The Whole Process
The whole process is a mess. It shames them
into spendthrift days alone with pretty
papers and dictionaries. They’ll never
change the world with it. They know that. O
How many times they have been told. O how
futile. How destined to live in poverty
with the monster under the pillow
of their restful dreams. O they know.
You don’t have to tell them. Nobody eats it
but them. They have heard it’s a dead fart. Yes
-the successful others told them to write
greeting cards or to become a Spanish teacher
or go back to school for nursing. They were asked
how they would make a living and they always said
they didn’t know but were alive. And that’s
the problem. They are happy in short spells
when the world shuts up and allows them the freedom
to speak. Some have taken up telltale
strips of ribbon to convince people they stopped.
That they are looking for a job, “Really, yes,
some good leads, any day now” they say.
But they are collections of little white
infractions of selfish behavior. They can’t halt and need help.
Even when they are at the beach, with their child
by their side, racing the august wind and four
foot waves, and seagull floats on lake
superior and lover reads in the shade,
there is nowhere they’d rather be. Still
they are writing poems on mental scarps of paper.
It’s their mother’s fault. She raised them wrong.
When they wrote a poem she would say, “That’s nice,
how lovely, keep at it.” They trusted her-
that there was a place for them in craved stones.
They didn’t know that Shakespeare was dead or
Dickenson mad, or Emerson a liar.
They were a poor mother’s kid and nobody
told them poor kids don’t grow up to write poetry
but instead go to work for rich people
cleaning their dirt, or join the army.
They should have guessed by their mother’s laborious
man hands. The way she’d say they were lucky.
She never had nothing, just one skirt and one
blouse she wore everyday. That they should be
thankful for their four pants and five shirts.
Their grandmother’s slender legs, and knobby
knuckles, egg on her face, always talkin’
how her own mother worked so hard, never
yelled, and how on Christmas they would get an
orange and a new cup should have flashed some
critical thought on their lack of a lot but they just felt
lucky to have a toy to hold in their soft hands.
Their grandfather drove milk-trucks in snow and grow
corn in the afternoon hours. Enlisted
in world war two and had an alcoholic
step-father beat him who his mother never left.
That kind patience should have made them question
art. They thought their brothers studied numbers
and picked rocks for candy bars and the love
of hard work, not survival. They were no
president’s son and no ivy league daughter
setting up herself for the duties of marrying power.
They should have tried to snag a lover of wealth.
But they were stupid. Pretended love was all they needed.
Blame their father and his irresponsibility.
His desire to wander, his love of a good
story and the way his voice changed when he
talked with strangers, adjusting to their slang and infliction.
Blame their Father’s father, a door to door
preacher man, who used words to save the souls
of poor and told knock-knock jokes to them on
walks to the store. They should have cursed
the supporters and the morals of the hard work
Amerikan dream. Should have told them “I
am a slave to the dollar, don’t deceive me.”
Now it’s too late. It became the only
thing they could do and still sleep at night.
To make matters worst, they thought what they
were doing was holy. Now they are
sorry they didn’t study chemistry
with a bigger calculator or worked at an
automobile factory. Or cleaned white
houses on the hill or cut down trees in
the back forty. Or laid concrete for the new
wal-mart, or taught kindergartners not to
eat paper. Could have been a secretary
for a butt doctor or captain of the last
fishing boat on the great lakes. A sales clerk
at a department store jolly at a lipstick
counter, or a librarian dusting classics
while mouthing the words of Wolf.
Could have been a mechanic at an oil change spot
A painter with a brush and a loud radio,
a dancer in a strip-joint where old lonely
men stare at pear shaped butts or horse slaughter
after the races are won and over. But
they decided at seven that they
would be a writer. Now they are poor.
The cycle of poverty and poetry
hangs on human linage like the extra
fat kisses on their ribs. They have turned to sin.
Tell the kids that poetry kills infants,
damns young idealist to hell and makes lunatics
out of the gifted. That advertising
would be better. Tell them to become a
cop or janitor or any other
uphill occupation always needed
and supported. Like you said, “nobody pays
a poet.” Celts have died out, and poesy is a dead
start. A little poem will get them nowhere.
A longer one will make enemies. They
can’t be what you want. So don’t blame them.
Just read their poems. Nobody told
them what they would sacrifice for coupling
sound and silence into clean water.
Frozen, and expended, they twisted fires on
pages, spouted fountains and memory
into stanzas. First loves and oak trees into
war protest endings. Baked tears and shame
into heroes songs and birds into spaceships.
Honey into fingertips and books into blank
explosions of Sunday afternoons. As lovers
they spooned soup and gruel. Gave jars of hope
to anyone with ears to hear and made houses
for the isolated. Surrounded by hugs and hands
they made their lives into imaginary
bars on windows. On tours with notebooks
they rattled until their raspy voices cut the right
pitch on coffee tables and tabloids they mastered
strangers’ faces and mother’s death they turned
into a rose bush growing in a made up
childhood backyard. Before the letters could be
sent they pressed them in Zen cookbooks, and saucy
flower suppers. They made beds out of old
poetasters who they believed were free
and poor with nothing to lose, like themselves
they thought as they crushed their egos into egg
sandwiches and grilled cheese weekends.
They made wine out of cobwebs and urine.
Always working to change the world for the next line.
Damning themselves when they were weak and tired.
O how they tried, and thought they’d win
a sailboat and a piece of Amerika.
Never realized they would die
to light a wick on the heads of their children.
How their children would follow them in their slow
destruction. Wouldn’t have pressed their soles into
bread and jam or spent their weekends writing
scones and chocolate cakes into elegies.
They would have went to work in the factory
if they had known the dandelions
they planted into leather chairs would be
plucked and burnt. If they could have tasted
the bitterness of old age and weak stomachs
they wouldn’t have forced down hot-peppers or ginger
tea fingered by doubt and despair. If they
really thought what they were doing wouldn’t make a difference
they would have kept it to themselves
like they had wanted all along. To sing
in the rain and not in shelter of the shops.
O someone should have told them when they were
young. Poetry isn’t an option, although it’s fun.