Hills hills miles miles
empty of us Each
under our 4am blankets
in our funnels of breath
nearer to the dark
glass bottom of emptiness itself
Deeper than the glass we peered through
at dinner under the clicking of conversation
No conversation now
where a goblet of breath empties
down a gullet red with swallowed distress
into the cavernous never-lit void
There an undiscovered aurora
borealis emits its lonely
sheen onto the dark sea
starry acidic deep
infinite and intimate where
It’s no farther from my house to yours
than an arc inside
a star’s pinpoint of light
against the clear dark of tonight
And still nearer
the distance between us
Under the roads hills breath
is a cat’s cradle of hollow fibers
where once is forever once
we’ve touched We’re the sparks
arcs of urgency to connect
the dots Seurat to continuity
end the awful space
inside between us
Filled glass unfilled
lungs dots in the lightdark spectrum
white of our eyes
black of the room
We’re blind pixels of a story
we can’t tell or see
Without effort our lungs fill again
Starlight soaks the hills seeps
in reaches us here
by Jed Myers and Priya Keefe
When Dana invited me to give this venture a try, I thought immediately of Priya, with whom I’ve collaborated in various ways many times in recent years — we’ve written poems back and forth, I’ve performed aloud with her some poems for two voices, backed her up with guitar while she recited or sang, she’s helped me host poetry gatherings… and our sensibilities, as persons and poets, are deeply resonant. So I had no hesitation in asking her to join me in the emergence of a poem for Dana’s potential editorial delight.
Upon agreement from Priya, some weeks back now, I sent her a “seed” of something, a short segment starting “hills hills miles miles…” with the idea she’d respond by adding, altering, subtracting, reacting — who knew?! I knew I was addressing, in a kind of gut language, the reality of what separates us across the landscape of space and time, inviting her to wrestle with this with me. And she did — she added to it, and then I added to that, and then in the several backs and forths of it by email attachment exchange, followed by meeting over coffee and phone conversation, we elaborated and shaped and modified this little piece that seems to express a shared feeling about our lives being too separate, where distances that manifestly get in the way of more abiding connection are inescapable yet at the same time not present in our depths, not actual at the deepest levels of personal truth, but O how we do struggle with the distances, the discontinuities, the hills and miles, as our more overt conscious usual selves. We sense there is a deeper stratum, a “cats cradle” of interconnections, between, among, any and all who’ve ever really touched, been moved or shaken, loved, changed or been changed, but this sense is usually remote. The poem hopes to bring this a bit closer.
The process of the poem — and a way to wonder about its success as a poem, I think — is a struggle toward resolution of an irresolvably dual truth. We are at once in the actual and the experiential worlds — the world of the hills and of the “hollow fibers/where once is forever” — and it may well be that at some fundamental level deeper than conscious experience, “under the roads,” an ineradicable continuity abides. This is a wish, a longing, a conjecture or intuition, and one pole in the tense polarity explored by us organically in the poem.
We didn’t discuss topic or approach beforehand. My partner Jed started the poem, wrote eight lines and emailed it to me. I wrote eight lines, emailed it back. We each took another turn and then seemed to agree, without discussion, that the first draft was complete. Although I did not state that I had written a conclusion, he responded with an email that indicated he also felt the first draft was complete. My favorite part of this process was watching the mystery unfold.
We agreed to each take a pass at editing before we got together via phone or in person. I edited lightly, trying to stay true to the original version and not insert too much of my voice via editing. I felt there was only so much further I could take the poem without discussing its meaning with Jed.
We met in a coffee shop on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I brought a copy of each version of the poem: the original, Jed’s edited version, and my edited version. Knowing it can be informative and inspirational to hear one’s work read by someone else, I read aloud Jed’s edited version, then he read aloud my edited version. Then we discussed areas where we felt meaning or language was unclear. New understandings evolved through this process! Through reading and discussion, we came up with another version that was more lucid and balanced our two voices.
I think the next time I embark on a process of writing a poem collaboratively, I would like to try discussing an approach beforehand. Although challenging to find and integrate a balance between both voices in the writing and editing we did apart, the discussion and editing we did together was playful and energized the poem.