Saturday, October 20, 2018

October 20: Joseph Millar, "Night," Writing practice


by:  Joseph Millar

Nobody wants to fall sleep
watching the stars burn like trash fires
listening to the big waves smoke
down the rocks,
nobody wants to sleep.

My Pelikan 800 fountain pen,
green with a faint gold stripe,
lost with my hundred-proof memory,
my sea flat as glass,
its kelp leaves and poppies.

Now I watch the women
dressed in black--black shoes,
black pants, long hair falling
over their hands and wrists.
They star awake far into the night
writing their scattered poems,
sisters of the half-empty wine jar,
of childhood lost
in the coastal fog and the lapsed
Catholic funeral flowers.

Nobody thinks of going to sleep
now that the streetcars are silent,
now that the dew seeps
into the grass.
I came west in my twenties
looking for work,
driving straight into the setting sun
and now I'll take anything:
a pencil stub and a cheap
cardboard notebook
somebody gave me for nothing.


I love the images in this poem of all these people, refusing sleep, writing in the night.  It's something I'm familiar with.  As I've said before, my writing time is squeezed between moments of registering patients and teaching classes.  A stolen ten minutes in the morning office, before everyone else shows up and fills the place with noise and distraction.  An hour between classes, when I close my office door and pretend that I'm Keats coughing my lungs out.

This is my writing practice.  Probably the writing practice of millions of poets.  William Carlos Williams scribbling verse on his prescription pads in between house calls.  Wallace Stevens printing lines on the back of a customer's insurance policy.  That's the working life of most poets.  Poetry doesn't pay the bills.  Its rewards are not tangible in any way.

Yet, poems save my life.  They help me make sense of a world that makes no sense to me at times.  They fill me with compassion and understanding.  They puncture balloons and anger and resentment I sometimes carry around.  They make me appreciate being a part of the universe.

I know all of this sounds very highfalutin.  But it's true for me.  Tuesday, I worked all day on a poem.  Line by line.  I couldn't stop.  The idea came to me as I was taking a shower in the morning.  On my drive in to the medical office, I wrote the first stanza in my head.  In between patients, I swam in words, plucking them from the kelp and seaweed.  By the time I'd scanned the last medical chart, entered the last charge, I had a new poem.

Poems are around me all the time.  I just have to look around and write them down.

No comments:

Post a Comment