Writer’s Workshop: Jeana Edelman
Selections from Jeana Edelman at the writer's retreat at Lee Kelly's studio
The First Morning
The morning birds have a whole society going that we aren’t part of. Or they think we are a flock resting together for a while and will most of us go in all directions later on as the day rolls to cool again. We sit around tables pushing gently words out, climbing gingerly into a wilderness inside each mind.
More attention to the heart where beats speed and slow, and where moisture spreads into red purple places, into burgundy and pinot noir, and light seeps in through cracks made in that mortar, widening as each rain runs through it, lighting more and more of the way over time. Breath out like you have gills on the sides, my teacher will say. Air and sea rush in, sand and oxygen and all, feeding the cells, washing the passageways, making way for even more light.
To the cavernous shadows a proclamation:
Advance your bravest soldiers!
Dare to reveal yourselves, drop your cloaks, turn them inside out to show your seams, marking the tales that are your life. In a whisper I say: there is no story, the tales you tell are old and common and everybody believes them to be their own, alone. It is heroic to make a new story from this mornings’ birdsong or find a new hero where your foot falls, in its gentle release towards earth, where it joins with the sponginess of all these days of rain. Wet, happy worms, slugs of all sizes, so many ants, and birds feast, as I gorge on their song.
Booming sound crosses enormous gaseous space
Then small houses were built and tiny fires kindled, kept in centers and in corners depending on the round or the square, cooking meats and roots
After the beginning birds eat berries and spread the seeds. Bees are busy with pollination though they hardly know it and are drunk, their bristly plump bodies heavily dusted with yellow and white.
Elsewhere wild dogs snarl, showing yellow teeth, and quivering, drooling.
I edge away somehow and run up the path.
The people now are resting in hammocks, they’ve made a slanted home with cooking fire at one end under a tent. Vegetables are cleaned and chopped and meat is added.
In the beginning all roads and pathways were uncharted. Then mapping was a dream then it became science. An ancient dream broke into chapters: the nomadic chapter, the cave dwellers, the floating tribe, the houses of bones and skin, the conquerors, teachers, show ponies, policemen. And all the while homemakers.
The dictator and the sheepherder, how can they be kin? The wild black eyes of the street dog fixated, intent, and the bowed and shaven pink dancer are kin.
In Bonnie’s Garden
Today water is running, many mosquitoes of wet spring, words strung over tree limbs like holiday lights. Sparks reminding every minute of its molten potential. Here and gone, as deep as the Mississippi Delta is wide, and holding as many languages as birds on that flat water skin and underneath where it’s shallow enough for a soft light to penetrate but deep enough to drown.
The families make nests, sitting together, entrenchments across time. All people, all the Sarahs and Johns in stories we tell our children, how we came to be here. One part myth, one part Sunday comics. Wrath and piety, a thundering god. The known and charted markers of a life, in years, a holiday, the essential DNA, like my father’s hands and these gloves. His hands were so massive yet his fingers were wide and nimble, they became frozen and died and the gloves remain in the toolshed. Something never leaves this world. A grandmother and a daughter, as the one expired the new one is born. So we take this family one step further, messing with mixtures of ourselves.
What do you say from your place in the wood? This grove of trees brought here and planted, then time for growing passed, now they shade the buildings and the iron totems in couplets or small groupings. There’s all the jargon, the learned language of form and process but thank god there’s more to it than that. There are whole alphabets that spell I love you, that say I am here and with my letters I spell LIFE, that you cannot deny me my poetry. Every inch of the words touched like stitching, so you must be alert at each spot, to make the seam right, the correct stitch though planned long ahead needs attention as each one is nothing but now. The sculpture converses with itself and the spaces of air, saying:
A few words
Chosen from the millions available
The Second Day
Do the same birds live in this grove, same as yesterday? The humans who are home here invite us in, surround us with their settlement like being able to view their thoughts from the inside. I see how steel giants, alphabets of heart language multiply over years to stand guard over this land. Whispering “still here still here still here,” and I’m listening for the particular respiration of this grove and its meadows. The three buildings that belong here offer containment for an exact family, a precise collection of souls. One comes to an understanding of what sets roots, and what is transient.
The air and the sound here explode the container that is my heart, prickly sensations go up and down my arms and into my belly. Invited to this place where living occurs and death when not resting is also fully alive. The pole straightness of the trees goes as far underground as arrows to the core of things, taking the pulse of this earth that courses through us and the many days of this land, the rivers of rain and source water, layers of spongy earth we will wish for come August, not believe in their eventual return, instead pick daisies from dry grass patches while looking for snakes on the trail.
The belly of the blackened stove devours boards and kindling, scraps of food and letters, their short lines consumed and made minimal but the memorized words actually grow in stature. Part mythic fury, I am in robes, with armies. Inside the corridors the sound of boot heels and tools echo, steel against steel, the sounds do disperse but never disappear, rather absorb into the stone and plaster to forever whisper back, still here still here still here.
Tribes come and go and the walls remain, needing patches if the society is fancy, only washed with mineral if the company rugged. We are somewhere in between. A shirt cloth is soft on my skin but the shoes clumsy, my stockings have holes, but the thread is saved. I don’t mind that, the decaying muslin and moth ridden silk, its ancient beauty calls through a dream. I have that dream, where we stand before god and man. Before me he is always bare. Sounds of love making are not absorbed into the walls, but escape to the out of doors through window openings, cracks and under doors, to life that springs and dies as the seasons shift, birds nest and babies are born with steam issuing from another world and into a colder place.