Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Wednesday already—and the week seems to have started only now. I'm sitting outside, sipping on premium coffee from a local gas station and thinking about my day. After a weekend filled with gas-fume drama, two days of frustrating freelance work copyediting the script of a writer who couldn't tell the difference between a participle and a party, and a long night where my wife suffered through a mild but discomforting illness, I have the entire day in front of me to use as I see fit.

There are no vets to visit, no repairmen to call, no children to entertain, no scripts to scrutinize, no emails to compose, and no websites to be built. The day belongs to me and my dogs. For the moment, the dogs—both Dixie and Archie—are sniffing around the backyard in search of tiny morsels to broaden their palettes. Piles of just-pulled Johnson grass lay scattered about the yard. Birds trill songs from our neighbor's sweet gum tree. The hum of cicadas lolls from distant treetops. The morning sun burns damp from yellowed stalks of grass.


I’ve retreated inside to the air-conditioned cool of our 50-year-old house. The dogs are sprawled asleep on the office floor, stretched out as though they were ready to burst into a run. They’ve exhausted themselves with dashes across the yard, trailing an airborne football and intermittent confrontations with each other of bared teeth and slapping paws. The sound of wind, traffic, and cicadas seeps in from outside, and my computer's cooling fan whirls as I type. There is no other sound until Dixie stirs, rattling the tags on her collar for a moment.


There have been moments in my life when I would have abhorred such silence. The stereo would need to play continuously or the television would have been flicked on to stave off any notions of loneliness.

This morning, such quiet seems a blessing. I can listen as thoughts form on the page before me. Words become sentences. Sentences become paragraphs. One idea builds upon another and another.


In graduate school, we tried to teach our students that writing was more than a simple skill or simply a requirement needed to earn your diploma. Instead, we tried to demonstrate that writing is process through which you can evaluate and shape your own thoughts. We argued that, in most cases, it was impossible to know what you actually thought about something until you wrote it down.

These letters are such peculiar tools. What other tool could actively change the very nature of how you think?


During my senior year of college, I lived in an attic apartment a few miles from campus. The nearest bus stop was about a quarter mile of steep hills from my where I lived. Each day, after class, I spent the time walking uphill from the bus stop to my apartment contemplating poetry.

When I think of that image of myself, it seems I was always contemplating poetry. When I was not writing poetry, reading poetry, or working on the sundry classes required for my degree, I was often contemplating it. I thought about how poems worked, what made a poem, and what precisely this thing called poetry was.

Ironically, I still think about such things. There are no clear answers—at least none that can be articulated easily.


Defining poetry is a bit like catching a trout with your bare hands. If you think you have a grip, the little beast will, undoubtedly, shake itself free and disappear upstream. Now, I like the notion. I'm comfortable knowing that my knowledge is limited and always will be. I realize that poetry, like a trout, won't stay in the same shallows for long. Nevertheless, despite the never-ending change, poetry, to my mind, has always been able to replicate that sense of quietude. It has always offered us a portal into our own thoughts, the sound of cicadas humming.


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