As of today, I have survived 38 years and one day on earth.
The poems have helped.
However inconsistent my practice has been in the nearly three decades since I wrote my first one (a shamelessly earnest little number called No Guts, No Glory, of which I recall precisely one stanza), I can say—still without shame!—the poems have helped. Reading them, writing them, or rather, trying to.
One problem with reading poems all the time is you learn what (you think) a good poem looks like, what it sounds like. You feel what it does: Rearranges your heart. Makes a memory yours. The words simply make sense, or not at all, and still make something gorgeous where before there was nothing.
And you realize how far you have to go, how much you have to learn.
And you think, fuck this, I’d rather be stupid.
But you wouldn’t, not really. That’s just how you talk to you sometimes.
What you know, when your better angels are behind the wheel, is that reading and writing and loving on poems has helped you re-learn how to speak to and of the world, which of course, includes yourself.
Maybe 60% of the poems I’ve written, I’ll be the only one to see. Not because I’m ashamed of them. Because they’re none of your business. They’re barely any of mine.
What they are, more than anything, is practice. Attempts to describe or imagine a moment, and what it’s like—or could be—to be totally in it. Some of them are decent. Others listless, even lazy. And others still are doomed to incompletion; picked to the bones one day, at best. But every one of them is practice, and more often these days, play. Not everything has to be something. It’s enough, sometimes, to just be.
Ariel’s been telling me for months I said a thing once but I refused to believe him; I was sure he got every part of it wrong and also he meant Toni Morrison. I said to him, I said, “No, man. I mean, I like to say it because it feels true, but it wasn’t me who said it. That was Toni Morrison.”
It’s a pretty good thing to have said, and I’m glad she did it. But Ariel was right, which means I was wrong—I’d said something else entirely, though not entirely unrelated.
(Get you a friend who writes down everything. They remind you what you believe.)
What I said, more or less, and meant completely was that writing is the process of becoming a person who is capable of writing what you want to write. It’s a mouthful. But that’s so often how we speak. In mouthfuls.
Anyway here I am, 38 years and a single day old, wanting to become someone capable of writing what might for a moment rearrange your heart or make a memory yours, or sense, or something gorgeous where before there was nothing.
I made some new year’s resolutions about how I’d like to live if I’m to have the life I want:
eat what feels good (colorful; what we have / what we make)
enjoy the books on the shelves
buy less, own less
play with poems, also patterns
keep making* bread
Let’s see what happens.
In the meantime, have some poems.
(The kind I’d like to learn to write.)
by Linda Gregg
All that is uncared for.
Left alone in the stillness
in that pure silence married
to the stillness of nature.
A door off its hinges,
shade and shadows in an empty room.
Leaks for light. Raw where
the tin roof rusted through.
The rustle of weeds in their
different kinds of air in the mornings,
year after year.
A pecan tree, and the house
made out of mud bricks. Accurate
and unexpected beauty, rattling
and singing. If not to the sun,
then to nothing and to no one.
by Molly Brodak
I am a good man.
The amount of fear
I am ok with
I love many people
who don't love me.
I don't actually know
if that is true.
This is love.
It is a mass of ice
melting, I can't hold
it and I have nowhere
to put it down.
The moment I saw a pelican devour
by Paige Lewis
a seagull—wings swallowing wings—I learned
that a miracle is anything that God forgot
to forbid. So when you tell me that saints
are splintered into bone bits smaller than
the freckles on your wrist and that each speck
is sold to the rich, I know to marvel at this
and not the fact that these same saints are still
wholly intact and fresh-faced in their Plexiglas
tomb displays. We holy our own fragments
when we can—trepanation patients wear their
skull spirals as amulets, mothers frame the dried
foreskin of their firstborn, and I’ve seen you
swirl my name on your tongue like a thirst pebble.
Still, I try to hold on to nothing for fear of being
crushed by what can be taken because sometimes
not even our mouths belong to us. Listen, in
the early 1920s, women were paid to paint radium
onto watch dials so that men wouldn’t have to ask
the time in dark alleys. They were told it was safe,
told to lick their brushes into sharp points. These
women painted their nails, their faces, and judged
whose skin shined brightest. They coated their
teeth so their boyfriends could see their bites
with the lights turned down. The miracle here
is not that these women swallowed light. It’s that,
when their skin dissolved and their jaws fell off,
the Radium Corporation claimed they all died
from syphilis. It’s that you’re telling me about
the dull slivers of dead saints, while these
women are glowing beneath our feet.
What It Looks Like to Us and the Words We Use
by Ada Limón
All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.
*trying, trying, trying