I’ve not written a poem in a long time; it seems to be a cyclical thing, though not so reliable as the emergence of the cicada. Part of the problem is inspiration. The inspiration for a poem is not the same as the inspiration for a book. Poems are compressed thought, and I have always had trouble compressing mine.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure exactly what qualifies as a poem. When I attempt to write a rhyming poem, it generally tends toward the “ta-Dum, ta-Dum, ta-Dum, ta-DAH” school, as though I were still playing woodblocks in my first grade band. And there are few things worse than a poem in which a word chosen for a rhyme is so egregiously bad or inappropriate it appears to have been dragged in at gunpoint and is being held against its will.
Each issue of The New Yorker magazine contains groups of words I assume to be poems, though I cannot recall one single poem in which I had the foggiest idea of what was being said, or why. They belong to the “the more obtuse it is, the more meaningful it must be” or “the Emperors's new clothes” school.
Anyway, I digress (oh stop the presses!). The point of this blog, if there is one, is that the other day a friend sent me a very nice, nostalgic poem about the memories evoked by the smell of cooked cabbage, and for some reason—why do I insist on saying that, when there is in fact no reason at all—a sentence entered my head and refuses to go away. I recognized it immediately as the basis for an as yet unwritten poem; an achingly sad poem reminiscent of “The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock.”
I do not like sadness; there’s far too much of it in the world as it is. Yet the sentence stayed with me, and I saw an entire poem—an entire life—encapsulated in it. Part of its appeal lay, as in all poems and in all writing, in the words and the way they are put together, and in the picture that they paint for me.
So I sat down, after writing the first few paragraphs above, and let Dorien use Roger's fingers to go where that lone sentence might take him. Half an hour or less later, here is what he wrote, just as he wrote it. I’ll polish it a bit later, but thought you might be interested to see the workings of one unfettered mind.
Of Time and Cookies
It was a time of ritual,
a time of coffee and cookies
inserted between games of solitaire
and the evening news.
It was a time when he was free
to be who he no longer was;
a time to be young enough to dream
dreams which could still be fulfilled.
The space between each sip of coffee,
each small bite of cookie,
could be filled with thoughts of friends no longer dead
and memories of a bed warm with a body other than his own.
After the ritual, he returned to the world as it was.
He washed his coffee cup and replaced it in the cupboard.
He closed the box of cookies and put it on a high shelf,
in hopes the cockroaches would not find it.