I was honored to be included in a reading at the KGB Bar this January. The reading was recorded, and though the video was posted to YouTube quite some time ago, only late last night did I venture to watch it. I watched with a sense of fascinated narcissism and repelled shame, and I was left with a sense of dissatisfaction with my work. So I can make people laugh, big deal, so what?
An hour or so later, at 1 a.m., I was still awake and pacing in our bedroom, trying to settle the mysteriously unsettled Critter in my arms. For some reason (the YouTube video? the fact that I did not write that evening, as I usually do after the Critter goes to bed and before I begin my evening hours of paid work?) all I could think about was that maybe I should just give up poetry altogether, except as a casual thing. Give it up because ... the dissatisfaction is too unsatisfying, the longing too painful.
On the one hand, I don't give up poetry because I doubt that the painful longing would vanish if I did. Quite the opposite: through high school I freely and happily drew and painted on my own, and in college, when I no longer had time to do so, I forgot how; and now, just setting foot inside an art supply store is almost unbearably painful. Surrounded by tools I no longer know how to use, I feel an ache as though from the ghost of a limb I myself tore off.
On the other hand, I see that some part of me (my shitbird, of course) is holding me back. The last statement in Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo" haunts me (and yes, usually in German): Du musst dein Leben ändern. Though I do keep changing my life and giving things up (eating meat, eating sushi, running marathons, holding a regular job, following baseball any more than casually, sleeping eight hours each night), whatever it is that must change seems to remain unchanged.
I am beginning to realize that what must change is actually quite simple and already included in my rules for being a poet: write every day, and trust the process. Like giving myself over to the breath in zazen ...
Tuesday, March 30
Sunday, March 14
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.In the days after the Critter was first born, I felt as though my old life — the one in which nobody wailed day and night for the sustenance of my milk, my warm arms — was like a bird, perched on the ledge just outside our bedroom window. I felt as though a day would come when, if I opened that window, the bird would fly back into our apartment. And then one day I realized: that bird has flown, never never never to come back.
And I'd say, What?
And he'd say, This — holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I'd say, What?
And he'd say, This, sort of looking around.
— Marie Howe, from "The Gate"
And so I let go of the past (and have since forgotten what it was like), and though I had no desire to wish away the Critter's infancy and toddlerhood, I looked ahead to the future, when he will be in school and I no longer working odd hours and late into the night. And the future seemed so so distant, and I wondered if I would survive to see it.
And then one day, I realized that I had forgotten about both the bird and my dream of the future. The Critter was napping in his room and the apartment silent but for the mysterious clicking of the refrigerator, and there I was, sitting at my desk, to one side the unmade bed and to the other side a plate emptied of all but a few crumbs from my lunch, and I was no longer planning, expecting, or in any way even thinking about being anywhere else.
Though now that it comes to mind, I must say I do like to think about that bird and imagine where it has gone — somewhere far south of here, I hope, where the ocean waters are a clear and saturated blue. Or perhaps north of here, to the mountains ...