I wish I could show you how this back-to-school thing feels. I wish I could share this feeling with you. Mainline it to your heart.
My first assignment for my English Comp class was to write a narrative essay inspired by a poem we selected from Poetry 180: A Turning back to poetry. This was my first foray into writing to conventions. Creating a story arc. Ensuring that the language was descriptive. The concept of a thesis. First attempt at MLA.
I’ve decided to share it. I am incredibly grateful to have an instructor who allows us to revise and receive a new score, once our papers have been initially scored. To me, this means that I get to learn, grow and apply that much more of the concepts.
First the poem that inspired the narrative essay that follows:
Singing Back the World
I don’t remember how it began.
The singing. Judy at the wheel
in the middle of Sentimental Journey.
The side of her face glowing.
Her full lips moving. Beyond her shoulder
the little houses sliding by.
And Geri. Her frizzy hair tumbling
in the wind wing’s breeze, fumbling
with the words. All of us singing
as loud as we can. Off key.
Not even a semblance of harmony.
Driving home in a blue Comet singing
I’ll Be Seeing You and Love Is a Rose.
The love songs of war. The war songs
of love. Mixing up verses, eras, words.
Songs from stupid musicals.
Coming in strong on the easy refrains.
Straining our middle aged voices
trying to reach impossible notes,
reconstruct forgotten phrases.
Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.
Shamelessly la la la-ing
whole sections. Forgetting
the rent, the kids, the men,
the other woman. The sad goodbye.
The whole of childhood. Forgetting
the lost dog. Polio. The grey planes
pregnant with bombs. Fields
of white headstones. All of it gone
as we struggle to remember
the words. One of us picking up
where the others leave off. Intent
on the song. Forgetting our bodies,
their pitiful limbs, their heaviness.
Nothing but three throats
beating back the world – Laurie’s
radiation treatments. The scars
on Christina’s arms. Kim’s brother.
Molly’s grandfather. Jane’s sister.
Singing to the telephone poles
skimming by. Stoplights
blooming green. The road,
a glassy black river edged
with brilliant gilded weeds. The car
as immense boat cutting the air
into blue angelic plumes. Singing
Blue Moon and Paper Moon
and Mack the Knife, and Nobody Knows
the Trouble I’ve Seen.
by Dorianne Lux
Hoping For Hope
Earworms. Those bits of music and lyrics that worm their way into your ear, then tunnel through your brain on an endless loop. In the poem “Singing Back the World” by Dorianne Laux, a small group of longtime friends find themselves cruising along a highway. Judy breaks out in music and lyrics. Sentimental Journey Life is indeed a sentimental journey. Through music and lyrics these women rejoice, remember, grieve and forget. A lifetime of emotions, shared and expressed through the primal and visceral medium of music and lyrics. At first mention of an earworm, an annoying little tune immediately jumps into your brain. For the next several moments you can’t get it out of your head. You will eagerly seek out something to break the cycle. What if these mind numbing tunes, normally like nails on a chalkboard, became a salve to your soul? An earworm that becomes a mantra, a touchstone, a glimmer of hope and an affirmation.
2009 was to be my year of change. Obama was sworn into office and change was sweeping the hearts of our nation. I had taken the first fragile steps on my way to significant ch-ch-changes. Little did I know what The Universe had up her sleeve for me. I am mom to three OffSpring. All my life my only solid goal was to be a mom. My last child arrived June 2005. Upon exiting the womb and finding himself in my arms, the newest of my OffSpring gazed up at me with an expression one might find on an aged Buddhist monk. His body oozed serenity while his eyes sparkled with wisdom. This tiny spirit came to be known as Gregory.
Being the youngest of three OffSpring, Gregory was exposed to and came down with all kinds of respiratory illnesses. AKA: common head colds. Considering how much he was exposed to with two older siblings, I never gave much thought to the frequency or severity of these illnesses. With each illness, fierce fevers would be followed by a week or so of coughing, a runny nose and sneezing. At 20 months old, we did have an unusual five day stay in the hospital when Gregory acquired Rotavirus, a gastrointestinal illness that results in severe dehydration. A few days of gut rest with IV fluids allowed his body to correct itself. So far, so good. When you are a parent you expect to have at least one hospital admit with your kids. I finally had mine with the third kid. Life quickly returned to the crazy, joyous and raucous chaos that we have always embraced.
Enter February 2009. A time that is frozen in my core. Gregory, once again, had a head cold. This time it lingered longer than I was comfortable with and it was joined by two symptoms that struck terror in my heart from his time spent inpatient with Rotavirus. Dehydration and lethargy. After a trip to his pediatrician, an afternoon in the ER and 48 hours in the hospital, I heard the words no parent ever thinks they would hear: “Your child has cancer.” My world was shattered with that brief four word sentence. My wise, light-filled and charming little three year old had cancer and would be enduring a treatment that kills 50% of the people who receive it. Gregory needed a bone marrow transplant. His only hope at survival and he needed it STAT. From this point forward we started livin’ on a prayer.
As we started to endure this process, I wrote, Facebook’d, networked and found the childhood cancer community. Underpinning all this work, grief, fear, anxiety and tiny brilliantly-lit moments of joy, my spirit was echoed through music and lyrics. A sweep of my fingers across the keyboard allowed me to convey how things were in that moment, to family, friends and my expanding childhood cancer community at large. Without revealing the exact thoughts in my brain, I could express, work through and cope with the raging emotions in my heart through a few lines of lyrics.
Gregory treatment progressed and we found ourselves in Seattle, Washington at Seattle Children’s Hospital, beginning the arduous odyssey in an attempt to save his life. The idea of hope has always been a struggle for me. Without consciously acknowledging the idea of hope, my brain tentatively searched for a whisper of a future that included my youngest child. Gregory’s treatment would take him to the brink of death. His body would be pummeled with high-dose chemotherapy over a six day time frame in order to destroy every remaining cell of his existing bone marrow. His leukemia is genetically hard-wired into the DNA of his marrow. Complete annihilation was the goal. Only an infusion of donor bone marrow stem cells offered a glimmer hope that would allow his body and spirit to stay with us for longer than his disease had proclaimed. These dire circumstances forced me to find hope through hoping for hope.
Family and friends, who understandably had no concept of what we were actually enduring, kept insisting that Gregory was going to be all right. It was the only way many could cope with the fears I was facing. Offering a societal platitude that did nothing to assuage my fear and anxiety, yet gave them a tool to confront our reality while protecting their own hearts. This sentiment wormed it’s way through my heart, traveled to my brain and sought out a connection that would link my emotions and my thoughts in a way that would give me permission to hope. This connection revealed itself as an earworm. Every time someone would utter this idea, my head would default to Bob Marley’s lyrics in Three Little Birds: “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing / ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right”.
These hopeful and free words echoed through my brain during every chemo infusion. Through every acceleration in his body temperature. Through every moment when Gregory’s gut rebelled and tried to heave up the non-existent contents of his belly. Through every time I glanced at his shockingly beautiful bald head. Through every spasm of pain that erased the glimmer from his eyes. Through the days, weeks and months that his body rebelled the brutality of our attempt to save his life.
“Don’t worry ‘bout a thing / ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right”.
Today, we are four years out from that fateful day I heard those bone chilling words: “Your child has cancer” Within this span of time music and lyrics have continuously and faithfully been my boon companion. Like the women in “Singing Back the World” I find my life filled with solace, joy, remembrance and grief. Through events that bring thoughts, which trigger emotions, earworms have cradled my spirit. Allowing me to cope with the trajectory of my path that The Universe has placed me on. Ironically, every little thing is all right. They are exactly what they are meant to be. As with any traumatic event, I often find myself slipping into fear and anxiety more frequently than I would like to admit. During those times not only do I let those emotions have their head, but I plunge my catalog of earworms and remind myself: “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing / every little thing gonna be all right.”
Bob Marley & The Wailers, “Three Little Birds.” Exodus. Tuff Gong, 1977
Bon Jovi, “Livin’ On a Prayer.” Slippery When Wet. Mercury Records, 1986
Bowie, David. “Changes.” Hunky Dory. RCA Records, 1972
Laux, Dorianne. “Singing Back the World.” Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. Ed. Billy Collins. New York: Random House, 2003. 6. Print