- An Exercise In Expression From Once Upon A Time -
I sit here and try to write a poem, and I wonder, as I am forced to begin - with only five minutes left to class - if I shouldn't have used "compose" instead of "write" because "compose" sounds stronger, more poetic, more like music, and yet more serious, and so less in the business of trampoline-ing me off to nonsensical heights. So I leave it as "write" because that feels right, though don't know where to go from there, and I stare at each word as it blurs and runs into the next, as the rules muddle to a puddle of rainbow while over it I splash towards that fantastical composition played on the Olympic-sized bandstand growing in the blue-green grass, the musicians like a rolling sea of sunflowers. Their magic-wand instruments spray glitters of red and green and yellow and blue, sparking the heavens into morning as I run through the air, my legs cartwheeling on the wind. I don't even have to touch the ground to move - how freeing that is! It no longer matters whether I use "write" or "compose" or "construct" or "create" or any word at all because I fly through a place called Intuition, where everyone sees me as my entire self, that unique paradox that is me, that kind of knowing that one knows except when one is asked what they know - and where it doesn't matter that "they" is the wrong kind of grammar there - because such knowing transcends words. In this place that is truly mine, I pass by The Phantom Tollbooth's orchestra which plays the sun's journey - its rising, its setting, its middle-of-the-sky sojourn - only now it's still morning and the twitters of the flute make me want to spin and twirl and dance. I give a schoolgirl's skip to a cowboy seated on the concrete steps of a paint-peeled house with a worn wooden porch. He wears a wide white hat that - if you squint - could be made out of hardened snow - and chews on a toothpick that - if you tilt your head - could perhaps be a broken piece of hay. He strums his dirt-stained banjo and calls me Suzannah - with a Z, not an S, and that's part of Intuition too, knowing these things - and then I am Suzannah, with my hair in two braids tied with red ribbon and my dress earthy-green, my shoes too dusty to be black anymore. I step softly aground and give him a curtsy. He gives me a candied apple. It looks like a sticky balloon on a stick and I trot away licking it, the finale of noontime's march lifting me back in the air. And now it is after noon - when the band from the field plays the sun's intermission, a soft hum of nap time for the toddlers and the old. I slow to a walk as I come to the village square patched with yellow-green grass worn thin with wear. An aging woman is crying there. I instinctively know (don’t forget where I am) that she lives in a show, and by lives I mean lives. Every day she must act as a weather-worn granny or provocative maid or a cold-hearted nanny – or drunken schoolteacher (that is today’s) – the poor woman’s life is polluted with plays. She knows her parts better than she knows herself, for she’d never been asked to perform as herself. But the Love Interest – that’s who she’d love to be cast – but her prime, as all primes end up – past. A curious thing – she can’t think of my name. And, come to think of it, I feel the same. My name – what’s my name? Alice, she decides, and it’s true. No more braids, my dark hair hangs neatly-brushed down my back and I’m holding a tea-cup and blue-flowered saucer. How confusing! I place it upon the stage and take my leave of the old woman who lives in a show, for she makes me tremble. When – tiptoeing in is the orchestra again! Have you ever seen an orchestra tiptoe? All in blue and silver uniforms and their march slightly stooped in a hushed sort of way, the warm gwee gwee of their violins yawning violet rays as the sun circles westward and the cello hums a father’s slow lullaby, stretching orange ‘cross the sky. The clouds blush at the nighttime wooing of the French Horn and I wear purple pajamas, illuminated in the waking moon. In struts the cowboy, plucking his banjo to the plunks of pink hiding behind the reddening sun. There are dancers waving sashes and dinner-time picnickers with blankets and baskets. The conductor, brandishing his silver baton, waves it and makes everything freeze – the people, the music, the sunset, and me. Then he points that baton at my purple nightclothes and declares, “Maggie, compose.” Compose. Compose? Does he mean write? Write what? Music? A poem? Who knows? Intuition? What is my name again? I blink and I’m back and – have I written prose?
Do I know anything anymore?