My 5 kids and I lived in a railroad apartment not far from the prison which housed my boyfriend. He’s the reason I moved across country, a decision on my part which now seems pure lunacy. At the time it made perfect sense. Uprooting six people for love, ah what could be more romantic and noble?
We lived in a one-bedroom in a not so great part of town. Our next door neighbor was a heavy-set woman of indeterminate age who lived with her troll like husband. Whenever we bumped into one another on the landing, she gushed and raved at my well behaved kids. She remarked every time that she wouldn’t have known I had 5 kids if I hadn’t told her, so quiet were they.
One evening, for no discernable reason, she brings me a photo along with the weekly cake she made “for the kiddies.” Oh, this woman has a tender heart, but there is something disconcerting about her. The photo, for instance. I’ve been her next door neighbor for all of a month, and she shows me this photo of how she looked after her husband beat her head with a baseball bat. I can’t even tell that what I’m looking at is a human head, it’s that grotesque. My heart aches for her; still, I don’t understand what she wants from me. Murmuring sympathetic words, I hope that the simple act of sharing with me this awful memory is in some way helpful to her.
One evening, as the kids snooze in the back room, I sit down at the portable typewriter borrowed from my pastor. The apartment is perfectly still. I stare at the blank paper in the machine until my eyes move out of focus. Lifting my head, I see that it’s snowing outside. Big dry flakes falling drowsily as if they have all the time in the world to decorate the barren scenery outside of my living room window.
The snow entrances me. I’m awed to tears by the very sight of it blessing my world. As if I am being wrapped up in grace, is how it feels. Oh, the room suddenly becomes cozy, almost sacred. Should I shed my shoes on the off chance that, like Moses, I’m standing on holy ground?
Smiling at my crazy notions, I begin typing. I don’t know where the words are coming from, or if they’re any good. But they pour out of me poetically, and I can’t stop them:
Once upon an age of despair
when violence thrived
and compassion was rare,
and helpless men
bewailed their fate:
Lovesong came to conquer hate. . .
Lovesong sang such poignant words
that people scorned them as absurd
and vowed that they would never be
a part of their philosophy.
They’d dance to any other tune,
kiss the sun or worship moon.
But anything which smacked of peace,
or wistful yearnings
for sweet release,
they outlawed just to make new rules
to keep in bondage
a paradise of fools.
My fingers on the typewriter keys can barely keep up with the words tumbling through my head, as all sorts of characters make their appearance:
Stumbler tripped and stubbed his soul
on ancient doubts
and self-made woes.
And though he longed
for steady ground
his tortured spirit remained earth-bound.
Dreamer lived on simple fare
of fantasies weaved in solitaire.
Imagination held full sway
until he’d dreamed his life away.
She stands above the crowd,
not threatened by sin’s dark rage.
Those who know her
praise her loud
and spurn the empty-headed crowd.
The world inside and outside of my apartment is hushed, except for the clickety-clack of the typewriter. I’m 27 years old. I don’t understand anything about life, even less about love. When I pause my typing to gaze at the beauty outside my window, my eyes fill with tears. The snow stirs up so many yearnings, I can’t even begin to name even one of them.
When I finally put the typewriter to rest, I’ve written nearly 20 pages of verse. I don’t know why I wrote them or what I’ll do with them, but they please me. I push away from the table, walk to the window overlooking the street, and stare greedily at all that white. I long to scoop it all up in my arms and keep it with me always. It seems to me that if my kids and I were forever enveloped in all that dazzling snow, nothing could ever harm us.
Reluctantly, like a lover loathe to part, I turn from the window to make up my couch for what’s left of the night. I’ve got a world of beauty outside my window, five beauties sleeping in the next room, and Lovesong echoing through my head. For tonight, at least, it’s more than enough.
(In less than a month after the composing of Lovesong, my boyfriend was released from prison. He authored my first black eye, and taught me what I should have known all along: love does not always beget love. Within the span of several months, his abuse necessitated my flight back to my native state. I spent nearly 3 days on the train with 5 kids, (the youngest of them just turned a year old), hemorrhaging through every outfit I’d packed from his unspeakable abuses. The memory of the writing of Lovesong is always bittersweet, a poignant interlude before my kids and I had to run for our lives.)
(I drew this of one of my sons during this period of time, in an attempt to calm myself.)