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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4 Responses to You still want to be a poet?

  1. Rachel, dear heart, poetry is not for sissies. It is going to take everything you have, all that you are, every thought, every idea, every moment of peace. You will feel exploded. You will weep oceans of tears. You won’t know that you can trust yourself for a long time. The world will seem too bright, too loud, too dangerous. You will be asked to swallow still more. Anyone who is not a poet also will wonder why you are ‘punishing’ yourself.

    But you’ve been struck by Mnemosyne’s arrow. You can’t unknow what you know, which in your calmer moments you have no doubts about. You are a poet already, Rachel. You see how painful, excruciating and what a lonesome art it is. But you will always be wrestling daimons. Things will come hard. But you are teaching yourself the path as you bushwhack through it. Every time you face down an episode of despair, of anguish, of hurt that is so big it has no name, you will make yourself stronger. Marathon runners have to train. So do poets. And your equipment are things found in your character, Rachel, that cannot be affixed from the outside, or borrowed or gotten rid of. Your heart is open, your mind is fleet, your soul is curious, and you know you are in it for the long haul, you just don’t know yet how to bear it. I wish I could knit you a new skin, one made like the knights used to wear before they went into battle, made of shining mesh, the strongest armor that could be made. People will tell you your foolish. Your own internallized folk will say you aren’t smart enough, talented enough, that you’re just fooling yourself. It’s hard to have a calm collected center with so much commotion going on.

    Right now, you can’t know how it’s going to all turn out. That’s the internal critic raising hell with you. Your job is not to know that ahead of time. Your job is not to worry if you’re good enough. Your job is not to defend your decisions to those who stand outside the fence of you and point fingers. Your job is to learn to trust yourself, to know that belief in yourself is a muscle that belongs to you but must be exercised as often as possible. Your job is to sit at your desk in front of your poem . Your job is to stay in your chair and write. Put your internal critics out on the sidewalk with the rubbish for the time you’ve given yourself to write, and lock the door. Love yourself. Be brave. You are the only one who can write your poems, and if you know they MUST be written, then you must write them. xo

    • rachvb says:

      Dear Melissa,
      I read this all the way through, stopping to cry and then waited. And then read it in pieces again and stopped to cry. And all I can say is thank you for the balm, for some light, for support, for understanding. And thank you for the wish to knit me armor – the wish alone helps so much.
      I have sometimes wondered why I’m “punishing” myself and after I find the air and come out, after I’ve come out and the moment has passed and calmed and settled, I wonder what the hell just happened. It’s hard not to feel overly complicated and a burden – even to myself. This was a hard session. A hard distance of miles. But I do feel a small strength having come out, even if I’m still a little shaky. I am very much learning as I go. And learning how to keep more air for when I go under.
      Thank you for being here.

  2. What I know of poetry is the calling. It came for me late, as human lives go, and I have yet to feel that I am able to answer the call as I wish to, but even the wanting to fills me with more life than I can express. With only my experience to lead me, I’d say one is not called for this task if one is not equal to the challenge. Yes, I read poets who cause me to shiver and know there are others by that name who do things differently, but I think you can tell them one from another. What Melissa says is the truth, it is not work for sissies and finding our not only brave but artful voices is work without end. You are here, in this life, in this skin, for a reason and you know what that reason is. I believe in you. xo

    • rachvb says:

      sometimes all we need is the belief of others. I’m trying more and more to look for that in myself, to fill my insatiable need with myself and not others and sometimes I’m able to do that and sometimes my body is too tired to keep up. I’m so glad to have found all of you. As much as poetry is a solo sport, it’s an amazing feeling to have friendship and support and understanding. I don’t really want to go back in, but I’m called to – and in that, the moments we decide to step back in, is how we get stronger.
      thank you. I’ll carry this with me through it. xo

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