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Spying On The Muse
By Charles Ghigna
January, 2007, 11:59

Capture the images surrounding your life and use them to create your poetry.
The question still catches me off guard: Where do you get the ideas for your poems? I decided to do something about it. I decided to spy on myself for a day, writing down the thoughts and activities that came my way, hoping to find the answer.

When my son was born, my wife and I purchased a wonderful contraption that allows parents to listen in on their sleeping babies. The day I chose to spy on myself began when I woke in the middle of the night to my son's babbling coming in over that nursery monitor. I listened for a while, then drifted back to sleep.

In the morning over coffee, I remembered that midnight serenade and how it sounded as though my son was speaking in two different voices, like characters in a dream play. The possibility of his having already discovered the joy of storytelling occurred to me. At what age does imagination begin? Are we ever able to fully comprehend our own inherent powers of creation? My son's babbles sparked those questions and this poem:

For My Son Who Talks In His Sleep

The babble of babies
rises again
in your room
and I wonder
what new friends
you're making tonight.

Not yet two,
you've learned
the joy of dreaming,
the endless gift,
my son, of making
the make-believe
come true.
Before you were born
a fortune-teller
told your mother
we would have
an author
for a son.

And I want
you to know
how much I love
hearing this story
you're telling tonight.

Exquisite lamb,
you lie awake
in dreams
conversing with
the other angels.

Your waking world
will never count you in
as just another sheep.

Creation is yours
for the making.

When I finished playing with that poem, I took another sip of coffee and began flipping through the morning paper. A startling photograph of two male deer stared back at me. Their antlers were locked in a struggle that brought them to their death.

Beneath the photograph was an article about the two young hunters who had stumbled onto the scene. The stark photograph along with the brief facts of the story triggered an emotional response in me. I tried to imagine the profound impact that scene must have had on its young viewers as they came face to face with one of Mother Nature's everlasting lessons.

Buck Dancing

Two eight-point buck
lay beside the frozen lake,
their antlers locked
in a last dance.
It was their rite
to fight for dominance
in this, their final
rutting season,
to die for the doe
they will never know.
This is the hunting season
when boys search
through the cold
for the buck that will
make them a man.
This is the season
they will find by the lake
their future frozen
for a moment
in the snow.

I was finishing Buck Dancing when the phone rang. It was a former student calling long distance. Said he was getting married, and just wanted me to know. His voice was distant and unsure, lacked the boyish enthusiasm that sang through his questions in class a few years before. I offered my congratulations. Told him how happy I was to hear from him. Wished him well. Said I was looking forward to meeting the lucky girl.

He was silent a moment before saying good-bye. I placed the receiver back into its cradle and picked up my pen.

Shotgun Wedding

The crude hand of courage
catches me by the collar,
shoves me into the car,
hauls me down into the hot seat,
straps me in for safekeeping;
the waiting steering wheel
grabs me by the fists,
pulls me left and right,
turns me in many directions;
the heavy car door opens,
points me to the church steps,
slams shut behind my back;
stiff shoes lift my feet
like puppets on parade,
march me down the aisle
to the smiling altar;
a voice inside my throat
vows "I do, I do"
while my mind ties itself
into a silent "not."

I looked up and saw my wife staring at me across the kitchen. I told her how happy I was the day we were married. Still am. My words sounded empty and flat. She lifted our son, smiled again, and carried him down the hall to his room for a nap.

I watched her walk away and quickly jotted down what I had tried and failed to say.

The Order Of Words

It is only the order of words
that I have to tell you
how much you mean to me,
just some simple choices
from all I've ever known.
"Put them down, put them down
and give them to her here,"
my head and heart echo each other,
an order I gladly accept.
But were I to write
of our love every day,
were we to live to be two-hundred,
I still would not know what to say,
I still would not know when to quit.

Later that day I decided to tackle a chore I'd been putting off for months cleaning out the closet. Halfway into the project I stopped, sat on the floor and began writing.

Cleaning Out The Closet

Sometimes I wish my past
were the corner of my closet,
a soft, familiar place
where I could stretch out
and lie down on all my worn-out shoes,
a place where I could step back in
and tell all my baseball buddies
I'm sorry for lying and nodding yes
when we told stories
about going all the way,
a place where I could retake
all my college tests,
a place where I could recapture
my promise of pitching for the Pirates,
a place where I could rewrite
all my published poems,
a place where I could keep my parents
as young as their wedding pictures,
a place where I could tell them
I love them, tell my sisters I love them,
tell them I wish they had a place
in the corner of their closets like mine
where we could go together
to say and do all the things
our distance never let us do,
a private place where all our regrets
hang like old suits in the dark,
a place where we could put them on again,
one by one, and never wear them out,
and never wear them out.

Where do poems come from? They come from anywhere and everywhere. Mostly from the stuff of our lives. As poets, we seize that stuff the stuff that moves us most and we try to discover what it all means by putting it down on paper or on the computer screen. Sometimes we surprise ourselves and find a poem in its place.
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Charles Ghigna (Father Goose) is the author of more than thirty books of poetry for children and adults. His poems also appear in a variety of magazines from the New Yorker and Harper's to Cricket and Highlights for Children. For more information, please visit

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