Poetry at Work: The Weight of the Poem

I did not sleep well and I didn’t dream, but for thinking about where to begin the user guide for such a multifaceted software application. Where to begin, how to begin, this is always the problem. Of course, I’m speaking of in between:

1. The user enters a logon ID.
2. The system requests a password.
3. The user enters a password.
4. The user logs off.

This is the cubicle in which I work. Blue and almond. I praise the inventor of the pin-clips that allowed me to hang things on these blue cloth walls. The fasteners that allowed me to move to the wider surfaces the reminders and bits of inspiration that before had been restricted to being taped along the narrow steel borders.

I work in a cubicle that serves me well,
otherwise I would lose form and disappear
into my intentions to explain what I see.

My mind wanders always to a poem I cannot write. I have no window that leads me to dream of Guadalajara. Nevertheless, the poem I cannot write moves inside me. Often it leaves me and ascends the steel-bound walls, like a rock climber. It makes footholds from the clips of photos and mementos, then dissolves into the calendar. It moves past the days and weeks of my schedule of interviews with the analyst and developers of current applications.

My desk is steel and hard, of polished fibers;
it supports me when I lean into it with the points
of my elbows; it holds even the poem inside me
that moves like a child inside a woman, and kicks,
waking me, when all I want is sleep. If I were a woman
I would not curse it as I do and turn my body to escape.

The poem finds my yesterdays. It wants me to remember when I first heard a heartbeat other than my own. I say to it, there are places of which I have read, but can never go. I try to imagine the space between one world and another, between this life and one before, but gravity is not a dream, or if it is, it is one where what wings are mine are tethered to space and time. When I follow the poem I cannot write, therefore, it is to the winter branches of my childhood and even if in the high green leaves of a tree that checkered the houses into maps I can remember, even then I am only a whistle from home and the user guide, searching still for the poem I cannot write, somewhere I would be invisible.

The weight of the poem I cannot write depends
on my relentless arrivals and departures from these walls,
this slick, almond surface where I rest my body
and occupy my imagination with lesser things,
like the pop of data from asynchronous queues,
and daemons that open access to restricted domains.

In the realm of days and weeks, the poem finds my tomorrows and pulls me there to witness life and death. It is heavy with oceans I have crossed and snow that rests upon a mountain I awoke to once, reflected in a lake. It is heavy with the clip on my blue wall that holds a line from Wallace Stevens’ The Dove In the Belly, “Fetched up with snow that never falls to earth.” The poem is heavy with places yet unseen and heartbeats not yet shared. In its body is both the necessary angel of death and exuberance of grandchildren not yet born and within them the secret and the weight that life is everlasting.

The poem of my future rests its feet in the clip where Tracy K Smith writes, “All that we see grows/Into the ground. And all that we live blind to/Leans its deathless heft to our ears and sings.” This wakes me to the task at hand, the user guide. It makes me know I need to listen. It grounds me more than gravity and the daemons of my life. It has become part of the walls to which I return each day and from which I escape each night.

They are a respite from a reality I do not fully understand.
In yet another room, a space of strange and terrible transparency,
I sit, a tiny system of immense and invisible wonder,
typing letters and symbols to describe a world
slung in the bent fabric of the sky,
balanced somehow between light and air.

 Photo by Victor Bezrukov, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post and stanzas from The Weight of the Poem I Cannot Write by Richard Maxson.


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  1. L. L. Barkat says

    Richard, this is so beautiful. I want to read it over and again. (And I trust I will).

    Poetry on the clips seems a great companion.

  2. Marcy Terwilliger says

    Thoughts, flung into the air to ponder and share. Actually, I love to read the thoughts of others more so than a poem. Paul Harvey always had a thought for the day. We work so hard on poems, to be different, to be understood, to go in order. Thoughts are personal, deep from the soul, are light as a feather. These days I share more thoughts on face-book with friends than poems. They seem to enjoy them more, like I just enjoyed yours.

    • says

      Marcy, I appreciate your comment. You are correct, social media has shown the world that we are not alone. Shared personal thoughts are powerful. The difficulty of poetry shows up like brush strokes in a painting.

  3. says

    Thank you for the inspiration, Richard.

    Inspiration Logs Off

    I dream I will hang
    poems tomorrow,
    reminders not to
    curse the gravity
    that once tethered
    my body to sleep.

    In between the rests
    of my heartbeats,
    I wander the borders
    where my childhood
    houses want, and praise
    dissolves into air.

    I am no analyst of winter,
    of the still hard problem
    of blue light on snow.

    I am, of course, speaking
    of the yesterdays that form
    the not yet born daemons
    of imagination, their maps
    I cannot read taped on
    the surfaces I am blind to.

    Footholds are necessary,
    even in oceans, and time
    the inventor that always
    has wings.

  4. says

    Dead Weight

    The weight of the poem I cannot write
    is heavy as a look

    [Memory notes: hospital room, chair by the window, laptop on my lap, working remotely on editing tomorrow’s post while Dad sleeps weightless in the bed. I get paid for this, work he doesn’t quite understand. A necessary distraction. A distracting necessity. Then … that neckchill of being watched —]

    Dad gives me from his hospital bed,
    a frightening intensity
    headlight beams
    through the fog of delirious sleep.
    “Are you writing about this?”

    “No! I’m working.” Was
    the defensive exclamation in my voice
    or only in my head?
    Five days later he was dead.

    * * *

    Ask me again. The truer
    answer? Not right this minute, but
    yes. As long as a book is
    the wait for the poem I can’t not write

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