Poets Online Archive
Transformation

I would ask you to look at this poem,  "Upon Learning Hearts Can Become Stones"  (from Gravedigger's Birthday) by BJ Ward,  through the lens of transformation.

Friedrich Schiller and the German Idealist philosophers, poets and artists spoke of the transformative power of art.  They saw art and the creation of art as a way to heal - particularly in the separation of man from nature. "Art heals precisely because it acts unobserved, and escapes judgment," Schiller said.

We live a series of transformations, some of which we are aware of, some intuitive.

BJ Ward's poem begins with the scientific transformation of a "heart turned to stone" and then the poem transforms itself from its factual, "journalistic" beginning into a poem that is quite something else. Poets such as Rumi, Mirabai, Blake, Yeats, Hopkins, Jarrell and Rilke, as well as contemporaries like Mary Oliver, Mark Doty, Stephen Dobyns, Naomi Shahib Nye, Sharon Olds, Adrienne Rich, and Alicia Ostriker would make a good reading list of models for this prompt poems.

Write a poem of transformation. You might deal with it on an almost literal level, or use an actual transformation as a start (as in the model) or explore the healing aspect of transformation.


THIS IS HOW IT BEGINS

After a year or so, the fog lifts,
the quiver in your voice subsides.
You toss a buck in the basket and think
maybe someday the cigarettes can go, too.
Maybe.
You don’t sleep as much,
don’t question the outcome,
don’t curse the day.
You cry over a game show, a relapse,
for all lost time.
You face the friend who knew you when and
had the sense to leave.
You count blessings, count
the hours in the day that will always be today.
You recognize fresh pain,
having never forgotten your own.
You rediscover it hurts to care,
battle with emotions that dare you,
Can you handle this?


Patti Conroy


TO BE TRANSFORMED BY ART

You must prepare, as for a journey or a long race.
It will not be easy. It will take everything. It will take awhile.
Fold your philosophy into a beat-up suitcase;
catapult it to a ravenous sea. Next, expel love and child.
Excise your most precious pain, like a lung. Betray it.
Accept gifts from those who approach with empty palms.
Like a walnut, break hard open. Bare your fear, play it
forte in a minor key. Brush death's hair. Banish qualms
from the day. Roll up your eyelids like shades, spin around
until stars fly from your ears, scrape the centripetal debris
from your brain. When you can't stand any more, lie down
in a cool white field with a pen, and lastly free
the dank desires from your banded heart.
There, you are ready. Be transformed by art!

Lauren Cerruto


SOME WORDS

I can think a thing a long time
with the words going
round and round
inside my head
like the gray gruel
mixing in a cement truck

but once I say those thoughts
once those words
escape my mouth
pour out
become exposed to air
everything changes.

The minute they're out
they start to solidify.
Too late now
to scoop them up
shove them back

for they've already begun
to work their alchemy
changing the elements
inside me, inside you

hardening --
a shameful statue
a concrete wall
a cold gray memorial
between us.

Violet Nesdoly


BREATHLESS

It took me almost forty years to learn how to breathe
all wrong. Now I'm learning again: beginner's mind,
tumble-down shack of a body, something always scratching
at my throat to get out. We do not breathe from the chest.
We breathe from the places of our energy--little reactors
glowing along my spine, like that flat and happy man's
there on the poster. See how tranquil one can live under laminating plastic
if only one learns to breathe? In my valleys, they're evacuating
villages, fleeing the threat of these unstable chakras.
What children would be born here if they stayed?
What fright flicks made to tell about the horrors?
I can almost imagine the trailers: yellow fog creeping down
the mountains, bookish men in lab coats, demurring in bunkers
before lantern-jawed generals, chests festooned with medals,
the rumbling voice-over: Forty years it slept and waited, and now--
I have to breathe. And there is homework. Forty minutes
a night, I have to breathe and think of breathing.
As if all these years I've lived here alone in a cabin
while the music swelled outside (minor keys, ominous).
As if I've waited on a mountain listening for the sound
of a twig snapping outside the window.
As if I've been holding my breath.

R.G. Evans


PACKAGES LIKE US

Sensitive as divining rods, honing in
on things that only forked instruments can find,
vibrations not discernible to the naked or the normal,
not to mention human, and that word fragile, fragile.
Packages that need to come with warnings: THIS SIDE UP -
DON'T SHAKE, RATTLE OR ROLL - HANDLE WITH EXTREME CARE -
and, of course, HAND-CANCEL. Sensitive-

look-at-us-sideways-and-we-crack-we-can-
feel-what-you're-feeling-even-if-you-don't-know-you're-
feeling-it-handle-with-extreme-care-this-side-up-don't-
shake-rattle-or-roll kind of existence is the pits, in my opinion.
The one thing positive, as I see it, for packages like us, is the ability
(and the choice) to hand-cancel ourselves if we've had enough

fragility and/or
vibrations.

Pammy


IT'S ALL ABOUT CHANGE

he is the essence of all that is
perfection, she would say with little prompting to anyone,
even those who showed the slightest curiosity
as to the gender of the infant she held to her snow white breast.
he is mama's little man
just look at those blues eyes, like his daddy's for sure.
and the ladies in town would all bite their tongues,
fearful lest one slip would have them whispering one to another,
the truth as it was, and not as this "poor girl" saw it.
how could she see blue eyes when they were as dark as chestnuts,
plain as day, they whispered to each other
over white lace linens and social teas.
even the church basement where they met to quilt every tuesday
was not spared the cutting remarks of two-edged swords.
and that hair, did you see it?
black as the coal dust from the peabody mine.
that's luther barnes baby sure as we're sittin' here,
lord know he's the only black boy in this town.
it was only out of kindness our menfolk let him stay,
after his mama and daddy burned up
in that little cabin that used to sit up on morgan's ridge.
and between them to the person
they swore that to be the truth.

and the coal train rolled slowly on it's way out of town,
with a few empty box cars,save one.
past the little church and the beer joint at the edge of town,
and the good old boys sitting at the bar
"nursing" their wounds from life's infinite injustices
.and talking of how times were changing.
on it rolled down the mountain
gaining speed as it crossed the clinch river.
carrying the lifeblood of a little town
from a little valley no one ever heard of
outside of appalachia.
no one except maybe the young couple
huddled together in the corner of an empty boxcar
watching over their newborn son as he slept
to the sounds of the clicking rails.
that no one ever heard of the town they were leaving
wouldn't bother them at all
for they knew it only too well
and that all babies are
born with blue eyes
they knew also

Ray Cutshaw


LOVE TRANSFORMS US ALL

'til Death do us part is far, far away
as they’re holding hands on that loving day
when rings are exchanged and vows freely made
against the background of plans duly laid.
The honeymoon proves it’s all that they say
except that it keeps tomorrow at bay.
A cloud in the sky is just so much shade.
(what in a cloud can make lovers afraid?)

He carries her over thresholds with care
(the house that they purchased needs some repair).
Together they pick the colors to use
- after an argument of what to choose -
after all, this is the place they will share
no matter what, it will always be there.
" Always’ becomes a big part of the dues.
Now, however, they have nothing to lose.

When ‘daily’ sets in, they’re a bit surprised
that each has some habits quietly prized
but not understood by others concerned.
Cannot new ideas always be churned
- and not just as old ones deftly disguised ?
Then they remember what parents advised:
" Respecting each other has to be earned;
remember this, or you’re apt to get burned!"

Then come the children - and Mom has to work
to keep things together. What must she shirk
in bringing them up; and what’s Daddy’s job
at home (Both checking that it doesn’t rob
from what they must do - as teacher or clerk) ?
They learn that marriage takes on a new quirk:
no longer can they be part of ‘the mob;’
alone now, they laugh - or quietly sob .

Hanging together in this weary world,
adjusting to life as daily unfurled,
do they have time to know how it started;
or how it would have been if they’d parted?
With children grown and away-from-them hurled,
Mama and Daddy - now no longer whirled
about by chance - find themselves still carted
by circumstance and therefor, much altered.

Retirement comes, and they smile a bit.
Daddy laughs while he says that ‘This is It!’
Mama grins as she faces her new day
with time on her hands to rest and to play.
They look at each other now, as they sit
in their new rocking chairs that seem to fit
the routine ahead. So, what’s left to say
except to sing out, "Accept comes what may?"

Finally, Mama sits out here alone .
She finds herself ever-so-slightly prone
to be at a loss in her lonely plight
(Dad had ’passed’ quietly in dark of night).
She wonders and ponders - with quiet moan -
what, in this life can she still call her own
to use and to master and still get right
(with children and Daddy now out of sight) ?

What does she figure now, what has she learned ?
There isn’t much money. Wealth they had spurned .
Their life full of passion - also of doubt
with many mem’ries she could do without.
Is there nothing at all for which she yearned ?
Using her mirror, she finally turned
her reflection into a laughing shout:
" I’ll spend ‘last-days’ with SELF to think about !"

Catherine M. LeGault


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