When I am Asked
When I am asked how I began writing poems, I talk about the indifference of nature. It was soon after my mother died, a brilliant June day, everything blooming. I sat on a gray stone bench in a lovingly planted garden, but the day lilies were as deaf as the ears of drunken sleepers and the roses curved inward. Nothing was black or broken and not a leaf fell and the sun blared endless commercials for summer holidays. I sat on a gray stone bench ringed with the ingenue faces of pink and white impatiens and placed my grief in the mouth of language, the only thing that would grieve with me. Lisel Mueller
We said goodbye at the airport and a new grief would enter our lives. There would be tears, and more tears, and not letting go until not letting go had to be let go of and letting go finally happened. My grandparents disappeared through the gates. In the car home, sniffed tears and a stiff silence. She did not say a word.
My first poem was about an airport, the first one that counted at any rate, the first one somebody noticed. It was about picking her up, not letting her go, but now I think about it the grief was already ticking away in it, behind my loneliness and unemployment and anger.
I used to start every reading with it, because it gave me the chance to tell the story of how I fell into doing this, because a powerful but kind man at a magazine took pity on my 23 poems (my life’s work, he called it) and chose to publish a couple when he should have filed them in the bin.
But also because it reminded me of how a boy from the sticks (the suburbs are the absolute sticks, you should try it) came to put words down and down and down without knowing what he was doing except that he wanted to put words down. Of how you don’t need to know, you just need to start.
Which she was also in on, the first person after God and my then girlfriend who knew I did writing, when she discovered a stash of notebooks in my bedside table. You have a gift, she said. You should do more. I think about her every day
all the time
now she is not here to say well done
now she is not here to thank