What Am I Doing?


Trying to keep my head above water. Writing poems about trains, Amelia Earhart, and all the old loves. Trying not to think about the future. Thinking obsessively about the future. Drinking too much coffee, sleeping in too late, not running. Staring out windows (most often, at trains). Writing notes on my hand. Buying another bookshelf for the books I don’t have time to read. Eating too much chocolate. Wondering how it is, still, that I don’t know what I’d be happiest doing. Wondering if I’ve wasted my time. If I’ve improved, if I know what I’m doing. Pouring expired milk down the drain. As if I have some kind of plan. Making lists: clean the bathroom, pay the bills, organize my papers, submit to magazines.  The same list for weeks. Not writing letters I’d promised I would write. Not calling people I’d promised I would call. Not writing poems I’ve been meaning to write: letters to Amelia, poem about throwing bottles into the river, poem about the robin’s eggs I broke open when I was young.

Trying my hand at nonfiction, trying to get out of my own way. Trying to forget that I have a body. Letting the words come easy. Taking my camera with me when I drive, thinking about the mountains. Their shape, their distance. The clouds as seen from an airplane. Trying to map the land however I can. Wondering where my feet rest most firmly. Sitting in my car on Cliff Drive, above the lights of this place, on and on in front of me, wishing for once I was a smoker. That easy motion, that distraction, that taste in the mouth. Missing cities, New York and Paris, knowing I couldn’t have lived there. Planning how I could do it. Dreaming of wading through pools, of people I hardly know and their detailed faces. Reading enough words to fill me. Pulling on my warmest coat to walk in the desperate days of winter. Heat on high, water on for tea, candle for atmosphere.

Today? Not enough. Or yesterday. Or any day, lately. Waking up as an ostrich, head hidden from sun. Telling everyone, “It’s going fine.” Puppeting the days. Organizing the pages of poems in my head. Re-arranging, disordering, erasing. Wishing to be granted a day of disappearance. To a porch surrounded by mountains, a cold day. Or the rippling skirt of a lake. The black sand of a foreign beach in Majorca or any land with a name just as musical. Dancing my fingers along the table as though it is a violin again. Listening to those sounds with twitching muscles.

Reading the old favorites, trying not to feel inadequate. The best lines kept as glowing talismans in my hand.  —You is from hunger, Mr. Bones.  Asking, what else comes from hunger? As if the earth under our feet / were / an excrement of some sky. And how the imagination can save us.  If we know how to let it. If we can bring ourselves to the right place.

Growing nostalgic, just because of a well-timed sunset. Shaking it off. The birds starting to land in the tree outside my window again, driving my cat crazy. The cycles of the world impressing themselves upon me even as I try not to believe them, in favor of being more practical. How I’ve traveled back to the Midwest at least once a year to make sure nothing has changed in my absence. As if it has noticed my absence. How poems come to truth, with or without us.  Let us all be from somewhere. / Let us tell each other everything we can.

Listing off what I can know for sure to anyone who will listen. I am standing here. I am alive. I am walking in a place I’ve never been before. I do not have perfect vision, but I have an excellent sense of smell. More animal than anything. The horses running / until they forget that they are horses.

Waiting for sun. As though I’m a flower, or a body in hibernation. (Trying to say it with a straight face.  Meaning it, even when I don’t.) Letting poems rattle around in my mind for weeks before I pick them up. Like small birds or ladybugs found indoors. Which isn’t like me. Or it is, now. Unsure of which changes are good, though there is more sun these days, and thank god for that. And how to tell what I really mean when I say that, how to put my finger on what I imagine when I’m standing in an empty church. Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.

If there’s a way to get to an explanation, this has always been mine. I make lists, and lists of lists. I am trying to say: it all matters. I am trying to let my poems reflect that. I am trying to gather everything in close before this is all over in three months. I know how to write poems; that’s not the hard part. The hard part is being alone. The hard part is knowing when they are finished, when they are ready. The hard part is remembering that there are always new ways.  The new things I’m reading lately have reminded me of that, over and over. And I’ve thought: maybe my poems are too linear, or too boring or too expected. Maybe I’m not doing enough with syntax or rhyme or subject matter. Why do I most often write in stanza? Why don’t I play with spacing? Why don’t I use more images? These are the questions I’m still trying to find answers to.  You cannot live / and keep free of / briars.  I am trying, always, to remember this. I am doing the best that I can.


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