I’ve always been good at this.
I can pull words out of my head the way kids pick flowers,
not just breaking the stem but
tearing them out of the earth –
the root that had never seen sun all clumped
in its ball of hungry strands,
raining dirt from the laughing kid’s fist
till she gets tired of it and,
in a display of innocent abuse,
throws the brutalized bouquet to the earth.
That’s what I can do.
I’m a flower gatherer, which is just another way
to say killer.
I don’t how many teachers told me with
all the authority of their minimum-wage martyrdom,
trying to lead me off the same cliff:
You’re a good writer. Keep writing.
It’s ironic how knowing something is true
can keep you from caring about it
in more than a vague, theoretical way.
I mean, everyone knows that the night sky is beautiful,
but how often do you take the time to go out for a long drive
on country roads to lay on top of
the car and sear your retinas with the stars,
even if it’s freezing outside,
even if your breath turns to smoke in the air,
even if you stop being able to feel?
Somewhere along the way I knew I was so good
that I didn’t even need to touch
the hedges that had grown in around my heart,
ripe with swollen words, spreading with words like petals,
choked with words like thorns
that I hesitated to touch, not wanting to bother
with the blood they would draw.
I don’t know why I stopped. Stupidity? Arrogance? Fear?
When an animal stops breathing, it dies.
When an addict stops smoking, the agony feels like death.
Writing may not be life and death,
but it sure as hell is love and war,
and I no longer sent it roses; I laid down my arms.
Maybe every once in a while I would stop
and stoop down and pluck a petal from a flower
and press it prettily into a book,
but I never got close to that buried source of life,
that unsheathed, raw fibrous material that drinks
blindly from the dregs of all existence,
to that ugly, dirty soul crouched in the dank caverns of a human heart,
to rip it out of its security and cut its ties with all illusion,
to hold it between my palms and feel its
wings beat like a trapped bird
before it frees itself in the old memory of flight.
That’s what I can do.
I’m a soul gatherer, which is just another way
to say writer,
someone with bloodstained, dirt-stained, ink-stained palms,
someone who gets a thorn stuck under their skin
and makes sure everyone else can feel it, too,
someone who loves to foolish, violent, exhilarating excess,
and when you put it that way,
I’m not really so good at this.