For our children, never to be born; It was always raining; Requiem for the Whole-Hearted
By: Laura Walker
For our children, never to be born
We breathed life into so many things in those early days,
dreams we inflated breath by spoken or unspoken breath.
Sitting on the grassy slope of our future, we watched
the sky, listened to other people’s children play
in an invisible park, hunted roly-polies and ladybugs
to write songs for. Hunted for you.
We filled our lungs with an image that wouldn’t hold, hands
laced in an arc above your sleeping head.
And when it was clear you would never come, how sudden
the abortion, how bloodless and hollow the ache.
It was always raining
I won’t say now that I was
at fault, but I was
rushing, always rushing
trees and desperation
tunneling my vision
until brake lights and a
curve sent me spinning
left me facing back to
the road just traveled
I stuttered out wordless
thanks, hands tight on a
wheel I didn’t control
That was the first time
I almost died. The next
came years later—
a different journey on
the other end of
the same state, still
rain and the fatality of
rush, but someone else’s
this twice-charmed time
I won’t say now that it
was his fault but it was
clearly no one else’s and
there was maybe nothing
I could do about his slow-
motion careen across the
surface of water and into
me and there was nothing
anyone could ever do
Requiem for the Whole-Hearted
It’s solid muscle,
but we pretend it’s bone—
pretend, too, that what fractures
will heal given the right measures
of time and tending.
We metaphorize this pain
until it breaks down:
At 23 I thought I would die
without ever having a broken heart.
Trapped in a rain-streamed moment,
I could divine neither past
nor future versions of myself,
body clenched against a pain
I thought was myth until I lived it
and then lived it again
Lucy must have felt the same
waiting for her John James to return,
letter-lines home like
I cannot bear to be without thee…
I wish thy happiness and nothing else...
rubbing shrugged shoulders with
It is impossible for me to say
if I will remain here forever.
He did eventually come home,
but it took four years
(and how much sorrow?)
(and what heartbreak?)
What they never say about coming out
is how many hearts get broken in the act,
how many casualties we leave strewn
in our wake. Integrity is a selfish fight.
And truth, like all worthwhile experience,
Is heavily tempered by pain.
Even after love like that (like that)
it’s hard not to pull away
pull inside myself where
I can examine these new
wounds—jagged and deep
—and wonder what kind
of scars they will make
you grow in size
as well as distance from me,
living dimensions of life
—breadth of joy, depth of frustration—
I’ll only hear of second-hand.
There’s a crack in my chest
where you broke through
and escaped a space too small
to contain all of who you’ve become.
Lucy outlived John James by 23 years.
The art was all sold or destroyed,
along with the home they shared
until his broken mind took him
away from her before death.
She spent half her life married to him,
half divided between the hope of childhood
and the disillusionment of being finally alone.
Does love have a limit?
In Spanish, there’s no word for heartbreak.
There are broken hearts—sure, sure—corazones rotos,
but the closest thing to heartbreak is desengano:
disillusionment, disappointment, sometimes
translated as “seeing things as they really are.”
Like the falling we do into love
is an illusion only hurt can break.
Laura Walker holds an MFA from Northern Arizona University, and writes poetry and fiction. She currently teaches writing classes at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, where she lives with her wife. From Southern California by way of Flagstaff, AZ, she always finds herself wishing for a little more snow and a little less sun. Her work is featured or forthcoming in Roanoke Review, Sugar House Review, Zone 3 Press, and elsewhere.
Interview with the Poet:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I wrote my first (very bad) poem when I was in middle school, and I’ve been writing on and off since then. Twenty-five years and counting—and most of the time I feel like I still haven’t gotten it right!
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
I can’t say for sure what the very first poem was, but I remember reading “Summer’s End” by Judith Viorst (of Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No-Good Very Bad Day fame) when I was a young teenager, and simultaneously falling in love and having my heart broken by it. Something about that sense of childhood’s irretrievability struck a chord with my adolescent self.
I also had an early crush on the British Romantics, especially Wordsworth and Byron. I memorized Byron’s “When We Two Parted” in college, and still know it by heart.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
I love so many poets and poems: Langston Hughes, Mary Oliver, Rita Dove, Sharon Olds. Ross Gay’s “the bullet in its hunger” and Galway Kinnel’s “Little Sleep's-Head Sprouting Hair in The Moonlight” are particularly stirring to me. And then there’s spoken word and performance poetry, like Danez Smith’s dear white america and so much of the Def Poetry produced by Russel Simmons back in the day. I’m no good at that kind of poetry, but I appreciate the hell out of it!
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
Reading or listening to good poetry nearly always gets me in the zone—as long as I have the time around it to fall into the thoughts and words it brings to the surface. Often a line or image from someone else’s poem will kind of tug on my sleeve, and if I haven’t given myself space to follow where it leads, the idea goes away. That’s why I try to only read poetry when I can pay attention to it.
I’m not sure that I really have a specific process. I write and revise poetry almost exclusively by hand, and frequently with a cup (or five!) of tea. I like the advice of writing a poem in a single sitting, but it’s not always practical, and so I usually have an idea that I come back to over and over again. Oh, and I find that reading what I’ve written aloud is vital. A poem can look perfect on the page, but until I hear, I just don’t know if it’s there yet.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
Very seldom do I write to form—unless I’m trying for something specific, like a ghazal or sestina (both of which I have current works in progress). Usually I just start, focusing on word choice and line breaks more than anything; I like enjambment that mystifies and delights, and so I’m particularly tuned into that. I pay attention to how a poem looks on the page, experiment with line length and white space, and let the form emerge on its own.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Read and imitate widely! Let yourself be influenced by all kinds of writing, poetry and prose, song lyrics and dictionary definitions. It seems contradictory to say you’ll find your voice by copying others’, but there’s something about that process that leads you deeper inside yourself.
What is your editing process like?
I try to make each poem the best I can on my own, and then I always, always workshop it. I’m fortunate to have fallen in with some gifted poets (shout out to John Belk, Sarah Bates, and Danielle Dubrasky!) who are thoughtful readers and careful givers of feedback. When I workshop, I usually have specific questions and/or “trouble spots” in mind that I need direction on, and then, on my own again, I just tinker until I get it right.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
That’s such a good question! I wish there were a surefire method, but like a lot of aspects of writing, it’s often a matter of trial and error. Sometimes I have a closing line or image in mind that I sort of grope my way toward—but of course, getting to the end doesn’t always mean a poem is finished, you know. So again, I rely a lot on my writing workshop group. There’s often a feeling I’m going for, and once it hits that inner resonance somewhere in my chest, I know it’s complete.