For Wednesday, October 28, 2015:
“Poetry puts starch in your backbone so you can stand, so you can compose your life.”
My mother used to have a rich and vivid dream life, one she relied on, one she would often write about. When she had to undergo chemotherapy, though, her dreams seemed to dry up. One day she was in such despair she was almost in tears. In a flash of insight or intuition, I made a suggestion. Instead of her usual pre-sleep habit of doing crossword and other word puzzles, I recommended that she read poetry. We had a large and varied library of poetry books and collections, so she had plenty from which to choose.
The next morning she came out smiling. The first words out of her mouth were, ‘I had some dreams last night! I don’t remember much about them, but I know I dreamed.’ From then on, that became her new habit — and not just at bedtime. Sometimes she read poetry throughout the day, and it wasn’t long before she started writing poems herself. Though she wrote a lot during her life, and was a very good writer, she had never written her own poetry. Frequently her poems were based on the dreams that were once again a regular part of her life, sometimes they were just a few lines about the goings-on in the natural world she could see from her windows, some were humorous, some were poignant reflections about her journey with cancer.
If I’ve never done anything else right in my life, I know my seemingly simple suggestion was right for my mother at the right time. I believe it helped my mother compose what turned out to be the last several months of her life, and I often give thanks for that unsought and extraordinary insight.