Tripwire glistens in the morning sun
Spider's snare for the unaware
Revealed by drops of dew.
Oh! Such a play as this I've seen
Has yet to not annex my dream
Of a future waiting, lustrous and bright
Preparing itself for that one starry night
When all of the Fates of this world will gather
Weaving the strands of my life together
In an intricate pattern unique to the world
Unshrouded for all as it's slowly unfurled.
Today is my 39th birthday. The poem above was written by yours truly in high school, circa early 1990's. It was the first poem I ever wrote with true passion.
A year or two later, our school was fortunate enough to have a visit from the Poet Laureate of Illinois (Gwendolyn Brooks). She spoke to us and performed some of her work for the entire student body.
Prior to seeing and hearing her in person, the concept of poetry was a bit lost on me. I was improving in my form and structure, but aside from the poem above, I didn't really have much heart or passion in it. The art form had not yet come alive for me.
When Gwendolyn read her first poem, "We Real Cool," the words rose out of the book and took on a form of their own. Structure and rhyme dropped away to reveal a magical beauty of words. With each breath and elocution, the words danced before us, jangling like mischievous brownies or pixies.
With her low, powerful voice, she breathed these words to life:
We reeeeal cool. WE -
Left school. WE -
Lurk late. WE -
Strike straight. WE -
Sing sin. WE -
Thin gin. WE -
Jazz June. WE -
The emphases, the alliteration, the pauses - all of it took what had been flat words on a page and suddenly they were ALIVE! I had never seen or experienced poetry like this before.
Afterward, many of us lined up to talk with her and have her autograph our copies of her work. I didn't have any of her books, but I had my bag with me and the poem above was in it. So I pulled that out, and when it was my turn I apologized that I didn't have a copy of her books, but I'd be honored if she would sign one of my poems instead. She looked at me, looked at the paper, read the poem, looked at me again and said, "I want you to write to me." She then wrote, "To Karen, Keep on writing and reading EVERYTHING!" And signed it with her address.
A few years later, I heard recordings of Shel Silverstein performing "Where the Sidewalk Ends" and I was hooked. Here was the perfect playground for language, passion and sound, all in one place.
Listen to Gwendolyn Brooks here
(This recording is closest to the audio we heard that day. The person who posted the video is not a known relation of mine, even though we seem to share a last name.)
Listen to Shel Silverstein here
The one who's always hidden
Under the bowed head
Below the lowered eyelashes
Behind the large frame glasses
Inside the cloak of cheerfulness
Beneath the jovial socialite.
The one who loved and needed Love
And found herself halfway.
For Love is not a circle gift
Given with required return.
Like grits, it just is.
It just comes.
If I love you so you love me
That's a transaction.
Love is a gift.
And so, today, without any expectation
I give you what I have hidden.
I give you what I have protected.
I give you what others have tried to hurt.
I open my heart
And give you Love.