Posted by: jeannineatkins | September 3, 2010

Ways to Listen to the World

The journals I keep these days aren’t records of my life, but I sometimes jot down notes of sights or incidents that touch me for reasons I can’t always know. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to have someone tell a short story, perhaps just a sentence, that goes right to our heart, but often it’s what’s overheard, an attention to accidents, that give me what I need for a book. When my husband and I visited our daughter in L.A. this summer, we did some touristy things, some hanging out, and I wrote when I could find time, to keep the stream of my collection of poems moving.

We toured the La Brea Tar Pits, marveling at the very old black muck that is still being excavated. We went through the museum with its hundreds of wolf skulls in a case on the wall, and through the garden where turtles sunned on logs. We saw the models of mastodons and lions that once roamed in California, and, to get a sense of how thick tar is, I tried out a model, lifting a handle with most of my strength to pull it from that thick, sticky tar.

But I think what I most took away was the sight and sound of a little girl with many braids and a well-pressed dress who’d spotted two orange dragonflies flitting over the tar. She kept calling: “Look!” I did, through a lot of sky and over ground and tar. The dragonflies were gorgeous, but her parents and brothers didn’t seem to look. Maybe she’s always calling out. Maybe they rdidn’t care about dragonflies. Maybe… well, there are all kinds of reasons they didn’t seem to look. I thought this touched me because I liked the girl, and I did, but she’s come back to me as I’m writing about another girl from thousands of years ago. And it just struck me that the theme of not being heard is embedded in my manuscript and that small memory.

That little girl is now helping to bring out what I didn’t entirely know I was writing. I wish she could know how much I thank her.

For more Poetry Friday posts, please visit our lovely Susan Taylor Brown, hosting at: http://susanwrites.livejournal.com/

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Responses

  1. Oh, such a poet’s heart and sensibility! Love reading about your special moments and observations. Thanks for the lovely post!

  2. I remember those dragonflies. And I think I recognize the feeling–something so incredible or amazing that it needs to be seen and shared over and over. When I finally made it to London & found Branwell Bronte’s painting of his sisters, I stood there forever–not because it’s such an incredible painting, but because I was THERE, and I might not be again, and I just needed to keep seeing it. I know that little girl. 🙂

  3. This gives me a little chill. That one special moment is going to guide you through your project.
    I wish that little girl knew she was heard. By you.

  4. Oh, I know that child so well. Lovely post, Jeannine.

  5. La Brea Tar Pits
    Hi, Jennine:
    I loved this post, particularly the backdrop of the La Brea Tarpits,my very favorite place when I was a child. At that time there were no barriers at all around the pits and no museum. I was always afraid one of us would fall in and literally be history.

  6. I find it amazing how we all inspire and are inspired by each other, often without ever knowing it. I love how that moment of listening made it into your story.

  7. Here’s hoping she reads your book some day and closes the circle, whether she knows it or not.

  8. Thank you, Jama!

  9. Wonderfully put. Thank you for writing.

  10. As Lorraine says below, sometimes we’ve just got to trust that we hear, we’re heard, and the circles keep going. But I know. I, too, wish there could be more shoulder tapping and nods. Thank you for yours, Tracy.

  11. It feels good to put her in the world among friends. Thank you, Jo.

  12. Re: La Brea Tar Pits
    Pat, I love to think of you there mulling on history as a child, but am glad you literally did not become part of the landscape. Even now, some of those barriers seem pretty skimpy. The fence not quite high enough. I loved a few plants that were supposed to be living back in the day, and a docent-type (um, I hope) offered me a berry.

  13. Lorraine, I love seeing you here! And you’re right, it’s nice to remember how inspiration keeps happening between us, whether or not we’re ever quite aware of that. Hope your September is riddled with a few such moments!

  14. It’s a big hope, Kathy, but why not? Thanks for the sweet thought. I do like to wonder: would she recognize herself?

  15. “I do like to wonder: would she recognize herself?”
    I think that’s a nifty basis for a story.– PL

  16. I think people often get into that mindset: “We’re not here to look at dragonflies, we’re here to look at tar.” So they overlook the dragonflies.

  17. Thanks for the reminder to LOOK. And to listen to those around us calling out for us to LOOK. (I have quite a few of those in my classroom this year…trying to stay patient and make sure I don’t get too caught up in my own vision…)

  18. What a wonderful teacher you are, Mary Lee. It’s one thing to look when one person calls it, but when you get it from many directions: well, hard to do and not come out all torn and frazzled yourself, which does no one any good. I hope your fall has moments when almost everyone seems to look or listen all at the same time.

  19. Yes, that’s the key, Jenn. I’m guilty often enough of this myself. And Mary Lee, in her comment below, reminds me of how it’s particularly hard in a classroom when you’re expected to set and reach goals… but the greatest teachers know when to step off the path.

  20. It’s such a gift that children give us — that, “Look! Look!” Some of my best moments with my kids have happened when they looked and got me to look, too. 🙂 Lovely post.

  21. Some of my best moments, too — though sad to say I’ve sometimes been so busy that it takes some serious tugging from Sweetpea to get me to stop and really look.
    Jeannine, I’m so glad that you were there to hear the dragonfly girl that day. And I hope her life has many moments where she knows she has been listened to.


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