When I am struck by a word or phrase, but don’t have the time I’d like to flesh it out into a complete poem, I jot it down on a scrap of paper and throw it on my desk. There’s always a small pile of these scraps, and I sift thru them every few days, just to see what might be relevant, or what notion has lost its spark for me. Occasionally, however, these scraps don’t make it to the wastebasket after having served their purpose. Maybe I’ve been too preoccupied lately with real and imagined conflicts to recall what I’ve written and what I have yet to explore. In any case, I came upon two new poems in my files, one of which I had absolutely no recollection of, and the other fresh in my mind because I’d presented it at a recent episode of the monthly poetry salon I take part in.
The scrap note in question simply said, “Pacific.” I thought the prompt of that vast blue body would be ripe with associations for me. My brother lived in LA for twenty years, and certainly that would bring up all kinds of experiences and connections. I dipped my toe in only once, on a work-related trip to Costa Rica now years in the past. The distortion of continents means that where I touched that ocean was, although eight hours south, much closer east/west-wise than if I’d flown from New York. There were many directions I could see this single word leading me in.
The older of the two poems, “Pacific,” written on January 23 of this year, seems the more stream-of-consciousness of the two, beginning with Costa Rica and the restaurant I ate at one evening, and moving on to the broader topic of boundaries:
I love the imaginary lines that divide up the waters
around the globe, Indian Sea, Mediterranean Ocean.
We need our maps, we need our compasses, useless
at last in the lifetime of things, as we roll and rock
across the oceans of our own inadequacy.
Clearly I was in a mood back in January, probably an extension of the mood that has dominated my last two years. I go on to evoke the spirits of Asians and cowboys, lamenting my infrequent visits, and ending with this uplifting passage:
I grow bored. I leave my past deep in the ground.
I offer my spirit, for now, clumsily packaged
in gauze and duct tape and hope.
The second poem, titled, “Pacifica,” was written on February 21, a week before my 60th birthday. It is dedicated to a friend who is addressing some serious health issues, but it really doesn’t get into anything personal. Perhaps it’s subconsciously meant to be a distraction for them. It contains some of the same beginning elements as the previous poem, dinner in Costa Rica, watching the sun set over the ocean, but this poem seems to linger more on a topic, travel in fact. I have mixed feelings about traveling. I always enjoy the experience while I’m at my destination. It’s the coming and going that cause me anxiety:
I am not nearly the happy wanderer I was,
too satisfied with YouTube tales,
ancient accounts of metropolises
long evolved past idyllic splendor.
I am fearful of unfamiliar highways,
planes nosediving into swamps,
knees receding from shins and thighs.
I am afraid no one will be home.
In this poem, my fears seem to be the subject, and the Pacific merely a metaphor for my own insecurities. A knife towards the end concerns me a bit, but I’ll attribute that to metaphor as well, and let it go:
At home I can find the bathroom in the dark,
adjust the warmth to wash my hands, /i>
continue glowing when night
blunts the blade of day.
I don’t consider either poem complete, even the one (the latter one) that I received good feedback and suggestions about. The idea of combining the two has crossed my mind, but I think the threads of each narrative are too different for that to be successful. As usual, I am pleased with some of the word choices, but not all. One method of revision could be to eliminate the less than stellar phrases and toss the remaining ones up in the air to see how they land. Or something like that.
I’m very intrigued by how the same word could produce two different poems, very different. Just more proof of how very extensive the world inside my head is. More than one ocean, many lands to cross before I’m done writing it seems.