Started this morning reading pages from an old journal, something I invariably do at exactly the right and wrong moments of life. The year was 2008. I had just left a home, job, friends, and one of my cats behind to move my life out to the west coast, to Seattle. In 2008 I hadn’t learned to call myself a poet, even though I had been reading poetry and writing poems since childhood. That came later. At the time my truest self identifier was “palliative care nurse practitioner”, a mouthful, and not very revealing of the deep attachment to death I had developed from years of taking care of people with HIV/AIDS in the South Bronx, and working politically with people with AIDS in ACT UP NY.
Shortly after moving to Seattle I wrote:
“Perhaps the sense of choice now is a culmination of all the past choices. Perhaps I am simply taking responsibility . . . credit . . . for my new life. It’s not as though I have an over-determined belief in choice. I do not. I know how little I have, we have, control over. I know how swift the current, how far from ordinary life the river can drag body and soul. I know and I choose to know. That is one sort of choice. I also wish to be able to love my life, to know it, and to feel gratitude for my being. And when I face a lack of this deep within my daily life, I (eventually) find the strength to search it out in a new place.”
Today I do call myself a poet. I still work as a nurse practitioner, still work in end-of-life care, but envision retirement in a couple of years. I probably will continue to work in that all-encompassing field beyond retirement –the identity feels profoundly internalized– but the balance will shift away from caregiver and more towards witness, and as witness, poet.
Of many things that struck me in the journal entry was finding the legs of a poem I later wrote. Turned out to be fortuitous, the poem, “Ice Would Suffice” was published in Poem-a-Day/Poets.org last February. I love that my own deeply personal thoughts about my own life have traveled so far from the pages of a journal.