November’s cocoon descends with its woolly promise of sleep and dreams backlit by cider and brisk walks along a grey-skied ocean….ensconced in winter coat and hand-made scarf. I was on the verge of saying goodbye to this blog (which this December, turns six years old) but I hesitated long enough to see its arc, where it has brought me, the place it gives me to listen, speak and most of all connect to others of like mind. I’m not ready to let it go.
In fact, I want to celebrate it and all of the heart to heart connections it brings. For fun, check out the very first post…which has garnered no more than 5 page views: The Desk. And contrast that with Truth or Dare at a whopping 1158. I’m not much one for numbers, but, I’m pleased to have readers. And frankly not upset to see I’m still amicably flying under most radar as I acclimate to the thought of having my first poetry book published.Years ago in Iowa City I traded tarot readings with poet Corinne Stanley (here’s her poem Daughters at Prairie Wolf Press). As we shuffled the cards, we talked about aspirations for our writing lives. She asked me to choose an image: anything, an animal, plant--she would improvise and set the cards down in the corresponding shape. “Butterfly,” I said…and she was off and running, setting out a trail of tarot cards in the pattern of wings and a thorax graced by a long curving tail streaming like wake behind a boat in water or an airplane passing through clouds.
The last thing she said to me was, “Just make sure when the time comes, you take your time. Don’t rush.”With book publication facing me next year, Corinne’s voice returns. In the generous feedback from readers of early versions of my poetry collection, November Butterfly, is a reassuring flood of warmth about individual poems, but an emerging question about order and cohesion. You’d think as a poetry editor and lifelong writer, I’d be able to see. But I can’t.
So I’m slowing down to listen to the work itself. Barbara Ann Yoder writes about this in her post, How to Get Your Book Written under the subsection, Let Your Manuscript and Process Show You the Way. This idea of book as voice or entity is a fairly new metaphor for me, but I’m hearing it also in the marketing world: see Alexis Grant’s post here on treating the books you write as a client, Insights About Digital Products That Changed the Way I’m Building My Business.Seeing one’s writing through the eyes of trusted readers brings the work’s metaphors into view. Sandra Hunter (novelist and photographer of haunting snow and waterscapes with text) asked me, What do you want your butterfly's journey to be? Which in turn lead me to ask, What is a November Butterfly? In honor of November and the collection in progress, I’m posting the poem the collection’s title revolves around...by way of introducing an image project I hope you'll join me for below:
It’s easy to love the sunand the roses it fires,
the blood cardinals
flying over snow,
three black horses
in the rain,
a blue heron
on a downed tree
in the river’s mist.
But what of tar fissureson back-roads off the grid,
a liver sheened reptile
clambering out of the ditch,
cold rims of hubcaps,
headlights of a car
commuting home, a voice
two states away on the radio,
a butterfly with a frayed wing
pinned living to the windshield.
It’s easy to love some women,emanating green, moonskinned,
quiet, enchanting, etcetera,
through the undersides of leaves.
Winter in the thighs,
we hibernate in rooms they’ve left,
and pray they’ll return, notice us,
or let fall
some butter from their palms.
I wish I were a flower,or the maker,
to mend you.
I held out my finger--
not a stick--
and up you grappled,
unfurled a tunneled up
for one last taste,
or to ward me off
So easy to muck the translationno common language—
that gap between the self one loves
and the self one fears.
I can’t fill out your wing,
but I can look you
in the unblinking amber screen
of your eye,
be with you,
and set you on this leaf.
--Originally published in The Dickens and forthcoming from Saddle Road Press in 2014.
Call for Images
And so one interpretation is that a November Butterfly is ephemeral but stunning...something you do right by, simply by witnessing despite attendant sorrowful fragility. Something out of season that captures your attention, its beauty waking you up even if momentarily. Even if the initial impetus to stop and pay attention is based on a difficult encounter.
I’m sure I’m not alone experiencing either literal November Butterflies or metaphorical ones. I’m collecting images of my own for a Pinterest board I wish to start in December, but in the meantime, I’d love to know: what are the November Butterflies in your life, in our world? Send me an image and a few lines about how the image captures the essence described above for you and I’ll string them together in a post for this site. And they don't have to be literal butterflies...surprise me...
In the meantime, I’m working on hearing the manuscript's order of poems. Weigh in, please, in comments, my fellow creatives. How did you arrive at your first book's order? Or disorder?
As it stands, the poems based on iconic women (Diana, Nefertiti, Amelia, Jeanne d'Arc, Guinevere and others) make up three quarters of the project (you've heard me talk over the years about making the movies and the sculpture fun that accompany some of these poems). Motherhood gave me a bridge, a means of stepping inside of these women, even if briefly, to inhabit the public knowns of their narratives in order to intuit/imagine private emotional forays of lesser known aspects.
And surprisingly, writing those poems lead to new work in a wildish tour through the kind of adolescence many of us go through…that is apt to leave you if not with one wing, a frayed wing, for much of adulthood (I wrote more on this subject in a forthcoming post Lost Wings, Hesitations,and Outgrowing the Metronome (link updated Jan 13, 2014) for Suzi Banks Baum this month when we traded—you’ll love her Motherhood as Portal to Joy: Threads of a Creative Life, or "What’s Good for Mom is Good for All of Us”) at Mother, Writer, Mentor.In my case, unlike the butterfly pinned to the windshield and set on a leaf to expire in the poem above, I got a second chance. Through writing. So I’ll stop complaining. Maybe I’m suffering from a good dose of perfectionism…and I know the manuscript will find its way (in 2014) especially with the help of the beautiful circle of mothers, writers, artists, and friends I found here on Feral Mom, Feral Writer.
Flight will be short (or long), unsure (or steady), fraught with unknowns (or familiar). Wind, rain, and sun in the future. Risk it! Should I? Would you? Tell me, please do. Say something before I continue to list my fortunish cookieish phrases. And bless you, thank you, for being part of this feral flight with me.
Photos are the intellectual property of and are all by: Robyn Beattie
Photos are the intellectual property of and are all by: Robyn Beattie
While looking up sources for The Lady Who Loved Insects, I discovered a wonderful storytelling site: bilingual storyteller, Megumi: celebrating diversity, critical thinking, and diversity. Megumi has some great resource lists—here’s for example one titled, Strong and Resourceful Women List in which she suggests tales that provide “a break from helpless and beauty-centered Cinderella stories.”And of course Liz Brennan and I have not been idle over at Perhaps Maybe (where I continue to hope one of you will come out and play with us).
Here are opening lines for:
The Hummingbird’s ComplaintPerhaps the hummingbird, when still, juices the morning complaint... Read rest of The Hummingbird's Complaint here.
The Lesser ShorebirdsPerhaps my love for the namers rivals my love for you: be you godwit, whimbrel, or dowitcher…Read the rest of The Lesser Shorebirds here.