[I wrote this in 2008, before and after taking a shower in my childhood house, late for a drive back to Milledgeville and already missing a class. It starts out with some personal meandering and a lot of fussy, opaque phonetics, which used to be a lot more interesting to me than they are now. I wrote that part, got stuck, and went to take a shower. While washing my hair, a set of images opened up, and I hastened out of the shower to write the latter half of the poem as quickly as I could. It's not perfect, but I liked it then, I still like a lot of things about it, and it's one of the only pieces of writing I've ever submitted for publication. Along with a short story, it was published in the GCSU journal The Peacock's Feet and won me a little award. My long struggle with depression had already begun, and I found lots of reasons not to submit anything else after that.
The formatting isn't preserved perfectly here, but I'm not gonna obsess over it. I wrote this when I was 21 or 22, freshly-obsessed with Only Revolutions-era Danielewski and Barks' Rumi, and writing pages-long free form poems with deliberate negative space almost daily. Most of them were self-involved exploratory garbage that no one should ever read, but I'm glad I wrote them anyway. Writing a poem for the first time in a while today brought this to mind, partly because I was listening to Canopy Glow then, too, and partly because I can feel some differences in my intent and competence over a decade later that allow me now to tip my birthday sombrero to the desperate, beautiful, obliviously fretful young person I spent a long time being.]
Waking up has been so easy, recentweeks.
I do it twenty-seven times
- some nights -
between 10 p.m. (your time)
and 11:59 a.m. (also your time,
because I won't claim it.)
Yes, easy is what I'm about, now;
Among the many ways, let me emphasize
which I do so frequently, I forgot
that there was such a thing as for-getting.
In my more spirited spats,
my name must be changed immediately.
Damn ties and connotations,
it's sound and symbolism I require -
I consider, then, sarcastically, "Nick Symbol,"
"Nicholas Oliver Simpleton."
Preserving the first utterance produces
pretty unpleasant new labels.
There's no cultural relevance in my old given name,
and the family tie doesn't need it -
My brother and I make up new joke-names for us both
by inserting "BRO" into other words
at the starts and closes of emails.
BROlar Ice Caps,"
"Dear House of RepBROsentatives,"
This is our bond!
Not the state-accepted word
that labels thousands of others
just as well
as it does us.
are what have hold on me.
Though I want
to cast off and claim new,
the quest for
The infernal inertial
linguistic bit parser
For any foothold,
Finger-tip accepting crevice (call it boldering)
Tip-of-the-tongue wiggling in-road
Where a word becomes another,
jumps a fence,
rips off its clothes in a sprint
into whoever's uncovered,
or into a stars-only can't-see lake
on Old Lady Whocares's property
And forgets microbes,
slithery deep things,
and for god's sake all propriety,
¡Gets sand in letters it didn't even know it had!
and laughs into the infidel-levity,
which is Too Far From Everywhere, Wrongstate, U.S.A.,
in the Deep Darkness of the decidu-woods,
which is also the southern tip of India,
baking deliciously in the sun.
(Pause for breath.
A story comes,
and though I've got other plans,
I catch and filter it anyway.
One of us might need it.)
Three children test their courage
with a dark-thirty backwoods river
Paddling slowly against the current
which becomes the only wave/particle of reference they have.
All three want to play, and it's the honor system
which always - for now - suffices among them.
Together they count,
Eyes wide for any scraps of half-light,
Each of them:
- Gasp -
The wind sounds and balmy summ-air
become the chilly clamor you first think is silence
- Eyes open or closed, they can't decide if it matters -
The first boy counts all the way to Two Hundred
He calls out for his companions.
... Calls again.
He doesn't panic yet.
The second boy has not been counting,
just waiting patiently and feeling his lungs
from the inside.
He hears the muffled voice above the water,
then a second cry and thinks both others
have given in.
Waits another victorious moment...
then Bursts upward!
Wipes the water from his face!
- and sees only one other shadow head.
Another minute or so passes,
and the two surfacers get nervous,
Go from calling to caterwauling.
Can't see a thing,
can't find their friend.
The third boy is stubborn,
already chafing at his environment and upbringing,
refuses to swim up until it's absolutely necessary.
He's under for ten, fifteen minutes, just paddling and thinking,
doesn't feel the strain, doesn't know
how to tell if it's been too long.
Gradually, his mind evaporates,
he fades asleep,
Body's carried down the river, never seen again.
The two friends run to find their parents,
Wake them rudely;
a Search is raised;
the only result is that two boys,
in addition to the trauma of Friendloss,
are punished for being young and adventurous.
Eventually they stop wanting to go outside at all,
Their late companion drifts, too,
Subject to the usual currents,
into the Gulf of Mexico.
Somehow down the coast of Central America,
through the various locks of the Panama Canal.
You'd think they might watch for dead bodies,
- maybe sensors calibrated for cadavers -
but the technicians,
at least on this day,
have other things on their minds.
Nicaraguan blind dates.
And the body of this poor boy,
over how many death-length days,
floats as nature's whim requires,
West across the Pacific Ocean,
past but not into the "dead spot" where
the plastic gathers,
Unseen by any ships or satellites,
Untroubled by deep sea creatures,
Unknown to all but you, the sea, and me.
A wave breaks open on the southern tip of India,
The sun approaching its highest aspiration.
Something soggy and solid deposits on the sand.
Two young Indian boys leave their covered mother
and run naked to the water.
What they say, I don't know;
I don't speak this dialect of Hindi,
or know the writing to transcribe it.
But they are speaking, shouting quickly,
excitedly, a little nervous.
It's a pale, wrinkly boy,
and the tide wraps around him again briefly,
face down on the grit.
The two Indian boys look at each other,
Eyes glinting with approaching knowledge,
and together say Rhythmically
three words in their beautiful language.
- Gasp -
The universal intake of breath
They flip the pale boy over,
his eyes flicker open
- only briefly surprised -
and now they all draw deeply
from the same balmy, blazing air.
Sweaty or sopping,
They can't help it --
All three begin to laugh.