Happy May! And welcome to a new once-a-month feature at From the Heart! It’s called Heart of the Month. Once a month, I will share a story of someone I’ve met, encountered or know that I think you’d like to know about too. Today I invite you to join me in sending May’s Heart of the Month to a man named Ed Probst. Here’s why.
A few weeks ago, I was invited by a local church’s Women in Conversation group to do a program on poetry and therapeutic writing. As this is quite a liberal church, men are welcome at Women in Conversation, just as women are welcome at the monthly Retired Men’s Breakfast (though I think they have to sit at a separate table).
And so it was that Ed Probst was part of the Women in Conversation evening. I’d met him before, but we’d never really talked to each other; I remembered him as friendly, unassuming, sort of quiet. He had to leave at 9:15 that evening to get to his night shift at the Post Office. Everyone talked a bit about what had drawn them to the topic of therapeutic writing, and Ed said that he wrote poetry, hadn’t really shared it with that many people, and was interested in learning more about how it can be therapeutic.
I talked for while about why I think poetry is essential, then we read a poem called “I Know the Truth” by the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva. After feeling our way through that poem, everyone was invited to write, in any form they wished, about some of the main topics this poem speaks to, namely forgiveness, compassion, and a deep awareness of our shared human condition. Everyone wrote for 7 minutes.
Here’s what Ed wrote:
Twenty plus years from there to here
In this hallway, where we work
This golden aisle will be the place
the place of the offering up
And, as we walk
through the ceremony of the amends
Both light and impossibly heavy
it envelops us
There together, in the break room
Standing in front of the vending machines
will there be change
My first reaction to this poem was to burst out laughing because of the cleverness of the last lines: standing in front of the “vending machines,” will there be “change?” I loved it. What’s also very cool about this poem is that it takes a serious and sobering topic–making amends–and places it in the context of the every day (the “golden aisle,” Ed explained, was the yellow linoleum floor in the hallway where this encounter happened). It’s both a ceremony and a mundane encounter, both “light and impossibly heavy.” Amazing. Though I try very hard not to be evaluative at my workshops, I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “That is one NICE poem.” [For Ed’s explanation of what this poem means for him, see below].
When someone cranks out a poem that in its raw-7-minute-old-form can do all these things, something in me sits up and takes notice. So I called Ed the next day to ask him more about his writing. He said, “I write a lot. I write when something clicks in my head.” He described listening to books on disc at work at the post office–fiction, non-fiction, comedy, poetry–and said that he finds “inspiration in a lot of the stuff I hear or read.” He writes on the backs of envelopes, napkins, little pieces of paper.
When I asked Ed “what he did,” in that way you do when you first talk to people, he said, “I work for the Post Office.” But really, he’s a poet.
So I asked him if he could send me some more poems, because writers deserve readers, and readers deserve writers who put their hearts out there and try to make sense of the world in a way that can touch others. A sweet, moving, observant poem called “You Got” is what I got. Here, in Ed’s words, is what it’s about:
“This is about my first separation for any real length of time from my son since his birth. I felt both anxious and wary about his first long distance trip on a train without me being there. I had total confidence in my wife Nancy’s ability to travel with him, yet I still could not easily let go of the fear I had inside. So, after they boarded and the train pulled away from the station I walked over to my favorite coffee spot, Cafe Kopi. I sat at a table, prayed for God to watch over him and then I put pen to paper.
It was so immediately rewarding because by the end of the poem, I had the comforting thought of his safe return and my loving gift I could give him upon their arrival back home.”
You got ~
You got up on Friday morning
You got dressed in cords and fleece
You got peanut butter toast and
milk for breakfast
You got a little whiny about
making your bed
You got your teeth brushed
You got your coat and mittens on
You got your backpack
You got in the car and
sat in your booster seat
You got your seatbelt on
You got to listen to
James McMurtry in the car
You got a little excited
You got your seatbelt off and
hopped out of the car
You got your backpack again and
I got your suitcase
You got to push the button
on the elevator
You got your ticket
You got your coat off
You got to watch a DVD
on the player we borrowed
You got in line with your Mom
and I when it was time
You got your coat on again
You got antsy
You got hot
You got your coat off again
You got a little warning
about pushing over the luggage
You got up
You got your coat on again
when the train arrived
You got in line with us and
put on your backpack
You got a hug from me
You got a kiss
You got to walk to the platform
by my side
You got to give the conductor
You got to get on the train
with your Mom
You got me staring at you
with so much love I could burst
You got my heart and
took it with you
You get to keep it till I see you again
And we got a glimpse into a father’s love for his son, a man who uses words to make sense of life, and two amazing examples of how poetry and writing can heal, help, move, and inspire. Hearts to you, Ed Probst! Thanks for sharing, and keep up the good work!
Here’s Ed’s explanation of where the poem, “Restitution break” came from:
“This poem is about making amends with a person I had really cared about when I was much younger. Unfortunately, we had a really bad falling out and went our separate ways. But, as fate would have it, we ended up working together for fourteen years. I could never screw up enough courage in all of that time and I felt badly every time I saw her. I thought of how poorly our friendship had ended and my pathetic part in its demise. Then I saw her standing in the hall at work. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. So I prayed very quickly to have the right words come and with my hat in hand, asked her if we could talk. She said yes and I am sure that we both came out of it slightly different people. Even though we are not best of friends today, she still says hi with a smile and on the rare occasions when we run into each other, we stop and chat a bit about old times. For that, I am truly grateful.”
This story is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing Ed’s story and poetry. There is a poet in all of us. We just need to let them out.
I am sorry it took me some time to get to this piece on Ed, a poet in the Post Office. It demonstrates that art, writing and contemplation are available to all of us. I really enjoyed his poem about amends, the word play.
It is a very good peom! I find writing is incredibly healing and fulfilling. I try to do it several times weekly for no one’s pleasure but mine although my daughter-in-law saves many of my e-mails on family for my grandson.