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The Poetry in the Ordinary

December 10, 2010
Common Roots Cafe
Minneapolis

Disclaimer: I am not a poet. Never taken a poetry class, unless you count a poetry unit in high school.  So take my definition with a grain of salt:  Poetry is attention to the daily, ordinary moments in our lives. In other words, this very life we live is poetry.

You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some of it with you.  ~Joseph Joubert

This is why I write.  To harness the poetry in the ordinary.  To acknowledge and honor the divine, the weird, and the beautiful that exist every day, everywhere.

The following is the poetry in my day so far:

Here I sit, my egg (done “hockey puck-hard”) and cheese sandwich with tomato on a sesame bagel gone, my taste buds calling for more.  10:59.  Almost done with my mug of green tea.  I’ll rifle around in my bag for $.50 for a coffee refill.  If I only have a nickle and a penny, and I’m desperate, I’ll let those two coins clink into the little “refill” box and only pour half a cup. My socks are bunched up around my heels in my boots.  My stomach is sort of folding over my skinny jeans–it’s either PMS or all of the spritz cookies and wine I consumed last night at our annual wreath making party, though I didn’t make a wreath–I made a “kissing ball.” Greg and I decided it was so good, I should call it my “feel ‘em up ball.”

The defrost in our big, loud, old truck doesn’t work so well, but since I was almost late for work, I drove down the street peering through the little circle of window that wasn’t covered with crystalline frost, hoping that by the time I got to the highway, the circle would grow big enough without me being a big, loud, danger on the road.  However, I didn’t get but two blocks away before I noticed a state trooper driving behind me.  So I pulled over like a responsible driver, and since we didn’t have an ice scraper in the truck (though it’s December in Minnesota), I grabbed a mini-DV case and scraped the frost off the windshield.

It was 19 degrees outside.  I looked at the temp gauge in the truck after seeing a kid wearing a Russian-style hat and a red T-shirt.  He was so tough he didn’t notice the air billowing out of his mouth with every breath.  I was hoping he’d really drive the point home and make a snow angel.

I teach in a little, cell-like room in the center of an urban high school each Friday morning.  When I pass through the nursery on the way to class, I can see my students’ faces in their little babies.  I light a candle and burn nag champa to bring a little ambiance to the room.  I feel very honored to sit at a big square table with these teen moms and write about our lives.  Every morning before I teach, I pray to God to give me the words that they need to hear.  Sometimes when they share their writing or their thoughts, I have to blink away tears before they roll down my cheeks.

I hate the word “blog.”

On the way here, when I come to write this blog (yuck), I called Paul’s cell phone to check on Oliver, who was sick last night.  He didn’t answer, so I called again and again and tried to push out worried thoughts, like, “He’s not answering because he’s on his way to the hospital.”  Then Paul called me back two minutes later and I said, “It’s about time,” and he laughed and said, “Geez Janna.”

My friend Tony is coming here to meet me for a coffee.  I’ll have to rifle around for that $.50.  I’ve known Tony since high school when I used to walk back and forth along the path at Lake Harriet with my friend Sarah on Friday nights when we had nothing to do.  When I first met him, he was driving a big brown truck.  The first words he said to me were, “What the @&% are you looking at?”  One time, after we had become friends, he pinned me down and was threatening me with a drool of spit–he’d let it grow long out of his mouth and then suck it back up.  I was yelling at him to get the hell off me.  He thought he was so funny.  Then the drool grew too long to suck back up and it fell on my face.  With my fury came Herculean strength and I threw him off me.  He was sorry.  I didn’t speak to him for what felt like weeks anyway.

But the truth is, he saved my life.  He entered into my life at a time when I needed someone who I could just talk to and be myself around.   I used to sit on the counter of Olson’s Dairy where he worked and eat loads of candy and talk about how crazy my parents were.

Now decades later, we are still friends.

All of these things–these jumbled-up, inconsequential, ordinary moments–are what make a life.  And it’s the ordinary that becomes the poetry of our lives.

Breathe-in experience,
breathe-out poetry.
~Muriel Rukeyser

Writing Exercise: Write about your day–all of the things, the little, inconsequential things–that you have noticed today.  Be aware of how life filters through the senses, what you see, what you hear, what you feel, what you smell.  This is an exercise in heightening awareness.

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