Poetry Friday: The Laws of Motion

Summer is a time to kick back and relax, but for teachers it is also time to work on projects we don’t have time for during the school year. This summer, I’m excited that my critique group and I are reading The Practice of Poetry and completing the writing exercises as a way to build our poetry muscles. Our first “assignment” was “Experience Falls Through Language Like Water Through a Sieve” by Susan Mitchell. (You can read Margaret’s thoughts about this exercise here.)

The gist of this exercise is to “use similes and/or metaphors to convey a feeling, an idea, a mood, or an experience you have never been able to communicate to anyone because each time you tried it seemed that you were being untrue to the experience.” My response, as usually happens when we write, took me to an unexpected place. I haven’t ever shared this memory from high school and still feel guilty that I stood by while a guy I was trying to impress was so mean to a stranger. In her directions, Smith writes that “we often write ahead of our own understanding.” Sadly, we often live our lives ahead of them, too. And, as with writing, our “conscious thinking [has] to catch up.” Writing and reflecting hastens this process, but some lessons take longer than others. Thankfully, this was a lesson I only had to endure once. Figuring out that “simile and metaphor are functional, rather than decorative” and using them effectively may take me a little longer. 

The Laws of Motion

The first time I saw you,
your face reminded me of the scarred,
pock-marked surface of Io,
Jupiter’s volcanic moon.

How brave you were to walk
into that unknown space,
carrying a plastic tray filled
with tater tots,
as if that would shield you
from the shining stars
of our little galaxy.

A comet sailed among us that year,
pulled me into his orbit,
blinded me to right and wrong,
caused me to wobble on my axis
until I was so off-kilter that
I didn’t say a word
when he turned to you,
pelted you with cruelty and insults.

To this day, I’m ashamed
I wasn’t strong enough
to pull free of his hold on me.
Ashamed that I didn’t have your strength,
that I looked away,
as you strode by
with your head held high.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Please be sure to visit Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe (how appropriate!) for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

12 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: The Laws of Motion

  1. Oh, Catherine….you really did capture that moment and the feeling of regret. The cafeteria remains a battleground of sorts for peer acceptance for kids. Why is it that those comets have so much power over us and some of our best lessons in strength are from the kids that hid behind tater tots?
    I haven’t done my poem yet. I will give it a try today. I’m having far too much fun traveling!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Catherine you have masterfully crafted a metaphor that brought me directly into this experience. Wowza! I can remember a time when I was the bully. I walked into a group of girls and let go a whopper. The looks they gave me haunt me to this day. Maybe I should explore it with poetry. I’d rather forget it, but that is obviously not working.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi, Catherine. These stories keep their power in our lives, no matter how many years pass. Thank you for sharing. I like the way you used everyday details, like the tater tots, to balance out that dangerous comet.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s interesting what we hold onto, isn’t it? So often, it’s negative feelings and experiences that haunt us all our lives. Glad you were able to articulate your regret in such a powerful way.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a memory. I’m trying to think of a moment I can remember that shaped my whole life the way this one has yours. Something that wobbled me on my axis, but helped me strengthen or find my true orbit.

    See? Your words are powerful! They are making me think…and probably write, too. Your metaphor is quite apt, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. OH MY GOSH. I have this PoP book, which I picked up at a sale at my daughter’s high school for a buck, sitting RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME in my writing room! May I join you in your pursuits this summer? My own critique group is on summer break….but I could take it with me to France today!

    Catherine, this is a wonderful post and a piercing poem in which, indeed, the metaphor is functional and more. For that reason, if I may, I have a suggestion for your draft. Email if you want to hear it. : )

    Liked by 1 person

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