I moved upstairs to the kitchen to work. I don’t like the kitchen much. It reminds me of all the times I have to cook, and cooking is not something I enjoy. Sometimes when I cook, there’s a fire, and I’m not sure the fire extinguisher was recharged after the last one. It wasn’t my fault, that time. Someone left a pizza box in the oven and I preheated. I didn’t expect it since the cat is dead and we only put pizza in the oven to hide it from the cat.
My family left for Wisconsin for the week so I thought it would be quiet enough to work in the sunlight upstairs. While they were getting ready, the washing machine broke down. Only half their clothes were washed and they were spread out in piles all over the living room.
I took the rest to the laundromat. The last time I had to use the laundromat, I couldn’t find it. My town is only a mile long with one laundromat, and I lost it. I did find the building that said LAUNDROMAT in blue letters on the outside, but there were no washers and dryers inside. Just a bunch of used furniture for sale and a piano in the window. I even inquired on Facebook from my phone to see if any of my neighbors who I don’t talk to in person much but sometimes do on the Internet would know. They all said to go to the place with the piano in the window, but I really needed to get the clothes washed. I finally found it next to the dry cleaners. I don’t ask my neighbors for help on the Internet anymore.
I hauled my basket of boxer shorts and basketball jerseys inside and started loading a washer. There was a guy moving clothes from one machine to another. He looked like someone I should know, and then I remembered this book I’m reading for a book club and how the author met Edgar Allan Poe in a laundromat, and I said, “Paul? Paul Chowder? Is that you?”
He said, “Yes, yes it is.”
I asked how the introduction to his anthology was going. I knew he’d been trying to finish it forever and was suffering a terrible writer’s block. His girlfriend even left him after eight years together because he just wouldn’t write anything.
He said something about it being “too awful, too huge, it was like staring at death.”
I told him I knew just how that felt, that I had this article I had to write about a book but I couldn’t get it started even though I’d moved up to the kitchen to write by the window. Maybe I should work in a barn?
I thought to suggest he read something by Julia Cameron to help him with that block, but asked him about Poe instead. “Did you really run into him folding underpants in a laundromat? The Pit and the Pendulum was the first creepy thing I ever read, in fifth grade. After that, I wanted to read everything Poe had ever written.”
He said he just made up that story when he wasn’t writing the introduction to his poetry anthology.
“About that introduction, Paul, ” I said. “I have to tell you, when you riffed on the four-beat line and how iambic pentameter is a crock, you lost me. Plumpskin Ploshkin? What is that?”
He nodded and mumbled something about bad enjambments, and I looked at my laundry to see if someone’s pajamas were lying on top.
“And another thing. Did you really say ‘poets are our designated grievers’ and if poets took drugs we wouldn’t have some of the great works? Didn’t you know about Allen Ginsberg tripping on LSD? I just read that somewhere.”
Chowder dropped the lid on the washer and shoved a couple of quarters in the slot. “Poetry is a controlled refinement of sobbing. We’ve got to face that, ” he said. “And if that’s true, do we want to give drugs so that people won’t weep? No, because if we do, poetry will die.”
I was pulling lint off the dryer trap and worrying a little about whose lint had already been through this machine and was going to get all mixed with my own laundry. I told Chowder I thought he was being a little overly dramatic over the whole death of poetry just because someone didn’t cry hard enough to satisfy him.
He said, no, it was really true, and didn’t I sometimes swallow down those same kind of words like medicine after a loss? Didn’t I remember writing this, he wanted to know?
Her pink lace nighties littered
the floor, strewn by hands
that touched all of her
treasures, gone missing
when she closed the door
I turned a drawer upright
avoided the splinter as it slid
in the tracks, a single drop
splattered on the wood
shelf, when she said
I wasn’t going to cry
That’s how it works, he said. “The rhyming of rhymes is a powerful form of self-medication. All these poets, when they begin to feel that they are descending into one of their personal canyons of despair, use rhyme to help themselves tightrope over it. Rhyming is the avoidance of mental pain by addicting yourself to what will happen next.”
Self-medicating rhyme? I told him that I wasn’t sure who was tripping now, but I needed to finish my laundry and get back to work. “Good luck on that introduction, Paul. And watch out for the big swinging blade.”
We’re reading Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist together. Are you with us for this fun summer read? Share your thoughts and add a link to your own blog if you posted about it there. How did you enjoy the chapters this week? How do you procrastinate (or break through procrastination)? Perhaps you could share a poem with four-beat lines in the comment box, or your own riff on why you hate (or love) iambic pentameter. Maybe you’d even like to self-medicate with a rhyming poem.
For next week, we’ll read chapters 7-12. There’s still time to pick up the book and jump in with us!
(In the interest of proper attribution, portions of the above, notably those quotes attributed to Chowder in dialogue, are taken from the book.)
Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In July we’re exploring the theme The Cento.