Monday, June 20, 2011

The Poem that Takes a Lifetime—from Last Week

Lois tells me that a writer needs a husband who’s willing to act like a wife. She is from another era though she’d resent me saying so. Sometimes we bicker like sisters; other times she tells me she needs a daughter like me. A few weeks ago, we dug up the front yard and planted daisies, cosmos, tomatoes, basil, lavender, and marigolds to keep the bugs out. I transplanted a tiny rose bush growing in the middle of her front lawn like a tiny ship of briar and loveliness adrift on a sea of green. She says, “I like to put things in the middle of nowhere,” though, this year, she also wanted things to look “chic and sophisticated” in her little Vermont front lawn.

Lois has a long story about the history of things. She tells me she remembers before she was born: I did not want to enter the world, the one I was called into. At a young age she began stealing chocolate from the corner store and later other things just for the thrill of it. She has a picture of herself in a living room with Ray Carver; Tobias Wolff signed her thesis—a collection of beautiful rendered short stories in which she makes the complex simple. “I remember after I’d turned in my thesis and a week or so later Toby Wolff told me that one of the stories I’d written was pretty good, my body felt normal again and I thought this is the way normal people’s bodies feel.”

The first thing I remember her telling me, the thing she said that made me pay attention to her was “writing is really, really hard because it requires that you are emotionally honest with yourself, and that takes a lot out of you.” Yes, I thought, yes. How many more things has she told me… endless things… because there is an endless amount of struggle in this life but there are also endless books to read, poems to speak aloud.

I’m lying on my side snuffling, when she tells me how lucky I am to have a husband who will do the shopping and the laundry and the cooking at least half the time. To have a loving husband you will see is invaluable to a writer. I’m crying about failures and poverty and feeling depressed. I say, listen, I just turned in a thesis paper that I hate. And she says, you’re mourning the shitty little paper; even the shitty little paper we must mourn. I’m saying I’ll never have enough money and she says I have enough right now. Nothing will ever be enough if you let it. 

She has told me that some poems take a lifetime. You sit down and write a poem and it comes out just right, you don't understand how, but realize it took your entire life until now to write that poem.

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