Thursday, April 20, 2006


Today was lousy. I don’t have lice, but I may as well. I woke with high hopes, like an ant set to lug around a rubber tree plant, but at this point, I doubt I could lift a dandelion. Last night, I was up late trying to face the inevitable dwindling of savings as my wife and I attempt to re-establish my freelancing career. I posted my resume to two job boards and started reading yet another book on commercial writing. I twirled idea after idea around my head and vowed to throw myself into all of those projects with the vigor of a valkyrie.

Unfortunately, I woke this morning to a nightmare. I was floating in seawater, surrounded by what may have been my family, and as we treaded through turbulent waves, we looked toward the horizon. Instead of a sunset burning a hazy violet-red, there was only water. A great wall of water crept closer to us until the inevitable crash. And then we were submerged. We were drowning, and I thought, vaguely, that this was Katrina. But it was only a nightmare, and I already know what frightens me.

Before I flew, shrieking, into my writing, I decided to try a little maintenance on my computer. My antivirus program had gotten as flaky as a pothead at 1 AM on a Saturday. By the time I finished dealing with a fine example of the globalization of technical support, I was almost certain my head would explode. Since I couldn’t stand for such a mess in my office, I collapsed onto the sofa. Then, stirred awake from the most restful sleep thus far this week, I looked up to see my wife smiling. She said hello and wandered upstairs to nap. We quite like naps in this house. And then, I was off to recover the dogs from daycare and later venture into the wilderness of Cincinnati to procure coffee for my wife.

When I returned home, more work on the computer, a little web surfing to relax, and a quick look at my email. There’s been a nibble on my resume! But it’s a 419 scam! And now, it’s nearing midnight. There is no time to read, no time to write. And if I don’t swim, that wave will crash over me.

Yet, as you should know, this is only one narrative that could have been teased from today. I could have chosen to focus on my latest music obsession, and how the keyboards tickled my eardrums all day. I could have written about the soprasetta and capicola that Michelle’s mom brought all the way from the other side of Ohio. I could have focused on the way the tulips on the side of my house capture light. I could have told you how comfortable our old sofas are for afternoon naps.

Even in a novel, it’s impossible to relay every last detail of a scene. And even if you could, such a list would drag the characters down as if they’d been fitted with cement shoes. The action would stall. The thought would be replaced by inventory.

In poetry, the space is so limited that the selection of detail becomes even more crucial than in prose. A detail that doesn’t seem right or plausible or genuine to a reader can instantly ruin the entirety of the poem. It’s like finding a hair in a salad that you had thought was exquisite. So choose your details wisely. And with that advice, I’ll leave you with a final, brief story:

The night before my wife and I moved from Oakland, California, a man was mugged on the street outside our apartment. A friend and I ran down to help as much as we could. He was laying, face down in the middle of the street, stirring ever so slightly. A chihuahua ran furiously around him, its tail tucked between its legs as it barked at us. Then the dog scurried back to its owner, licking at his bruised and bloodied face. We tried to keep the man awake, to find out his name, to learn who did this. But he wouldn’t respond to a single word until my friend asked, what’s your dog’s name?

Beauty, he said, her name is Beauty.


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