You still want to be a poet?

I’m learning as I go. When to push. When to pull back. When to run in scratching and clawing even though I’m terrified. This morning I opened up a sorely patched wound. I sat on the couch for a long time knowing what I had to do, trying to build up some nerve, some strength even though what the poem needs wasn’t so much strength but an open nerve.
Do you have to write it? Linds asked as I was crying in the car later, unable to close what I had been working for an hours to open.
No, I want to. I need to. I’m drawn to. There’s a pull to the next poem, there’s always a pull. It’s what I have to follow. But for whatever reason this morning, I felt like I was writing through skin and muscle. I felt like I was writing on bone.
And when she says, maybe you need to rest, I tell her that I can’t. Not now because I’m there, because I’m scared, because I’m hurting, because this is where the poem is. It’s just taking me longer to leave it right now.
What she doesn’t know is that earlier this morning, after I closed my notebook and shut the bathroom door to take a shower, I stripped down, sat on the toilet, pissed out coffee and cried hunched over. What she doesn’t know is that I sobbed in the shower, letting the noise of the water mask my noise. alone. And there’s always the dread that what I’m feeling isn’t real, isn’t hard enough, isn’t good enough, isn’t going to be worth anything in the work. What if the poem doesn’t live up to what I’m feeling in it? What if? I’m too much. I’m alone. I’m a burden. I’m.
The virus inside is always looking for a host. A friend. A love. A weakness. It’s always looking for something real to drag down. And you want to be a poet?
This isn’t normal, I say. Wanting, pushing, diving into such sediment without any clothes.
It’s brave, Lindsey says. I hear it, but I file it away. It’s not brave. It’s flattening.
I take a walk before entering the building. I’m still too totally exposed. And it’s warm this morning, wet in the air. A small boy plays in puddles with a fast food cup in his hands. I’m reminded of a time with my dad. It was hot in the summer. We were watching my brother play little league. I was 8 years old maybe. His shadow loomed across the bleachers. He held a Carl’s Jr. cup. Sipped the red straw greedily. When I asked for a sip he handed it over without question, he watched me smiling. And as I took a sip expecting cool sweet soda, I gulped warm flat beer instead. I didn’t spit it out. I swallowed it. Like I swallowed most of everything else. And now, it isn’t that he thought it was funny to trick me into drinking beer, it’s the fact that I didn’t say anything. Never said anything for anything that makes me so upset inside.
But I’ve always been alone in feeling. The most intense feelings I don’t know how to feel with other people. I don’t know how. Because that’s my only armor. It’s the only way I know how to protect myself. Or it was. I’m not sure anymore.
Walking is good. And buying coffee. And eating breakfast when it’s breakfast time. And making quick tst tst tst noises through my teeth, so I won’t start crying. Breathing and the thoughts of a weekend up the river. These all bring me back to a center.
You still want to be a poet? There’s not really a choice in the matter. I do it because I’m breathing, beating. I do it because there’s nothing else. At least slowly I’m beginning to understand all the tides.

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