Warning: This post has reptiles. If slithering snakes give you the heebie jeebies, you may want to skip this one.
For my birthday this year, I went to see the Reptile Zoo in Monroe, WA. From this trip with my husband and six-year-old, I managed to squeeze a poem.
I suppose I should start by saying that poetry has been haunting me lately. It started when my friend Lorie Ann Grover posted that she’d be teaching at a poetry camp in Bellingham this October. The idea of it intrigued me and reminded me that, once upon a time, I thought poetry would be my thing. I considered signing up and then poetry was suddenly everywhere.
When I went to Seattle, I even saw it on the side of a bus demanding that I “Write a Poem” in letters so bold and big I could not ignore them. I gave in to the universe and registered to go to that camp. (Apparently, poetry on buses is a thing. It even has it’s own website.)
Then a free online class popped up in one of my newsletters. I began the course with Douglas Kearney at the California Institute of the Arts.
In the third module, I came up against the assignment to write a conceit–a metaphor that makes the reader stretch into the ridiculous. An example of this is The Flea by John Donne where the poet compares a parasite to the marriage bed. It would embarrass me to explain the connection but here is a clear explanation of what that far-from-prude Donne was going on about.
I thought of how I would write my own conceit and what sort of ridiculous connection I could make of my own and decided to tie together reptiles with poems since they seem so far apart and since I knew I would make the trek to Monroe.
I let those ideas hang loose in my mind as we made the hour and a half drive from our home through some seriously traffic infested areas of our state. I don’t remember where but somewhere along the line, I came on the idea of skin shedding and writing a poem. By the time we got to the zoo, I was set to look for more information on snakes and how I could use them in my poem.
I’ve said it before but one of the best parts of the writing life is the way it brings meaning and focus to every moment of my life even when I am not sitting at the keyboard or with a pen in my hand.
After my field study (which my six-year-old enjoyed even more than I did), I researched snakes geeked out on how they shed their skin.
Pasted far below you can see what I came up with. It’s still a draft and it scares me to post it here. Poetry has a personal exposure for me that my prose does not. But I like those snakes and this particular exuviae enough to take the risk.
May you find your own conceits in the adventures of your day-
In the Blue
Blind with nervous behavior
(Or eating baked Cheetos by the pound).
Seeking rough surfaces
Or long walks
In the red minivan
On the way to the Reptile Zoo
Molting at last
Shed on the page
The poet’s skin
Shines vibrant now
More colorful than before
And the spectacle
Is transparent once more