Monday, April 15, 2013

poetry bug

Go toward the fluorescent light.
Yesterday I went to Terry Wolverton’s annual Poetry Month workshop (more of a craft talk, actually) and reading at Skylight Books. I feel like I’ve been absent from the literary landscape for a while, and when I think about going to events, I think about seeing a lot of people I know a little bit, and explaining (or not) why I’m bald. Mingling takes energy for me even with hair, even if I have some new publication credit in my pocket.

But Skylight and Terry’s crew feel like home, so it was a nice way to get my feet wet. I became a fan of some new poets (Ashaki M. Jackson—and Andrew Wessels, whom I work with three days a week but hadn’t read before), and by the end of the panel, I was jotting notes toward some kind of poem of my own. It’s below, and rough.

I had a nice weekend, but it was threaded with thoughts of death, the way even some of my nicest weekends are. I watched an episode of Mad Men, in which a woman diagnosed with terminal cancer describes it as being at sea, watching people on shore. You struggle despite knowing better, she says, and try to join them. Sometimes their dramas and daily concerns feel like your own again. Other times you want to give up the fight and just sink.


The technical definition would be
inflammation of the senior.
You swell and ache, you are red,
but you don’t want to leave.

You hate your econ teacher,
who will have a heart attack and live
and continue to record the daily agenda
on the board:
8:15: turn in homework
8:18: open book to chapter 9.

In middle school you imagined
yourself a cartoon
stuffed in your own locker.
Now you know the squeak
of its door like the back, yes,
of your own hand—

where they will put the IV,
tether you to this world.
There are so many good people
trying to keep you
here; kind as children
putting bandages on a doll.

Some days it feels like a surprise
party. Who are these balloons for?
Who deserves this onion dip?
You want to cling to them
with your bony hands.
Will they see it?
The truth behind the normal
blue of your eyes—
a melanoma of doom.

Their grip will loosen.
You will say, You can’t fire me, I quit.

Pack your things in a cheerleading bag
stitched with your name
because you do not own a suitcase.
Head north to the unknown,
pretend it is the beginning.
You sealed the deal, bought the sweatshirt.

Later you will know,
as you claim to now,
that high school did you wrong
as a man in a country song.
And what comes next is not the edge
of the flat world,
but a slope into deep blue water
like normal eyes.

What comes next?
The ones who could answer
are beyond the barricades,
voices choral, volume down,
pronouns snapped
like wishbones.
You want to join them,
but what is them?

The last summer before college,
you apply for jobs, but they all say,
You’re leaving soon.
They want a commitment
to cash registers, pizza dough,
neon bikinis that upstage the ocean. 


Anonymous said...

I dig this poem--for several reasons. First, there probably isn't a person out there who trudged through high school only to find the stark reality of the outside world differing greatly. However, as an almost-fifty high school journalism teacher who is pretty sure he'll spend the rest of his working years dispensing diluted gravy into the trough of mediocrity, it hits home on a pretty professional level.
Then there is a sense of personal irony, as we are currently working on the senior edition of our school paper--you know the one with all the self-projected hopes and dreams. Most of the hopes and dreams come off in their hands with the newsprint.
And now, several generations into the craft, I see the former students at the cash registers, pressing pizzas, and pumping gas. the biggest concern is that is the extent of any real "commitment."
I dig the "roughness" of it--makes it feel like life. --Chopper

Cheryl said...

Yes, life and high school and the teaching of it are rough.