9.21.2008

A Really Great Trip

Juliette and I returned yesterday from a rushed yet fantastic trip to Ohio for "Celebrating Our Own," which was the first of a series of events commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Wick Poetry Program at Kent State University. We left early Monday morning, numerous hours after we were supposed to. The flight to Ohio was decidedly unfantastic; by the time we boarded the plane, Juliette had already napped and played out all her toys. Plus, everyone else on the plane was grouchy since they'd had to wait so long, so hardly anyone smiled at the baby and no one offered to help. But we made it in one piece.

It was a totally hectic week to be home, seeing as how Marie & the Taylor crew moved out of their house and temporarily into my parents'. Marie and I still managed to go to Bob Evans, jump on a trampoline, and play with Barbies together. Basically, my job was to swoop in and whisk her away from all that stress to have fun. Not a bad job description at all. So even though we normally would have hung out more, the times we did were great. That Lily and that Charlie are so cute, too.

Although I certainly didn't see everyone I wanted to see, Juliette got quality time with all her grandparents, and we managed to sneak out for pizza with Lisa.

Juliette spent the week drilling her newfound gross motor skills - the girl is thisclose to crawling. She can now pull herself up to sitting and standing, and can get from point A to point B through a series of rolls and falls and scoots and tumbles.

While Grandma and Grandpa kept tabs on Juliette's floor routine, I got re-immersed in the poetry community of which I used to be a part - and, as I was reminded this weekend, still am, though that relationship has been stretched by time and distance. First I went off to a local school to teach a poetry workshop to a class of fourth graders. Hands down, fourth grade is the best. For everything, but especially for poetry workshops. Then the official Wick events began - an afternoon reading of the students who won this year's scholarship competitions, dinner, and the evening reading, which was past scholarship winners.

I was part of the evening reading. Since I haven't written poetry in a long time, I read a couple old ones, and then I read part of a sermon manuscript. Which is not to say I preached; I read it as I would read creative nonfiction (which is, after all, not too bad a descriptor for a particular kind of sermon). It still felt pretty radical to read a sermon manuscript in a university auditorium. But it made sense; my undergraduate poetry days have as much to do with how I write and preach as anything I learned in seminary.

The next morning the old poets (i.e. the past winners) did a panel that was supposed to be about literary journals but ended up also being about the internet and community (I think some of us just don't follow directions well... but man, did we have fun!).

And then we had a picnic. (I called it a Wicknic.) And here is where I will have a hard time not getting weepy. Because that picnic was populated by such wonderful human beings, and they're all so far away again. In addition to my new friends, there were just so many people who are dear to my heart: Maj, David, Alice, Maggie, Carly, Amanda, Dan, Lynn. It is pure grace to me that I belong to that circle, but not surprising; the thing about the Kent poetry community is that the circle is always open.

I wished Ben could have been there, too.

We got up at the crack of dawn yesterday and headed back to the airport. Juliette did really well on the way back. We were among the first to board the plane, and I stood up and sat Juliette down on the seat ahead of us. She exchanged smiles with nearly everyone who boarded. Even the dour-looking business man cracked a serious grin when she giggled at him. As soon as the plane took off she conked out for two hours, at which point I devoured Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Excellent novel.

I knew the trip to Ohio was really over when we passed Stephen Colbert in the LAX airport.

So Juliette and her Mama are home again, happy to be reunited with Pops, but missing the Midwest as much as ever.

Friends
by William Stafford

How far friends are! They forget you,
most days. They have to, I know; but still,
it's lonely just being far and a friend.
I put my hand out - this chair, this table -
so near: touch, that's how to live.
Call up a friend? All right, but the phone
itself is what loves you, warm on your ear,
on your hand. Or, you lift a pen
to write - it's not that far person
but this familiar pen that comforts.
Near things: Friend, here's my hand.

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