I DON’T THINK I UNDERSTOOD THE ASSIGNMENT
To understand why I am here,
sitting next to you, watching
how you tip your coffee just so,
or wondering why you tug
at the strand of hair
that won’t stay put behind your ear
(or why, even now, I feel the next word
must be ‘must’ but on the next line)
or imagining what you would say
if you knew I wanted you
to become a strand of words
like pearls around my neck…
to understand all of that, of me,
there are three things you must know about me
that is, the me before the ecstatic moment(s)
in my life when I came to the end
of the lobotomized frill of a boy I had been
and grabbed on to with my soul’s
monkey toes the thought that
though I wasn’t a poet
I could pretend to be one
until I was a poet…
and this would save
me from myself
Number one. I was ugly.
Or at least that’s how I saw myself.
My brain conjured sickness
like cheap tricks, and my body
was all spreading skin.
I saw ‘poetry’ as a contraption
that would make me beautiful.
Somehow when I put a word
on a piece of notebook paper
(the fringe like decoration)
and pointed to it as myword,
-- a set of secret initials naming a perfect me --
I felt like I would turn out
to matter, be matter, not the bloat
of space, spiraling vacuum,
that I would find
just the right word
to take away the fear
that I was, deep down, a freak
….or worse that I wasn’t here at all,
that the shoulder I was looking over
in Algebra class (where we all wrote
our poetry-less first poems)
was my own.
Number two.I was self-absorbed.
No surprise there.
My father had told me stories
about how he’d written stories
and poems and folks had listened
to him, enraptured, and mom had swooned.
Somehow I was the only one who didn’t hear him.
Somehow I hadn’t discovered blood
was mutual, that I was, in fact,
his son, though everyone told me so
every chance they could get.
So when I wrote my poems
it was this triumphant act of creation,
of original sin, of delight in the id,
of ‘I am so large I outshadow
even the father
of the Word.
Number three. I was in love.
Why else turn to poetry?
Everyone knows that.
His name was Ben
and he was brooding
but cool and he loved to write
and still he was one of the boys
who got to punch
the other boys in the shoulder,
who could shower
after gym without fear
and still write poems about wanting
to walk among fallen leaves anywhere
but where we were.
I thought I wanted
to be him, so I wrote
into him, around him, toward him….
But it was him I wanted
and every single poem
I’ve written since,
I think it must be true,
was, is, a love poem to him.