The Your Voice section of The Poet’s List showcases articles and blog posts written by poets. These pieces may or not be about poetry. Most often, they are on topics with which the poet finds passion. You can find more of these posts, here: Your Voice.
What makes us reach for poetry? I have often heard the claim that it is extreme events — a birth or death or love, for example — that sends people in search of verse to calm or enlighten or explain the particulars lost in the tumult of such emotion. It’s a strange claim to me because to be born, to die and to love are in no way extremes; they are perhaps the only three natural certainties available to human animals. When my father died last year at 53 years of age, I did not turn to poetry, I turned to family and I turned inward. When I decided to propose to my partner Hannah recently, I offered only three words, followed by the question.
For me, it is in dull moments — on a walk or on the bus or in line at McDonald’s — when a particular silence that lodged itself in my teeth a decade ago falls out, and I become aware that the ache in my gums was never normal, and I taste citrus, and I see my grandmother peeling oranges with her hands while the Qur’an played on the radio. I learned from an early age that language could be sacred, and it is from within this scaffolding of divinity that I often find meaning. It is in cruel moments, when the world seems to offer nothing of godliness, that I reach for poems to show me another, tender way, which is to say a life that is not mine, whose hardness and light I can wear (or remove) at will. Sometimes the joy of reading is in being able to close the book whenever you want. Memories don’t afford us the same grace.
Poetry is not just about experience, it is how we say what we say, and so of course I worried about my proposal. I almost proposed to her at the airport when she landed in Sydney that night. I thought, this is a portal to the world, where better than here? The antiseptic blare of white light, the dirty tiles, and bedraggled people all overwhelmed the symbolism and so, I kept the words inside. We caught an Uber home, and I almost proposed there, too. It was in an Uber that I made my first monumental move: I held her hand. Proposing here would make of our story a circle, and the other circle, the ring, was so heavy in my pocket.
The awkwardness of our seat belts, the literal restraints on our bodies, as well as the presence of Wei-Wen, the driver, convinced me otherwise. We got home close to midnight. It was dark and quiet and lovely in the aftermath of rain: we might have been the only people on Earth. It was here, on the doorstep to our lives, that I knelt. All I could manage to say was, “I love you” and “Will you marry me?” because emotions are battering rams that do not wait for you to describe them prettily. You have to let yourself be knocked down before you get up and reach for God. Poetry was a world away from my mind in the moment I fell, but now I have a lifetime to find the right words.