Chapter Two: Publication
By Sharon Doubiago
I’m five, spinning cartwheels under the Los Angeles sky, to the rhythm of the mantra I’ve learned from Socrates: Know thyself.
For years I remembered, or rather “understood” and articulated my five year vow not to be a poet or creative writer as having to do with the lying words that created the Vietnam War, and with my formalist/classicist education in poetry. If that’s what poetry is, as my professors taught, it was not for me. The images inside me, the language and rhythms, the concerns which fuel me are not of poetry. I’d just make a fool of myself if I wrote, that is exposed my inner self.
Deeper, I feared the images inside me.
Deepest, I feared that my story, if I told it, a real danger if I kept writing, would kill my father and my mother.
During the time of this vow, however, I had an important correspon-dence. Ramona was a close friend with, magically, the same name as my hometown and the feminine of my first love’s name, Ramon. We exchanged thirty-plus page letters two and three times a week.
On November 22, the Linga Sharira of 1975—we had just moved to Albion Ridge on the Mendocino Coast—Ramona’s brother, Verne, com-mitted suicide. She asked me to write a poem about it, a request I couldn’t refuse.
Soon afterwards “My Brother Took His Life November 22, He Tied a Plastic Bag Over His Head” was published in a local paper. It was my second published poem. The following week a local man killed himself by tying a plastic bag over his head.
I’m standing in the front room of our cabin reading the news story of this man. I see his body, my poem lying beside him. My ears are beginning their old ringing, my heart to pound, and my sight is going—my Self diminishing within the body, growing smaller and smaller in the deadliest of prisons, the lie pressed on me since infancy: it’s your fault.
My greatest fear as a writer, that my words will kill if I tell the truth, seemed to come true with this early publication. But then something happened. A crack began in the fictional world. I didn’t faint. I didn’t renew my vow. I went to my desk, and in trepidation and loathing, wrote it out.
Four months later, after nine years, my great love, Max, left me and the children because I had become a poet. His parting words were, “If you write about me, I will come back and kill you.”
I knew compassion for his position and denied, except in the night-mares, my fear and the injustice. I called it “The Missing Poem” and wrote around our actual story. Still more years later, on the eve of the publication of my first book, I realized I had weakened my art for his unworthy sake; he still dominated and controlled me. In the most fragile of epiphanies I finally realized: it’s my story, too.
The immorality of exposing a loved one, one with whom one has had the sacred experience of knowing, is probably my largest understanding. I’ve always called this love and quoted Rilke: “The role of the lover is to protect the privacy of the loved one.” My journey has been to see that this cosmic law has not been reciprocated for me, that my soul has not been protected by the ones who were to do this. Now I come back to my child-hood secret, but my love is not less. Now I search for the true balance, my betrayals and theirs, of unconditional love. Now I know it is the Goddess holding the Scales of Love who is blindfolded, not either of the lovers.
I wasn’t wrong in 1969 about Vietnam. War begins in the Lovers’ bed, in the House where Father is King. I just didn’t know myself.
Sharon Doubiago was born and raised in Southern California. Her memoir, My Father’s Love/Portrait of the Poet as a Young Girl, Volume One, November 2009, Wild Ocean Press, was a finalist in the Northern California Book Awards in Creative Non Fiction, 2010. Volume Two, The Legacy, has was published in February and is excerpted here. Love on the Streets, Selected and New Poems, was published by the University of Pittsburgh, November 2008, and received the Glenna Luschei Distinguished Poet Award, and was a finalist in the Paterson NJ Poetry Prize, Feb 2010. She has written two dozen books of poetry and prose, most notably the epic poem Hard Country, the booklength poem South America Mi Hija, which was nominated twice for the National Book Award, and the story collections, El Niño and The Book of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes.