Letter from My 48th Year (Feb 11)
Today I wrote all day though I didn’t actually put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) till about 10 minutes ago. Today I did the ordinary things: church, shopping, breaking down and bundling all of the cardboard boxes of various shapes and sizes I’ve somehow accumulated to finally carry them down to the recycling room. I bought facial products to help my aging skin age more glowingly and wondered why toothpaste is so expensive. I drank some wine and bought 7 boxes of decaf Italian roast K-cups because you can never find decaf coffee in TJ Maxx or Marshall’s and I’m trying to spend less money on the coffee I drink at work. What is that song that says, “I wonder as I wander….”? Which is the purpose of the ordinary day: to make space for my mind to wander and wonder. Physical space, emotional space. I do not know if or when a poem will erupt from today. Or what it might be about. I do know, however, that without these ordinary days, the writing withers or gets stuck in my throat or is crowded out by all of the ordinary things—taking out the garbage, cleaning out the fridge, removing the last straggles of polish from my nails—that I let slide because, if I am honest, I (sort of) want them to distract me from the writing, because I don’t want to clear out space to wander my wounds and wonder. Though as Pastor Clark reminded me today (in different words than these), we tell the truth about ourselves not for ourselves, but to light the way for someone else who’s lost and needs the sound of our voice.
I’ll leave you with this. Not a new poem, but a poem that’s been patiently waiting for me to find in its journal and recognize that it was a live birth not still. (PS The title’s just a title, that’s all.)
“The Poet Writes a Poem or a Suicide Note”
“Today I found out that art is heavy.” – Aleš Mustar (translated by Manja Maksimovic)
The lies that I tell when I write for my art
weigh six or seven pounds each.
I have tried writing only what is true
but the lifting becomes even harder.
I can hardly lift my elbows or my forearms.
I can hardly get these fingers to unsausage
themselves to scrawl the truth, only the truth.
You can’t handle the truth, they scream
uncaring that channeling American tropes and icons,
me a woman short and brown, makes things
heavier still. Perhaps if I counted truth
using the metric system or some other
language foreign to this American tongue.
Oh, yes, the American tongue. Did I mention
it already starts me off at a deficit?
Perhaps if I had a wife to send to the post office
to mail off these lies one by one, to pretty
them with stamps, to hurl them to other lands
where art doesn’t weigh as much or the poets there—
big brutes of active verbs and historical metaphors—
can bench press and type at the same time.
If I wrote words already heavy with accent marks
or other graphics of tongue position and breath
and sounds that slumber deep in the back of the throat then
I could shrug off these poems one by one.
I wouldn’t get hysterical parsing simple words
like love or won’t or can’t.
You may stop reading now.
I’ve been lying to you this whole time.
I refuse to reckon the cost of these words.
I will instead stuff my mouth with them till I choke.
Isn’t that the only way to survive this? Isn’t that what the poems command me to do?