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
put cotton balls in your mouth and chew
while hanging upside down
scraping your fingernails on a chalkboard
to the sound of feedback from a mic
as the fire alarm goes off
and you’re naked on a stage
giving a speech on quantum mechanics
to a group of Nobel Prize-winning physicists
who’ve prepared for your remarks
by digging through your grades
and social media posts
before interviewing your old boss
who fired you because he found out
you’d made a move on his wife
who was twice your age
and you forgot to put on deodorant
before they made you run that mile on hot concrete
and you want to shut your eyes and disappear
but you can’t even blink because of the metal clamps
holding your eyelids open to fans
that blast your face with freezing air
and you feel certain it’s a nightmare
only you never wake up
Our minds have grown around the past
like a tree that swells over a boulder
as its leaves push upward and outward.
The seasons pass,
the sap runs black,
the old trunk groans,
until the two are one—
though sometimes weaker for it.
Then, in some blissfully distant fall,
an evening wind may blow just right
stressing the tree along this fault
or ending the work the boulder began;
and were it to be removed by some
misguided arborist (or therapist),
the entire trunk would crack
and tumble to the grass.
No, we cannot ever escape the past.
My thoughts wander with the leaves,
skittering, blown, and trodden,
one day to be raked,
then compost piled
(or just posted and compiled,
it’s really all the same)
then packed or hauled away
earth, then plants, then food