Poetry is a brutal art. One (meaning me) slaves for hours and hours trying to finish a poem that is nearly there. What am I not doing? Am I thinking too much? Pursuing instead of waiting? Filling up instead of emptying out? Oh the pressure of the final stanza! Oh the need for transformation, the weighty promise of the unwritten. I wanted some sharp outline of the knowable unknowable. I wanted a final image that resonates in the body as much as the mind. I wanted a poem that shimmered with intellect like T. S. Eliot regurgitating The Upanishads, its edges limned with a the ghost of Robert Frost holding a delicate pane of ice over a swollen stream in March. That kind of poem. All that suffocating desire.
So I stopped writing poetry and wrote an e-mail to my school asking them not to offer employee discounts to SeaWorld. I wrote and rewrote the e-mail. I added things and took things away. I wondered what magical syntax or brutally economical description would be enough to make Recreation Connection re-think the idea of a killer whale living in a cracked aquarium. I started off cheerily! Happy New Year! Thanks for adding Whale Watching to the list of Employee Discounted Activities! Sure beats watching the aforementioned animals perform tricks in a chlorinated pool! I didn’t use so many maniacal exclamations, but I did make an attempt at friendliness (Hello, I am not insane and soon you will warm to my politics).
I wonder about all the writing we do. All the many non-poems, non-public pieces that we nevertheless compose with compassion and conviction. I think of the journals occupying the shelf on my closet. I think of burning each one, records of my life made long before “journaling” became a verb.
Keats had the best epitaph: Here lies one whose name was writ in water. His epitaph is better than any line of poetry I will probably ever write. A name writ in water is then inscribed in stone. Moss fills the letters. E-mails vanish into the ether. The blog posts accumulate behind burning links.
If I destroy those journals, will I stop feeling the weight of accumulated unread years? I’ll wrench pages from spines and light them on fire with adolescent glee. Or maybe just toss them casually in the garbage or donate them to Goodwill and dream of some hipster finding them. But first I’ll transcribe a line or two. A few words from each entry. A record of each vanished day. Some sort of path from there to here.