I will take it, the aging poet said to the ever more sparse crowd at the weekly open mic, as a recognition is the growth in the quality of my writing that I continue being rejected but now by a much higher quality of literary journals.
He loved the simple irony of it all. His vision was failing in one eye, likely might in the other, from macular degeneration. There was a hole in his vision thanks to his macula and geographic atrophy. And being a man of words he knew the best way to describe that spot, that hole, was to say his vision was maculate. It was just the most immaculate description he could imagine.
Grace settles into the chair, less an act of sitting than of floating down onto the seat. She has borrowed my grandmother’s smile, kind, gentle, inviting. She pulls a book from her bag, its pages or most of them dog eared, and I glimpse some annotations in the margins. We sit around her like children awaiting presents on a holiday, as acolytes seeking knowledge from a font of poetic and prosaic wisdom, or so we think. She reads in a voice that is at once soft and loud enough to reach the back of the room, opening the book to a random page and diving in, then after what seems like a minute and an hour, she stops and asks for questions. We sit dumbstruck for a moment then fire at her like machine gunners on the range. She answers each, claims she is a simple grandmother who writes but we know better, know we are in the presence of a true master.
I’ve made a practice which feels more like a demand, that each day I take a few moments or more and stop whatever else I was, or should have been, doing to write a poem.
There are days, perhaps this one where it seems more a short bit of prose to which I have added line breaks despite the protest of the words, condemning them to bear the mockery, and others when I take a poem, ignore its inherent rhythm and pass it off as prose, that insult remembered, the words plotting revenge but lying low, waiting for the perfect moment to destroy a poem I know is worthy of publication.
So, Bly, you have finally gone and joined the parade, holding out the longest as though that was a badge you could somehow carry out with you.
Take consolation that you bested Ginsberg and Corso and even outlasted Ferlinghetti, though he was giving you a run for your money.
And Plath, well she was the first, far too young everyone said, but now I am left with the newer generation and I miss you old timers, who did not need to experiment to find your truth and share it, but I understand your reluctance, for I am all too rapidly, if unwillingly preparing to join the parade as well.
Would it surprise you to learn that like most writers, I have spent more than a little guilty time trying to imagine what you look like, what you know you should be doing while you are reading this poem.
And I do wish I couild see your face as you read it, knowing it is a conversation where you want to speak, to tell me that you like my work, that reading me is a complete and utter waste of time, but you cannot, so I will conclude that you do like my work or else you would not be reading this in the first place.
Reality is clearly something to be avoided to be dressed up in tattery, tied in ribbons, perfumed, yet its fetid stench is always lurking in the background waiting to pierce your nostrils in an incautious moment until you retch and bring up the bile that marks the darker moments of your life, the kind that lingers in the throat which no chocolate can erase. Reality is often ugly, so we ignore it or hide it behind masks, or offer it willingly to others, a gift in surfeit. It sneaks up on you, and sets its hook periodically, and thrashes you at will, the barb tears through new flesh, setting itself deeper, intractable. You and I are dying, as I write, as you read, an ugly thought particularly lying in bed staring into darkness, no motion or sound from your spouse, mate, paramour, friend, significant other or teddy bear, where God is too busy to respond at the moment and sleep is perched in the bleachers, held back by the usher for want of a ticket stub, content to watch the game from afar. I cast ink to paper, an offer of reality as though the divorce from the words will erase the little pains and anguishes of our ever distancing marriage, while holding vainly onto the warm and sweet, the far side of the Mobius of reality (the skunk is at once ugly and soft and caring). We write of pain, of ugliness, of anger at terrible lengths, or weave tapestries of words to cover the flawed, stained walls of our minds, like so many happy endings, requisite in the script. Basho knew only too well that truth of beauty should be captured in few syllables.
First Appeared in Chaminade Literary Review, Vols. 16-17, Fall 1995.
The problem with too many songwriters these days is that they either pose a question but demand answers, or only partially answer their own question, leaving the listener to guess at the balance of the answer.
You are atop my list, sadly, dear Alanis, for when you ask if it is ironic, for most of your examples I must respond that it is not so.
And Paul, nice song, but would you care to tell us the other forty-five ways to leave your lover?
But in the spirit of giving to Michael Stipe I say I spoke to Ken and we agree it is 88.5 MHz.
“I will take it,” the aging poet said to the ever more sparse crowd at the weekly open mic, “as a recognition is the growth in the quality of my writing that I continue being rejected but now by a much higher quality of literary journals.”