Shapes/Why I'm Not A Poet
When people tell me they’re not writers, I want to say to them (and sometimes I do) if you can write, you’re a writer. If you can ask questions about the world, you’re a physicist. If you’ve got life, you’re beautiful. We shouldn’t be denied these things.
But the stories we learn to write are such different animals from the stories we tell that they don’t seem like the same species. A story story manipulates us – with conflict and scope and emotion and beginning and middle and end. It lives perpetually. If I remember correctly, the perpetuity line looks like this:
Point by point, over and over and over. Renewed. Et cetera. Cause->effect; action->consequence. The first few things we learn as children. When pressed, I can story-tell in this manner.
It’s possible that every single story is older than we are, every conflict has seen the stage. At some point in perpetuity, we will run dry. We’ll use every combination of the alphabet.
Something that lives in eternity exists in all points at the same time (or, all places at once):
Plot doesn’t fit here. I’m not even sure if cycles of history fit here, because cycles stop and start. Eternity doesn’t have a concept of stop-and-start; if you say you’ll love someone eternally, you mean not only that you always will but that you always did, before either of you were born. For the most part, we see eternity for what it is - unmanageable. I think this is where poetry lives. It’s never given me an address. My excuse for not being a poet, or a songwriter, or a scientist, is just this: my brain can’t handle the nature of events in eternity. I’m too bound by time.
An over-simplistic explanation, I’m sure – and writing of any sort is crafted, cornered, trimmed into something we can recognize. I never know if I’m writing or just building. The ephemera of my mind, even the sequential stuff, feels like somebody spilled toys all over the floor and now I have to clean them and I don’t even know where anything goes in this room. Eventually I’ll just play. Maybe that’s how the galaxies came together. Forgive me this pre-planetary mess. How I want to be able to create stars from black matter.
Also, poets find shapes for things. I have enough trouble finding words that are not only the right size but the right form and weight and rhythm and velocity, and then building these words into structures that actually mean something to somebody else. Mostly I just sit there with the stack of words around me. What is the near-exact shape and size of being upstairs in my childhood attic room and hearing my father shouting below, pouring a cloud of liquid nitrogen onto a carpet, the circuitry that fires in my brain when I see someone I love, the way the wind went up my nose when I was jogging and blew my hair into my mouth, the dry sea-tasting wind from the Hudson River? I have no idea. I can get a character from here to here and that’s about it.
Grabbing moments in time is even worse. Every moment is so heavy with every other moment. Like this: I tutored in a second-grade class and we went on a field trip to Carnegie Hall, and afterward we were lined up waiting for this giant awesome elevator to take us to street-level, and one of the parents started singing the “blue skies” song, you know the one that goes “blue skies smiling on me…”(we’d heard it during the field trip) and the kids all segued from chattering to singing along, and then we were all singing together, nobody was talking, nobody was directing, we just sang.
So that’s what happened, but to get you anywhere close to what that scene actually was, I’d have to tell you about Zachary-who-was-allergic-to-everything and Anna-who-looked-like-a-duck on either side of me, and that I was prepared for my life to drop off into nowhere in a few weeks. And there’s still no real reason why you should care. How do I tell you without actually telling you that all the minutes in my life seemed weirdly to have led up to that one?...and thousands more moments have the same feeling, I just pick them up like pebbles and stick them in my pocket…how do poets make time so compact and yet keep it so fucking infinite?
The best I can do is say, Come on a trip with me, bring some trail mix and tapes for the car and then drag the reader by the hand down whatever road I’m following in any particular story. Probably you’d rather have had a poetic mindgasm and moved on, eyes sparkling. Unfortunately the only way I know how to get around is the long way. We’re all born into narrative, so it’s easy; we just keep writing it like Harold and his purple crayon, drawing our stairs and our trees and our moon. But we never get to hear the most impossible necessary thing, the thing we really want to know, unless we hear it from a storyteller - in the end (even the end of four pages) it will all make sense. We started at A and ended at B (or D, or Z), perfect and complete. Manipulated into a corner, maybe, but so satisfied.
I think I can only claim this sense-making, pulling you along with me in hope, because I’ve been pulled along all my life. When I was a kid it was sort of a running gag in our house that whatever we asked Why? about, our mom could take us back to Because God is God and shut us up. I suspect she was really saying Wait. Raising kids Christian is a good way to keep them on their intellectual toes, if you do it right. Your kids will never expect all the answers. They will seek recklessly. (Raising kids scientists probably has a similar effect, again, if done right). I grew up seeing our lives as one long story. I sat on the top of the stairs and thought about how we would look when we saw our real faces at the Resurrection. And I dared myself to actually stay put, there on the carpet, until the end of the world.
Amy Bergen calls it ORANGES .
Published On: November 8, 2011
Permanent Location: http://www.forgetmagazine.com/111108a.htm