When I was in my twenties, I wanted desperately to become a writer. But for several miserable years, I labored under the misconception that this meant putting words on paper that would (1) get published and (2) be praised by the critics as great or better than great.
I’m sure you know what came of that! I wrote very little, and nothing worth reading. My inflated notion of what it meant to be a writer left me frozen in fear of failure.
Then I read some words that changed my life:
“A writer is distinguished by the fact that he or she writes.”
I don’t remember who wrote those words, but they triggered an “Aha!” moment that still makes me laugh.
Suddenly it all came clear: “To become a writer, I don’t need to write world-class stuff. I simply need to WRITE! Hoo-ha! There’s an amazing idea! OK, here we go!” And so it has been ever since.
I blush to confess it, but I’ve had to relearn that lesson in recent years as I’ve begun aspiring to be a poet. It’s taken me a while to realize that this does not mean I need to be as good as Mary Oliver or William Stafford. A poet, I suppose, is distinguished by the fact that he or she writes poetry!
So here’s another one of my poems. In dark times, I often find solace at the ocean. But somehow, the Atlantic in winter brings me more peace than balmy breezes and a blazing sun on a tropical beach. This poem comes from an experience of seeking consolation on “the February shore.”
“The February Shore”
by Parker J. Palmer
Let this stillness settle on
the surface of your mind—
The figured sand, its fossil prints
and hieroglyphs held fast in memory of ice…
The surf-flung pools framed here and there
as mirrors to behold the shining day…
The ice-glazed rocks that lose their weight
while floating in mirage of glancing sun…
Upon that sea of cold foreboding blue
a second sea of sequined, dancing fire…
Over all, the silken air,
the seamless and forgiving sky…
Now let this ocean breathe for you,
beat your heart and pump your briny blood,
heave your sighs and weep your sea-salt tears
that flow beyond the rim of earth
farther than your anxious eye can see—
while under all, incessant surf
insists on letting go and letting be.