I’d like my epitaph to read
“The famous poet”
but you wouldn’t guess it from the way I act.
I could forgive you for assuming I’d like it to be
“Who found every Korok”
“Who completed his entire backlog”
or something like that.
I’d like to be a celebrated creator,
but I spend more time living in other people’s worlds
than creating my own.
It’s hard to make a name for yourself in this world,
but in so many others it’s already made for me.
I am the protagonist, the champion, the dragon born,
the subject of the documentary.
It’s the same problem that plagued Gatsby
who wanted to become something great,
got distracted along the way, then said
“What was the use of doing great things
If I could have a better time telling her what I was going to do?”
What’s the use of becoming someone in this world
when I’m already the chosen one in so many others—
and can fail and reload saves as many times as I want?
Part of me wishes I could be content with that,
and part of me is grateful that I’m not,
but I’m already so far in the game of life
and so many people have already played it better than I have.
There are no cheat codes,
and few walkthroughs I can turn to for help.
I’ve only got one save file—
and there are no checkpoints,
no way to start a new game.
I guess now that I’m almost level 30
I should really stop dumping XP into multiclassing,
stop grinding mini-games, forget the side quests,
and get to work on my writer build
so I can enjoy the story missions
before the servers shut down.
When I grow up
I think I’ll be a poet
and sit in my study
with my tea and my typewriter
and share my wisdom with the world
I’ll have a cult following
be a celebrated nobody
that English majors will recognize
in the coffee shop a few times a year
and be just as poor as I am now
but with a check in the mail from my publisher once a month
I’ll wear knitted vests and old blazers
and people will listen to all my bullshit
and pay me $300 to speak at their conferences
I’ll give the same advice writers have given since the beginning of time
but people will listen to it
because I said it
and one day when I’ve retired
and nobody has noticed
someone will pick up a tattered copy of my life’s work
from the bargain bin for fifty cents
and want to be just like me.
My driver’s license says I’m almost 30 now,
but I still plan on growing up someday,
and when I do, I think I’ll be a poet.
phone and app
keyboard and word processor
pen and napkin
charcoal and rock
finger and dirt
we make excuses—
read, study, talk
sit, research, ponder,
set goals, fail,
set new goals—
until there is nothing else to do except
Poems grow out of me like porcupine quills,
a protective layer between me and the world.
They are reverse splinters,
stabbing up through my skin like springtime saplings
bursting from the seeds of my thoughts—
but it hurts to dig them out
or cut them down
and work them into
the fence surrounding my life
(and I’m not even sure I remember
what I was walling in or walling out).
I have to find the right places to put them,
somewhere they can protect or grow,
and hopefully get under someone else’s skin.
They itch like a sprouting beard.
They grow like grass, like weeds, like thorns.
I am a farmer who planted a field and then let it go fallow.
There are weeds in the furrows as tall as the wheat,
and cattle have gotten in through the unfinished fence.
The tractor has sat idle on the lawn for so long
one wheel is flat, with plants spilling through the spokes;
there are flecks of rust on the red engine cover.
Underneath is a patch of dry dirt stained black with oil.
I opened the hood once to see what it needed.
A frightened bird startled me as it fled,
leaving its blind, chirping chicks behind.
There was a network of mice nests
with little pieces of egg shells scattered inside them
and the headless fossil of a mouse on the engine block.
I closed the compartment and walked to the edge of the field.
I flicked a grasshopper from a golden stalk
and saw that I was too late to save it.
I thought about burning,
about changing professions.
But the hoarse whisper of the drying stalks haunted me.
Today I walked right past the moldering tractor
and into the field itself, ignoring the whine of the crickets
the dripping of water,
the scratch of the nettle
and listened to the rustle of the leaves
and the rattle of the grain.
I knelt and clutched a handful of dark earth.
It smelled like fresh rain
and left a dark spot on the knee of my pants.
I wrapped my fingers around a solitary weed and plucked it out,
leaving a wet wound of fertile ground behind—
though the weed told me something of how dear its life was
with a few lines of poetry it placed into my uncalloused palm.
I plucked them out one at a time
and placed them on the fence
And then I pulled another weed.
With every word until the last
We chisel our own epigraphs.
They wear down as they burn both ends,
and what was molded into form
becomes a dripping mass of fat
that overflows the sculpted handle
until a draft blows out the candle.
We practice everyday:
checking off boxes,
kissing loved ones goodnight,
and preparing our bodies for storage.
We wrap ourselves in amniotic blankets
and melt into the night
trusting that we’ll awaken—
and usually wanting to.
We’re born into each new day,
stretching joints and blinking at lights
as if for the first time,
so ignorant of what’s ahead
we’ll often look back on our morning naivety
and laugh or cry at what we see.
We know we cannot live there though,
in that nostalgia-tinted looking glass,
cannot snatch a single hurtful word
out of the air after we’ve sent it
buzzing like a mosquito into an ear.
Nor can we project our voices indefinitely
into the caverns of history.
Our words will echo until they fade
or until someone else picks them up
and shouts them ricocheting through time
just to hear how they sound,
and then they will be their words, not ours.
No, we can live only here
in this moment,
brief as a snowflake drifting through a flame;
we melt into night
so when the time comes for the eternal sleep
we’ll know just how it’s done,
only this time the womb is a coffin.
Suspended in lifeless fluids,
we are born into oblivion.
When travel-hardened neural paths
have been destroyed by mold and time
I’ll leave you with these battered maps
of where I walked my scattered mind.
I was a river when you found me, little bird.
You couldn’t bathe in the deeper parts of me
for fear of being swept away.
Instead you found some dissipated eddy
in which you could immerse yourself
and sing your titillating gratitude.
You marveled in my ebb and flow
and followed my tributaries as far as you dared.
Dark trees hung over me in which you could wait
for safety, to be fed,
or just to roost and hear my constant voice.
The change was nearly imperceptible at first.
A little softer
or a little lower down the mossy bank,
and you thought the winter runoff was ending early.
But it came and went, and still I changed,
twisting and turning on my own sandbars
until I covered twice the distance
with barely half the water—
From river to stream to brook,
and all of nature hedged me in
as banks retreated.
Many times you’ve flown to the source
to see what was the matter
only to find there’s nothing you can fix.
It may be that someday
I will find my course again,
and all my rivulets will become one
meandering no more, but raging,
crashing down and rising up
breaking the bars and blasting the trees,
retreading my old path.
Perhaps I’ll gurgle from the depths I’ve sunk
and pour over the sides again
with greater flow than ever
for the perspective I’ve gained,
and my branches will spread like fingers
over this place, clutching
and grabbing it up with abandon,
creating new tributaries to feed my appetite.
Perhaps, my friend, but I cannot tell.
I did not foresee this bend, and
almost everything has changed, little bird,
save one thing only:
I am still your stream.
Come perch above and sing to me.
Come bathe in my clear and gentle waters.
November mists rose from the mountains
but already had come and gone from the grass
leaving its frosty footprints on the lawn
for me to follow as I left my own.