That First Line

In the last post I explained the framework I work within. In this post I want to parse, take apart, the first quatrain to explain to others what I am doing and to give myself a chance to find what I missed the first time around. There are always surprises and a close read is informative if not generally comfortable. Ok, begin the parse.

How do I get that first line on to that empty page? How in all the world of words do I find the exact eight syllables I need? The answer has to be found in language which allows us to talk to each other and to ourselves.

A language’s function is to communicate and, mostly, linguists agree on five systems or rules that must be in place before people can understand each other. Roughly these are:
* sounds: All English speakers must agree that the letter ‘r’ represents the sound ‘arrrrrrr’ and not ‘esssssss’ otherwise there is extreme confusion over whether ‘sink’ or ‘rink’ is the appropriate plumbing in your bathroom.
* meaning: Because ‘walk’ to one poor soul could mean ‘table’ to another.
* order/organization: A sentence such as: ‘The mouse ran up the clock’ without an agreed upon order could come out as ‘Up the the ran clock mouse’ and that does not lead to any understanding.
*rhythm/stress: Asking a question requires a different stress and rhythm than making a statement and many words change meaning when one syllable or another is stressed. CONtent means ‘the thing contained’ and ‘conTENT’ means ‘satisfied.’
* manner: We do not ask a two-year old for ‘restitution’, we say: ’Give it to me.’ Nor do we (hopefully) tell a judge: ‘liar, liar pants on fire’, we say: ‘I beg to differ, Sir.’
Sounds, meaning, order/organization, rhythm/stress and manner are all linguistic theory and not too helpful until we realize that poetry must also operate within these rules and that these rules are the help we need to find that elusive first line.

The unexpected death recently of a dear friend of mine has left me breathless, wrong-footed and afraid, desperately in need of poetry. And that is the answer to my first line, I need meaning to be my starting point. As an aside I use the word ‘death’ instead of the more euphemistic ‘passing’ because this was an abrupt stop (death) and not a slow release (passing).

Together we walked the lanes and paths of her nearly-wild Indiana farm with no specific purpose in mind other than to be with the sunlight in the woods, to feel the rustle of the wind in the grasses and to hear the calls of her beloved wild birds. Never worrying too much about the clock or where our feet were taking us almost wallowing in the otherness of it all.

Of course this loss hurts but I wonder why this goodbye has to hurt so much more. Is this act of saying goodbye only for this friend as I walk through the lanes of my memories or are there other lanes I have only now perceived? This fresh grief begins to echo with remoter griefs compounding them into a much deeper, denser sadness. And this question becomes: ‘whose goodbye lanes do I wander’

The second line: ‘where my heart lies loved and broken’ is a bit more straight-forward. My heart lies in these lanes where I loved and was loved, but love was the instrument that did the breaking.

And with the word ‘broken,’ I break with the meaning of the first two lines and shift to the question: ‘How long have I not known of these echoes and how have I kept them hidden?’ I numbed them with ice, constructed a box and threw away the key.
‘have I been so long locked frozen’

And this effort to separate myself from my grief has blocked my access to the excess of words I need. Poetry only happens when there are enough words to throw away recklessly until you find the precious few. My efforts at verse were ‘inept’ because of the sparseness of the words left to me.
‘inept without words to squander’

The first quatrain:

whose goodbye lanes do I wander
where my heart lies loved and broken
have I been so long locked frozen
inept without words to squander

I still have four other rules and I guess that means a few more posts.

1 thought on “That First Line

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