Writing is a good life metaphor.
These are interesting days. I approach my life much as I do the page, with contentment but with trepidation. The clumsy plasticine oozing from my pen leaves me a bit numb. A little bored, to be honest. A stultifying sameness guards the words from taking on a life of their own, of actually taking anyone on any kind of journey.
This is especially true of poetry. Ironically, I find my greatest enemy to be the stronger, more captivating work of previous years. It is the equivalent of creative shadow-boxing, a grasping after one’s own ghosts. It is to hide from the potential of my own gifts. The glory days, whether in life or art, can straight-jacket us right out of good days now.
Life is often this way. In creative-artistic terms, this is so commonplace as to be ridiculously cliché. This haunting of the present by an elusively successful past can choke the life out of bold, new ventures. Even the very desire to try is rendered impotent. A sterility can only be achieved by writing. Shit, but still writing. When acedia takes hold it keeps me from even getting that far. Writing poorly is still better than writing nothing at all. Bad sex is still better than no sex at all!
Does this call into question my dedication to word-craft? Do I need to turn in my lit-card? Have I become less a writer and more of a word-ler (word burglar)? I suppose the creative struggle can be compared to dieting. One can lose weight through amelioration of already good habits-in-stasis while destroying bad ones. But, for it to “take,” a completely different way of living is required. Sure, lose thirty pounds, buy new clothes, take a thousand selfies on a new, air-brushed social media persona. Eat McDonald’s and chocolate cake for a week or two afterward and one’s previous successes merely mock present realities.
“Look how well I was doing,” we crow. “The effort really paid off,” we chirp. “It’s about bloody time,” screams our waistband. We gaze with fondness and well-earned satisfaction at our accomplishment only to groan with the recognition that that was then and this is now. Shit.
It can be genuinely depressing to read poetry or other bits and bobs of writing from even a few years ago when I had over-weening confidence in an under-developed, largely self-indulgent output. Now, possessing some measure of success, a proven track record in this whole letters enterprise, I find confidence a bit shaky to say the least.
Perhaps this is a case of art imitating life. Never have I been so content with so little. Not that I have little. I have in fact considerably more of everything than I could ever use. But my requirements are far fewer than ever. My writing is undergoing massive change right now, too. It’s not as clever-turn-of-phrase-y as it was, relying instead on that which, though simpler, might actually say something. I guess I’m losing my desire and, frankly, the need, to write for the academy – words for lovers of words. Insider talk.
Now, I write because it acts like a shower. My soul gets buffed up a bit more. My heart gets a jolly good brushing and I feel refreshed. And, I want to tell people about it. I want people to know who I am so they can meet me here. A welcome mat more than a Hadron Collider of complexity. There is a loneliness in creating something only a handful of erudites with too much industry-speak in their tool-belts can enjoy. And by “enjoy” I mean quietly compare to their own far superior material. Ha! Rightly so.
I guess to live better, we must learn to live on purpose. Correspondingly, to create better means to engage the process with trembling tenacity, even in the face of overwhelming self-doubt in one’s own ability.
I want to be the best writer, poet, musician – person, I can be. But it appears that what that means is a whole lot less words and a lot more conversation. Less erudition, more simplicity. Less academy, more living room. Less library, more kitchen table. Less bookstore, more backyard barbecue. Less thinking, more doing. Less of someone else, more of me.
Well, how about that. I just wrote myself out of my own funk. I rest my case.
Wait. What are these words
etched so blatantly in this fog-ged mirror
beside the shower
curtain of immodesty;
before me yet beyond my senses,
in ears endampened, engrossed, entombed-
like my murmuring heart?
Skin awash, adazzle;
insides asleep, awaiting…
There, there I see on glass, smeared,
perhaps by finger, nose, or shoulder –
condensation wiped from misty mirrors
word for word what I most misunderstand
and least fathom.
Traces left, glances of a face
revealed yet indeterminable; known, un-strange;
but surprising now, and terrible
soft and fearsome, lithe but
too big to hide even
in the darkest corners of my indirection.
Droplets dive to swim and speak
the intangible peace of this lilting voice.
Like an eyeball widget
refusing to stand still, darting to and fro,
never seen straight on,
just out of focus,
you write this tale, shrouded
in the vagueness of a loving stare,
adroit and sharp, a repeated repetition,
repeating yet again the same words:
“I have made you clean.”
Still, I know this face.
It is yours, subtle One.
It is mine.
It is ours.
perforate my insolated heart
with rock and stone and bits of branch
that scratch the earthen sky
with its insistent icy gaze
latch yourself rock, stock and thicket,
the budless arms of winter, skin and bone
wrap themselves around the icier heart
of my discontent
cry with wonder at my lack of wonder
this chill stream of unconscious boredom
alive in its deathly hold
we, together, sleep.
where once I stood
brazen, half alive but sure
of my surety finding
none but rockbed nourishment
in place of deeper food
but I refuse to dig.
in this time, non-colored
void of spring’s lithe dance
or summer’s lazy strolls,
so be it,
come, sweet winter
come, bid me bid goodnight to my childish fears
hypnotize me, embalm and embranch me
let the stark, new life of death
feed this wafer-thin soul.
kiss me with frozen resurrection
till snow becomes dew
and we both
Yakima to Ellensberg
July 21, 2010
Mottled and tustled blows
the Spring lint of fields;
hills blown dry in Summer’s bosom.
Little drunk parch-ed promise
whispers her secrets.
Moving over the gentle curves of
her brown back, full-breasted,
bloated not from watered spring
but gloating in perpetual want –
satisfied with less; less than satisfied
having drawn her drink from wells unseen.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills…
Thoughts from the beach…
To commemorate a beach walk with my wife.
Beauty. Random squalor in effortless
Wave deposits her treasure
In our efforts to build that which
Hand could never grasp we trade
Quintessential. Queer. Quiet for
Quantifiable. Quick. Casual.
Oh, such grand wordless words-
Wonder, World-watched prayers
That which is unseen – now
Dark; darker still where waves
Kiss the sand of my imagination.
Flat boards float on round earth
Plays with my finitude and finer still,
Fills my earthen breath with
Dare she flits on so light a wing,
Fading into vastness, blue
The sky and water, one.
Where one defines what much cannot
In so many syllables contain
The vast smallness of it all.
May 12, 2003
I love poetry. I used to write much more poetry than I presently do. I feel bad about that. Consider this part one in rectifying this. This poem was written gazing out from an airplane window while flying over Scotland in 1989. It was finished in 1991, the next time I was in Scotland.
High flying, window glass reveals tattered floor-
Pristine heaven greets eyes open to curving planet yonder
Stretching, reaching, sky-borne, we soar.
Place of kings bringing wonder to hearts that wonder.
Stipple green, ground richly steeped in lush, purple hue-
Woven pattern of road-cut scenes moves closer,
Sky meets peripheral sky, horizon’s hazy blue.
Shadows run as daylight comes.
Well-fermented scenes from ancient dreams-
Walls of stone, hearts of flesh, eyes of steel,
Pageantry in motion, all is as it seems.
Like God in man, surreal kisses real.
Robert Rife © 1991