Prose for the Uninspired
I come to sit down next to you and talk to you, a few hours
at a time. I see myself in you a lot of the time. I remember
five years ago—was it really half a decade ago?
we would talk every day and it was sweet. These days,
I fight for that kind of ease. Now neither of us want to admit
that neither of us understand what’s happened. But I don’t care if I can’t cut through this dark muck we’re sinking in;
and I cannot name our enemy.
I fight for you every day and still I find you slipping away.
I remember so much with you…
sometimes I forget to remember—wait, ta-take me back there for a sec!
I love being with you. I thought you were just my own invention, but what has grown
under the surface has revealed itself as romantic love, a wooden room of termites stuck in my chest—
I’ve worked hard at digging down to those roots…
O, I love you, truly. O, I love you, deeply.
And if this comes off as a sappy love poem,
you of all creatures know that I speak to you—and to you only do I speak.
Yes, you understand to what I am referring. I am referring to the curves of your memory, mmm,
the loose curves of your speech and the bubbling up of your proud, high elegant language
when an idea weighs heavily on your stomach like large, black Hester…
your back is tall, erect like an alarmed cat (you see the great size and prominence of the ideas inside your head);
I try telling you that you really can make the ideas clear (like a kid first learning how to ride his bike without training wheels);
in your awkward, clumsy high language you tell me something that blew you away and you try telling me the idea
in the same way it overwhelmed you
and the most important thing I forget, ah the key, is that ideas are gifts and things we are given and you taught me that and if I forget
everything dies and I want to know that this is all a gift down in my covered thighs.
Ideas sometimes break into our house. I will see an idea creeping across our floor in the golden light of 7:00AM down our hallway
into the kitchen as I am coming down the stairs for the first time that morning
in my underwear, and I know the idea is sneaking up on you standing alone
in the kitchen soaking in the warmth of your deep, lovely routine inspiration. You are
in the kitchen making breakfast for me.
O, I love you, truly. O, I love you, deeply.
Visiana! we have talked many times about why you make breakfast
for me. And when we were first married,
I was worried you did it out of some strange misogynistic
pressure. I wanted to make sure you understood that I did not expect you to make breakfast for me just because I am the man
and you are the not-man, but you told me, “Honey, I make breakfast for you because you are bad at waking up early.
You will never make me breakfast.
If left to your conspirings, you’d wake up at eleven.”
That is one of the reasons I love you, deeply,
For it is not that you know everything about me or that I know everything about you,
but that we have known each other for so long and seen so much of one another,
so I love you because you are familiar and we share an understanding:
when I told you about my misogynistic worry, I knew you would make fun of me
and when you made fun of me, you knew I would laugh at myself:
we are the same and you I…
Is this still a mystery for me?
I think of the people with whom I have this understanding.
I think of my family.
I think of my older sister, Anna.
We have this understanding.
But when I think of Anna, I am afraid to admit
how she strikes me as a stranger. I am afraid saying
so will hurt her. But I feel like all six of my siblings
are strangers. I am bad at birthdays like I’m bad at breakfast…
At least I know that all of my older siblings are lost
somewhere in their twenties and my little sister is canoeing
down that well-travelled river
of fourteen. There have been so few opportunities to sit
down and speak plainly with these odd
people. Much of my life is unrevealed
and much of their life is unrevealed
to me. Both they and I must deal with the truth
that we are distant brothers and sisters and we get few chances
to be near friends. Where are the coves
wherein my set of memories
overlap with their memories?
I have memories of when I was four at the Sugar Grove house—
Anna must have been a teenager then (what was she going through?)
She was a fixture in my life and now Anna at that age
when I was four is a fixture in my imagination,
our memory. And then I wonder, “Who was she?
And what happened then that caused her to be who she is now?”
I think about this a lot.
I called my little sister, Grace, on the phone
the other day. I asked her about
memories she had at the St. Charles house. She had this image
of Dad riding the mower past the window wells
as we sat in the cold, concrete basement watching television together. She couldn’t have been more than eight years old.
We talked about how boring the summer days were there, but how nice the light, cool basement felt. We wondered
why we never went outside. She said it was because it was always so hot. It’s true.
We remember that, how hot it was.
Grace also remembers a time when I took her to the end of our driveway
and into the cul-de-sac one Fall day. She was wearing her pink puffy coat. She couldn’t have been more than seven years old.
We were raking up all the leaves into a pile
so she could jump into it. She described it as our attempt to be a picturesque
family on the cover of a magazine. Well the leaves were wet
and anyway there weren’t enough of ’em—and she remembers jumping
into the pile and falling right on her butt! And she says it was sad, because her coat got stained dirty!
Grace, I’m sorry.
You also remember a time when I tried running away from home.
Our friends the Cannons were leaving after a long visit and I decided to hide
in their car so they could take me with them to Indiana. Illinois to Indiana
(what a ride!)—and you remember me putting a quarter into your Hello Kitty
pack on the front of your pink bike. I told you “don’t ask, don’t tell” and said shh. You couldn’t have been more than six years old.
I remember you at that age,
You see, I have had a lot of troubles with my memories. I’ve decided I want to enjoy my memories like wine:
if I drink too much from the same well, I can become disoriented
and get a headache. It is a deep well of crimson
milk. It messes me up, head plunged.
Why don’t I ever just say thank you and quit?
My little sister Grace said that she doesn’t understand why people worry about forgetting
themselves since we always take who we are with us (her hands on the sides of the rocking canoe)
What shores have we seen? Once the present passes into my memory
and it is there in my head, I can use my imagination
and turn it around in my hand like a stone. Now, the sand sifts
through my fingers and from there it goes into the ground
and becomes a shiny stone, each moment like
a shiny thing on a pebble beach, turning the stone.
This memory brought me here…it moved me here and compelled me.
O, I thought I have only ever been bending my back
in this field, but ah, now I know I am being blown back, pushed forward
once more once again once.
Addressing my class next year at graduation,
I get up from my chair and go to the podium,
“A little over a year ago, I almost dropped out of college. I had the degree change form in my hand and walked around the college
collecting signatures. I got every signature, made it past every gate necessary, except one. You would think this was intentional.
It was not. I didn’t get the last signature, because I forgot to get it. So I left that half-completed form in my pidge box for two weeks,
forgetting forgetting. And then I was sitting in class and for some reason I got the thought in my head to tell God, ‘Father if you want
me to do something, I will do it. I’m willing to do what you want me to do.’ I was convinced he wanted me to drop out
or that at least he would use it in my life. But then I got a cold sweat. I was wrong.
God wanted me to stay. I should have known; everyone in my life told me it was a bad idea.
The point of this story is that when we ask God for something good, he can and might say no. And he might say not yet.
Adam and Eve were rightly drawn to that tree in the garden, but it was not their time to eat from it.
They had to first go through a season of refinement so that they could understand the sweet taste of that fruit in its season.
The tree was the gift of a later season once they could finally comprehend the gifted potency in their entire being.
But grasping for the fruit too soon, they were trying to gain the gift by their own effort.
And that is what I have tried doing time and time again in my life;
grasping for something good only for God to tell me, ‘If you want the gift, you must first learn to love the depth of my riches.’”
I have a good friend.
We talk a lot about friends.
She has trouble writing about friends.
She once had this idea of keeping a daily journal
of what her and her friends did so that years from now
she could get a snapshot of her sweet, older life.
This idea is similar to my idea of writing a book of vignettes
about things my friends and I have done.
I would do it so that we could remember.
I would have really put the work in so we could all remember.
But, I have forgotten so much that I am left with the faint impression me and my friends have been with each other for eternity.
Then why does friendship die so easily?
This is the kind of loneliness that feels like someone is sprinkling salt
onto my heart.
I have been dead
for an entire year. I tried growing
too many things in my garden (I am really bad at gardening)
One day, I found that all of my crops
had died and I wondered what I could do to fix the problem.
My first solution was to plant all of the same kinds of crops
again. I planted more than before. I figured that if I tried growing
a lot of crops then there was a better chance that something would grow
even if I had to live with a lot of death.
After months of eager expectation, nothing grew out of the ground.
Why was nothing growing? I have not found an answer
to this question yet. I don’t believe I will ever find
an answer. I am still in this dark, incoherent
whoreland. I look forward to a time when this year in college
will be a pebble on the beach at which I can laugh and turn around in my hand.
What was I thinking?
Maybe I will never know. Because after many failed
attempts at growing my garden again, I chose to give up. I can do nothing. I can grow nothing.
My mind is a barren womb and my love is empty and vain.
There is nothing I can do, because there is nothing I can understand.
This entire affair makes no sense to me, because for so many years I thought we had an understanding—but you are just a stranger
to me now and those works of brilliance that kept us so close have gone down with the river never to be held again.
What visions have we left behind? You are a stranger and it is time
I admit it to us both.
Muse of Creative Inspiration, I do not understand you. Can we please get to know one another again? Let’s go out and sit
in the garden together and watch whatever wants to grow, grow.
Life is brittle and I feel like it could break
at any moment, but when we both stay in bed
in the morning at this hotel celebrating
our 17th anniversary and the kids are safe
with the babysitter, I forget how brittle
I am when I reach my hand across your chest
and put my fingers gently curled next to your warm neck,
my hand sweating under a lock of your hair fallen
over your neck. That pleasure of warmth makes me forget
—and I want to know. What is this calm pleasure
designed to teach me? To be near you like this and love you and not let it lead anywhere, but to stay here next to you laying
I want to ask and never stop asking
(my leg crossed over your legs (my crotch next to your hip (the skin of my arm sticking to your chest (under the comforter))))
and the sun shining through the window, both of us overheating,
sweaty, damp, uncomfortable, your oily hair and the smell of my armpits,
I want to ask over and over why this is so good, how your foreign life
has anything to do at all with the mystery the world set apart from both of us and how it is being revealed right now in our rest.
My life is a garden.
I get to wait for rain, not plant water drops.
I have busied myself—and with what? And I have tried thinking—about what? And I have tried being intelligent—knowing what?
And I have tried being creative—making what? And I have tried keeping the bigger picture—who took it? And I have tried grasping
for more—what of it? And I have tried being twenty years older—in seven months? And I have mourned at the loss—of what?
And I have apologized too much—I’m sorry! And I have not understood the ground—the weeds! And it has not rained
in a long time—rain, sometimes! And my life is infertile—grow something! And I need help—help me! And I need to know
how to ask for help—let me help! And I can give you—nothing! I have ignored you—for too long.
Grow something I can laugh at. I’m watching, waiting here with you.