Instead

ctrl_alt_del_fixed_stein

‘if i decided to stop being a poet
what would i do instead?’     i asked
(my husband) the other night

the other night when it was late
it was too late to start cooking dinner
& the cattle dog who lives for order

requires order     & feels its lack
like her hackles feel static     she was pacing
between us     resorting to vocal admonishments

to higher-than-usual-pitched chortling     cajoling
someone to get with the program the other night
after gymnastics     & martial arts     & driving

driving in gridlock on multiple highways
after the shopping wasn’t done
after     & we were too hungry to cook dinner

after hunger became the side dish of the night
after my husband had worked all day
& beer number three hadn’t staved off his hunger

& hunger was a side dish     the kids snacked
on chips     & played redundant games on their phones
& the floor was unswept     the dog was anxious

her nails clicked on the unkempt floor
the cat meowed to be fed     the shopping wasn’t done
& so a can of tuna was cracked

the cat’s bowl was filled     & we gave the dog the juice
the dog lapped     then she went back to clicking
& minutes ticked another hour

while my fingers ticking on the keyboard
whooped up a frenzy of words on the screen
with hurricane intensity they swirled

they dispelled into wisps against cold fronts
& re-galvanized in isolated updrafts     but rained nothing
because meaning always slips drily away from the words

& escapes like sly prey into the woods     because
the words bravely give chase     but they were never cut out for this hunt
& they get lost     & hungry

they go hungry like an injured wolf separated from its pack
like a cattle dog lacking order     & teenagers not-talking on phones
like groceries that can’t shop for themselves

like the cat settling for tuna
well     not like that
like clacking keyboards churning up dry storms

like computer screens adrift
at the mercy of tidal waves of hunters
& peckers     & especially delete-ers

        like a poet who can’t do anything instead

like the shift key     & the alt key
like the fourth beer needs to be the ctrl + alt + delete keys
like delete is a kind of key

                        they go hungry

        like a husband

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

 

I scratched the first draft of this baby out on the back of a flyer I’d grabbed at random in a cafe, where I was killing time before I needed to pick up my kids from their respective classes (this was just about a week ago). Anyway, you may or may not find it interesting that I later discovered I’d been writing on an advertisement for an employment agency, with the caption, “Looking for a job that makes a difference?”  

How’s that for irony?

25 thoughts on “Instead

  1. Of course my first thought was for the cattle dog, which probably indicates something interesting (or not) about me. Before I really started cooking – in my teens – chips, dip and beer comprised a three-course meal on more than one occasion. And yes, the need for order. I understand the dog’s need, having once been a cattle dog’s person. 🙂 All this is to say (no plums here) that I can’t imagine what would fill the grand space of “instead” if not poetry.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I would say it’s probably impossible to be a cattle dog’s person and not be constantly, keenly aware of her need for order… 😉

      In my case, and very much in cattle dog fashion, I assign myself that position of hyper-vigilance, of constantly sensing (palpably, like a prickling on my skin) the “needs” of everyone around me spurring me on to “do” something, but — unlike the dog, who knows exactly what her purpose in life is, and makes no bones about it — that “something” seems very much like it ought to be something other than doing what I do and/or being who I am…

      Thank you, Bob. Your validation means a lot to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love it! LIFE itself is poetry, no rhyme or reason (which is probably why free verse has become de rigueur).
    And though we might lament that our day-to-day stuff pulls us in a trillion different directions, what’s perceived by the average person as boring, mundane shit is inspiration to the person with the heart of the poet, who then shapes and elevates it into something extraordinary like this!
    Real, fresh and relatable. And you can never stop being a poet. Ever.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Paula! There is always a lot of tension for me, which I tried to draw out in this poem, between ‘being’ a poet and ‘doing’ what being a poet requires (not to mention the ways I constantly question how said ‘being’ and ‘doing’ affects those around me), but I also agree that no viable, tenable alternative presents itself…

      Your response here is a precious reminder to me that my poet’s heart is a better way to address “hunger” than I give it credit for, and for that I am grateful. ❤

      Like

  3. A few ironies. I am struck by the fact that the job of Poet is one where a difference is made, a tangible ddifference, but not one aways, palpable to us. Perhaps it’s even safe to say that we rarely get to feel the impact of our touch on other spirits.
    I’m glad Bob reblogged this today. Nice to revisit it and gain another perspective on it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Michael. You could’ve taken these words out of my mouth.

      I think, above all else, I am a person who wants to “help.” Maybe it’s just selfish to wish I could also experience whether/how my help makes a difference. Well, in any case, Bob indulged me today, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

      Liked by 2 people

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