I send out the rough draft of a poem, then almost immediately edit a line or two, moving subjects and verbs. Understand, the writing of a poem doesn’t think or care whether it’s good on bad, at least for me. Only that it pulls me into a world where I can find or create the space to live. Figuratively, literally—whatever. To take the next breath, though breathing we are told is automatic. One can’t simply holds one’s breath indefinitely, even if children have tried. Still, there is the pull toward nonexistence.
When I began writing the poem, the sky was completely grey. Now, only an hour or so later, the grey has given way to sunshine and blue. No meaning implied. It was grey and rainy, and now the rain has stopped. I walk barefoot outside in the wet grass and find as much sensual pleasure in that particular act as in any I have know. Walking barefoot must thus be a sin, the poet chuckles to himself. This is what I have to offer—nothing more important or dear. In the poem Emily is waiting in her Massachusetts’s grave for the robins to appear. It’s what the dead do in Emily’s poems. They wait in the ground, because that is all that is known to us.
I write to stay alive, the poet has said more than once. I walk barefoot in the grass. Reach and touch my wife’s arm as she sleeps beside me in bed. Take a breath—deliberately. The writing, especially when the writing leans toward the lyrical, though perhaps not too lyrical, pushes me into the details. I describe the clutter on my desk, and each item carries its own narrative—tiny causal threads somehow becoming the symphony of a life lived. Mine, yours, ours, theirs.
This morning, writing the poem wasn’t enough, so I write this explanation of the poem, which probably means the poem wasn’t enough.
I am rereading Jorie Graham’s “The Dream of the Unified Field.” It’s a long poem, and I usually fail to make it through long poems in a single reading. Rilke sidetracks me beginning with the fourth line of “The First Elegy.” For beauty is nothing / but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure… Here, I am already sliding into Erickson’s Our Ecstatic Days. Here, I am reminded of the relationship between loving someone deeply and the accompanying fear if one dares think it through. But then I have already left Rilke’s poem. Jorie Graham is bringing her daughter the leotard she forgot to pack in her overnight bag—your tiny dream in it… I am already lost in the daughter’s tiny dream with seven more pages of the poem to read. I set her book down for a moment. Then I return to it.
In a sense, I am Orwell’s condemned man. I side step a puddle on my way to the gallows.