Mouse # 19: Find your way back to the beginning

I was at a Star(t) Factory workshop led by Jennifer Still this week: how we start a poem, letting the stars can open us up to language. We met in U of M’s planetarium, and in the dark with small red flashlights, wrote.

Jenn said “begin” is from the Old English “biginnan”: “about opening.” To begin a poem is to open ourselves wide, to sit inside the openness of language.

I don’t approach poetry very openly. I come with my topic ready and try to force the words to come. One way Jenn said to get around the stuckness that ensues is to write backwards: take your idea or fragment and find its beginning.

I arrived in the star theatre with two goals: write a title poem for my autism collection and write an ending to a poem about looking for my grandpa.

I love the title “You’re not nisselling” (or perhaps spelled “nisteling”) because this childish mispronunciation of listening fits the theme of miscommunication, unwanted messages, and the longing to be heard. But most people, who didn’t spend time with my preschool daughter, don’t get it. So I want a nisteling poem for a back cover or first page that will clue the reader in.

I’ve played with it since the workshop and it’s still not done, but you can see how the stars came in:

your brother’s high on Magic School Bus, following a bouncing
lizard across moon rocks, heading straight into the sun, eclipsing you
as you hold out your sippy cup for dew, beg me to beep beep
your oatmeal warm, pound craters with a spoon, yelling
you’re not nisteling! above the unexpected orbital
resonance, the whoosh-whiz-zam.

The ideas I started with – my daughter’s mispronunciations – are at the end, and I wrote back to the beginning with the brother.

The other fragment I entered the planetarium with was

I looked for my grandpa
in his handwritten sermons
but found only God

I had no idea where I was going with this. Here’s how the stars gave me a new beginning:

I looked for my grandpa

in the stars

and found his spectacles

his clipped chin hairs floating away