Writing Advice: Play Pirates

Thoughts that come to mind: we listen to finished songs. Not sure anyone would show up to see a concert being written. And if they did, they would not enjoy it. There is a stark, and I mean deeply entrenched divide between finished product and resource. As different as a meal is from the oven that burnt it. The privacy of the laboratory. The invisibility of the tremendous roots of trees. Not the brain or the heart or the fingernails but the bowels of the body. Where the real ugly radioactive work gets done.

I don’t know your substance, subject matter, agenda, your poetry. But I believe I can aid you in the pursuit of entertainingly recording ideas and stories. I’ll start by reiterating cliché writing advice you’ve already heard. Write first. Edit after.

But let me clarify.

The little kid who turns a playset in the backyard into a pirate ship more detailed and bombastic than a movie set, is doing absolutely no editing in the real time of this imaginary event. I know they worked it out of you, school, work, all authoritative structures do, but try to remember the exhilaration of being a kid and believing the bullshit you made up in your backyard to pass the time, pass the setting, past every portal others hold the keys for, and playing.

Play first. Make yourself giggle. Over-write. Cry for your characters. Write the wrong. Write corny jokes out and take a flat head screwdriver and pry the backspace key clean off the keyboard. You cut and paste that stuff at the bottom of the page. You delete nothing. Not while the game is on. Not with the continental navy at your stern and a belly full of stolen gold in your hull.

Edit after. You’ll sit down to edit the way you show up to work. Cup of coffee. Cynicism in check. Emails to check. This is how you edit. You won’t ever have editor’s block. School prepped us for it. All your jobs demanded it. Every position you’ve ever held is some form of customer service for some form of company, and it required you constantly to edit yourself. Please don’t argue me on this. They paid you to bite your tongue clean through. To show up to work and remember to bring everything except the real real you. Editing is not the problem. It never was.

The problem is you stopped playing make-believe.
You let the continental navy sink the pirate ship in your backyard.

Fortune-Teller School

Life is frightening or boring. Seldom in between. 

We grow up educated into fortune telling. 

Preparation, expectation, share the quiet part 

both are predicated on prediction. 

Gambling, just, the pessimistic edition. 

Track all the ways shit goes sideways 

and put money down. Preempted. Ensured.

Guaranteed duck nine times out of ten 

just not the one time God calls Goose. 

Ten bucks says today. That’s all it takes. 

Today is the price tag on tomorrow. 

To Breathe

Trees like still-frames of fireworks. Palm leaves off golden white.
Pink pom-poms on ends of sulfurous smelling stems.
Lone doves on frowning powerlines.
Trucks with cracked windshields in teacher’s parking lots.
Surgical masks rotting in the gutter. Rocks and robins
and cracked orange clay in places grass won’t grow.

We were six weeks in outside for a mask-break and I could not recognize them.
They all had different faces than I ever could have imagined. It’s the damnedest thing.
I’d known them for weeks. Yet I had never seen their smile.

We loitered on green grass until the birds grew bored of us.
I didn’t like it. I wanted to tell them they had their faces wrong.
Before I could, thank God, they’d stuffed them back under masks
sighing to their self. Smelling their own breath. Confidential grin.

Spied on by the birds and the trees
who have waited a long time
patiently eagerly
for all of us
to take a mask-break
and step out
to breathe.

Empty plates in place of thanks

Salmon patty pinto beans cornbread salt like sand against teeth
green beans boiled potato quarters day old macaroni with calluses for cheese
short cakes topped by strawberries and whipped cream and powdered sugar
the dull metallic taste of a spoon that has known a hundred tongues
last night’s dinners dried in groins between forks
butter knife clean as a salad plate.

Fruit flies by bananas on the counter food-stained tower by the sink
tea that has sugar in it and was cooked on the stove
half moon watermelon runes and cans the salmon came in
on the back step for a one-eyed cat to lick clean.

The bathroom smells like a whole can of hair spray and half a cigarette.
Chase me the child screams. Got you, he types in an email.
Compliments are the pallbearers of criticism.
Empty plates in place of thanks.
Something to sit and sip in front of fire
and nurse our old winter desire until we retire
and our bowels sing us to sleep
melodies we were never meant to keep
raise us like lazarus in the morning
to roll the stone away
or so they say.

Catch me daddy, catch me.

Annotation – The Poem You Asked For by Larry Levis

This is a more prosaic toned poem, but chopped up in stocky, poetic lines. The work functions for me as a hybridized experience, an offspring of the overlap between fiction and poems. Ascribing a poem a personality, giving it action, physical description, played out brilliantly in this piece. “…I offered it all my money, my clothes, my car with a full tank. But the poem stared at the floor.” Not just ‘my car’ but a full tank. One can’t entice a poem out from hiding with a vehicle empty of the fuel that makes it move. The poem is a journey. It gets hungry. Tired. And then inspired, and fat and full. Greedy.

We don’t get rhyme. We don’t get flowery language. The poem really lacks in most archetypal elements of poetry except for having that exact subject as its theme. Which is in and of itself a very poetic thematic twist. A literary contrast, examining lofty, often put up on a pedestal subjects with pedantic tone of voice. The reader sits somewhere in the middle pulled in two separate directions by the same detail. “…beat me and took my money, tore the faded clothes off my back, said Shit-” This really is a poet’s poem. Haven’t we all been beat up by a piece or two of our own writing? Not that we had much to begin with anyhow, but it takes what we do have, the abusive poem likes our faded clothes and running cars and greasy hair. Prefers it, because it was needed once, worn. The shine has almost always worn off the preferred. And the poem of Larry Levis is coming for all faded things.

Almost everyone who pursues this craft can relate in one way or another to this poem. I would also feel comfortable stating that anyone who pursues intentionally creative endeavors of any kind on a daily basis can relate to the all too often overly familiar, needy, and abusive habits of the muse. Being a poet is like keeping a pet bird. It’s like sliding a sleek silver bit in the crotch of a horse’s jaw. It’s a lover you struggle to shake. In spite of both your sakes.

All of that to say what poetry is not: a thing connected to a remote control, mindless or incapable of revolution and resistance, a thing to do to pass the time. Not an object. Not a skill. Not a subject. “And the poem…Said it was going over to your place.” The ultimate mystery and power of inspiration is that it has a will of its own. And it will leave you when it wants to. And it will refuse to leave you when it wants to.

Stalking #oldpoems

Mountain dandelions are different than ones back home.
They make fluffy yellow flowers look like housecats. Not lions at all.
Yellow fringed and orange centered with green eyelashes all around.
Roar pollen in the wind. Dig in the leftovers of a billion years.
Root like pigs. Deep into hard gray lichen coated ground.
Creep throughout a lawn and launch on eyes like prey
where they mindlessly graze

across the hazy dome that crowns sleepy towns.

Grow low, stooped heads.
Warn us off, and keep us walking.
There are lions in the tall grass.
And just like dandelions.

They’re stalking.

God calls Goose

Life is frightening or boring. Seldom in between.
We grow up educated into fortune telling.
Preparation, and expectation, share the quiet part
that both of them are predicated on prediction.
Gambling, just, the pessimistic edition.
Track all the ways shit goes sideways
and put money on it. Preempt. Ensure.

Guaranteed duck nine times out of ten
just not the one time God calls Goose.
Ten bucks says today. That’s all it takes.
The pricetag on tomorrow.

Priced it and called it freedom in the same breath. No one blinked.
At the irony. All you end up studying in fortune-teller school. Is history.

Doorways in Windows

The cold descended so low last night it touched the grass and turned it white. In some places, soil has spat up phlegmy streams of ice like tiny fireworks frozen in place. If you’ve ever stepped on a bed of broken glass you know the feeling of walking on frozen ground. Only pines cling summer green, and it has turned the horizon eerily into prison bars, the nakedness of hardwood trees. I absolutely know someone dressed up in all the colors of mother nature’s vomit is sitting somewhere they’re not supposed to with a gun staring through their foggy breath and only hearing squirrels. Camouflage fools intelligence, but blares out loud to wisdom bright as blazon orange. More men and women than one could ever imagine have been sentenced to hell by a jury of furry woodland critters. Laid belly up guts exposed in the dead center of a hot country road paved with the asphalt of all your worst decisions. I look out across the early morning, late December scene, ice poised on the precipice of muck, and see many things where others say they don’t see much. Wooden towers untouched by carpenters taller than any of the two stories downtown. A man I don’t recognize weighed the cold against a lit cigarette unworthy. Two cats, three kittens. One solid vein of sunlight spiderweb woven between all the eastern trees. I don’t know who you have to be to look out at such scenes and read the story of eternity. I know you can’t stop once you do. I know something of the nature of truth. 

I know it always sets doorways in windows.

Something pities you

Shake your head. Shake it out. Shudder. The best way to unshutter. Open up why don’t you. Talking to yourself again. Out loud. On “paper”. Jesus Christ I have changed quickly. Same as it has ever been. I keep waking up while I’m already awake and realizing how many years I slept through fully conscious with eyes open. Dead-eyed asleep and ceaseless dreaming. What do I want out of life? What do I want out of a deer my brother killed. Everything I can get but I’m not ready for yet. I feel like the animals I’ve ended surely sit patiently waiting on the jury that judges me into whatever hereafter. I want them to look at the work, and feel maybe less hate and resentment than I would. We’re always counting on other people to be better than we are. Why does anyone ever ask why did everyone pile onto the short cut and traffic jam it into engine-idling oblivion. The long way is the short way again, because the numbers have shifted, and the only way to think nature isn’t on top is to bury your head in her. We will, all of us, die, and in doing the things we describe as life, learn to live again. You’ll shake your head. Shake out the you. The me. I. Whatever ridiculous code name you’ve been called your whole life. For me. I’m shaking out a Jeremy. I’m waking up all Jeremiah and feisty. A hammer in the hand of the carpenter was once a tree with roots cupped in the palm of the earth, and metal nestled deeper than that. If you want to know the creator, you have got to start thinking elemental.

You’ve got to start thinking. Now.

I have no clue about what the afterlife will look or feel like. But. I have every clue imaginable regarding how I entered, and my full understanding, of this one. And I can dream, without much difficulty, that being reborn into the next world will generally be similar to our entrance into this one. You had zero control. Absolutely no say in how you survived the first years of life. The most you knew to do was cry, and another being, better or worse, sought to silence you. Protected you. Ushered you every step to your current high-priced ticket seat. How do you find your way in the afterlife? The same way you made it to this one.

You scream, and cry.
Then something pities you, and keeps you alive.

Labor Day Weekend

Don’t ask for rain, ask for a drumroll. They’re the same.
Overlapping rippled, whip-led, beaten with sticks, thrones and symbols.
Cloud-teased sunlight and pitch black night like a tent in the rain.
Ruined, but not unattained. Baptism is the recipe for mud. Clay.
And water. Brother in law wielding a fly swatter.
A son I thought would be a daughter.
I used to be a kid with a stutter.
Played break the ice with my speech therapist.
Lost. Froze solid. With a note to my loved ones
crystallized in blue hands. “If the cold didn’t get me

loneliness did.”