Wednesday, December 20, 2006
An area writer's Christmas grace
By DAN BARNETT
Her debut as a teenager was not auspicious. "I squandered every bit of my teen ... and early adult years. I was pregnant at 13. I had an abortion. At 14, I was with child again, and at 15 I gave birth to a baby girl in June of '72. Around this same time I started experimenting with different types of drugs and alcohol to find something to make me feel at ease with life, because I was pretty bound by feelings of inferiority, inadequacy and anxiety. Six months after the birth of my little girl, her father died of an overdose of alcohol and heroin (he was only 16)."
Though her life spirals yet further downward, local author Alma Garrett, who looks back on those years in "Poems From My Soul" ($12 in paperback from Red Lead Press, www.redleadbooks.com), finds another, infinitely greater nativity, and the power of God come to earth. "Wonder of All Wonders," reads the title of one poem: "Love pure and Holy, undefiled, / Wrapped in a manger / In the form of a child." "You rain down treasures / From heaven above;" she writes in "Reign, Rein, Rain," "Your grace, Your mercy / Your peace, Your love."
The book is a deeply personal testimony about that love. In the first part, searing narrative is interspersed with poetic commentary. In the latter part, as if a great song has broken forth, Garrett writes again and again of "The Call": "There's a call, can't you hear it? / To be one with the Father, son and Holy Spirit."
"Seventeen years ago," she says in one of the last narrative passages, "I surrendered the use of drugs, alcohol and my life to Jesus. ... It has been an uphill climb as well as a challenge, and I've got a long way to go. ... I don't mean to say that I am perfect. I haven't learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be."
Her earlier life featured a succession of boyfriends. They were pretty but deceptive packages, addicts of various kinds. One of her poems is entitled "Don't Be Taken In."
"In 1983," Garrett writes, "I moved out of the Bay Area to a small town in Northern California. I moved to get away from everything I knew and everything I became. I was getting tired of drugs and the mess they made of my life, I was tired of the people in my life, I was tired of men using me, and all I knew was that I needed a change. I didn't understand that if nothing changed on the inside (my heart), then no matter where I went my environment would be the same. ... I would take my jealousy, my fears, my anger, my memories, my pain. I would take everything."
As for drugs, she did take everything. The last piece in the book, "Tripping (Revised)" juxtaposes a kind of cool, swaggering rhythm with an abrupt warning of the spiritual dangers: "Shoot it, toot it, drink it, chew it, / Pop it, drop it ... YOU BETTER STOP IT."
But that's not the end of Garrett's story, a testimony of Christmas grace. "Work in me Thy Father's will," she writes in another poem, "To do of Thy good pleasure; / Birth in me the likeness / Of heaven's most precious treasure."
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.