The Power of Poetry

by krstaten

I originally was going to write this post about my recent trip to Barnes & Noble where, upon finding a poetry book that looked interesting and opening to a random page (as I always do in bookstores), I found a poem the author wrote about waiting for her father to die, which reminded me that my father-in-law was diagnosed last week with Stage IV Lymphoma and we don’t know how much time he has left, and I broke down crying sitting cross-legged on the floor of the narrow bookstore aisle. I was originally going to write this post about how poetry can find us at just the right (or perhaps, as it were, wrong) time and unveil all our vulnerabilities. I was originally going to write this post about how poetry connects us with strangers in unexpected ways by pulling us into universal human experiences in ways we can relate to.

But I’ve spent most of this week trying not to think about my father-in-law’s lymphoma, and while I was lying in bed thinking about how I don’t want to think about it, I thought of my grandmother.

My grandmother is 73 years old, and she resists technology with the irrational hatred and anxiety of a Chihuahua jumping away from a blowing leaf. It’s not that she finds it dangerous; it’s that she hasn’t figured out what it is yet and would rather avoid coming into contact with it than doing so. It took us years to convince her to get a cell phone, because she’s getting up there in years and if she didn’t answer her home phone for any extended period of time we wanted to have a way to contact her to make sure she was okay. Even when she did get a cell phone, it was less because we persuaded her to do so and more because we bought her one as a surprise, and for the first three years she never so much as turned it on.

We got her to set up a Facebook account the same way. That is, we upgraded her to a smart phone, taught her how to use it (she still calls us every so ften to ask us to remind her how to do things like open Google Maps or log into a program she had accidentally logged out of, and her text messages, though rare, are always an adventure), and we created a Facebook profile for her, adding friends and family and promising her it would be helpful. I’m sure she felt like an animal at the vet, unnerved and feeling uncomfortably coerced regardless of all the reassurance in the world.

And that’s the story of how my grandmother became a Facebook lurker. She swore she read all of our posts (in the same way, I’m sure, she swore she would use that first cell phone that was never turned on), but for the first three months, if she hit the “like” button it was a surprise. None of us expected that she would ever go so far as to actually type a comment on a post.

Then one day I posted this.

See, my family, we do play Cribbage. And it’s serious. For about twenty years, my mom, her brothers, and her parents played for a family trophy, one that was coveted for its bragging rights. They played team tournaments–each person partnered with their spouse (it has been a three-generation tradition in my family that each of us has taught the person we would marry how to play Cribbage)–and the first person to win seven games got the trophy and the family’s sense of pride for weeks to come.

When we’re losing we get up and walk around the chair for good luck. When we’re REALLY losing we insist the blue deck is the problem and we bring out the red deck (or vice versa). When we’re winning, we just taunt.

When my uncle dismantled the family trophy with aims to “improve” it and lost the pieces, my brother and I chipped in to build a new one, and now it’s our generation’s turn to fight for that trophy.

So this poem made me think of my family. I posted it to Facebook, and a couple people shared it, and…imagine my surprise when, on the post in which my mom shared the video, I saw a comment from grandma:

“That reminded so much of
Your dad.rememberhow he
Would snap his fingers when
He would draw the crib card”

Her typing was better than I would have expected on a touchscreen smartphone.

And then it hit me: That was the first thing she herself had posted to Facebook. Ever.

Papa died in 1999. He would have been 59 then, and grandma 58. Papa taught grandma how to play cribbage probably well over 50 years ago, and now fifteen years after his death here was grandma, giving in to the temptation of technology because a poem–though she had never shown much of an interest in poetry–still moved her enough to reminisce via Samsung.

I think a lot about how poetry can connect us to strangers and to ourselves. Looking at it now, I realize I don’t think enough about how poetry can connect us to our loved ones in the most surprising and accidental ways.