by Kara L.C. Jones

Outside, Inside

Sometime the art of using poetry therapy to help yourself is more about reading, going outside yourself to read other people's work than it is about writing. In the past, I've played a balancing act with the amount of reading and writing I was doing. If my writing was really on a roll and going strong, I might not read so much. Reading the work of others would sometimes make me second guess my own writing.

But you know, sometime the writing really goes awry! I'll look down and in the places where I had been going strong, really great pieces of writing falling from my fingertips, metaphors coming from some higher power-- in those places, suddenly, there is all this whining. Some alternate form of my very being has emerged and is writing all this gobbelty gock and feeling sorry for herself and just all those "whoa is me" stories flowing from every pen in the house. It's awful. And when it starts happening in my poetry, chances are that it's happening in all my writing-- journals, fiction, and non-fiction alike. Just pitiful, icky stuff everywhere.

Recently while writing in my online diary, I had begun that awful pattern. Other journal writers were reading my works and leaving very kind notes, trying to inspire me, trying to support me. And then one day there was a note from a wonderful woman asking if I had ever read the diaries, letters, and poetry of the women who lived thru the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, WWII. She thought maybe I would identify with those women in some way, find ideas there, some support, and maybe some perspective on my own situation. She was very nice and never once wrote to tell me to snap out of it (smile).

And so this idea sparked something interesting for me. I first read Victor Villasenor's book "Rain Of Gold"-- mostly I picked this first because my book club was reading it. But quickly I realized that this was the kind of book the other journal writer had mentioned. It was the story of two families who survive the Mexican Revolution, starvation, immigration, prejudices, and more. The women in this story, Dona Guadalupe and Dona Margarita, both lose children, husbands, homes, land, fortunes, country, everything. And yet these amazing women survive, keep what's left of their families together, and raise children who love and admire them. And regardless of how much they lose, they keep moving forward, working with whatever is at hand. This is not to say they didn't grieve, but they were in much worse situations that I face-- they kept moving forward or faced dying just as those around them were. They survived.

My next adventure was a book on tape, four 40 minute tapes of the story of Gerda Weissman Klein from her memoir titled "All But My Life." She was aptly named "Weissman"-- wise man-- wise woman, indeed. I cannot begin to tell you how many times my husband and I shed tears as we listed to Gerda's story. She lost her entire family in WWII and spent three years in German work camps. Again, everything -- gone. Family, land, house, belongings, friends, country, fortunes -- all gone. She weighed 68 pounds when they checked her into the allied hospital just after liberation. She kept moving, working with whatever was at hand. She lived. She had children and grandchildren. She wrote a stunning memoir. She survived.

Now, I'm reading "Women of Valor: The Struggle Against the Great Depression as Told in Their Own Life Stories" which includes writing from well-known and "unknown" women alike. I'm re-viewing the tapes of the Ken Burns Jazz series that aired on PBS. The stories of these extraordinary-ordinary people floor me. I don't know that they provide answers to my current situation, but they give me perspective. They give me role models. They give me the will to keep going-- afterall, not only did they each survive their individual situations, they've also survived till this very day because here I am telling you about them. Death is nothing. Surviving is the hard work. And even when we are exhausted and whiny and at our lowest self pity-ing stages, these stories and poems and songs can remind us how to do the work of surviving. Just like those who went before us.

I offer the following as examples of the kind of writing that finally re-surfaces after I go outside myself in order to figure ways to say what is inside myself:

Bird Lives
-for Charlie Parker
By Kara L.C. Jones

Charlie your death date
intermingles with the birth
and death date of my own son.
He died March 11th,
you died March 12th.
What was it
that killed you
at the old age
of 34?
Was it your own daughter's death--
she with the hole in her heart,
died at 2 years old
before they knew how
open heart surgery could save her?

BeBop, Jazz, the music of Bird,
none of it enough
to keep you afloat
none of it enough
to fill the gaping sorrow
that ripped thru you
when your child died.

Your wife Chan shared with us
all these years later
the 4 wire messages
you sent that day,
each one more steeped
in the shock of death
than the last--
one simply saying,
"Chan, Help."

Bird, if you could only know
how many grieving parents
walk this earth, undead,
waiting to join their children
on the other side,
if you could only know
how well I understand your plea--
"Chan, Help."

Today it's my turn,
today I sit here
slowly falling to pieces
slowly being crushed
by the weight
of life after the death
of my child,
Oh Bird!
If only you could know
how very much I understand!

After your death, Bird,
your followers, all those
dedicated music lovers,
littered the walls of
Greenwich Village with
spray painted tags reading
but, Bird, they were fools,
they didn't understand even
after your death,
they didn't know your heart
the way I do.
They couldn't possibly
have understood
that after the death
of one's child,
even the music
ceases to matter.

For Louie Who Died July 1971
"No him, no me."
-Dizzy Gillespie's answer when asked what Jazz
would be like for him after Louis Armstrong's death.
By Kara L.C. Jones

You defined the music
the movement, the life
and yet you lived in a
small house surrounded
by neighborhood children
who loved you
because you bought them
ice cream.

You were married to
Lucille all those years
and yet had no children.
I often wonder
if, behind that
never-ending smile,
there were tears for
babies miscarried
or stillborn?

One man recalled
seeing you sit alone
on an empty, dark sound stage
looking up to heaven
sadness holding your tilted head.
What was beneath that,
and did the hidden
sadness and anger
lead to your weak heart?

They said you smoke marijuana
every single day of your life--
hardly a behavior
that would be granted
sainthood today.
How did you keep your lungs
full of clean air to blow
your horn while masking
behind all that smoke?

Mr. Armstrong,
I wish I had known you
had seen you at Newport
that summer of 1970
when you glowed
around the edges, sang out
to heaven above &
audience below,
I wish I had seen you
walking this Earth,
in your body of Grace,
your heart pumping music
that made us all forget
you were human.

The Last Time They Saw Each Other
for Lester Young died March 1959 and
for Lady Day died 4 months later
By Kara L.C. Jones

There was somethin'
about her sideways glance,
the roll of her eyes as he
stood to play his sax solo.
She had been singin' the blues,
yowlin' about how badly her man
had treated her
and there was just somethin'
in the curve of her smile
as he stood to play
that said,
"It may have been 20 years ago but,
man, I still remember the night
I wrote this song to you."

And after the set
they stood together
spark of hand in hand
speaking in smile tones
and there was just somethin'
in the tilt of her head
lookin' up at this tall man
watchin' the words play
from his mouth
somethin' in their faces that said
it was just 20 short years ago,
but it was one hell of a long lifetime ago.

Haiku For Louie
By Kara L.C. Jones

modest house in Queens
he needed no luxury
his was no-frills jazz

Tanka for Duke
By Kara L.C. Jones

18 maniacs
drink, brawl, prowl on Duke's tour
and some land in jail

Don't matter to Duke
just post bail and play!

When the whining starts or when you find you are unsatisfied with your work, maybe just maybe, it's time to go outside yourself in order to spark the real story of what's happening inside you. Read on, read strong, my friends! :)

Miracles to you!

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