Happy Birthday to my best friend, Beth! I have not posted much this week as I’ve been revisiting old poems (she holds quite a collection in my library) and determining what/which poem to post. For some reason, when events come up, where I want to share or honor someone with a poem, it’s one of the most complicated tasks. This week as I’ve revisited tons of poems, which Beth is the subject or simply in the poem, I’ve realized, as a writer, it’s rare, for me, to write a poem where the poem is simply about one person. As I shared in my Mother’s Day post, the people like my mom and my best friend, do not have one poem that is typically just about them. One, it’s rare that I write poems typically about one person. They may have said a line in the poem or an event they are going through or we are going through triggers the poem, but, for me, to get a download of a poem about one person almost never happens. It’s something that, if I want to create, I almost have to work really hard. It’s a lot of piecing things together with a very specific pattern in mind to create the finished project. My writing process, in general, is like that. Typically lines or words will come, and I have to write them down immediately wherever I might be or I’ll lose them. I typically go through two phases in writing, despite writing every day to remain disciplined, writing is a very two part process. The process is ‘collecting and researching,’ and ‘putting it all together.’ I have notebooks upon notebooks of words or phrases that I will use. There are poems that take years to be pieced together. There’s rarely is a total download of a poem. I think that’s why it’s so challenging to write a poem about a specific person you’re close with. It’s also just extremely hard to describe in one piece of writing, the complexity of your experiences and what that person means to you. When I force myself to write a poem about one person (not an experience with the person) but a poem that personifies our relationship as a whole, I often walk away feeling like it’s generic. Poems often are about specific experiences and feelings and when you have a lifetime friendship with someone or relationship, there’s a million of those experiences. The person is not so much in one poem, as they are collectively with you, traveling through all the pieces of your work. Beth is my best friend so whatever I’m writing about, she’s most likely involved. There are specific poems where she says something to me and it’s in a poem or an event occurs that inspires a poem and typically those poems go bigger and represent something other than that event or phrase. As I looked through lots of poems this week trying to find one that would stick out, I recognized, as I did when I was trying to find a Mother’s Day poem, that certain people travel through your work with you. In every poem, there’s a piece of Beth because I could tell you when I was writing it, where she was and what she was doing, and many times I discussed my feelings on the topic or incident I’m writing on with her because she’s my best friend and I value her ideas and opinions regarding what I’m thinking about, which translates to what I’m writing about. If truly I were to give a representation of who she is and what she means to me, I would have to give her every poem I’ve written. I decided to write a new poem and try my best to make it about our friendship. One of my earlier poems that got acclaim when I was in writing school, was a poem called “Lilacs.” It is a poem set on a visit to see Beth when she lived in Berkeley. As I read that poem and was contemplating the idea that I will always have access to Beth through my poems. She lives in them. If I need to find her, I can go to the poems. The poems sort of provide, for me, a documentation of our friendship. Re-reading that piece, which I almost posted, made me think about how we both love the smell of lilacs. In several poems where I’m writing about her, I reference this fact. As I was putting this all together, I realized, similar to the scent of Lilacs, which is this amazing, memorable scent that, if you think about, you can smell, it was a good metaphor for my relationship with Beth. She is in the smell of lilacs and she is in all my poems. If I need access to her, I can find her in either place. The story of our friendship, and who she is, can always be found in either place. So… I went to the books and learned what I could about Lilacs and pieced together this poem. Is it my greatest work… sadly no. I’m sort of embarrassed as this is the poem I’m posting for her for her birthday. The thing is she is too big of a person in my life to fit into one poem. Our relationship is too complex and anything I would write would feel ‘generic,’ because to describe someone who has impacted your life in such a major way cannot be summed down to a poem. Beth is my person in life. She is my ‘go to.’ I do believe somewhere before we were both born, we selected each other to be one another’s ‘person.’ She cannot fit in any other role because those roles ‘mother, sister, girlfriend, wife,’ come with expectations that would limit what we are to each other. So, I believe, I or we agreed, that in this life, we needed to just be each others ‘best friend,’ or ‘person.’ I’ve always known I need her in this role. To put her in any other, would be to lose her where I need her most. Of all the relationships I have in my life, I feel really, really blessed that I got such a great ‘person’ or ‘best friend.’ There’s nobody I can think of who takes it more seriously and plays it better than she does. You know someone is beyond special when they live not just in one poem, but to find them, you simply go to your work and they live there. Beth certainly does. I debated not even writing a poem because I knew I was going to walk away feeling like it was inadequate. Acknowledging that the task of being happy and pleasing myself with a poem about her, was not going to happen, just reiterates how important she is to me. With that, I did write a poem. It does not do you justice; however, like the smell of Lilacs, which I use in the poem, I carry you with me in all the sights, sounds, sensations I write about because whether you’re there or not, you always are. Happy Birthday to my best friend and ‘person!” I don’t know what life would be like without you.
I feel we know each other as strong as we know the smell of lilacs in spring.
We are like insect friends. We need to know where we are going or been.
We will find the same lovely pocket of a flower and always unite, buzzing
about as if the winds never separates us. When everything goes silent,
you are just a whiff away. I always know the scent of lilacs, as do you.
We burrow closer everyday, a tunnel of friendship spanning nearly thirty years.
To think, on that day, when you and Elisha fought at the mall,
and I took your side. We didn’t know of the internet, personal phones, much
except that we hoped our lives would be eighties movies we watched
repetitively Pretty in Pink, Adventures in Babysitting, Stand By Me…
When I’d call you in college, calling card in hand, we’d talk until
‘our minutes ran out,’ as someone sat across the hall cursing our names.
If I added up all the nights spent in our parent’s basements, in their backyards,
drinking jugs of Sangria, it makes you the person I’ve probably spent the most time
doing nothing socially with. Never having attended the same school,
rarely living a full year in the same city, and still you are my favorite smell of Lilacs.
The idea of a sprig of Lilacs conveying a secret meaning, has been around.
Flowers as a “divine messengers’ is an ancient concept. The Buddha’s
words dropped from the sky as flowers. This language of flowers is known as
Floriography. All my words about you are scented in Lilac.
We first new each other as Purple Lilacs, by definition represents,
first emotions of love. I revisit a poem I wrote in our twenties. We are in Berkeley.
It’s April, and we can smell lilacs everywhere, but we cannot see them.
That is when we learned of White Lilacs, which symbolizes,
youthful innocence. Today we know collectively all Lilacs stand for,
beauty & pride. Friendship certainly lives in that very definition.
Time measured in years of friendship is beauty. We are
prideful of ‘old friends.’ The years of our friendship is towers now.
We’d become a young Redwood or Douglas Fur. People look up and awe
at the survival of such a long enduring friendship, as they’re rare. They gaze
without even knowing the droughts and plagues, the threat of saws and invasive species,
we have endured. That is for you and I. That is our history.
Lilacs are sensitive creatures. They must be constantly pruned and cared for.
If dead branches are not tended too, they will suck the nutrients out of the tree.
Friendship requires the same amount of detail. You and I
know how to keep lilacs alive. We found each other in the
early in the spring of our lives and never let go of that love
for our innocence. Our friendship was born in the season of the lilac.
Our love for that first smell in spring, tied to those long nights
on our parents phones, learning about each other, dreaming
with each other. Lilacs are in a group of flowers that make up a family.
They represent ‘the youthfulness and innocence,’ component of family.
In my life, by definition, you are represent that very component.
In another poem a writing professor advises,
When you find someone you want in your life forever, surround them,
with lilacs, then every time you smell that smell no one can deny,
you will think of them, even when you’re apart, and it will feel
like not a day, not a season, no years, or time has passed.
The smell of lilacs, like all great friendships, is eternal.
Smell is our sense most connected to memory,
and, of all the wonderful smells of flowers, Lilacs,
are the strongest and most rare, a fitting language
for friends given to each other for a lifetime of wonderful inhalations.