A New Feature. {#OldPoem: “Practicing” (2003)}

A couple years ago I bought a vintage trunk and stored some old accomplishments away in it. I dragged it out today and went through a thick pile of papers from college and grad school.

I had saved surviving things from those days indiscriminately. But as I leafed through them today, it seemed clear to me what should be saved and what shouldn’t.

My best work usually had at least one of the following characteristics: 1) Cranked out quickly as a writing exercise before anything overly cerebral could transpire, 2) Limited by adherence to foot and meter, or 3) Sparked by a prompt that was completely outside my wheelhouse.

It seems to me my poetry actually got worse in some ways as I progressed through college and grad school. Some earlier works dealt with very banal observations from high school, but because I was only writing what I knew and not attempting to pad things out with fantasy, there was frequently a grounded-ness and authenticity otherwise missing. Unfortunately, wherever I strayed into flights of fancy, I tended to sound painfully unconvincing – reliant on embarrassing tropes (many of the after-school-special or kitchen-sink-drama variety) that stood in for the real world experience I was missing. What’s strange is that my talent for stringing words together was simultaneously undeniable – so what you’d end up with would be a laughable stereotype rendered in richly textured language. Which is quite an odd thing to read.

There is also the matter of dead-horse beating. I rehashed mostly the same topics ad nauseum, with diminishing returns. To be fair to myself, though, I don’t think things could have been any different. For this Highly Sensitive Person, writing was clearly a stand-in for therapy, during which I’d perform post-mortems on events that had rattled me in order to discern their importance, diminish the resulting discomfort, and, at long last, move on.

What also stood out as I tackled the pile – which included both poems and essays – is that my skill with prose seemed to exceed my skill with poetry: a consideration I’ve never entertained before.

I was careful, this time, to keep only the clearest smash hits: my most innovative and best-defended thesis statements; topics still of natural interest to me and relevant to my current artistic mission; and pieces on which my published-author instructors had scrawled unequivocal praise in the margins, echoing my own gut feeling of being onto something.

I have decided to publish some of this material here over the coming months, because, hey, now I can.

Here is the first.


There will be a day
we’ve danced the dance to its end
our small circles will slow
as the music decrescendos
to feeble sparkles
The frigid breath of silence
will canvas this floor
and our bare shoulders

As men cluster
at fogged windows
pushing for a glimpse
of your red dress
I move my face away from yours
and find
your eyes smile back at them

I’ll take my cue
to leave the stage
wrap my coat tightly
step out the back door
onto the damp street

There will be such a day
so tonight
I choose a distant chair
instead of the mattress beside you
just to practice
unsticking my soul from yours

—November 1, 2003

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