Poet and Writer, Kelly Belmonte, has written a deliciously, relatable contemplation. The few words of this poem keep resurfacing in my mind. It comes from her chapbook of poetry, Three Ways of Searching. Here, I’ll let you absorb it before I say another word.
“As I hang the laundry to dry,
clothespin by clothespin,
if your experience of us feels at all
like my experience of us”
Immediately, I love where this poem has landed me. I look around and the setting seems familiar and comfortable — at first. I imagine we’re outdoors at the speaker’s own home as the piece starts. There’s something about the rhythm of quiet housework that can be quite meditative. Your hands fall into automatic motions as they run through their well-practiced routines. You’ve pushed in the clutch, and your concentration is free to shift into personal musings.
Taking in the rhythm of Belmonte’s words, It’s easy to feel how the speaker could transition from this familiar place, memory by memory, “clothespin by clothespin,” into deeper thought.
The metaphor of hanging up the laundry has been fun to think through. What else is this narrator laying out on that clothesline? I can see this as a timeline of a relationship’s history. The narrator has fingered through the damp work of stringing up those individual, milepost memories, one by one — out in the open. After carefully ruminating through, it’s time for the speaker’s conclusion. “I wonder/ if your experience of us feels at all/ like my experience of us”
I’m tempted to veer off by one sidestep from the actual words, and get into how the speaker might cerebrally analyze their relationship. But that is not what the author has written. I’ve got to respect the words. The poem reads, “I wonder/ if your experience of us feels at all/ like my experience of us.” The focus here is on the awareness of how those in this relationship are tasting it’s journey — in completely different flavors.
The emphasis brought out by the enjambment of those two tiny words, “at all,” serves the poem well. It reveals just how much the speaker suspects a contrast in their “sense-of-view.”
And this matters! Why?
How do your feelings about a certain friendship impact how you approach say — going out to coffee with her? If you aren’t aware of it, it can completely hue how you interact. Now, what if that person’s feelings toward your relationship is utterly different? It seems when we’re working with such different senses of where our relationship’s been, there can be extra room for shadow. Shadow like unnecessary worry or misunderstood intentions. (Just think of the confusing nature of Facebook connections.)
It can also be extremely encouraging and enlightening to find out that the other person has always felt more grace toward you than you had for yourself.
Recently, I had a close friend of 19 years gently hang up a piece of our own laundry in front of me. I won’t be cryptic.
Traci said, “Bethany, do you remember that time that you said something to the effect of, “My friends have to put up with a lot from me because I’m an anxious person.’?”
“Yes, I remember that.”
“Well, I have been thinking about that for a while. I wanted to tell you that I have known you closely for many years and that is not actually how I feel about you. You are not ‘an anxious person.’ You have had anxious moments with specific concerns. But then you’ve worked through them. They are resolved. You are not ‘an anxious person.’ –That is different.”
Oh, this buttery bit of goodness was such a comfort. It’s been slowly melting into me ever since she said it. Her sense of where we’ve been as dear friends has been truly encouraging. (Thank you, Traci.)
Now, don’t worry. I’m not suggesting that we all go around quizzing every business contact and friend we have about how they feel about our relationships. The piece zeroes in on “wondering,” or self-processing through this idea. Leaving room for the other person’s feelings about your trek through life, can be illuminating. What a helpful backboard to bounce my next tricky interaction off of.
One part of the elegance of this poem’s etch is that while it sticks on a very specific question, it’s open-ended enough to ricochet in endless directions. Where does this touch on my friendships or “familyships?”
What about how I react and relate to the notion of God? I think if I really knew all of what God’s heart was toward me, it would be shocking — in a bracing but life-filled way. If I thought the insight from Traci was encouraging, how about this magnificent twist? The one where I discover with fresh eyes that the One who I hurt — was actually the initiator in getting us back together?
I’m so pleased that Kelly Belmonte has stretched out her arm to the world and let us see her book of poems. For anyone interested in finding out more about her poetry, her chapbook is over here and her lovely site is right over there.
The fun of poetry is that your reaction to it will be played in a whole other key. I wonder how it sounds.