Bewilderness Writing

Bewilderness Writing unleashes our creativity and helps strip off the things that inhibit our exploration of writing and expression. The following is work produced by writers while participating on the program with Ellis Elliott.

For more information about Bewilderness Writing, and to see upcoming workshop times, click here.

T. Worthington Alford

Life Leaving

Empty of life,
grave darkness left after 
having met the inevitable 
sickness old age and death

If nothing dies
there is no room 
for new Life

Clearing the world.
Clearing my life.
Clearing my nose.
Clearing my eyes
of that which keeps me from seeing 
what I’m actually here to do.

Clearing the wreckage of my past.
Clearing out the clutter of the unnecessary crap 
that I keep accumulating with each
new iteration of myself that I create.

Once a runner,
I still have my marathon medallion
Once a biker,
I have my orange road bike and 
the photograph of me holding it overhead
after I had ridden from the west coast of Vancouver Island
to the east coast of Newfoundland victoriously.

I did it, I did it!
I rode the whole way! 

I wonder if it will 
be like that when I reach the other shore.

The Buddhist chant says:
Gate gate para gate
Para sam gate bodhi swaha
Gone gone entirely gone reached the other shore. 

There, there will be no one to take my picture.
Death does not look like or feel like a victory to me.
But then, there must be some similarity.
I did it, I did it.
I rode the whole way
I never gave up

I imagine:
Life leaving and 
Death coming in like a lover
swooping  me in their arms and whispering in my ear: you did so well, I’m so proud of you, I love you so much. I can’t wait to show you what’s next.

Christina Sears

Second-Hand, Minute Hand
“I must remember about chandeliers and dancing, about swans and roses and snow.”
― Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

you say time management
like it’s a good thing

——————————as if time swims megalithic, protected
——————————beneath the membrane of the sea

as if I am Captain Ahab, sweaty and wild,
spear gleaming in one hand, spyglass in the other

———————–obsessive mind a swirl of cogs and gears
—————————–performing rote calculations of will and ego:

how to? if only? i want to— i shall! An anthem of overcoming. 
under deck, super-ego slumbers on in the hammock.

you say time management
like its the best thing, a slogan, a practice

——————————efficient punching in with a time card
——————–at the factory. At the dealership. On the trading floor in Midtown. yet

perfect executive function is a fallacy
Can humans wake-board across roiling lava?

——————————Can the birthdays of stars be exact? And
——————————How much is sales tax in New Jersey?

even the boundaries of skin and bone
are permeable and prone to shift.
—————————–time with its multiplicities of memory, skill, and sleight
—————————–of hand is specific yet universal

Second-hand circles a wide sargasso sea. 
Minute hand’s a jumping bean. Too wild to fjord.

Christie Bates

Don’t Forget “I Love You”
After ‘Hamburger Heaven’ by Ronald Wallace

My teacher mentioned the other day how many people die in their bathrooms.

If you think you’d be surprised to leave from a moving car while running your normal errands, imagine the shock of leaving from the bathroom, where you’d stepped in for a moment, 
not dreaming it to be An Event.
Just a nothing between events.

Ajahn explained that people are just not very mindful in the bathroom.
There’s an illusion of safety
brought on by privacy
and we become heedless of the damp floors and hard edges.

Is there something you would say to your loved ones
if you took every trip to the bathroom as though it were a transatlantic flight?

Or, living alone, would you say to a friend,
“Call the police if you don’t hear from me within reason; say,
if I don’t respond to your memes with a timely emoticon?”

And don’t forget, “I love you!”

But heedless, unperturbed by the future, we sink
unsteady feet into soapy bubbles, 
allow the steam to build,
let the water blind our eyes.

Elle Wallace

Night Distances
After ‘Blessing the Boats’ by Lucille Clifton

The moon is the child of the earth, nest aglow in the cedar tree, swaying cradle in the night wind. I see you through the hall window. I see you afloat over rooftops, over treetops, blinking stars beside you in the black ink. And snow. I see snow, a light blanket of white on the ground, 
on the house eaves across the way. Everything glistens, everything carries the quiet like low tide to the shore. When I climb back to bed, I can’t help it. I shake R. awake, “It’s snowing!” Before rolling back to sleep, R. manages a few words“It’s cold, huh.” My toes buried deep inside
the blanket like hot sand on a summer day, late afternoon and the tide coming in until it’s as deep and reaching as it can go and stops rising. This must be how you were born, I think, how you pearled out of a long wait of lull and friction. That rise and reach for the blow of wind and taste of salt on your tongue, thecreatures you’d touch with your luminous hands. All your senses deeply alive and blessed before you turn away. The moon goes absent for a little while and you turn away. All those distances, the child and the thin beach towels drying on the porch railings, 
the red pail filled with salt and seaweed and the crabs from the tidepools still trapped but grasping for hope for a return to the sea. And when you wake up and open the shade, see there is no snow, not even a dusting – not on the ground, the rooftops, the cedar branches, you remember the island snow that fell. It was a day back in December, and it snowed light fluffs all day, was gone by nightfall.

Ana-Mari Hamada

Morro Bay, CA
Stable Orbits Remain
After ‘The Nearly New Moon and Crescent Earth’ by Dick Westheimer

Somewhere when the earth doesn’t gap and buck, 
shaking off indignities of neglect and war,
Is a weight a grip a hold 
There and then we call out 
and spin deeply into our circles 

Draw in arms and cast an axis of our gaze
Towards outstretched hands, fingers receptive from on high.
Feeling downward, taking an elemental course 
A river breaking open inside from foot through spine and skull.

The grasp of planets shedding their shards 
shadow shaping destiny out of choice and exploration 
Through our space and time, our lives.

There is no grappling for position, hand over foot
 nor lowered gaze from oppression or false awe.

What sets the spin into motion
– our silence, tender wish made movement.

 A monument of love
-her heart my breath she said,
my breath her heart-

The pause and the pricking of impulses
electric and charging forth 
unconverted. Heat.
A tilt off the line, then a break 
stop cut then start…again.

Gyre emerging from the song world of inner fault-lines
Deep echos rinsing through the wounds.

What drives the bend, curls the edges, sends our whole heart awhirl?

The seed the drop the dew on the cheek
Tear of our joy and spun from our grief.

Christy Allen

Greenville, SC
Magnolia Grandiflora

I have been trying to write a poem about a Magnolia tree for over a year. Snatches of words and phrases sift through my thoughts, and I string them together haphazardly like a child making a necklace of noodles and string. I compare her leaves to crinolines: they crack, they crinkle, they clap; they are glib and glossy. I try to describe her low-hanging branches: how they dip down to the ground then curtsy upward again holding twigs full of leaves and flowers, and later crimson fruit peering out of pockets. 

There is a small grove of Magnolia near the library, and I find solace in its secret architecture. When no one is looking, I sneak beneath her limbs, into the plush dim. I caress her mossy bark and fill my lungs, knowing the air that I breathe is her woodsy exhalation. I stroke the backs of her velveteen leaves. I study her elegant, clumsy, white blossoms. Her fallen leaves sing beneath my steps–too musical to be messy. I think of the poem that I cannot write. Words slipping through my mind like water through a colander, never pooling, never coalescing into the perfect arboreal tribute. One time, in stepping out from the arms of my elusive muse, I almost ran into a colleague I know. Shadows of confusion and amazement passed across her face. I just smiled and said “I’m trying to write a poem”, and that was all the explanation I offered. 

Last week when I walked by my beloved grove, I was struck speechless in mid-stanza. The landscapers had been there and cut away the low-hanging branches: those that dipped down creating nooks and niches for me to hide. They had raked away the piles of lyrical leaves, and had tucked in the knuckled roots under blankets of prim mulch. The exquisite, wild, mysterious tangle was gone; her dryads tamed and repressed. The child in me that mourns mowed lawns, grieves with the Magnolia on her loss, and the loss of her unborn poem.

Michelle O’Neill

Greenville, SC
After ‘The Body as a River’ by Alexandra Crivici Kramer

 In late summer wildflowers bloomed on the land we called “the farm.” No crops grew there. It had been long abandoned. My mother and her brothers inherited the acres. The rubble of a concrete foundation from a structure long gone was the only evidence our ancestors had ever lived there. 

We camped at the farm a few times before the land got sold and the money from our share slipped between my mother’s fingers and into my father’s alcoholic grip before it was gone. 

Wildflowers grow in the background of a blurry photo of my sister and me at the farm. She was about seven and I was about four. Looking at it, I can still feel the awkwardness of her arm around me, pretending to love me for the shot. Our house was ruled by divide and conquer. My sister never hugged or touched me in real life.

We are in our fifties now and she is living with her daughter’s family and homeschooling her two little granddaughters. They are near the ages we were in the photo, and drunk with joy because it’s Valentine’s Day.

She texted this morning saying it’s like a national holiday in the house. The girls were in the playroom singing, “It’s Valentine’s Day! It’s Valentine’s Day! I love everybody deep in my heart!” 

My sister and I were at odds much of our lives. There were long years of estrangement between us. We made our ways forward individually. 

Living with her granddaughters has been both healing and painful. She has grieved over what we didn’t have as children. How our sacred bond as sisters was never nurtured. 

A few years back she said to me, “I know I wasn’t a good sister to you growing up.” 

She added, “I’ve also come to know there is no way I could have been, given the situation.” 

It was time for her to let guilt go. I certainly wasn’t holding onto grievances anymore. 

She continued, “I promise I will never NOT have your back again.” 

My sister has been true to her word.  

We were born wildflowers. Resilient. With love rooted deeply in our hearts.    

Rosalea Ragland

Iowa City, IA
The Net

After ‘Love After Love’ by Derek Walcott

I drag behind me through the river of my eighty-one years is getting heavier,
full of my experiences, my people, my accomplishments, my failures, my losses.
Some are slipping away in the water, lightening the load. 
Still, the net keeps getting refilled.
It is heavy with memories of those gone.
I keep on, looking for a place to rest.
I must keep going.
I look back and love what I’m dragging behind me,
even though I’m tired.
I must keep going,
some of the treasures I keep,
others I let go.
Beliefs, friends, enemies, old grudges; 
the weight of it all changes
as I stumble toward shore.
I must keep going.
Suddenly the rocks are smooth,
the storm stops,
the sun comes out.
Maybe this is the end or
is this a respite
daring me to keep going 
to the waterfall where
we’ll all tumble down together

Christie Bates

Peel your own image from the mirror and pray to see what’s behind it. You don’t really know what you look like, anyway – when have you ever?

If the back of the peeling is sticky enough, you can smooth it into the collage of all the earlier images –

-the image of you, age 4, as you dreamed you and your sister standing side by side as grown women, smiling proudly at yourselves in the mirror, wearing adult versions of matching red corduroy jumpsuits that your mother sewed

-and here’s another, your face in profile, upturned in front of the brightly lit mirror under your mother’s profile, her thumbnails inadvertently leaving hour-glass shapes on your forehead, the bridge of your nose, your chin, her obsession 
with perfection unable to let those pre-teen blackheads take their course.

You could make a refrigerator magnet of this one, your 9th grade school picture, an absolutely beautiful image of a fresh-faced smiling girl, which you opened in homeroom with tears in your eyes (remember?) because you thought you looked so awful.

There are the wedding portraits, the nursing images, the laughter and chagrin when even extreme loss of weight could not restore the left abdominal stretched beyond return, where your eldest baby with her round perfect head had made room for itself

and then come the images you might never have come to love until your daughters’ posts on birthdays and mothers’ days, images made beautiful to you because their generous captions allow you to glimpse yourself through their generous eyes.

And now this newest image, you standing at the mirror, with your Gramma’s slight widow’s peak, looking into the face of friend.

Kathleen Everett

Mount Holly, NC
Celebrate My Mortality
After ‘The Body as a River’ by Alexandra Crivici-Kramer

I celebrate my mortality.
Resting easy in years,
the river’s long slow curve
from raindrop to sea.

I celebrate long days.
Short moments of memory,
conjured up and laid down
in faded tissue paper and gilt.

I celebrate moonlit nights,
fireflied with bedazzled comets,
green in their aftermath.
Twisting shadows before our eyes.

I celebrate hearts and minds.
Things once thought crystal
and gold, now tarnished
into lively dancing rust.

I celebrate the fleeting,
the spare, the unworthy,
the ordinary days earthwormed
into moss green Spring

I celebrate wren and robin.
Warbled watery song
piped fife-and-drummed
into clear bright air.

I celebrate my mortality.
Hidden sacred spaces, liminal lyghte.
Profane reaches of limb and organ,
immortal spirit of bone and blood.

I celebrate my mortality.