Friday, April 21, 2006

Life by Cliche

Outside, torrential spring rain is spattering against the new leaves of the sweet gum tree near our kitchen door—its branches tap against the windowpane. Thunder sounds in the distance, rolling closer and closer. And if life were indeed like a novel, the sound, punctuated by birdsong, would foreshadow an ominous evening. Instead, the puppies are curled beside me, smelling of damp fur from a quick trip outside. Archie is twisted in on himself, like a roly-poly—his muzzle perched on his haunches. Dixie is sprawled on her back, pressing against my hip, her legs lifted in the air above her and her eyes half-open as she drifts closer and closer to sleep. When they are here, at home with me, these tiny beings siphon my time. It is time I could use sketching outlines for a novel, penning feature stories, or jotting rhythmic lines with the intent of forming something like a poem. But when they are here, I am the provider of carrots, the opener of doors, the mitigator of conflict, the bringer of water, and the prison guard that tracks down escapees. And I love them for it.

I’ve spent much of the day making preparations for a trek to a small town in eastern Ohio that borders West Virginia. I gathered basketfuls of laundry, ran the dishwasher, and made myself enough coffee to last the day. There are endless variations on the minutiae of the everyday. The morning, though, was consumed by the Internet, by email, and by job searches. Sadly, much of the job searching has been mere pissing in the wind. Thus far, I’ve been contacted by two 419 scammers from Nigeria, a corporation that takes advantage of a name similar to IBM to defraud jobseekers into signing up for non-existent courses, and a website that apparently doesn’t exist. Greed knows no bounds.

During my freshman year of college, after I “discovered” myself, I wrote a letter to my mother explaining my decision to study poetry. I can’t remember much of the text—although I suspect she has kept that letter, protected it with plastic, and stored it in a three-ring binder on a shelf near her sewing station. What I do remember about the letter is that it was more melodramatic than a daytime soap opera. I told my mom that I had to follow my heart and that I did not care if this meant a life of poverty or if it meant that I would end up face down and drunk in a gutter, like Edgar Allen Poe. I would be a poet.

Of course, last week, my wife reminded me that Mr. Poe was not, in fact, an alcoholic. Rather, he had fallen ill and was actually allergic to alcohol. And tragically, his physician made a horrid mistake in treating his illness. But look at the history of poetry and the curious lure of those who have died young. Even if the facts of Poe’s death have been verified and re-verified through scientific scrutiny, the odds are that we will likely always remember the myth. Such a narrative arc dovetails nicely with a tradition of idiocy: Shelley sailed into a storm; Hart Crane tumbled from the side of a ferry; Weldon Kees vanished, leaving his car idling on the Golden Gate bridge; Sylvia Plath fulfilled the prophecies of her novels; and Anne Sexton finally twisted the cap from her kill-me pills.

I know this allure is there. I cannot explain it. I felt that draw in my youth, mentioning off-hand to friends how pleasant it seemed to disappear, simply and quietly, like Weldon Kees. Yet, here I am 10 years later, occasionally turning to a blank page to scratch out an ode, contemplate—in accentual syllabic lines—the nature of sleep, or narrate a small moment of ineffable clarity. I do not make my living as a poet, nor do I expect ever to have that luxury. I am not, like James Merrill was, blessed with the financial security to while away all of my time with eclectic reading and contemplation of verse. I am not, like many who write poems now, associated with a university and free to consider the composition of a poem as part of my research. Instead, I have to make sacrifices each day. I need to give up a television show or time with my wife. I must accept a lower standard of living or turn my attention to more lucrative forms of writing. Nevertheless, I’ll always consider myself a poet. And perhaps, if I’m lucky, history might agree.

You see, poets write poetry. That’s all there is to it. If you write poetry, and people will read it, feel free to take the mantle and wrap it around you. Just remember, there’s no point bringing the baggage with you. The journey isn’t that far. Just click over to Word or open your journal and you will be there. You don’t even need to wear black—unless you just like wearing black. After all, in a couple of hours this thunderstorm will break. The sun will burn through the clouds, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll have a few moments to play outside with my dogs.


Post a Comment

<< Home