“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
My grandmother’s poetry lay in the rhythm of her breathing and the time-worn ridges of her knuckles and cheekbones. Her meter and verse stretched broad across her forehead and pooled in the crooked corners of her eyes. She drew heavy circles in the air as she walked, skirts swaying, heart beating. Elegies etched themselves over and again as she puckered and puffed on her well-worn cigarette.
Old songs, chanted, sung, talked, hiccuped out into the bright morning air were our poems. Words that fell like rain or danced like thistle seeds, words that fought one another to be heard over crying babies and the coughing of tar-filled lungs were our poems. Our lives were sound play, performative, spoken, echoing day after day – shuffling old feet, clanking pots; rustling grass, muttering hedgerows.
Stanzas personified in the rising and setting of the sun; the rising and falling of the life of the world.
We had no Shakespeare, no Dunne, no Tennyson. We had no Barret-Browning, Dickinson, Frost, or Poe. We had our hands, the road, and the days in between. We had stories and songs and each other.
We had silence.
My grandmother’s poetry lay in the curve and hollow of her spine; the pentameter of her fingers, ticking their way through half-empty cigarette packets. The form of her verse held by the metonymic idyll of our lives.
Being a Gypsy
is as much an elegy, a eulogy as it is free verse.