Living Life Intimately

There's a particular poem I like to read on my birthday and during the last two weeks in December. The poem I religiously read aloud is "When Death Comes" by Mary Oliver. Spoiler alert, I've posted the last two stanzas below:

When it's over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

I find this poem electrifying! It's a call to action! It demands that we plunge into life with a sense of urgency before it's too late.

I recalled Mary Oliver's poem when I visited the Munch Museum in Oslo several years ago. As much as I enjoyed studying Edvard Munch's paintings in college, I remembered enjoying what he had to say about his paintings even more. The museum did not disappoint. Right beside Anxiety, 1894 was a little placard that explained, in Munch's words, what he had seen which inspired him to paint this painting -

"I saw all the people behind their masks, smiling, phlegmatic...calm faces...I saw through them and there was suffering...in all of them - pale corpses - who restlessly hurry - rush hither and thither along a tortuous path whose - end was the grave. E. Munch"

Immediately, my mind fused Mary Oliver's galvanizing poem to Edvard Munch's haunting words. The question then becomes how do we want to live and what steps can we take to move in that direction? I am currently re-reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. In the book she writes, "Writing is the act of burning through the fog in your mind." I completely agree! This solitary sentence encapsulates why I feel the imperative, if not desperate, need to write. In a funny sense, it's the fog that precipitates the call to write. If there was no fog, would I write?

I wrote "Living Life Intimately" after Natalie Goldberg suggested teachers actually do the assignments they assign. I've given first graders, second graders and fourth graders graphic organizers to help elicit answers to questions like - What does red sound like? What does red smell like? What does red taste like? What does red feel like? What does red look like? What does red feel (as in an emotion) like? Writing is empowering so I try to minimize my voice as I try to guide my students to find theirs. I use Hailstone and Halibut Bones by Mary O'Neil as a model to help my students become more comfortable playing with figurative language. You'd be amazed by the quality of their poems and, if you give it a try, I bet you'll be impressed with your own. The two most important guidelines to keep in mind are - Be specific and receive the thoughts that surface with a tone of kind curiosity. "Living Life Intimately" is my attempt to describe myself using my five senses. The beauty of writing, however, is that tomorrow I can use my senses to describe myself all over again and the poem will be significantly different. You can think of writing as the gift that keeps on giving!

Living Life Intimately

by Lauren Taub Cohen

I am mint chocolate chip

ice cream bejeweled with

rainbow sprinkles

and the cinnamic sting

of atomic fireballs.

I am a Japanese Maple

kissed by the silver mist

and a stray tabby

in search of a home.

I am the color of

plum twilight

mixed with the

peachy-pink bloom

of dawning dreams.

I am the sound of

somnolent rain and

the splash of laughter.

I am the scent of

jasmine tea in winter

and the frothy ocean spray

in summer.

I am bagpipes keening

and the flirtatious call

of a Celtic fiddle.

I am a spirited dancer

punctuating life

with emphatic pep.

I am the percussive punch

in “Carmina Burana”

and the lullaby

the moon sings

to the celestial sea.

I am temporary.

I am transitory.

I am living life

intimately.