Monday, September 05, 2005

Start Something, Part II


Part II.

Of course he knew it was ridiculous. No one ever read poems, and most people who attempted to write them ended up producing pretentious laughers about trite subjects like the beauty of the lilies or the dog they had when they were six years old. Spare us, the world begged. Yet John would find himself awake at night with blank slabs of white paper in front of him and a mechanical pencil in his hand, poised on the edge. The images he’d collected from the day bursting like fireworks across the firmament of his consciousness, frequently gone the next day.
Needless to say he told no one that he was thinking of beginning. He went to the library and withdrew books by contemporary poets. It gave him an intense pleasure to into a section that no one ever went to and pull books with dust on their edges and faded, brittle pages, even the ones from two or three years ago. He felt like an archeologist on the hunt for treasures everyone else had missed. When he found what he was looking for, he’d know it. And no one would be around to share the discovery. That was how he wanted it.
The books themselves didn’t make a great deal of sense to him. But he liked the way the words were arranged, the scattered pieces on the page. He’d squint over them, as if looking for the pattern among lines casually discarded. After a short time of reading these slender volumes he began to feel that only on these pages would he find anything that even remotely resembled the kaleidoscope of colors and sounds and movements that seemed to ricochet in his own head every night when he got home. These are the only people who seem to be seeing the things that I see, he thought. But how do they get it down?
Yet nobody cared, nobody listened to these poets. The thought both saddened and electrified him. He wanted to be the sort of person that did things that few people bothered with. Poets are the true loners, he thought. They face it all individually and are the only ones among us willing to acknowledge the silence, the sadness, the sorrow.
Then there would be the occasional odd phrase or stanza of words that flew forth from the page and crashed into him like a large stone hurled at glass. It didn’t matter if it was related in any way to his experience. On the contrary, it was better if it wasn’t. He nearly stumbled across a long-dry well of tears under layers within himself when he read the Vietnam veteran poet’s words

Thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I’m still
falling through its silence.

He could not imagine the sensations, the guilt-ridden but relieved anguish of living with that long descent, but he could feel its truth when he read those words, and he could see it, the small green pear-shaped object, rolling underneath the curled leaf of some fern in a thick jungle, startling in its failure.
That is what he wanted to do. Present a reader with a clear visual image, something that they could grasp, and then give them a sense of the immensity of that thing, that moment, that they would not have understood without his lines. The only problem – he didn’t know how to begin. He had never written a finished poem. He composed them in his mind but could not translate them onto the page.
It was only a strange coincidence that, late on that same Friday night, unable to sleep as he contemplated his maligned weekend, he had tried for an hour to come up with some lines to capture some of what he had seen and felt that day, and, failing in this, had turned on the television. And one of the first things he saw on the screen was the face of Charlie Rose, that late night interviewer guy, whose next words happened to be, ‘We’re back with Clayton Grassley, the youngest Poet Laureate of the United States in many decades. The official title, by the way,’ Rose added incidentally, ‘is the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.’
The television revealed a wiry man with a mostly barren, small head, tightly cropped graying hair on either side, thin wire glasses and multicolored stubble. He looked young at first, but as varying expressions inhabited his features, visible deltas appeared at the corners of his eyes where time had coursed through, perhaps for longer than observers might have expected. Mid- to late-40s? it was difficult to say. The poet wore a black t-shirt with white capital letters reading DON'T GO on it; this went unexplained. He looked slightly uneasy, but there was a measured calm about him as if a better judgment had prevailed over the forces of his anxiety. He expressed himself clearly and simply, as one might expect given his vocation, although that expectation might have been unfair.
Rose had asked him a question concerning how his life had changed since he was selected to succeed J.P. Floyd as Poet Laureate. Grassley was in the process of responding when John’s attention turned from his physical appearance to his words.
‘ …. my feelings are primarily gratitude and wonder. I have my own office, I have time to work and a little bit of financial resources. None of those things I ever had before. It’s a bit of a waking dream. Suddenly people are interested in what I have to say. I get invitations to talk to people. These are new experiences for a poet! It can get overwhelming.’
‘What would you say that it has cost you?’ Rose asked. ‘If anything.’
‘My boredom,’ said the poet, without hesitation. ‘I was accustomed to being only occasionally employed, frequently ignored, and unrecognized. Now that has changed to some small degree. I am not complaining about that, but obscurity is good for poetry.’
‘You want to recapture your boredom?’ Rose inquired, laughing.
‘Yes,’ Grassley joked. ‘It sounds ridiculous, but when this is all over, I want my boredom back.’
The screen went dark, the laughter of the men fading.

I want my boredom back. The thought echoed in John Francis Grimm’s head as he traveled under water on the PATH train on Sunday morning into New York again. Once on the sidewalk and making his way up Lexington to the office, reluctance weighing down every stride, he admitted that it was a ridiculous thought for him to have, since the truth was that his life was packed with barrels of boredom, oceans of it. But anything seemed preferable to what he was presently engaged in.
He made it to the office, alerted the doorman, who took a moment to scan the list his colleague had left for him with a skeletal finger. ‘Go ahead,’ said the old timer. ‘No one up there. I’ll have maintenance fire up the air conditioner.’
‘Thank you,’ John said. Fire up the air conditioner. He considered the paradox. Hurry up and wait. I can’t go on, I’ll go on.
Twenty minutes later, Ed called the office and found John Francis waiting, as expected. He was calling from a cell phone, that much was clear, and John could hear the occasional rustle of a brisk wind strafing the receiver. Like one might find on a coast or a beach.
‘Thanks for coming in,’ said the firm’s president, as if John had elected to do so on his own initiative.
‘It wasn’t a problem.’ John answered dutifully, and technically this was not a lie.
‘How are you going to deliver the proposal?’ Ed asked him.
‘I am producing it here and driving it down myself tonight. I will hand carry it in the morning to the Institute.’
‘Have you made the arrangements?’
‘Yes sir,’ said John, the formality reflecting his intimidation. ‘Uh, I have the car, directions, all I will need to is edit and produce. I have your signature on the letter and cover sheets.’
‘Great, great. That’s quite an effort you are making. We’ll have to build in some kind of comp time ….. expression of our gratitude for your hard work …..these opportunities require effort, teamwork …. appreciate the dedication.’ John was formatting his files, but heard most of what was said, more or less.
‘Thank you.’
‘Well, let’s go ahead and get started. I have numerous edits I’d like to ….. hey, Griffin, any idiot can see it’s burning on that side, flip it over ….excuse me.’ John heard papers rustling, or possibly more wind.
‘Ed, do you mind if I put you on speaker phone?’ John asked, out of courtesy.
The president chuckled. ‘Absolutely not. You’ll need your hands free. Besides, who else would be there on a Sunday morning?’ More laughter.

Ha ha ha, thought John silently.

1 comment:

A2thePL said...

Mutt, Duke, et al -
Cheers to your efforts here and your recent posts. Upon reviewing them for the first time in a while I found more than a few enjoyable, what's more, printable, for taking home to read... I particularly like the poem of the weeks and the first two bits of Start Something. I also found it humorous that although you comment that this blog is for your use/enjoyment only - you still press on! Cheers to that, from someone who is a non-reader (in comparison) and probably a non-regular blogger!
On another but still important note - Happy Pigskin season!