Sometimes our opening poem offers so many resonant phrases that women end up weaving them throughout their own writing. Other times, single phrases just seem made to describe an inmate’s current situation or feeling. Mary Oliver’s poem elicited both responses last Thursday evening at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington VT.
Women were invited to write a letter of reconciliation as if it had happened; or to reflect on what they wished to tell someone they had wronged (or had wronged them). Regardless of whether women write to the suggested prompts or simply take off on their own trajectory, the writing becomes a powerful link between their outer and inner realities. Often this link is invisible until the words are spoken and reflected back by the intent listeners around the table. Other times, a woman’s head nods in recognition even as she pens the words onto the page.
Sometimes the writer needs to spell out her pain to help her find a way out of it. At others, the reflection on what was can lead to resolve to do better in future. Read on and see for yourself:
Lightly she speaks of cold, of pain, and lists what is already lost. – Mary Oliver, ‘A Letter from Home’
My best friend, yet my worst enemy,
I let you control me and run my life. I turned to you for comfort and to escape . . . You eased my pain when I hurt and were always there when I needed you. But slowly, I allowed you to take everything I ever loved and cared about. I allowed you to take my soul. You tricked me into believing I couldn’t live without you and made me put you before everyone and everything else in my life. Blindly I lost my life before my very eyes. My life revolved around you . . . I lost my job, my family, my friends, my home and most of all, my children. All because of you. I had nothing other than you left to lose. And now, I’ve finally lost you, too. I have the power over you now and I never want you back in my life. I’ve felt a sense of freedom I haven’t felt in a long time. My mind is clear. Now it’s time to earn back the things I’ve lost . . . Be in my children’s lives, not just physically but emotionally and mentally. . . hold a job and earn a living, find a new place to call home and most importantly, learn who I really am without you. I’ve got a long road ahead of me, but I’m willing to do what it takes to get there. And I know as long as I don’t allow you back in my life, I will succeed.
* * *
She will not tell me if she cries
though she cries in silence.
She cries of pain, of sorrow.
She cries of joy, of light.
With so much on her plate,
so much to decipher,
so much to work out,
She cries when he whispers sweet nothings.
She cries when her children say goodnight
from a place not her own.
She cries when making love
wondering when this joy will fade.
She cries in the night when thinking
about her past mistakes,
about her shame and guilt.
She cries when she looks to the future
and wonders ‘will I ever get it right?’
She cries in the day, when he’s gone
to work and she cleans the house.
She cries wondering ‘when will this love leave me?’
She cries when she thinks of her friends
she’s lost along the way,
for pain, grief and loss of many souls.
She cries for the joy of laughs and love,
for the memories of gold.
She cries when the cold is looming in
and she shivers when she sees her breath.
She cries when the day is long
and when the sun is beaming through.
She cries when she feels the prick of a needle
and wonders when this all happened.
She cries when the drug enters the vein
like the venom of a snake’s bite.
She cries ‘for Heaven’s sake
make this all go away!’
She cries when she hears the cry of a babe
so innocent, and full of life.
She cries wondering how it all went wrong.
She cries for life’s end
for she thinks of it every day.
She cries when she’s had enough.
But she will not tell me if she cries.