By Aaron Belz
Sunday, January 10, 2010;
The Apostle Paul wrote, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." Because I am interested in the way children make sense of the world, this statement has always intrigued me. A child sees language itself as a novelty; beyond that, a child must begin to understand the rules that govern its relationships with other people, from the most intimate and developed, to the official and institutional, to hundreds of casual encounters with strangers. Children soon discover that the system is complex and sometimes inconsistent. After about 25 years, a normal, well-adjusted adult has the rules by rote, and language has long ago become mundane.
So there's a problem on both ends. While for children the world is disorienting and full of wonder, for adults it's too familiar and predictable, full of groceries, cable bills and therapists. Writing poetry helps me bridge the gap. I find an immense amount of energy in discussions I have with my own children -- the oldest is now 11 -- and many of my poems derive from those discussions. A couple of years ago my youngest daughter and I were playing the "Cloud Shape Game," and she pointed to one rather amorphous cloud and said it looked like a cloud. Obviously, she was right. Just as obviously, to a veteran player of the game, she was breaking one of the unwritten rules. But my mind was racing: Do some clouds look more like clouds than others? Is there an ideal kind of "cloudness"? If so, maybe she was onto something. This led me to try to articulate the rules of the game, which led to the following poem.
(Editor's note: To see this poem laid out correctly on paper or on your screen, click the Print button in the Toolbox.)Thirty Illegal Moves in the Cloud-Shape Game
A Rorschach blot
A dragon head
Crumpled up paper
Aaron Belz teaches English at Providence Christian College in Ontario, California. His second book, "Lovely, Raspberry," is forthcoming from Persea.