There’s a full moon over Hoover Dam, and we drive across in the dark from Nevada to Arizona and park. We walk back across even though no one is supposed to be on the dam after sunset. Nobody stops us or says anything. I’m in awe of this giant slide of concrete, built in layers and still curing, drying, strengthening even after more than 80 years. Smooth and pale next to the dark crags rising on either side to flank the Colorado River, the dam drops into shadow at the bottom. It seems almost like a living thing, massive and eerie, asleep. I lean over and tremble at what it would be like to fall silently down into its mouth. If I got too close, sat on the thick edge, what would stop me from slipping over? Why is it we humans think like that–find the fear, imagine the bizarre chance of circumstance, the tragic trajectory? To push back the edge of terror, like the dam pushes back the flood waters, I kiss my husband since it’s the top of Hoover Dam on a warm September night. But the creeping fear seeps through my dam and follows me out through the shadows looming and shrinking as we pass the watchful street lamps.
I’m digging for my voice,
Trying to unearth her,
Find a way up from the grave for her.
My fingers bleed into the dirt and the limestone.
It’s rocky Arkansas soil,
and I’ve misplaced my pick axe and shovel.
I remember something:
a young man told me to dig deep into the hard ground
dig down to the bedrock,
find the foundation.
Maybe that’s where I’ll find her,
sitting on the bedrock,
waiting for me.
I’m a blue note,
a melancholy baby,
a glass-half-empty kind of girl,
the dissonant pitch,
the flatted fifth
added to the major scale,
a worried tone,
always singing black on white,
in a dark room.
a blue note
brings the rain &
bends the sound,
wets the ground,
walks it down.
Some days have need
Some folks have need
to sit and hold
to be sorry
a blue note.
I have stories inside of me.
They peek out from dark corners
like street urchins
sizing things up
looking to see if it’s safe to come out
or if there is anything worth coming out for.
I try to coax them,
welcome them close.
Like a barren woman
I want to cradle them,
even if for a moment,
but they dart and slide back
behind looming shadows.
I chase them until I’m breathless,
but they always disappear around corners.
I haven’t caught one long enough to look it in the eyes.
So I wait.
I remember the first time I knew I was a writer. I was 8 and on a long car ride home late at night. I laid in the back floorboard of my parents’ orange pinto station wagon so my 5 year old brother could sleep in the back seat. There were no seat belt laws. It was 1979, and I’m not sure there were even seat belts at all. I wanted something to occupy my mind, so I told myself a story. It was the perfect story for me, told just how I wanted it to be told. I thought it was the best story I’d ever known. Never mind that it was quite similar to another of my favorite stories about an old doll found by a little girl in a dusty attic (ahem, Raggedy Ann). I told it even better. And so, since my grandmother was a writer, I knew she’d help me. I wrote it all out by hand, and she typed it on her electric typewriter. Four and a half glorious typewritten pages, if I remember correctly. She showed me how she put my name and the page number in the corner of each page. She taught me about self-addressed stamped envelopes. She suggested I send it to a children’s magazine, Stone Soup. And so I did. I was rejected. I don’t remember being crushed because my grandmother thought my story was good. But I didn’t do it again. I kept writing, but I didn’t try publishing.
Still, I’ve identified myself as a writer since that time. I wrote for pleasure and gladly for assignments throughout school. I became an English major in college so I could do my favorite things: read and write. And then I went on to teach writing and literature to kids in school and later to my own children and their friends while homeschooling.
Now I am 47, and I realize I’ve studied writing and read books about writing and taught writing and thought about, and dreamed about writing more than I’ve written. I know all the reasons: the fear, the lack of discipline, the way I end up putting everything else before writing because it’s an extension of myself, and I have issues with self-care.
Knowing all that changed nothing. But then a friend, also a writer, asked me to be a “brave failure” with her and start writing. That was the language I needed. There’s nothing like another quaking soul being brave to inspire courage. So here I am, giving myself to writing practice, for real. It’s bound to be messy and weak and drafty. But brave failure is so much better than playing it safe.
A single strand of spider silk
stretches from roofline to porch rail,
a valiant, vulnerable endeavor,
no web to strengthen or encourage longevity,
just one shining jump
Now bowed with breeze,
this brave extravagance waits
for the world to see.
These words are draft and shadow.
I, too, am draft and shadow.
This world–but draft and shadow–
near riddle, if truth be told.
Nothing here imperishable or solid,
all changeable and fleeting,
but still a whiff of the exquisite,
of mysteries unfathomably real.
I’m drawn by draft,
sheltered in shadow.