Hero's Poetry Journey, week 5
DEPARTURE: Crossing the First Threshold
Hello, Poetry Friend
April 19 has not been a kind day in our nation’s history. It includes the tragedy with the Branch Davidians, then the tragedy a year later in Oklahoma City. A few years later our family had our own April 19 encounter. But April 20 was worse.
Crossing the First Threshold
This stage is the end of the beginning. We’ve departed from the Before and are solidly on our way to the After. What marks the distinction is a threshold — a boundary we cross. It may look like a door or a gate or a black hole that will transport us to the other side of the galaxy. It may be too dark to even tell we’ve crossed.
One thing is certain: We’re about to get threshed. As in beaten until the seed slips free.
I thought I crossed the threshold on April 19, but no. It was the next day, April 20.
It was the morning after an unforgettably awful morning with both children. In the light of day I thought things were tough, but headed in the right direction. Then I got a text from another mom, about two kids who my kids knew: one boy was in a coma, and one was dead. They had been at the same party.
Suddenly everything in my home looked different. Suddenly our entire small town looked different. Ten years later we still talk about how it changed all of us.
The following morning I did what I do every morning: I started early, took my dog.
Emily Dickinson is a poet I avoided until last year. Frankly, her brilliance scared me. But learning that she liked to walk with her dog, Carlo, made me think she might be someone whose words I would want on my journey. (That and the TV series Dickinson, which made her seem like one of my writing friends.) If I’m gonna cross a threshold, why not travel with someone who meets mermaids?
In this poem Dickinson describes a visit to the threshold of thresholds: the sea. She encounters frigates, a tide that almost swallows her, and those blessed mermaids. By the end of the poem she and the sea have a new relationship. I think she’s ready for any trials that may come.
Another person who undertook a hero’s journey on the sea is Max, of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Sendak adored Dickinson’s poetry and kept a pocket copy of her work with him wherever he went.
Bring your doubts and walk with me. Wild things are up ahead. The threshold? Look behind you.
I started Early – Took my Dog – (656)
I started Early – Took my Dog –
And visited the Sea –
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –
And Frigates – in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands –
Presuming Me to be a Mouse –
Aground – opon the Sands –
But no Man moved Me – till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe –
And past my Apron – and my Belt
And past my Boddice – too –
And made as He would eat me up –
As wholly as a Dew
Opon a Dandelion's Sleeve –
And then – I started – too –
And He – He followed – close behind –
I felt His Silver Heel
Opon my Ancle – Then My Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl –
Until We met the Solid Town –
No One He seemed to know –
And bowing – with a Mighty look –
At me – The Sea withdrew –
Read Dickinson’ poem. Jot down what you notice, what you like, what you don’t, what questions you have, and at least one way in which the poem speaks to your soul.
Describe your threshold. Write how it feels once you’ve crossed it.
Read Dickinson's poem aloud. Pick one phrase or line or stanza you can tuck deep in your heart.
Write your own haiku about this stage of your hero’s poetry journey. (Mine is at meganwillome.com.) If you like, email me what you write.
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