in the Plaza de Armas of Havana, I met Benedetti: “te quiero porque tus manos trabajan por la justicia.”
Without Elytis, I wouldn’t know to look for the kind of love that poems are made of. “Tο γερτό παντζούρι εσύ, ο αέρας που το ανοίγει εγώ“ — “you the curved shutter, I the air that opens it.“ No man I have ever loved can read these words in their original and no translation I have ever found can carry their potent affection. And so, in dark rooms in Cairo and Boston and Jerusalem after midnight, I have often found myself mumbling about shutters and winds and “the waves have heard of you… how you caress, how you kiss, how you whisper the ‘what’ and the ‘eh'”. Sometimes I imagine a world in which I do not speak Greek and, instead, can merely imagine the kinds of words that define my companion’s literary ideal of a life well-shared.
It is appropriate that the first glimpse into my Jerusalem neighborhood last fall revealed that Yehuda Amichai park marks its border. I look for the poetic winks of the universe. I look for the poetry in life. I hunt for the days that rhyme and the extra syllable out of place that creates the spark.
J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons. I measure mine in photographs. I count the leaves in fields of shamrocks, the ballet flats that go two-by-two from dust to flowers.
I find poetry in trailing smoke, in the kebab smell in his hair. In the first bite, in the crumbs wedged in my chest.
In the empty nest by the window seat our books call home, and the egg that later fills it.
There is poetry to the mud that stings my face, the open palm of it on my back, the pruned toes after the first swim. The feet that slide out from under me to poke the Dead Sea surface. The red shoulder that protrudes out of a shirt sleeve.
I find poetry in the spring that has forgotten us and the tree that defies its absence.
In the turning of the pages, the sharpening of pencils, the dreaming of classrooms ahead and books to be read and – dare I? – to be written.
There is poetry – tragic poetry – to a dream crushed and the hope of restoration rising out of its ashes. There is poetry to silent dreaming; the stanza today cannot handle the whispering of wish outloud.
I find poetry to stringing words together and letting them carry you. Letting them float you when little else will.