Last night I returned from St. Louis, where I spent the week attending the 2010 Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society Convention with nine other Chapman MA/MFA students who were invited to present original work and critical essays. As is typical when I travel, the week was replete with discovery – of a new city and urban culture, a new landscape to explore, new opportunities and fresh inspiration, new faces and friends, and of new or reawakened desires and dreams and stirrings within my own soul.
On the first night of the convention, the featured keynote speaker was poet Li-Young Lee, whose books of poetry include Behind My Eyes (2008) and Book of My Nights (2001). What is most prominent in Lee’s poems is their ability to evoke the senses – taste, smell, hearing, and touch. Lee writes of simple, childlike things in a way that reveals their underlying complexity in their connection to the human experience. His poem “Tearing the Page” begins with “Every wise child is sad,” and then goes on to describe the melancholy of a child who knows or perhaps senses that “his breathing turns a wheel / pouring time and dream to leave no trace.” That “the rain, given the chance, would fall on him / and darken him.” I thought of my own childhood and realized that I had been a child like Lee described, wise and wary, somehow understanding innately the temporality and tenuousness of life and love.
The next day I was struck by the desire to discover anew the joy of a child. To dance and play unabashedly, to throw a ball and run through sprinklers, to eat cake that isn’t fat-free and not substitute fruit for fries. I skipped the morning convention sessions and slipped out of the hotel in my running shoes. The famous Gateway Arch was directly across the street, and I spent the morning running happily along the tree-lined paths that meander beneath the stunning 630-foot stainless steel structure, racing up and down the Jefferson Memorial steps, petting an elegant black horse inaptly named Harry, doing handstands against a sturdy oak, and turning cartwheels under the Arch. I felt free and giddy, and I reveled in the carefree simplicity of the moments. My presentation was still ahead of me, and there was work to be done. But, for the time being, I celebrated the wonder and joy of life, with the wisdom of a child.