Thursday, February 1, 2018

Remembering Malawi

While I've always considered myself a prose writer, and haven't taken great pains to study poetry, I've enjoyed writing a poem every now and then. In case you enjoy reading poetry, I'm sharing one I wrote a few months ago about growing up in Africa.

Remembering Malaลตi 

When I remember my childhood 
It is the sounds that come first –  

How the muezzin’s call to prayer wafted over the city at dusk 
In long and exotic notes as if the singer were casting a spell 
Even the dogs would stop their barking to listen 
I had the sense then that I was wrapped in a prayer that  
Did not, could not belong to me 

The beat of drums sometimes carried across the hills  
And at night as I lay in bed the bass woulecho down to my fingertips  
In some way my young self could not have put into words 
I knew then that my home was not, and could never be my own 

Wherever we went the low hum of a Bantu language hung in the air  
Even English was peppered with it  katunduzikomopang’ono pang’ono 
The Americans who had lived there longest spoke in slow peaks and valleys  
As if their speech had caught the flavor of Africa 
Even now long for a musical language that was never mine to speak 

Thirty years I’ve been back in the country of my birth 
And still I am called back to my childhood by a sound –  
The cooing of mourning doves, the lowing and tramp of cattle 
Or it may be another sense –  
purple flowered vine climbing fence, the smell of wood smoke 
A cloud of dust rising from a dirt road or the sweetness of a mango 

Not so long ago, I heard Bantu hum in the grocery store 
And turned to see a woman in a kaftan speaking with her children  
She was inspecting yams and her cart was filled with familiar African foods  
Heaps of collard greens and ears of corn still in their husks 
And I wondered if a crest of homesickness ever came over her 
Ishe sometimes felt immersed in a world that wanot her own 

Did she sometimes long to be away from the rumble of never-ending traffic 
From the clean and clipped tones of English where speakers rush to their point 
Did she, as I do, dream of returning to a place with a little wildness 
meandering and lyrical place 
TAfrica, a place that was never more home 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

An Honest and Longish Answer to the Question: Why Has There Been No Second Book?

“How well-dressed you are!” they say;
“That poem looks so good on you!”
Always unaware
That poems aren’t my clothes,
But my bones – Ana Blandiana 

(From the poem,"Unaware" -- Translated from Romanian)
I get emails from time to time asking me when my next book will come out, though less and less as time goes on. It’s a hard question to answer, but here’s my best shot.

If you’re lucky – and I am – you have a passion that is central to your identity. It frames who you are. Maybe for you, it’s art or medicine, parenting or leadership. For me, of course, that passion is writing. I hardly know what I think or feel until I’ve found a way to express it in writing.

But having a passion that is also a commercial venture can get confusing. About the time that The Language of Sparrows was published, I went through some particularly rough times. I won’t bore you with the gory details other than to say it started with divorce and went downhill from there. As a result I found myself unable to write. At least, that’s what I told myself. Looking back though, I can see that wasn’t accurate. Writing isn’t decoration for me, but my bones, as Blandiana said so well. Give me a broken pencil and the back of an envelope and I’ll write. What I meant was that I wasn’t focused enough to write another novel for publication right then, which frankly takes an incredible amount of focus.

I spent a fair amount of time fighting the obvious. I was convinced I had to write that next novel, because I was published now and needed to build a career. Until at last I surrendered to the blank page and stopped writing altogether. What a painful time that was, and as much from not writing as from the events themselves. Without words I was emotionally parched.

 It took about a year for me to rediscover the kinds of writing that didn’t have anything to do with commercial success or even necessarily a readership. It was just journaling and poetry and articles only my friends were interested in. That kind of writing helped me rediscover the long forgotten happiness of stringing words together for the fun of it, of saying exactly what I meant and saying it well.

It also helped me put my life back together. Am I ready to write another novel now? Yes, emotionally. I'm longing to get back to fleshing out characters and plot lines. But the reality is I’m a single mom now with a full time job. I’m also spending more time than I used to actually living. So while I’m finally capable of writing a novel, it’s more of a juggling act than it used to be.

Keeping all of the balls spinning in the air is okay with me though, as long as one of the balls gets to be writing. When will that next novel come together? I can’t say. I'm hoping to complete one next year, but I'm an idealist and life is always more complex than I ever anticipate. So it may not happen that way. But I know this: it will almost certainly come together in time. Writing is a happy addiction, as far as I’m concerned, one that sets my world to rights. And fiction is the truest kind of writing for me. What I’m saying is that it will happen, so stay tuned for that next novel. And for those of you who are still following, thank you for your incredible patience.