Today I wrote a draft of something I’m not pleased with yet.
I picked up John Pursley III’s book If You Have Ghosts and flipped through several of the poems. Water is a major thread throughout his book and I found myself thinking about a line from last week’s Parks and Recreation (yup.), “That stuff could melt the shell off a garden snail.” As soon as I heard that line, I had to write it down. I conceived of a girl who had found something that could melt the shells off things: snails, mollusks, tortoises, and how strange having a power like that might be, especially when also having a child’s curiosity. What might a clam look like without its shell? Would that clam live or die? How quickly would it die if it did?
I really don’t know if I’ll be happy with this draft. I did what I set out to do: draft a poem, but I think there’s another direction it could have taken. I decided to pull out an older draft and start working on that instead.
This poem is somewhat confessional, talking about the stress heart attack my father had when I was 8, but confessional poetry has too many limits. I hate feeling stuck by the truth, which is why I generally avoid confessional poems. I prefer to get inspired by life events and let that triggering event build into something greater.
It starts with:
I was 8 when he complained of chest pains.
In North Carolina, the sun was always at 3 o’clock,
the clay the landscape workers scratched up
always looked like blood.
I include “always” in nearly every line to get a sense of how memory works sometimes. How sometimes we just keep repeating certain details because that’s all we can remember, that’s all we’re stuck with.
The second draft ended up being better than the first. Sometimes pulling up little pieces I had written down before allow them to finally get flesh because they’ve had the time and space to grow. Maybe weeks from now the first draft I wrote today will become something more. Setting time aside to write helps to make this happen.