Poetry: You Decide Which

I start to write a feature on a place I visited Saturday.

On paper, I see the words I type. They are mine. Indisputably, unequivocally, mine. I see them in my voice.

In my head, when I read them, I imagine hearing Rinaldi.

Perhaps this is a flaw in my creative process.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of some terrifying, mortal vulnerability
You decide which.

That I don’t see myself as fully capable of telling such heartbreaking, inspiring stories.
That I don’t believe an employer will ever truly like me enough to trust me with such things.
That I don’t believe I have much to offer
except a face for radio,
a voice for print,
a tone for silence on a page

and a knack for inventing new synonyms for self-deprecation.

Then again, maybe it’s something else.

Maybe it’s a sign of the vital, youthful swagger
that comes from both expectation and desire
the kind that comes when you believe if you can just work hard enough,
push long enough, seek hard enough,
you’ll find that story and become the best possible version of yourself. You’ll evolve your own voice
Not Rinaldi. You.

Maybe it’s a sign of timid confidence, but confidence.

The kind it takes to think that just because you haven’t risen your voice
doesn’t mean you can’t.
The strongest voices, after all, are the ones that are silent
until they aren’t.
The ones that speak only in a whisper
but whose whisper is loud enough to silence a combusting conference room.

I have railed on, shouting my proclamations for what felt like years,
but for what might have been mere seconds in the development of a writer.
I have desperately preached what I hoped might be wisdom from what I felt were mountains,
but from what might have been merely as high and stable
as sandcastles among the masses.

But maybe what the world
or I… or both,… need more than anything right now,
is for me to be silent.

until I’m not. then

Perhaps not with a proclamation. a whisper.

You decide which.

 

 

 

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Poetry: Let Me Show You What I See

Let me show you what it feels like:
Waking up at 5 a.m., semi-groggy
and going for a drive.
Smell the country, Kansas air
mixed with the sounds of
city. A mixture of smells assaulting the nostrils
horse-manure and diesel engines, united
by country music
in a place everyone thinks they want to get the hell out of.

But I know something they never knew,
like Steven Curtis Chapman dancing with his daughter
I know the oft-overlooked energy
of a place 26,000 strong, going on 100K.
I can feel the energy.
It calls to me on my balcony at 6 a.m.,
in sounds of car horns and air-brake discharges. It invigorates,
energizing the soul like a deep-tissue massage
to the heart.

Yet I also understand Cinderella’s youth
is fading, transient, and prone to missing.
I understand perfection is relative,
and this isn’t always relatively-perfect.
All the while, Chapman knows
what I too am old enough to:
Beauty in the eyes is fleeting,
but there’s inherent humanity in choosing.
To look below the surface.
To be wounded by the flaws
Yet still feel blissfully lovestruck.

By a job.
By a place.
By a person.
By an idea.

To feel i from the Spanish
shouts you don’t understand at a high-school
soccer game, or with a camera
on a sideline, under Friday-night lights.

If I am Johnny Cash
this place is my El Paso.
I don’t know that I always love it
But I hope I’m always strong enough
to choose to.

A Close Reading Of Gilbert’s “Trying To Have Something Left Over”

(Editor’s Note: I’ve been wanting to write this for a while. This post has been sitting in my “drafts” for literally months, largely because I’ve been trying to figure out how to start it. Any performer, artist, writer would readily tell you that starting is among the scariest, most difficult parts of any creative endeavor.

For me, that makes it also the most fun part. Enjoy, as I try and struggle my way into elegance.)

A Close Reading of Gilbert’s “Trying To Have Something Left Over”.

If you’re into poetry at all, or even if you’re not and you just like neat, beautiful ideas, one poem you need to read is “Trying to have something left over” by Jack Gilbert.

Plenty has been written about the final lines of this poem, which you can buy as part of Gilbert’s collection “The Great Fires” on Amazon. I’d encourage you to. I’ve read enough poetry at this point in my young life to know that this collection is something special. Not because of how it speaks to me, because Gilbert had a mind and life much different from mine. His life, his views on love all were more realistic, more honest, more complete than mine are.

Maybe that was because he wrote these poems starting when he was 57. Maybe he was just less stubborn than I was, a better steward of a tougher life’s lessons than myself.

But I digress. Whatever the many causes for the beauty of his work, especially this collection, and even more especially this poem, Gilbert wrote something in it I wish to analyze, and imagine with you for just a moment.

The last nine lines go like this, as he talks about playing with the baby of a woman he had an extramarital affair with:

“I would say Pittsburg softly each time before
throwing him up. Whisper Pittsburg with
my mouth against the tiny ear and throw
him higher. Pittsburg and happiness high up.
The only way to leave even the smallest trace.
So that all his life her son would feel gladness
unaccountably when anyone spoke of the ruined
city of steel in America. Each time almost
remembering something maybe important that got lost.”

-from “Trying To Have Something Left Over” by Jack Gilbert.

These lines have been burned in my brain since I read them. I like other poems in the collection more, (or at least, so I’ve always thought). But what strikes me most in this poem is something marvelous that’s happening.

Gilbert, in the events above, is taking care of a child of a woman he can never have a relationship with (per the rest of the poem before these lines) and a child who is not, in my understanding, his. Yet he cares so much about that child and that city that he wants that child to feel happiness forever on the mention of its name.

That in itself is beautiful.

The idea he’d care so much about a place, and an idea behind it, to engrain that in the mind of a small child. Something mattered deeply to Gilbert about Pittsburg. Sure, it was his hometown, but the final lines of the poem suggest more than just nostalgia. They suggest a bigger idea. An idea Gilbert was desperate to pass on, desperate to keep alive in any way possible or necessary because whatever it was, it was something beautiful, good, important.

The boy will never know what it was. He’ll never know why the utterance of the word “Pittsburg” brings him joy, having never been able to remember his infant laughs as Gilbert threw him up each time when he was a baby. All he’ll know is that there’s something wonderful there. But he’ll never know what it was. And the most beautiful part of this concept?

Neither will we as readers.

That’s why I write you today. I read this poem and I see the marvelous, poetic beauty Gilbert has engineered with these lines.

We see Gilbert throwing up the small infant. We hear his laughter, see his smile, maybe we evenimagine his mother standing in the doorway looking with a sad smile at all of this, perhaps seeing Gilbert’s potential as a father and wishing they could have a future, even while knowing that they couldn’t.

But what we never hear Gilbert do is actually explain what he was trying to convey. We never learn what was so vital it needed to be etched in the memory of an infant. Gilbert never tells the baby, and also never tells us as readers.

That’s where the true beauty in these poems comes in: we as readers are the infant to this poet.

Gilbert can never have an individual relationship with any of us any more than he can with the young woman or her son. Gilbert the man has a wife whom he loves, precluding him from staying with her or the boy.

Gilbert the poet has a mortal life, unable to converse with most of those who will read his work. In each case, with the infant as the boy and the infant as the reader, Gilbert can only have a one-way relationship. All he can do is try to teach. Never ask, just tell.

So he does. He tells us about the beauty of trying to convey an idea through emotion because he lacks the ability of just explain it. Gilbert does not tell us why Pittsburg is so important to him. He does not tell us what idea he must pass through even just a partial memory. He does not tell us why he wants the baby, be it the child in the poem or the reader of the poetry, to feel joy every time they think of the “ruined city of steel in America.”

All any of us knows is that there’s some idea there that is worth celebrating, worth cherishing, worth holding a beer up to whenever we think of that place.

Too often, becoming an adult teaches us to ask “why” when invited to celebrate something. Adulthood teaches us not to celebrate unless we understand the whole reason for celebrating.

This poem asks us not to.

Poetry: The Specter Of The Tarantula Wasp.

Keanu Reeves once as a character said
his biggest fear was quicksand: At first everything
is going fine then you make one mistake.
And another. And another.
You try to fight back
but the harder you fight the deeper you sink until you can’t
move, can’t
breath.
Like quicksand.

Such it is with love.
A beauty of metaphor that allows me no peace.

The specter of solitude haunts you.
Follows you. Lurks
in the shadows behind you.
As you take the solitary walks of shame
you’ve always taken,
whether at the base of Fort Bliss or the side streets of the Little Apple.
The ones you still take with alarming regularity.

You feel it: Solitude’s breath.
but you can’t do anything about it.

Love’s optimism beats through your veins
like a tarantula’s blood.
Love is the heartbeat.
Faith in Solitude’s eventual banishment is the organs.

Solitude itself is the tarantula-wasp.

You fight it when it first attacks
in your youth. You try not to let it get a hold.
You feel your first kiss like the tarantula feels when its jaws
grab hold of the deadly insect. You feel your heart flutter
with joy, with excitement, with the youthful optimism you might
live. And not just live, but life carelessly.

Love: the noble but flawed aspiration to simply take care and cherish another
is all that’s ever mattered. That solitary desire
has clung to your DNA like the spider now clings to the hope of life.

But just as quickly as you feel your first kiss
you feel yourself let go. You feel the wasp
wriggly free with haunting power. Your jaws slip
though you know you’ll die if they do. You try to will them
into holding. Into not make the single mistake
of insecurity.

But the wasp is already free.
And just like that it’s over.
Solitude stings you, and begins to drag you
paralyzed but still with a long life ahead
To its dark layer.

You already know what’s coming next. You also know you’re powerless
for all your strength, to prevent it.
So you try not to resent yourself for your failure
and brace yourself for the pain you’ve caused yourself.

The tarantula was drags you to its hole.
It stings you a second time, this time, leaving in your abdomen an egg.

You count your mistakes during the initial fight
like the lonely count their failed relationships. You feel
its larva: the idea of never being all you’ve ever wanted
start to consume:
Your optimism.
Your idealism.
All from the inside out
even while you’re still alive.

You chase away friendships as the larva starts to grow,
you lose confidence when you get a divorce,
knowing that for a split-second you had all you ever wanted,
and all you had to do was stop yourself from chasing it away
and you failed to do so.

You feel your heart, nerve, and sinew start to betray you
the way Kipling warned you never to do if you wished
to be have all the world, and everything in it and what was most
to be a man.
You lose all of it.

Until one day, one minute, one instant,
as you feel solitude’s larva about to consume the heart of your belief,
you realize God is watching, and you must be stubborn.
You decide to savor each breath and simply enjoy that you can breathe
however painful and tiring that may now be.

You take long walks
alone. Enjoy the architecture and the clouds.
You look longingly
at the wedding processional at Saint Isidore’s,
at the old couple, hands embraced, taking their own walk.

You look longingly at them, remind yourself
of the lyric you once learned, even though you didn’t have to, from Aida:
“I shall not envy lovers, but long for what they share.”

Then slowly, like the tarantula as it takes its final breath
you close your eyes. But where the spider now accepts its death
you set your heart to accepting your life
and somehow decide to keep eagerly waiting.

Poetry: The Heart’s Memory

Absent friendship is bittersweet
at nighttime.
The way the sun feels in summer in the middle
of the night, with the humidity, the warmth, and the echoing sounds
of darkness, and silence interrupted
only by police sirens.

These things tantalize us, remind us:
of our frailty, of our vulnerability,
of our desperate need to courageously embrace
solitude.
Yet they remind us love can exist
even when friendship ceases, is chased away, is awkwarded
into nonexistence.

Long after the sun has set,
Long after the protection of presence
has faded like the sun over the horizon,
and the elegant hue of intellectual, loving conversations
should have long ago faded from memory,
still Love can remain.

Still Love can echo what the heart wishes it could remember.

(Possibly High School) Poetry: Pine Needles

Editor’s note: This poem was originally found untitled but has been supplementarily named “Pine Needles.” Also, due to my desire to be fully transparent when publishing my earliest work (more on when I might have written this poem here), I have preserved original typos, including misuse of “it’s for “its” and “loose” for “lose” in stanza one to name just a couple. The linked post above details why I’ve done this. Enjoy.

Pine Needles

The pine needles fall one by one.
This is not a painless process,
The little tree flinches each time,
because the age of its core,
the age of it’s soul,
reveals that it doesn’t have many left to loose.

Each one is prickly on the end,
for many, the fallen forms a nuisance,
the type that pierce shoes,
cause delay and annoy people.

Yet in full bloom, these little needles smell good,
They fill the air around the tree
with infectious hope and enthusiasm,
Until they fall, when they suck for pedestrian and tree alike.

The bark is strong
But it’s weakened by holes
Written in it by the rains of
Former lovers comments.

Poetry: Daydreaming While In Lit Class

(Editor’s note: This poem was originally written Monday, April 17, 2017 while the Boston Marathon was underway.)

Daydreaming While In Lit Class

I think about what it it’ll be like:
posting that long-triumphant status,
experiencing that special emotion
of measurable,
anticipated success
After a lifetime of waiting for “indefinite” to end.

That overwhelming joy I daydream of,
of when I’ll post “I haven’t run a half-marathon since 2015,”
only to post follow with “….until now,”
with a colorful date, and a poster
of a race location.

I daydream of that,
as I sit in a literature class,
while thousands celebrate Patriot’s Day
in running’s Eden: Boston.

Yesterday, I started my return-to-run progression.
Just 20 minutes of intentioned-walking.
One day down.

A lot to go.
But one less than yesterday…

…Finally.