Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Scent of Cut Grass

Ah, Saturday afternoon. What could be better? In the living room, Michelle and the puppies are napping on the sofa as the races and analysis preceding the Preakness provides the background music for their dreams.

Personally, I spent the morning outside, mowing the lawn, which had gotten slightly out of hand when we left town last weekend. Like my hair, it had gotten a little wild and unkempt, and now, like me, my front yard is almost bald. It looks good.

I’m sitting here in my office listening to mellow, melodic guitar pop from England, and trying hard to relax without drowsing. Soon, I’ll need to head back out into the sun, so I can forage food and coffee from the city streets—it’s the closest I come to fulfilling that primal hunting instinct, with the possible exception of those rare moments when I get to fire up the grill outside.

I catch myself in a yawn as one of the puppies rattles, adjusting its prone position to fit more snugly along the contours of Michelle’s body. The three of them are curled together, looking disturbingly cute and peaceful. Such pastoral calm should be illegal. In fact, I’ve found that taking naps with the canines is addictive. It’s the main thing I miss on those days when they are off leaping about at daycare. It’s the main thing I miss on weekends when Michelle is typically more caretaker than I am.

Later on, after they’ve awoken, we’ll head into the backyard where they can circle the peonies while foraging the fresh-cut grass. Later on, I’ll get myself another latte and my wife another mocha. Later on, perhaps, Michelle and I will wonder up to Cheviot to attend a church fair where I can try my hand at Texas Hold ‘Em or convince Michelle to ride the Ferris wheel, as though we were two teenagers trying awkwardly to fall in love. Later on, we’ll all recline together on the couch, watching some movie or other, waiting for the remainder of night to unfurl.

For now, they are sleeping peacefully and I am writing. Yes, I am writing. I think, with poetry in particular, far too many people have bought into the mythologies of the romantics. We imagine Shelley perched on a rock somewhere looking into a summer glade where his muses dither about to a soundtrack of robin song and woodpecker percussion before finally deciding to settle in for a few lines of blank verse. Or, we imagine Lord Byron, home from a ball, gazing at the alabaster curves that rise and fall in sleep beside him, and suddenly he is moved to write.

The reality, to be frank, is far more boring. In fact, if you study creative writing anywhere, you’ll be encouraged to write everyday. Write whatever. Practice your craft. Now then, perhaps every single day for the rest of your life sounds more like a prison than a creative path, and some days, it certainly feels like one. I mean, it’s gorgeous outside. While taking a break from pushing the lawn mower up and down the length of our yard, I saw a strawberry-sized hummingbird flitting about in its impossible way near the shrubs that line our porch. I’m sure that most people would rather be sitting in the sun, singing silently to themselves as they surveyed the yard and the assortment of small wildlife that has emerged with spring. Instead, I’m sitting here at my desk, just as I do everyday, and hoping that through this jumble of considered syllables, you can see a version of the scene I’ve just experienced and that it might bring the slightest of smiles to your lips.

Of course, I don’t think any writer actually writes each and every day. Doing so is a sacrifice, but there are certain sacrifices most of us just won’t make. I can’t, for example, remember writing a single word on Christmas, and frankly, this doesn’t trouble me, as long as I can recapture whatever momentum I had during the few days beforehand. Nevertheless, if you decide instead to wait for inspiration, for you to be more financially secure, or for the children to leave the house and set out on their own, you might be waiting a very, very long time.

Inspiration, it seems to me, actually emerges from the process of writing. When I write a poem, it seldom ends up in the tiny little package that I first imagined. Rather, the lines will follow their own contours. The narrative, if there is one, will follow its own logical progression. The lyric will depend entirely on the premises that lead to whatever conclusion settles into that last line.

Now then, my family needs some food. I’ll try to sneak off while they're still sleeping, and hopefully, later today, I can come back to my desk, foregoing whatever else the world might offer and jot down a line or two that might remind you of summer. Maybe later, I can write about how, as a child, I would take my boom box onto the walkway of the apartment complex, press play on a tape of favorite songs I’d recorded from the radio, and just listen and watch as kids and adults moved about in the courtyard, going from their apartments to the pool or from their apartments to the store. Somehow—as I’m sure you know—those moments waiting for my father to get home so that I could go swimming as well seem to stretch on forever.


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