I was recently introduced to Louise Erdrich, no not like in person. If I’d met her in person, I would have disappeared into a big cloud of nerves. She’s a Native American novelist and poet. She owns her own bookstore. Oh, and in her free time she devotes her attention to restoring tribal lands and languages. She’s a 10 on the cool scale.
The other day I read her poem, Advice to Myself, and in the same way that I had to-absolutely had to-emulate George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From, the first time I read it, I found myself compelled to write my own poem using Louise Erdrich’s beautiful and raw text as a skeleton. The link is an interview with Louise Erdrich. In the interview she reads Advice to Myself at around 21:40. Do yourself a favor and set aside time to watch the interview. You may not agree with everything she says. I know I don’t. But the discussion of her writing and her writing process is worth your time and then some.
Here’s the poem I wrote after being enchanted by Advice to Myself.
Bone On Bone
by Alicia McCauley
Leave the laundry.
Let the lonely socks find their own mates to curl up with,
in between the static legs of pants and heartless shirt chests.
Scrape the lint from the trap
and throw the handful of downy gray into the trash.
Sweep the lye that bleeds from the garage floor
and dump its snowy residue
in with the lint
and other discards.
Pay no attention to the wisps of winter slipping beneath the door.
Let the cold have its way,
freezing the earth
that hibernates and exhales in sleep,
rattling barren tree branches on your windows.
Talk to the trees.
Tell them they are welcome
to come inside
where warmth breathes and steams up the windows
and picture frames.
Don’t bother keeping all the pictures straight on the wall.
Let the faces of your beloveds cock their heads
in bemused wonder.
Don’t worry about the settling dust on the shelves
or about the dishes abandoned in the sink.
Don’t worry at all.
For the symphony of your life
in the treble of your husband’s snores
and the whirring flutes of bicycle wheels and wind in your hair.
Feel the percussive heart in your chest
bouncing off your ribcage,
pulsing into your fingers as they skitter
across vowels and consonants
the story of your life.
In this fiery rush where creativity intersects destiny,
Write with flame,
Write with honesty,
Until your words are stripped down to sinewy truth.
Bone on bone.
Be unflinching in your pursuit of the word
that imparts your spirit with joy.
Be relentless in chasing hope rising
on the wings of a Phoenix.
Pay no attention to the shoes piled by the door.
barefoot with your camera around your neck.
Feel the cool, earthen night between your toes.
Surprise the trees in their midnight dance,
spotlit by the face of the moon.
And when your smile chatters
and frost gathers at your nostrils,
return to the heat of the house
and to the laundry basket
waiting with socks to warm your feet.
Slip your heart into the chest of one of your husband’s old shirts.
Brush your fingers along the cheeks of loved ones
as you float past them in the hallway on your way to bed.
Listen for the lullaby of rest rising and falling from your beloved.
Curl into him,
letting your heavy eyelids turn the page on the day.