Once a week for one hour, I lose myself in the history of humans who are forty, fifty, sixty years older than I.
Once a week I travel near where I buy farmer’s vegetables and borrow books. This place is a residence for seniors and this hour is full of literature, creative writing and discussion of words.
Whatever I feel before entering the slightly overheated room, vanishes. If I am feeling sad, it does not follow me in. My emotions become theirs. I always come with a story and enough copies so that everyone who wants to can read a selection out loud. I always come with a prompt or encouragement to write. We always begin by marking the space with words written during the past week.
There are two residents who often bring their work to read. Stunning prose that captivates and causes even the hard of hearing to listen more closely. Often, I will bring a poem to read. One week, Adrienne Rich. Another week we gave space to Kahlil Gibran. This week’s poet, Juliana Spahr, birthed a heated discussion on intention; if prose poetry is considered poetry (where I found a large percentage of my tongue bitten off); and overindulgence with words.
To them, asking how are you? has so much more meaning. Eventually– I’ve learned — one reaches an age where fine or good is just not the truth. Sometimes it becomes: I miss my home and the things I spent decades filling it with. Or they put out the list of birthdays today and everyone seems to be turning ninety. I feel too close to death.
I think about the last time someone asked me how I was and then I think about about the last time I actually answered it honestly.
Within these sixty minutes, I feel gratitude that I can be in this space and supply literature that we can all connect to and discuss. I never had much family growing up and now, I find myself attracted to those with many generations around them. They are lucky. They get to hear stories far past the hour mark.
One of my favorite residents shared some poems by a writer I was not familiar with. A Polish poet who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. She died in 2012.
by Wislawa Szymborska
Despite the geologists’ knowledge and craft,
mocking magnets, graphs, and maps—
in a split second the dream
piles before us mountains as stony
as real life.
And since mountains, then valleys, plains
with perfect infrastructures.
Without engineers, contractors, workers,
bulldozers, diggers, or supplies—
raging highways, instant bridges,
thickly populated pop-up cities.
Without directors, megaphones, and cameramen—
crowds knowing exactly when to frighten us
and when to vanish.
Without architects deft in their craft,
without carpenters, bricklayers, concrete pourers—
on the path a sudden house just like a toy,
and in it vast halls that echo with our steps
and walls constructed out of solid air.
Not just the scale, it’s also the precision—
a specific watch, an entire fly,
on the table a cloth with cross-stitched flowers,
a bitten apple with teeth marks.
And we—unlike circus acrobats,
conjurers, wizards, and hypnotists—
can fly unfledged,
we light dark tunnels with our eyes,
we wax eloquent in unknown tongues,
talking not with just anyone, but with the dead.
And as a bonus, despite our own freedom,
the choices of our heart, our tastes,
we’re swept away
by amorous yearnings for—
and the alarm clock rings.
So what can they tell us, the writers of dream books,
the scholars of oneiric signs and omens,
the doctors with couches for analyses—
if anything fits,
and for one reason only,
that in our dreamings,
in their shadowings and gleamings,
in their multiplings, inconceivablings,
in their haphazardings and widescatterings
at times even a clear-cut meaning
may slip through.