Ten Reflections on Why We Write

A poet writes,
a baker makes bread.
Hungry mouths will eat the bread;
will hungry spirits imbibe the poem?

Do we write for such consumption,
or only because we must?

Everyone seeks to be useful.
I’ve seen the proprietor
of an Indian restaurant
standing in the doorway
as the waiters inside
nervously polish glasses,
all of them waiting
for customers to come
and consume the lavish buffet.
“Kindred helpless spirits,”
I thought. “Blessed
and cursed to create.”

Today, seven people,
all but one of whom I
“don’t know,” praised
a poem I’d written.
Each had taken time
to make an articulate
positive statement,
in addition to every “like.”

A circuit has been completed.
The poem reached hearts.
It felt like Heaven.

This is not entirely why
the piece was written.
I remember that night:
walking outdoors,
the extraordinary experience,
the need to express its essence.
Setting to work in a notebook,
wondering, “How do I even begin?”
and taking a year to get it right.

Art is shrouded in a mystery,
something to do with making
a significant essence
clear to myself—
which self is also,
somehow, the Self in all.

A poet can’t imagine life
“just going down the drain.”
Its beauty and essence
must be “witnessed,” preserved.
(Yet all such records, too,
will someday dissolve
in time’s ocean.)

Yes, a poet is happy
when circuits complete.
An endless circle forms.
Hearts are bridged, and one
has taken part in the bridging.

However, being unnoticed,
or noticed and ignored,
is also a valuable experience,
for it fans
the flames of longing.

“How did you write that?”
I ask myself about today’s poem
which evoked such response.
Immediately, I begin to feel
“You have to do it again.”
Groping for “the technique,”
I’m immediately barnacled—
all thumbs, dense
as a potato.

like life,

I’m forever discovering
poems bearing my name
that I don’t remember writing,

dozens of them
filed in various places.
I feel like an active volcano
darkening the sky
with my haze of words.

“Must you be
so long-winded?” Don’t
you ever finish?” I wince,
reading some
of these pieces.

But the volcano
has spewed forth
a few jewels.
Seeing them, I become
grateful and mute—humbled

as a mother
who’s just given birth.

King Metal

Four thousand years,
the contract we
have forged with you,
King Metal—ancient ruler
from whose kingdom
crowns themselves are made.

Today I work with men
to build a garden fence.
I feel your power as
we saw a dozen iron poles
20 feet long, 4 inches in diameter,
in half, then dig
a 2-foot hole for each.
We stand a pole erect
and use a post-hole driver
made of metal, too
to pound it in.

I fit the driver
over the post’s top,
use all my strength
to slam it down.
It slowly sinks into the ground.
The pounding brings
your royal cry.
I don’t require translation,
as you proclaim in ringing tones:
“I’m mighty, little Man!”

You humour us, King Metal,
to let us work with you—
to pound you into shapes;
to melt you into slag.
We’ve unlocked power
to make you labour for us;

Yet woe if we forget
to pay respect.

Ode to Lady Risk

Oh, risk,
you famous
and infamous
with your forever

now beauty,
enhancing everything gentle
and alive

now hag
stripping pockets
taking even clothing
and leaving filthy rags;

now formidable, as well:
beauty, yet too cold
a beauty to approach.

In the end you
are like breath,
I can’t live without you.
But only wise and sober
and fearless, utterly fearless

can I befriend you

image: Erupting volcano via Shutterstock