What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be poet.
Today I shot an email to a few poet friends and asked them if they would share what they were working on at 1 PM EST, which was the time I myself was at my laptop in a book-lined nook ninety feet from the warm Atlantic, blinds half-closed, relieved it was drizzling out so I didn’t have to feel guilty about neglecting my new bikini. (Ha.)
It’s Friday. Tourists and South Floridians are slathering sunblock for a weekend of volleyball and vitamin D, boardwalks and tan lines. I needed the company of poets.
Chris Green (Illinois): “I’m writing a series of job poems while I’m supposed to be doing my job. The one I’m working on right now is called ‘Junior Broker’ and I just wrote ‘Hour after hour, the homeliness of the market–/stocks we joke and call love-dollars.’”
Kenneth Gurney (New Mexico): “Many colorful balloons seurat the sky.”
Thank you, thank you, I told them, kicking my bikini under the bed.
Do you remember the precise moment you knew what you were going to be when you grew up? I do. I was twenty-eight. I had two children, a pending divorce, long brown hair, and a turquoise bikini. I lived up North on a street in a town near a brook. Something was flying around my head that looked like a twist(er) of fate or like the sudden rain of a thousand red-winged blackbirds. I looked down at the words that had grown out of my typewriter and saw they were strangely brief and electric. They threw out a long string that was hooked to an internal organ somewhere south of my belly button. Or there was a key at the end of that string and it was struck by a light that zapped me into a heightened word-obsessed world, a world-conscious world, one from which return was moot. My eyes popped open, my ears cringed with the Noise of Everything, and my kids looked up at me with trembling mouths. Oh, I said, shit! I’m a poet!—and fainted dead away like a protein-starved lab rat.
There are times in my workday, after a few hours of writing, when I look up and think: Now, at this very moment, sits another author, whom I do not know, in Damascus or Tehran, in Kigali or Dublin, who, like me, is engaged in the strange, baseless, wonderful work of creation, within a reality that contains so much violence and alienation, indifference and diminishment. I have a distant ally who does not know me, and together we are weaving this shapeless web, which nonetheless has immense power, the power to change a world and create a world, the power to give words to bring about tikkun—‘repair’—in the deepest, kabbalistic sense of the world.
—David Grossman, Writing in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics
Today I sent Grossman’s words of connection out to poets, that rare species whose job is to drop a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and wait for the echo (Don Marquis, c.1920*). Back came the responses: personal, off-the-cuff, and charged with the extraordinary hopes and ordinary elegances of human life.
My bikini gathers dust until tomorrow.
Rose petals land on a coyote pup.
Holly Iglesias (North Carolina): “View set for page layout, the document open like a face before the slap. The coffee instant, Bustelo crystals stirred into hot milk, a swirl of foam and the five brown specks that refuse to dissolve. Stirring today, stirring like Abuela, clanking her spoon against the cup at my kitchen table every Saturday and Sunday morning for twenty years.”
Paulette Beete (D.C.): “The folk song Silver Dagger (Don’t sing love songs, you’ll wake my mother….) has been in my head lately; I learned it nearly 1/4 of a century ago when I was an underclassman in college. Two nights ago as I videotaped myself singing it, I started to hear a poem in between the verses as I sang. So that’s what I’m working on–a poem of a mother with a hand that’s both claw and cradle, and a father who too is a womb…at least, so far.”
Jim Elledge (Georgia): “I was working on my bio of Darger, something that takes up every second of the spare time I can find. As soon as I heard from you, I thought of the end of O’Hara’s ‘Personal Poem:’ ‘I wonder if one person out of the 8,000,000 is / thinking of me as I shake hands with LeRoi / and buy a strap for my wristwatch and go / back to work happy at the thought possibly so.’”
Neil de la Flor (Florida): “I would like to be David Grossman or the writer in Damascus or Tehran. I’d like to leave the social structures of the world, social, economic, political, and be that city where the writers write. I’d like to give up my responsibilities to the people of a big city and become that city free of responsibilities. I’d like to be the potholes on Pennsylvania Avenue and train track in grand central station. I want to be the city utility that powers the City because then I would truly be connected to those writers tap tapping away on their laptops. I’d like to be a giant oak tree too.”
Connie Deanovich (Wisconsin): I want to write a pantoum for the first time in my life.
Samuel Ace (Arizona): Tucson 1.21.11 shabbat tonight in a language I never learned but sang in those jewel glass windows with lelyveld and Rebecca’s sweet smelling cheeks and her wandering brain Rabbis in the basement with the shuffleboard and shrunken heads tucson in cleveland a dude ranch (only one back then that let Jews) in the b&w snapshots under the half-painted model model-t’s and the lionel green caboose
Terese Svoboda (New York): “What I’d like to be working on is Professor Harriman’s Steam Air-Ship which is a long poem inspired by a 19th century lithograph of a couple flying in the above. What it seems to be about is marriage, sex, my parents, invention and the future–repairing myself, and maybe that repair will help the world! What I’m actually doing is preparing sample footage for a documentary my friend John Sorenson directed on South Sudanese girls learning to quilt from an African-American quiltmaker in Nebraska, on the eve of the state passing anti-immigration laws like AZ’s. That seems to be more directly linked to changing things–and I’m hoping Oprah will think so too.
Larry Richman (Vermont):
Hamlet’s Dog’s Soliloquy
To bay, or not to bay, that is the quandary.
Whether ’tis more doglike to give a nightly howl
and take the shouts and kicks of self-made masters,
or to hush the canine self, to sacrifice the melody
some god has planted for our tangled joy
and need to greet the moon while humans sleep.
* Don Marquis (1878-1937), American humorist, journalist, and poet: “Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.”
–Maureen Seaton, 1/21/11