national poetry month

2011 – Poem a Day #23

I’m not sure what you do once you’ve become so far behind in some areas that it’s apparent that you will not catch up, you must start over. It’s one thing if it only affects you and your world but when it affects others, there’s a giant heap of guilt on top of everything else. Do I first do the things that need doing or do I forgive myself for not doing them in the first place?

Poem a Day #23

Being behind
has become the way I define myself
not that there’s too much to do
but that I’m not doing what I need to be doing.

I need a new dictionary

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 23, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |5 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #22

I’ve spent the last few days going through 15 years worth of Horn Book Magazine, ripping out articles, quotes and mostly, artwork for a special collage project. The process has tossed me backward, to my early writer years when I wanted to do it all, write it all. The energy level I had back then was different, fueled mostly by manic moments.

Poem a Day #22

I used to be haunted
by voices of characters
begging me to tell their stories
making me ignore a lot of things
that shouldn’t be ignored
in order to put words on the page.

Then it got silent
in my head.

In my heart
I worried
perhaps the lack of haunting
meant the characters had moved on to
someone else,
someone
who could give them the attention they deserved.

I hear differently now
not in such a rush
not in such a race
no need to trap the stories before they unravel.

I trust less and more
at the same time
I still listen to the voices
but I listen with my heart
instead of frantic fingertips
no longer worrying
about the silent spaces.

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Friday, April 22, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |4 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #21

I can’t remember where I read this but I’ve come across versions of it a couple of times in recent reading….the idea that memories we access more often are more likely to be corrupted than memories that are more pristine. ( , was it you that posted something about it?) As I continue to mine my past for a couple of current WIPs I have begun to wonder how corrupted some of my own memories may have become.

Poem a Day #21

I’ve been so sure of my  memories
until now
now when yesterday’s hurt
runs into today’s doubt
I wade into a sea of what-ifs

what if it didn’t really happen
or not the way I’ve always told myself

what if the embroidered edges of my memories
make it the same
but different
worse than reality
less than ideal

what if I have to let go of my righteous anger
and let the past collapse into the dust that birthed it

what if who I thought I was
is someone different
from who I am trying
to become?

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 21, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |9 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #20

Looking for directions to get out of my own way.

Poem a Day #20

I think too much.

Instead of
letting words spill
across the page
letting words fall
out of order
letting words run
their own races
I think too much
and the ink
in my brain pen
dries up.

I want to channel my inner
Annie Lamott
and write those
crappy first drafts,
the kind where you can mix your tenses like a tossed salad
and place those damn modifiers anywhere you want
but I think too much
and my fingers freeze
like an old woman with arthritis
and the trapped words
grow like barnacles beneath my skin.

I wonder
if I am trying to protect myself
from the world
or maybe it is the world
that needs protecting
from all I might say
if only I wouldn’t think
so damn much.

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |9 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #19

Sometimes it’s not a matter of learning what you need to know but understanding that you just need to be who you already are.

Poem a Day #19

There was a girl
who didn’t know a lot of things
but she knew how to feel
big feelings
and how to let the ink
spill across the page
showing the world how much
she didn’t know
and in the spilling
of ink her wisdom
grew.

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |2 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #18

If you haven’t already seen Brené Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability, you need to go watch it now. Really. After watching it you might want to order one of her books. I highly recommend both of them but my favorite is The Gifts of Imperfection. So much of the creative world I live in is centered around feedback from others – is my work good enough to publish, to exhibit? Will I get reviewed and if so, will the review be any good? I admire those creatives who are able to say screw the rest of the world, I’m creating what I want to create. I can do it sometimes but not always.

But after reading Brené’s books I realize there are more ways to seek that approval than just with publishing. It’s all around me and I’ve become hyper-aware of it, maybe too aware of it, because I find myself hesitating to do things, to say things, because I don’t know if it will be perceived as trying to call attention to myself. As with everything else, I suppose it is a balancing act and I will have to go too far the other direction and then pull myself back to the center.

Chasing worthiness
want to quit that full-time job
my ego screams NO

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Monday, April 18, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |3 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #17

Behind again. A haiku from yesterday.

monkey flower blooms
beside the unfurling fern
can you hear me laugh?

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 17, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |5 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #16

Allergies slowed me down yesterday so I didn’t get this posted.

Poem a Day #16

I find it hard to take things
on faith alone.
I want proof that slowing down
being in the moment
is worth the investment of my time.

Today I follow the dog
down the garden path that ends
near the glider
where she sniffs the sage.

One ceanothus, still in bloom,
calls dozens and dozens of
bees to dance between
the blue blossoms.

Fat bumblebees
fuzzy carpenter bees
industrious honey bees
and bees that look like flies.

I stand still
let bees buzz all around me
and listen to the concert
I almost missed.

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 16, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |6 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #15

I am horrible about falling into the “compare” trap when talking about progress on a project. If I’ve written 100 words, someone else has done 500. If I manage 1,000, someone else has done a chapter. It’s discouraging to me so I find that I have to pull away from reading a lot of what my friends are doing. This is even worse when I am working in verse because word counts and chapter counts, well, they don’t count up the same. So I am trying to celebrate a poem a day. More is good. More is great. But more doesn’t always happen and that’s okay.

Poem a Day #15

one well-written poem
(no chapters, word or page counts)
a productive day

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Friday, April 15, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |10 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #14

In the weekly poetic reading/exercises that I am doing with Laura Salas I find that some weeks are easier than others. This week’s was one of the toughest for me and yet, once I made myself do it, I learned a lot. People say that if there is no joy in the writing you should just stop writing. Yesterday, today, there was much joy and I am grateful.

Poem a Day #14

Yesterday I challenged myself to call up
an old poem and listen carefully
to the sounds of the story
it spilled upon the page.

Unable to imagine success, I resisted,
like a child unwilling to take a nap.
The task was hard and made my brain hurt
in places that felt unused.

I forced myself
if only to keep from being embarrassed
when I had nothing to show
for the day.

Surprise tapped me on the shoulder
and I was face-to-face
with my old friend joy,
the one that comes with word play.

My pulse raced, just a little,
and though it was time to break for dinner
I found I couldn’t stop
I didn’t want to stop
I had to write just one more word.

I couldn’t hold the high for long,
just long enough
to create a crack, in the concrete,
of my storyteller’s soul.

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 14, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |7 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #13

The concept of being here in the moment is easy to grasp. It’s the action that keeps tripping me up. But I keep trying because I think the trying is where a lot of the learning is going on.

Poem a Day #13

Be here now
seems like such a little thing to do,
and yet a thousand times a day
my mind falls backward, like a car on a hill
when you forget to set brake,
and worries from the past
charge up to meet me.

Other times that crazy mind of mine
races forward, like a runaway horse,
for uncharted but always scary territory.

I think I’m finally
(okay, just beginning)
to understand that
be here now
is not a destination like a finished painting
or the completion of a manuscript,
it’s a never-ending  journey
away from
back to
face-to-face with
not who I was
not who I am meant to be
but who I am
here
right now.

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |10 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #12

Today I was remembering a rubber band experiment about resistance. The idea behind it was that if two people are both pulling on a rubber band and neither one gives in, the rubber band is going to break and someone is going to get hurt. But if you move toward the resistance, give into it, the resistance goes away.

A friend asked me if perhaps the reason I was fighting so much with myself was that I was due for a change….that perhaps my writing would take place alongside (instead?) of something else. I had no answer for her question but it did give me something juicy to think about. What if I gave in to my resistance? What would happen then?

Poem a Day #12

I can’t help but wonder
if maybe this path I’m on,
this path I’ve walked for so many years,
is not the path I’m meant to walk forever

It’s not like I know where to turn
or what else to do
or even if I want to but still
I can’t help but wonder

what would I become
and would I even recognize myself
walking toward me on another path?

© 2011 Susan Taylor Brown. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |2 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #11

I am learning to be comfortable in my silence which in turn, is helping me understand how much I have to say that is worth saying.

Poem a Day #11

Sometimes,
on those days when the voices in my head
are louder than the voices on the page,
silence scares me.

Sometimes,
when I listen not only to the space between the words
but to space that echoes from words left unspoken,
silence understands me.

Sometimes,
when I remember that saying nothing at all
can be as powerful as shouting at the top of your voice,
silence comforts me.

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Monday, April 11, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |5 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #10

This poem is late to the table because there is some serious thinking going on in my brain. I’m looking for the off switch. Time to stop thinking quite so much.

Poem a Day #10

I’ve read just about every kind
of “how to do it” book you can read
when it comes to writing,
even if I can’t remember who said what.

I think I’ve absorbed a lot over the years.

How to write mostly boils down to
write what you know or write
what you want to know,
just pick one and get to work.

The how to write isn’t as hard as
the making yourself sit down and do it.
The world will keep on spinning
even if you never write another word.
Really.

You really just need one thing to write,
you need to want it bad.

It’s the wanting that makes it so.
It’s the wanting that makes it real.
It’s the wanting that fuels the doing.

What I forget is that wanting isn’t a thinking thing,
it’s a heart thing.
Wanting to write isn’t based on any logic,
it is born from the need to connect,
one writer, one story, one word
a bridge,
from heart to heart.

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 10, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |2 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #9

I found that last year, writing the poems about the father I never knew took a tremendous amount of energy, creative and emotional, energy from me. It was draining. It was inspiring. And at the end, it was healing. I am a talker who never really gets to talk enough. So this pondering out loud is my way of talking and trying to use up all that energy until I don’t need it for this anymore and I can move on to something else.

Poem a Day #9

I read once that if you have a hole in your story
you should point to it, over and over again,
the idea being that if you pointed enough times,
it would disappear and cease to be a hole.

So when people ask me why it is I can’t seem
to quit talking about things or move on past things,
at the speed they think I should be moving on,
well, I just tell them I’m pointing to the hole,
hoping it will fill itself up by the time I’m done talking

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 9, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |4 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #8

Today has been more pondering about my struggle to write or struggling to not write or struggling to not care what other people think about what I want to write. Just some rough haiku as I try to move through the muddled part of my brain.

falling on deaf ears
my words, pulled from my soul, yes,
my heart breaks again

my heart breaks again
stories stagnate within me
this is what I fear

this is what I fear
doubt wins too many battles
words unwritten wait

words unwritten wait
happily ever after
more than just a dream

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Friday, April 8, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |4 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #7

I know that no matter what I write there will always be people who like it and people who don’t, people who think I meant one thing when I meant another, and people who will be able to see straight through to the heart of me in my work.

One of the struggles I have had of late has concerned my love of writing free-verse and verse novels and my continual worries about what the rest of the world thinks of verse novels and whether my type of writing is actually poetry or prose with line breaks or something else. It has stopped me in my tracks and caused me to doubt myself before I even get the words on the page.

I don’t know how to conquer this fear, I really don’t. But I know I can’t let it win. I can’t let it stop me from writing what I love to write.

Is it a poem because it rhymes
(Seussian or otherwise)
or perhaps because the lines fall to expected feet,
scanned to please the ear?

Is it a poem because of the hours I spent to find just the right word
to craft just the right sentence
to show you how the green gold of the hummingbird’s chest
was the exact color of my great grandmother’s brooch?

Or is it a poem
just because
I say
it is a poem?

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 7, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |6 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #6

I know many people say, and they are right to do so, that the joy is in the process of writing, not in the sale. But truth be told, once you’ve made a sale or two or three, it’s hard to focus on process instead of product. At least for me.

Before I’d ever heard of query letters or a synopsis
or even dared imagine the possibility
of signing with a New York agent,
I used to sit on the stoop of cement in my garage
and write exactly the kind of stories
I liked to read.

I didn’t have a market guide
or a critique group
and SCBWI was just a bunch of
mixed up letters from the alphabet.

Before I ever sold a single book
I didn’t wonder how many copies it would sell
or when I would earn back my advance
or whether the reviewers would be kind
if they decided to review it at all.

The Internet was still a dream
to be unfurled
so there were no worries about
blogs or websites or social media status updates.

I wrote because it made me happy
to imagine the child I used to be
in the stories I told myself.
I wrote because figuring out what happened next
was more fun than a crossword puzzle
or learning how to knit.
and I wrote because when I didn’t write,
I was (according to my kids) grumpy
until I once again picked up a pad and pen.

I don’t want to go back in time
or undo what I’ve done over the years
but I want to find a way to remember what it felt like
to sit on that cement stoop scribbling on that green steno pad
plotting stories for no one but myself.

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |12 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #5

Painting kept me in the here and now. In ten and fifteen minute increments I could focus on colors and textures and forget about writing. Except I could never really forget. Not completely.

Two more haiku

untold stories wait
while silence overwhelms me.
at my desk, I weep

I am a writer
who does not write, undefined,
who am I now?

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |6 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #4

I’ve always been one of those writers who said they “heard voices” and didn’t see pictures. I could tell you how my characters felt but not what they looked like. Even my dreams were primarily auditory and not visual.

During my month of play I gave myself the same sleep intention every night, “What stories should I tell?” I didn’t even mention a character’s name because I didn’t want to influence my subconscious. For a few weeks I had no response. None in my dreams and none in one of those moments of inspiration that come when you least except it. I just kept on doing what I was already doing. I couldn’t say that I trusted the process, I just hadn’t invested anything emotionally in a particular outcome.

After a few weeks of practicing mixing colors and playing with various texture techniques, I was surprised to find myself thinking in pictures and not words. Now considering my fears around not writing and wondering if I would ever write again, this might have made me even more afraid that my silence was permanent and not just a passing pause. But instead I found it invigorating. Laying in bed, waiting to fall asleep and I would wonder what would happen if added a glaze of burnt sienna or dripped some India ink across the half-finished collage that waited on my desk. I saw myself grabbing a handful of colorful papers and gluing them willy-nilly and watching a sunset explode in front of me.

Making art was changing the way my brain worked.

A pair of haiku for today.

Scheherazade
paints tales only I can hear
when I close my eyes

silence sits with me
I am unafraid. Art sings,
colors hold my hand

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Monday, April 4, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |7 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #3

I spent a lot of my play time thinking and a lot of my thinking time wondering, where did the silence I was feeling come from? Even after a month of pondering, I’m still not sure I know. I cannot remember a time when words hadn’t been there to save me when I wasn’t strong enough to save myself so this silence, this utter inability to put words to the page frightened me, as though a part of me had died, but was still trapped inside. I’ve always been a rule follower. I like to know the expectations the world has for me so I can meet and exceed them. But I never thought about the expectations I should have (if any) for myself.

Women, mothers, daughters – so many of us are conditioned to take care of the rest of the world before we take care of ourselves. A month of play seemed totally selfish, decadent, frivolous and at times, just plain crazy. Much of the first week I wandered around the house not doing anything except to pause every so often to slap some paint on the page or watch an art video. I picked things up and put them down again. I didn’t know how to be still, how to be in the moment, how to let my mind and body tell me what it needed me to hear.

I have always had an overwhelming need for silence. It’s the introvert in me. But this was more than usual. I craved intense and immense silence. I watched the art videos with the sound off. I couldn’t listen to music. And when I painted in those ten minute blocks I was thinking about nothing but paint on the paper. Blue on white. Yellow on blue. Scrape. Scratch. Twirl. The brush on the paper was the only sound I heard.

I soon learned that to paint you have to be in the moment. Paint dries too fast for you to do anything else. I don’t know how many books I’ve read on how to quiet your mind or how to learn to be more Zen but none of those lessons ever had the effect on me that paint on paper did. Paint. Here. Now.

How dare I
spend my day mixing multitudes of blues
wondering
which becomes the ocean’s murky depths
and which reflects the simple summer sky?
How dare I not?

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

Kidlitosphere Central has the master list of all the poetic events going on this month.

Sunday, April 3, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |6 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #2

I’m so used to feeling guilty about something (everything?) that I wasn’t quite sure how to approach a month of play. Since I have fallen in love with collage and art journaling I decided to devote March to art. I had signed up for a couple of online classes over a year ago and finally got around to trying the first lessons. I watched video after video on YouTube. I read art blogs. I was ready to dive in. Except.

Except that I soon discovered artists have to deal with some of the very same things writers have to deal with – such as the blank page.

I had a stash of blank books (much to beautiful to write in or use for art but I had them, that was the main thing, right?) and I pulled one out and stared at the blank pages. I was just as blocked on the art side as I was on the writing side. Back to reading blogs and watching videos and going back through my notes from class. One message came through – if you don’t know what to do, slap some paint on the page. You can come back and do something pretty with it later. So I resolved that every time Cassie rang the bells to go outside (my art desk is across from her patio door) I would sit down and slap some paint, any color I grabbed, onto the page. I’d worry about what I’d do to the pages later. The 10 minutes Cassie spent outside was just enough to get the paint down and then let her back in the door.

I remember my painting teacher telling me that she had painted 40 backgrounds in her art journal before she painted one she actually liked. Just like with writing (or anything) the more we do it, the better we get at it but it had been so long since I had been a beginner at anything. I hadn’t even begun to think about second and third layers of paint. I couldn’t believe how hard it was for me to do something so simple, just cover a page in a single color.

The brush feels awkward in my fingers,
like one of those too fat pencils
we had to use in kindergarten,
and I wish I could call back that child
I used to be to hold my hand.

With spastic jerks, I push paint across the page.
I cannot count the times I drop the brush, landing
blobs of paint on the desk, my jeans, my shirt
and more than once, my chin.

The teacher makes it look so easy,
the way her brush waltzes across the page,
she spins paint into corners, pulls it back to the center,
long strokes, short strokes and then, in no time she is done,
and damn it all, she is still smiling.

Purple. Red. Yellow. Pink. Just paint
Two pages, five, eleven.
Blue. Green. Turquoise. (Hey, I mixed that.)
Don’t think. Don’t count. Just paint.

Over one hundred pages later
I hold my most favorite brush,
gently move paint across the page
and realize, I have finally learned to dance.

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

This is one of the four art journals I prepped during the month of March. All those juicy pages waiting for me add to them.

Kidlitosphere Central has the master list of all the poetic events going on this month.

Saturday, April 2, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |8 Comments

2011 – Poem a Day #1

Yay! It’s time for National Poetry Month when the Poetry Lovers unite across the blogosphere to share their love of poetry. Last year I wrote a poem a day about the father I had never known. It was an incredible emotional journey for me. I struggled to find a theme for this year, especially since my writing has not been going well. In fact the writing was going so “not well” that I decided to take the month of March off from all writing and try to do something I don’t know how to do very well – play.

For most of the month of March I have been learning the basics of painting backgrounds for my collages. Everything was foreign to me – the kinds of paint, the kinds of paper, the kinds of brushes, even how to hold the brush was a new adventure. I’ve learned some things about art which led me to learning some things about writing which led me to learning some things about myself.

For National Poetry Month I’m going to look back at my month of play and try to distill some of what I’ve learned into poems. I’m not promising final, finished and polished drafts. Just another emotional honest journey through my life.

Guilty fingers poke and prod,
pushing me toward something
that I don’t know
if I really know
how to do anymore.

The lack of words steals my voice,
the soul of what once defined me.

No longer a beginner
I cannot rely on hope
to bring me to the page.

I close my eyes

I am undone.

I am silent.

Susan Taylor Brown.
All rights reserved.

To see all the poetic events going on this month, check out this link at Kidlitosphere Central.
Amy, at The Poem Farm, has the Poetry Friday round-up.

Friday, April 1, 2011|Categories: National Poetry Month 2011, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , |13 Comments

Family Stories

Here we are, at the end of National Poetry month and this is my last poem in the series about my father. I wasn’t quite sure what would happen to me during this month but I knew that I would be changed by the experience because that’s what writing does, it changes you. What I was hoping for was to find a way to finally heal, after all these years, and let go of any of the anger and frustration I have had at the man who was my father only in the biological sense. I’m tired of carrying all that hurt around. It’s a heavy load and it slows me down. I’ve tried to let go of it all before and never had much luck but this time, things were different. I could tell that right from the start.

These have all been first draft poems written late at night after I’ve forced myself to sit still and quietly revisit those old hurts. I don’t have a lot of memories so as the month went on, it got a little more difficult to mine the past for new poems but somehow, every night, something bubbled up that needed remembering so it could be put to rest. I didn’t revise the poems or sit on them overnight so often, in the morning, there were mistakes in grammar, bad line breaks, even a few facts I got wrong – all stuff that needed fixing. Normally the idea that I’ve been posting poems with mistakes in them would make me cringe but this time, I was okay with it because in the writing of every poem I’ve been feeling myself heal. There’s a scar, there always will be, but I no longer feel defined by the fact that I grew up without a father. I am who I am because of the things I’ve done in my life, the choices I’ve made, and while I am far from perfect, I’m pretty happy with how I turned out.

For all of you who read and posted comments and sent me emails offering support on this emotional journey, I thank you. I could feel you all holding me up when I was trying so hard not to fall apart. And for those of you who read but didn’t comment, I could feel you there too. Really.

So here’s my final poem of the series with an afterward worthy of an after-school special movie.

FAMILY STORIES

I grew up a lonely, only child in a
neighborhood of other people’s grandparents.

Imaginary friends kept me company in my attic bedroom
except for those few weeks during summer vacation
when grandkids came to visit
up and down the street.

What I wanted as much
or maybe even more than a father
was a sense of family,
of feeling like I belonged,
a chance to find myself
in the faces of my family.

My mom and I
were the only Webbs I ever knew
and I felt the absence of that family
nearly every day.
It didn’t seem to matter to me
if they were good or bad
what mattered
was that they were someplace
that I wasn’t and for the longest time
I translated that in my mind
to mean that I was less than everyone else.

I learned to tell stories by watching television
and rewriting the endings of my favorite shows
when I was supposed to be asleep.
I’d hide under the covers
and rearrange the scenes in my head
so the star of the show had to search for someone,
a missing daughter
a missing sister
a missing someone,
who always
turned out to be me.

All I ever wanted
was to write a happy ending
to my family history.

I think I’ve finally figured out
that family stories are different for everyone
and it’s up to you to do the research
to fill in the blanks
of what you don’t know
and then rewrite your story
so it all comes out
just the way you want it to.

Who I am
is not because of him
or in spite of him.

Who I am
is because of me
because of all I have experienced
because of all I have done (and not done)
because of the choices I have made
to live the life I am living.

Who I am
just fine
just right
just who I am
supposed to be.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

How poetry, Google, and Craigslist helped me find the family I never knew I had

And now, the rest of the story, or more specifically, how poetry, Google, and Craigslist helped me find the family I never knew I had.

In November of last year I wrote about finding my father’s obituary. It was an odd feeling to find him but to not be able to talk to him. Thanks to the Internet and Google I was able to use some of the information in the obituary to get a pretty good idea of where my aunts were living but I didn’t do anything with the information. They were old and I was scared. How do you suddenly drop into someone’s life and announce yourself as a relative? What if they yelled at me? So I decided to do nothing. I’m good at that.

Along came National Poetry Month and I had the idea to explore my relationship with my father through poetry so that I could finally make peace with it all and then move on. After I had posted the first few poems I was contacted by Diane Main, a local teacher, who had read my poems and been moved by my story. And it turned out that this teacher had a passion for something of her own, genealogical research. She offered to see what she could track down about my father’s family.

In no time at all she located my father’s half-sister living only an hour away from. She had been given up for adoption by my grandmother but had the opportunity to correspond with her mother/my grandmother, before my grandmother’s death. I sent my aunt a link to some pictures I had of my parents wedding and in the set was a picture of me as a toddler taken in front of the Christmas tree at the car dealership where my mother worked. My aunt recognized the car dealership because she had grown up her entire life living right next door to the owner! My mother, when asked, remembered my aunt’s parents but had no idea that their adopted daughter was related to me.

You can read more of Diane’s side of her research for me here.

Each night while I worked on my poems Diane worked on my family tree. She found one Webb after another. My aunts and uncles. My great grandparents. Suddenly I was surrounded by Webbs. But most of her research went backwards, toward the older and mostly dead Webbs.

That’s when I thought of those names and cities and states I read in my father’s obituary. And I finally felt brave enough to try and make contact. Thanks to Google, I found the phone number for both of my aunts. I called the one that I knew my mom had met. And yes, my heart was pounding, wondering what I was going to say. I ended up just blurting out, “My name is Susan and I’m Tommy’s daughter.”

It was a wonderful conversation. She’d had some health issues so her memory wasn’t as great as I had hoped for back when my mom and her brother were married but she never once doubted me and she told me so many stories about my father’s childhood, stories that helped me make sense out of the type of person he had become. When she ran out of stories about my father I asked her about her mother, my grandmother. She paused and then said, “Well, she loved to write poetry.”

That was when I burst into tears. There is no one on my mother’s side of the family that has any inclination toward writing at all so this small piece of information touched me to the core. The next day I was still feeling pretty brave so I called my aunt Kitty and again I was greeted with open arms. She was able to tell me even more about my grandmother and she stopped every so often to call out the name of another relative. The following day I called my father’s widow Ruth and she was able to fill in a few more pieces, but not much, about him.

Until I called them, none of these people knew about me.

Aunt Kitty gave me phone numbers for three people that, until I read the obituary, I never knew existed. My two half-brothers and my half-sister. I tried my sister first but the phone number didn’t work. Then I tried my youngest brother. She had given me his cell phone but he had recently moved and she wasn’t sure if it would still be connected. It wasn’t. But for some reason I decided to put his cell phone number into Google. I’m not sure what I was hoping for but what I got was something I didn’t expect, an ad from Craigslist. He was selling some furniture and it had has cell phone listed and another number that I assumed was the house phone. The ad was fairly recent and I knew what city he was in so I looked up the area code and added it to the house phone and hit the send button on the phone.

I think I gave him quite a shock when he answered the phone and I told him we were related.

We had a nice talk and then he gave me my sister’s phone number so I could finally talk to her. And that was the best conversation of all. We laughed. We cried. She said, “I took a nap and I was the oldest in the family and I wake up and I have an older sister.”

Lori and I have been piecing together our joint history. The most surprising discovery has been that her mom knew about me all my life but us kids were all kept in the dark. Since then I’ve made contact with my brother’s wife, cousins, second cousins, and a whole lot of Webbs. My brother sent me pictures of my siblings and my father’s widow and cousins have sent me pictures of my father.

Back in 2005 I wrote about a dream I had about my father and how in that dream, he gave me a gift. And now, five years later, I think I understand. It wasn’t in him to be there for me but through him I now have that family connection I’ve been searching for all my life.

All because I wrote some poems about something that mattered to me. Poetry can change your life. No doubt about it.

Friday, April 30, 2010|Categories: Family, National Poetry Month 2010, Poetry Friday|Tags: , , |59 Comments

What You Missed Knowing About Me

WHAT YOU MISSED KNOWING ABOUT ME

I like meat and potatoes
better than fruits and vegetables
and I can’t stand it
when the juice from the green beans
runs into my mashed potatoes.
I used to take a paper napkin
and roll it into long, skinny tubes
that I could use to separate my food.

Books were always my best friend
and I could navigate our entire house
while reading
and never run into anything.

One summer I hammered nails
into the apricot tree,
hoping it would die
so no one would ever make me try to eat one again.

School came easy for me
and teachers liked me
because I always did my homework
and volunteered to answer
even when no one else would raise their hand.

Even though I was short
I ran the hurdles on the track team
and I ran fast.

I got booed
when I tried out
for chorus
and the school play
and the fashion show.

Dance lessons and piano recitals
were okay
but what I loved most was
roller skating and horses.
I was good at skating
and not so great at riding horses.

I’ve been afraid to go to sleep all my life.

When you add it all up
I was just an ordinary kid
but I was your ordinary kid,
and that’s
who you missed
knowing.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Alone Again

ALONE AGAIN

In the day time
he worked at a gas station fixing cars and pumping gas
but in the evenings
he got cleaned up and left my mom
home alone
so he could go out dancing with other women.

How good he
was at hurting
both of us
by not being there.

I don’t know what the final straw was
for her, the ice cubes or the angel food cake,
(not my stories to tell)
but one day while I was still growing in her belly
she said enough
and moved out, back to the safe cocoon of her parents home
across the street from his mother’s house.

I wonder if he ever came to see his mother
and maybe glanced across the street
where his soon-to-be ex-wife lived,
with me still growing in her belly, waiting to be born
and thought about coming to see her,
trying to fix what was broken between them.

Probably not.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Autobiography

AUTOBIOGRAPHY

The first week of school
Mr. MacComber made us write our autobiography
even though most of us  hadn’t done anything more exciting
than go to the state fair over summer vacation.

We went through each year of our life
trying to remember something significant enough
to be recorded for all time.

I wrote about my father not being there
and how his not being there
left a giant hole in who I thought I was
and who I thought was supposed to be.
I wrote about how I felt like a freak,
different from everyone else,
because I was the only person I knew
who had never met their dad.
And I wrote about how sometimes
thinking about him made me want to scream
and sometimes it made me want to run away
and try to find him.

Mr. MacComber gave me an A
because I was good at writing
but then he wrote a long note
telling me I might need to go see a shrink
because it sounded like I needed some help.

But he didn’t say it like that.

He said I was mentally unbalanced
and he recommended psychiatric help.

The rest of the school year
Mr. MacComber kept watching me
like he expected me to fall apart
in front of him and the entire class.

I fell apart a little bit every day
but it was on the inside
where no one could see.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

What I Wanted Him to Say

WHAT I WANTED HIM TO SAY

I should have called
I should have written
I should have done something
to let you know I was thinking about you.

I thought about you every day
and wondered if you were happy
and tried to imagine your smile.

When I saw other little
blond-haired blue-eyed girls
my heart always caught in my throat
because they reminded me
of you.

Every day on your birthday
I paused to think of you
and hoped you would feel it.

I’m sorry I missed so much of your life,
missed getting to know you,
missed hearing you call me daddy.

Most of all, I’m sorry I hurt you
and ever made you feel that
my not being with you
meant you weren’t a good person.

That’s what I wanted him to say
and I think I could believe it,
all of it,
unless he tried to tell me
how much he loved me
because then I’d know
that everything he said before
was just a lie.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

In My Dreams

IN MY DREAMS

Sleep rarely came easy to me
so I made up stories
about how my father traveled
the world doing important work
and how one day, soon, he would
come back to find me.
My audience of stuffed animals,
crowded around me on the bed,
listened intently and never disagreed
with my expectation of his return.

My mother came before she went to bed
and tucked me in real tight,
Snug as a bug in a rug, she said
leaving me trapped beneath the crisp, cotton sheets
unable to run from the bad dreams ahead,
the nightmare that he came back
in the middle of the night not to stay,
but to steal me away from my mother, my grandmother
the only life and family
I had ever known

I’d wake up screaming
and my mother would run to me
but I could never tell her
my dream.

I wanted him in my world.
I didn’t want to go into his.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved