By Cortney Davis
can’t believe it’s April again.
Here in Connecticut, patches of stubborn snow still pattern our front yard, a square patch of grass hidden by trees. In the basement corner where I do my writing it’s also pretty chilly and dim—not because of a lack of sun but because of a general lack of poems. April is National Poetry Month, for goodness sake. So why am I suffering such profound writer’s block?
This is a question I ask myself every year when Poetry Month rolls around. The answer is always the same: I’m just not a springtime writer. I’m an end-of-summer writer, an autumn writer, a winter writer. I write in the months of involution and change, in the dark months, because I’m a poet who also happens to be a nurse. Or maybe I’m a nurse who also happens to be a poet. In any event, suffering, death and transcendence are my daily fare; the laying on of hands is my daily task. Friends ask me, Can’t you ever write a happy poem?
My hospital world is a place of both safety and pain, a microcosm, if you will, of each of our lives. It’s a world with an undercurrent of mystery, sensuality, spirituality, and a primal love that mimics the bond between parent and child or between lover and loved, with all the fear, longing, difficulties, tensions and joys of those relationships.
Caregiving at its best, like writing poetry at its best, is an attempt to resolve these conflicts: good-bad; abandonment-rescue; love-hate; harm-grace; fear-comfort. Perhaps I write poems about caregiving to discover in words the sensibility of any sacred space in which nothing is without its opposite. September poems.
I write as a woman whose job and whose subject matter are often pre-judged to be sentimental. June poems. But I’m not a sentimental writer. Even when my poems speak about the inevitable moments of healing and joy that my work as a nurse offers, they most often have a cool, sharp edge. January poems.
Most of all, I write as a poet/nurse who sees, hears, smells, and touches patients’ bodies. I recognize the “thin line” character of what we nurses and poets, do—the yin and yang of the sacred space of the body, of the poem on the page. I write along that line between sensuality and sexuality, death and healing, power and powerlessness, caring and neglect—between who is suffering now and who will be suffering someday. But no matter how I try, I can never write poems in April.
And so, praise to all the April poets who are now, during National Poetry Month, writing their April poems. I feel a twinge of jealousy—surely April poems must contain a turn, a morphing of metaphor, a passing from one season into the next; and they must be beautiful, filled with promise, especially the kind of delicious promise that seems to hold back its fruits until we are almost crazy with anticipation. Surely April poems are Holy.
Maybe if I work hard at being both a good nurse and an honest poet,
I might someday manage to make myself disappear, allowing both my
healing and my writing to become as pure as April, as April poems. For
now, I will cover my computer and turn off my printer. For now, as I
do every April, I will read and celebrate the poems of others.
Cortney Davis' Leopold's Maneuvers won the 2003 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and was published by the University of Nebraska Press. She has three other collections of poems available and she is included in several anthologies. You can learn more about Cortney on her website.