Free spirit

i don’t want to be
just a strand of dna
passing through time
or an echo of a face
repeated down the line

just another leaf falling
from the family tree
a bloodline that someday
ends with the end of me —

i want to be the sky
or an eternal poem
wildflowers growing
wherever seeds roam

i want to be the wind
or wandering clouds
or the rain that drifts
or a free soaring bird
or starshine at night —
eternity’s glowing
ethereal light

—Terri Guillemets

E. Markham portraits

When I saw photographs in an old book of the poet Edwin Markham, I had a sudden urge to try the “barbaric yawp” scene from Dead Poets Society. Teacher John Keating challenges student Todd Anderson to create a poem on the spot, after glancing at a photo of Walt Whitman on the wall. So, I stared at the pictures of Markham and wrote the exact words that came to me, without allowing myself to edit. Below are my two poems based on two portraits, and below that is the Whitman-inspired poem from the film.

Edwin Markham portrait from the The Man with the Hoe with Notes by the Author

“Side Portrait of Edwin Markham”
hair like roaming waves of the sea
eyes reflecting the light of heaven—
studious, compassionate, soulful—
pythagorean shiny nose
laugh lines loved into place
a beard that let the cat in
face aglow with manly health,
honesty and freedom
—Terri Guillemets

Edwin Markham portrait from Gates of Paradise

“Markham Portrait with Book”
a thinking eye
but jolly cheek
a furrowed brow
but kindly stance;
the hair of a hippie
and student & master—
the burden of life
and love of wife—but
something perpetually
unsettled within him;
button-up coat over
raw, naked soul—
a book in his hand
and ten in his pen
—Terri Guillemets

Walt Whitman

“I close my eyes, and
his image floats beside me—
a sweaty-toothed madman
with a stare that pounds my brain.
His hands reach out and choke me
and all the time he’s mumbling—
mumbling truth, like a blanket
that always leaves your feet cold.
You push it, stretch it,
it will never be enough;
you kick at it, beat it,
it’ll never cover any of us.
From the moment we enter crying
to the moment we leave dying,
it’ll just cover your face
as you wail and cry and scream.”
—Tom Schulman, “Sweaty-Toothed Madman,” Dead Poets Society, 1989, spoken by the character Todd Anderson

“I too am not a bit tamed — I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1856 edition

Saguaro arms

           a shrug, a hug
       touchdown, letdown
  waving, curling, sprouting
 disco, vogue; praise, prayer
 bird-pecked, green-specked
 skeletonized, or multiplied
 flower and fruity fingered
  flipped, frail, or fallen off
  perfected, nested, crested

—Terri Guillemets

Growing old

Minutes bloom
hours flower
seconds vine
through the hands
of time —
days hustle
weeks speed
decades scatter
in confetti’d years

—Terri Guillemets

Forty-four

i vomit confusion & butterflies
i sweat fear and i bleed dread
i fall deaf from society’s lies
i gag on metallic tastes of pain
i run from the reek of regret
i save my minutes & lose my hours
i dance on the minefield of mind
i freeze my worries for later
i breathe a reverie’d ether of beauty
i drown in fantasy too deep
i love on the edges of souls
i sleep on the shores of night
i glow at the sight of each morning
i delight in the sunshine of pleasure
i plant my seeds in thankfulness
i get high on nature’s magnificence
i stare in reverence at trees
i cherish each blissful breeze
i open every window i can
i invite every light to play
i adore every cloud in the sky
i welcome each raindrop & tear
i memorize every flower’s aura
i read old books & withering leaves
i paint myself with colors of truth
i polish the bright side’s halo
i chase angels & occasionally devils
i pray from within & without
i armor myself with art
i question my body and listen
i dream my heart’s inside-out
i work until i’m exhausted
i let go of some things & not others
i giggle breathlessly ’til i cry
i hug without asking why
i nourish my spirit with poetry
i cover my journals with ink
i drink my wisdom from teacups
i inhale wild mists of wonder
i hem my madness with sanity
i tick, i zig, i zag, and i tock
i err on the side of risk
i ride wayward shooting stars
i flow with the river of time

—Terri Guillemets