“What do we have really?” + Louise Gluck
This time of year is not kind. The former dead are stirred with each new death, and so become alive: the brittle leaves littering our walkways and roads, the frost painting the now unyielding earth like pretend stardust, the calculated coolness of a wind during the ever-darkening horizon. I focus on the remaining blaze of marigold and orange clinging to tree branches, trying my best not to see the ghost of gray skies staring like wolves just behind them; I attend to the business of work and friendly interactions to avoid the darkness bleeding out in my chest, signaling loss. I pretend my attention is needed elsewhere, anywhere but the past, memories spiraling like black holes into the now, the swift approaching of 2020.
Thirty years on this planet, and I am no more the wise. I talk of great, huge, lumbering things like God and plans but I am the most uncertain of all. The mountain is large and looming and not even halfway up I am winded from the climb.
I am beginning to think I should have stuck with just writing stories and poems. Too city girl for the farm, too farm for the politics of the city. Too kind for the sinners, too rough for the saints. Imposter, floating through like a ghost. Maybe I have the wrong mountain entirely, took a bad turn at some point.
Winter has me in questions. It brings me to the painful places in my head and heart I don’t want to look at for more than three seconds. If I look too long, I begin to think up all the ways I do not measure up. Failure, trauma, disappointment, and shame start making their way to the surface of the frozen lake.
Tap, tap, tap. Waiting for me to break through.
If you do not speak now you will explode
Quiet is not purity
it is erasure —
Reminders that I could be better. That I do not need to encapsulate my wrath and sorrow and joy in ice, like a pretty, presentable object for those around me, a work of art on display.
I don’t know why I am writing this, like this, right now. Nothing is coming out the way it should. A few hours ago, I thought to myself, “I will reflect on where I am, and be honest, and clear. I will write about work, and teaching, and writing.”
Years ago during a poetry workshop, the poet teaching us said that sometimes, in order to gain a clear picture of an event or image or person, we need to look at it from the opposite angle, almost like those diagrams of how our eyes work, flipped.
I think it is pain that keeps me from honesty. And maybe if I deliberately approach and name that pain, the truth will come out.
It’s difficult to admit: I am having a hard time. I am not strong enough for this. This isn’t what I thought it would be. I have made a mistake. I am so very, very human, and so very, very wrong. My stores of hope are almost dried up.
These are all things I am experiencing now with work, at the shop.
It’s embarrassing to admit: I am still grappling with the (negative) effects of student teaching. The need to decompress and be away from people, how I handle stress, and my reactions to anxiety-inducing circumstances have changed drastically. I want to go back to teaching, but I am afraid I will not be able to handle the job. I’m afraid I am not good enough. I am afraid that I will be doing the wrong thing if I go, and doing the wrong thing if I stay where I am.
These are all things I am thinking in regards to my future.
It’s shameful to admit: I struggle with writing. I want to tell stories. I have so many poems and stories in me, right now. But I lack the energy. The discipline. I am afraid I am a failure. I could have done it once, but I missed my chance. It’s not practical. No one wants my stories anyway.
These are all things I am worrying about in relation to my creativity.
In the end, all of this is not enough.
What do we have, really? I don’t know how to answer that question. We are vapors. We disappear at first morning’s light. Maybe we are pretty, or maybe we go unseen. I don’t know.
In the end, I have always struggled with a sense of purpose — what is at the end of existence?
I want to echo the last line of the poem,
I have nothing, I am at your mercy,
and be wise, for once. For once.