Sunday, June 8, 2008

Poetry Intensive Weekend at Mendham

St. Marguerite's Retreat House

Christine Waldeyer and I headed north in my car which Christine was kind enough to drive. For the past ten years, Ed, my husband, had driven me to Mendham for the Poetry Intensive Weekend...then picked me up and at Maria and Laura's invitation, joined us for lunch. He was unable to make the trip this year but insisted I join Maria Gillan, Laura Boss and the 25 other poets who would be there. Many new voices would be joining us along with several poets who, like me, had been there many, many times This poetry weekend turned out to be a bit more intensive than previous ones. In the middle of a heavy rain storm, a tree came down on the power lines Saturday night and we were in the dark until Sunday morning! Was our poetic weekend ruined? Not by the proverbial long shot--we read our poems in the game room circled around the ping pong table. Using pocket size flashlights given us by the Sisters from St. Marguerite's Retreat House across the grassy mall, we read poems we brought with us and poems we wrote there. Most of us were in bed by 11:00 when the last lights -the emergency exit lights - went off. A few night owls gathered in the pitch black dining room for a few howls and the only other noise was the sound of bare feet trying to find their way to the bathroom. Sunday morning, when the sun came up, we came to breakfast armed with pens and pencils, ready to write new poems. After a morning of reading and writing and saying goodbye to old and new friends, we drove down the steep hill on our way to the exit, passing Sister Paul walking Petey, their pet dog. We passed Macaroni's corral too.. Macaroni was a homeless wild horse who, tired and hungry, wandered by the convent one day and found a home with the nuns In many ways, we poets are a bit like Macaroni, we wander in with haunting words looking for a poem and these Episcopalian nuns give us a place to put our words together. It's always difficult to say goodbye to both the poets with whom we shared words and this restful retreat.

The Dining Room

The dining room isn't just for is where we eat our breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets but we do workshops here too--either with Laura or Maria. We also do one-on-one critiques at this table and there are times we just sit here feasting on chocolate chip cookies and gabbing about poems, poetry and "Petey." It's the perfect place for night owls too!

The Game Room
This is where we gathered together
the night of the blackout to read our poems
by flashlights donated by the nuns.

The Sun Room
We workshopped here with both Maria and Laura.

The Snack Bar
Chocolate chip cookies and fresh fruit wait here for hungry poets.

A Poem About Petey

The Morning Walk

I watch from my bedroom window
as Petey takes Sister Clare
for her morning walk.
His leash matches the red ribbon
holding the silver crucifix around her neck.

She tries to keep Petey on the macadam,
but he wanders across damp grass.
She pulls his leash gently,
calls his name softly.
He raises a leg on the milk carton-

She raises her eyes to Heaven
Come, Petey, come.
Petey sniffs the building,
the shed, the dewy grass,
squats on his haunches
to relieve himself again.

This time Sister doesn’t raise
her eyes to Heaven.
Instead she stares downward
so intently I wonder
if she’s seeing evil things
beneath the earth...

Or, is she telling Petey
where he’ll go if he doesn’t behave
She tugs the leash firmly,
Petey, come.
He trots to her side,
looks up adoringly.

She kneels, takes him in her arms,
whispers in his shaggy ear,
nuzzles his neck
They stay together
for a brief moment-

Long enough for me to start my day
on a heavenly note.

—Gloria Rovder Healy