Umbra: or, poem that nearly was not
2 August 2015
“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?” ~Kurt Vonnegut
“The last thing we discover in composing a work is what to put down first.” ~Blaise Pascal
Some poems are fated to die before their potential, their full glory, is ever attained; in this way, as in so many ways I’ve discovered to my endless fascination, poems are much like humans. It may be that the Seed of Idea on which the poem depends never germinates, though we pour our life onto it; or that, like animals of the wild—including homo sapiens it must be admitted—they are abandoned due to some Terrible Trauma or similar ilk which Nature is so fond of handing out like a ruthless teacher with homework assignments; or simply because they smell wrong. Which seems ridiculous to you and I, but which is of undeniable mortal importance to a vast number of species.
This is one of a set of poems that came very close to perishing in the deep freeze of a year-long Writer’s Block. A state which to this day reminds me so much of what I imagine to be the outbound journey to aphelion that stellar bodies undergo in their gravitational orbits. Aphelion, that point which is furthest from the sun, is such an apt metaphor for the hell of chronic Depression, and concurrent Writer’s Block, that I find myself returning to its rich imaginative spaces for ore…the words that I process to fuel my life. Now that I have begun my own journey back to a poetic perihelion, the words have begun to trail out behind me once more…
But before the thaw, I had come to think this would remain a sad nebula of ideas and half-finished verses; a primordial soup lacking the necessary Promethean lightning. Digital debris destined never to produce a poem. Until a few days ago, when I found myself opening the old file. During the familiar alchemy of transferring it over to my working journal—ink and paper being capable of surmounting the sum of their parts in a way that computers never can—I stumbled onto the trail of uncanny ideas, and melancholy memories that had led me to begin writing it in the first place.
It’s an aspect of writing which authors are forever attempting to define, to describe—right in the face of our mandate to Show, Do Not Tell.
Yet, we do it because it’s so near to the heart of why we write in the first place. The alchemy of composition is honestly far more gratifying than the glory of seeing a finished, published poem, and it is also equally as personal.
That magic is what drives me to get up at four in the damn morning to scribble. I suspect that every writer, indeed every artist, shares this. Yet, in a vocation built on the finesse of description, it’s ironically one of the majesties of our art that most often defies definition. And, regardless of what labels are applied, in this bittersweet, ineffable Life you have to take your miracles where you find them.
Redhaired Amy daydreams
into smoke become nebulous in moonlight;
entwined Van Gogh-gyrations of gunmetal ghosts.
Undulating, with her haphazard smiles,
Amy drags the husks of dead stars in her wake.
Tonight Earth jealously eclipsed Moon. As we drifted
between Luna’s infernal lover, the sunlight unceasing
cast a ruddy blush upon her majestic face;
lest Moon, however briefly, forget to dance.
Amy smokes the way ravenous people eat
—all jaws and no tongue.
For hours on end, she stares ardently at Moon
as if her gaze tattoos love bites on ice-dusty peaks,
carves runes within secret, darkside craters.
If Moon slept
she would only feel safe
wrapped in the arms of Sol.
Redhaired Amy cannot live
away from the ocean,
but she will not swim.
When lethargy seizes her by the spine
her bones telegraph a rattle-a-tat s.o.s.;
her atoms become bored, they incite
subtle dances of cellular rhythms
and metabolic war cries
that only she can hear.
When we are honest
we speak ten thousand fragments
hammered from a cryptic core
far too brittle to be cleanly cleaved.
Each time we strike off misshapen shards;
which we string together like unfamiliar stars.
Until we finally stand in dismayed bewilderment,
listening to our own battering, forlorn echoes.
Head cocked, as if we cannot believe
such a din could ever come from us.
These poor words could never hope
to bear the loneliness we are dying to convey
—no matter how we burden them.
Amy has come to believe
that God sleeps when we sleep:
and that since there are so many of us now,
God is always sleeping.
Redhaired Amy breathes fire, daydreams into her smoke;
thinking that ‘reckoning’ is not
spelled with a W for a good wreason.
26 July 2k15
PS: My apologies, Gentle Reader, for the site’s editing program seems to have suddenly become stupid; or maybe it’s woken up, and is being obstinate. (an altogether horrifying idea, speaking personally)
So, if you dig this poem please drop by in a day or two and see it with its proper structure on.
Yes, it’s naked and shaky, but I simply could not wait to run it out of the pen.