Discovering the Relevance of Words
Ten years ago I had a dream that the Icelandic musician Björk appeared in the corner of my ceiling and sang to me about poetry and witchcraft. I think it took me this long to figure out what she, or at least the Björk-informed part of my brain, was trying to tell me. And this might be why I am a late bloomer in most aspects of my life: gender, sexuality, writing, and witchcraft.
A magic spell is all about using the right materials to produce the right kind of transformation. A poem is a magic spell.
Björk knows all about this. The name of her most recent album, Vulnicura, translates to “cure for wounds.” In the recently released video for the song “Black Lake,” she repeatedly beats her hand against her chest as she weeps over the end of a long love.
My heart is an enormous lake / Black with potion / I am blind / Drowning in this ocean
The lyrics of each song echo the thoughts of someone who realizes that something is nearing its end—
You fear my limitless emotions / I’m bored of your apocalyptic obsessions
—or that something has ended—
You have nothing to give / Your heart is hollow / I’m drowned in sorrows / No hope in sight of ever recovering / Eternal pain and horrors
and the narrator is left to live with that pain until the transformation occurs.
On her Facebook page, Björk describes the experience of writing the album as a biological process: “The wound and the healing of the wound… It has a stubborn clock to it. There is a way out.”
By the end of the video, Björk has shed her stark black dress and emerges, clad in luminous petals, into a sunlit field.
I am a glowing shiny rocket / Returning home / As I enter the atmosphere / I burn off layer by layer / Jettison
In the act of writing a poem, I begin this process. When I read it aloud, it becomes a breathing thing. When I read it aloud in front of others, sometimes I surprise myself by shaking, crying, laughing, finding something in the words that I never knew was there before, reading it in a different way because I am different now and it means something new to me.
Other people talk to me about the things they heard in my poem and I am shocked and delighted.
I change in the act of writing poems and my poems, now separate from me, change in ways I can’t anticipate. My poems do things to other people that I will never know about. This is the only way that I will ever be something’s mother.
Once I create a thing, I set it free into the world and see what it becomes. I relinquish control so that I do not ruin it, a lesson I learned while teaching myself crossovers at the roller rink. Once I had the right materials (skates, feet, smooth flat surface) and learned to combine them in just the right way, the spell worked and I sped around those corners so fast I thought I could fly straight through the ceiling and up to the moon. As soon as I started thinking about my feet again, I would stumble and fall. Bruises on my butt and achy knees for days.
When I first arrived at my MFA program, everyone talked about “liminal space,” but I didn’t understand what that was. I didn’t know at the time how uncomfortable I was there, how I kept myself from it with endless distractions, addictions, and shortcuts. I didn’t know that my constant escapism from discomfort meant I would never write anything honest.
Who is open / And who has shut up / And if one feels closed / How does one stay open
Last night I had a dream that I was a murdered man digging in the dirt for his own bones. I found a severed hand that squeezed mine. I pulled every broken but still quivering piece of myself out of the ground and sewed them back together. My new body could hear whispers from the woods telling secrets that I would have known before had I been listening.
I believe there is a way out, and I am listening. I gather my materials.
Isobel O’Hare received her MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Account, FORTH Magazine, HOUND, Enclave, Dirty Chai, Map Literary, Cease, Cows and other publications. Her first chapbook, WILD MATERIALS, is forthcoming from Zoo Cake Press. She lives in Oakland, California.