Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Road to a Poem


I'm interested in creative acts. I've been reading James Herndon's Notes from a Schoolteacher, a book about teaching which reads as though Herndon had tossed it off effortlessly. I don't know how Herndon created so instead I'll examine my own creative act.

What follows is the story of creating a poem. I tell it with some trepidation. This could be pompous. I don't mean it that way. I want to better understand my writing and explain the process. If you're interested in that sort of thing, come along. If not, see you tomorrow.

Here is the poem:

Cliff’s Notes 
At the bookstore I send my children on their way. Stay together, I tell them. As if together they can face the dangers of this world and their futures. I linger near the front. Holding a book about a woman who has fallen apart. Her father died. Her family scattered. She married. Then divorced. She broke down. I begin reading, trying not to flip to the ending. To the solution. Trying not to cheat. The urge is so strong. The door behind me opens. A woman with three children. Stay together, she tells them. They scatter. She watches for a moment then looks at a book on the table we share. Her hair is dyed blonde. Bobbed. Her face is tan in March. She is lip-gloss moist. Her body is tall and thin. She has sensual fingers. I swear it. She puts down a book and walks away toward new fiction. I write her story in my head as if it were mine to tell. I’ve forgotten the book I hold in my hands. My children run toward me, books in their hands. Can we buy them? Can we? We walk to the register. I pay for three books. At home, I hold the book in my hands and wonder why I bought it. The ending seems so obvious now. 

I wrote this yesterday morning as I remembered an event from the day before. I had taken my two girls to Barnes & Noble and turned them loose, commanding that they stay together. As I looked at the table of books I thought about safety in the world. I stayed up front watching to make sure my daughters weren't carted off to a dungeon. That happens around here.

Then a beautiful woman came in with three children and they ran into the store ahead of her. I was struck by her beauty and by the similarity of our situations. She looked at a book on the table near me and then went to look the Nook reader display.

I watched her go and turned back to Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail which is all about a woman falling apart. The girls returned wanting to buy Harry Potter toys. I said sure, put the book down, paid for the toys, and went home.

The next morning I started writing (without thinking very much) and my mind put together the idea of danger in the world, my job to protect my daughters, and my inability to protect myself. The book fit in with the ways in which I fall apart. And that woman who seemed impossibly beautiful and far above noticing someone like me showed my feelings of insignificance. And yet, we aren't so different. I had her say the same thing to her kids as I had to mine. And then, she walks over to fiction and I'm composing her story because it's so much easier to make up ideas for her than to come to grips with my own story. Our lives are all fictions to some degree or another. That's what I was thinking with her going to fiction instead of the Nook display. It seemed too cheesy to say that she walked into Mystery.

I put a lot of value on endings. They weigh more for me than the rest of a poem or story. When I get to the ending, I want to figure something out. In this poem I bought the book without thinking, I acted out of a fog of distraction. Then, at home, it comes to me that I've lived the book's story. I just need to open my eyes and see what is going on within and without.

That's some, not all, of what I was doing with the poem. If you care to read any more of my prose poetry, you can find it here. And there will be more poems there as the days come one after another and I, as always, write on.