In the midst of feeling a bit down about my prospects, with the interminable wait for my Canadian visa stretching on, I reached out to an old poetry professor to ask for some advice. I’d seen some chapbook competitions and prizes out there, nothing big, nothing splash, but it would be something, right? And I have whole swathes of poetry just sitting here, begging to be seen, to be heard and sung by many voices.
I could cobble together something out of that, I was sure. Something about the idea nagged at me though; I felt like I was cheating. As if a collection should either come together organically, sharing a common theme or aesthetic, or be built from the ground up around such. This didn’t feel right, and I was struggling with it. She advised me not to do it. Chapbooks are always coming and going, she said, and few make a mark, especially if they’re not from a reputable or well-known publisher.
Better to wait, to perfect the poems, gather together a first manuscript worth publishing, and to make an impact with its publication. Your duty is to the work, she said. She spent ten years putting together her first collection. Well, fuck. It was a bitter pill to swallow precisely because I knew she was right. Not that I have any intention of waiting 10 years, not by any stretch of the imagination, I’m not that far off, but I took her point.
It’s just incredibly frustrating when you’re putting yourself, and your savings, on the line to just barely squeak by and painfully produce art–to pull it from your blood and bone, from dream and memory–knowing there isn’t any money on the other end, no real payoff to speak of. I don’t have ten years, that’s for sure, I have this one year, at best, to live off my savings and hopefully finish my novel, or poetry collection, or anything, really. In the midst of all this, I had to remind myself why I do this, why I put myself through this strain day after day, night after night. Luckily, I’d already foreseen this need, and had a piece from a year ago to refresh my memory.
It’s a performance piece, and the formatting is screwy here, but fuck it.
Here it is anyway.
A Simpler Time
We used to throw paper airplanes & lovelorn notes, used to consult the oracle of daffodils with the picking of petals – does she love me, does she not? Does she love me, or does she love Tom? Does he love me, does he not? Does mum love me, does she not? The answer never mattered because we could get to the end and start again, waiting for that perfect alignment of question & desire, waiting for the future to flower, but only if it flowered the way we wanted it to.
Those were simpler times.
Times that allowed us to play Russian Roulette with reality, our guns, pencils, our bullets, dreams, and we kept clicking through blank pages & empty chambers, until we found the one for us. When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut. I want to swim in the stars in the ocean of the universe, I want to ride comets past the coral reef of the Moon. When I grow up, I want to be a knight in shining armour, armour so bright, even the sun winks with envy, and majestic thrones buckle with grief, knowing they can never be so grand.
When I grow up, I want to slay dragons – no, I want to be a dragon, to soar through peerless skies and have the world cower in my shadow. I want to be a robot, an alien, a cowboy, a prince, a king, an emperor, a god! I want to be Achilles, I want to be Zeus, I want to be master of all that I survey! I want to be… a dentist? That’s the thing about times. They change. And it seems that with every foot we grow, our dreams shrink in proportion. With every pimple that pops, every hair that thickens, every heartbeat that expands, we lose another bullet, another petal, another page, until by the time we are grown, the floor is littered with split stems and cracked casings.
We start saying things like: I know what I’ll be, I’ll be an accountant, a banker, a baker, a bartender, a bricklayer, a lawyer, a soldier. Things we don’t believe in, but that are practical or respectable or adult – we do it in the mistaken belief that we have stopped growing – we never stop growing, we will never stop growing – except upward. Beneath the surface, our roots plumb the earth, piercing layers of history veined in silver and gold, in fire and stone, in tragedy and bone; through all this and more, we grow downward.
Down beneath our pillows at night, beneath our waking thoughts, our forgotten memories, down beneath the secrets we’ve buried and the treasures we’ve lost, down, down, down, beneath the swelling pause in our conversations, beneath the hitch in our breaths when we’re too afraid to talk, beneath grief that threatens to drown us, down, down, down, beneath the ordinary & the everyday, we stretch and we grow, so fuck it –
I want to be a forest. I want to be an ocean. I want to be a magician centaur cantering across distant planets. I want to be a galaxy. I want to be an ever-expanding body of knowledge, I want to be more than me, I want to be more than you, I want to be more than us, more than yesterday and more than tomorrow, here and now, I want to be everything that I possibly can, practically be damned because the last thing I want to find when I look down, are my hands drenched in the dust of what-could’ve-been.