Writer’s 15-minute confession

Sometimes I feel as though I am dying by not writing.

By “I,” I mean my creative self, not my physical body.

By “dying,” I mean losing force, vitality, hope.

By “writing,” I mean the right words on a matter of personal or artistic urgency.

I went to the bookshelf to find a poem to work on with my adult ESL student today. We are studying modifiers, and those grammar workbooks will kill your interest in words. They are so earnestly done. They seem to have nothing to do with any language that people actually speak or write.

Charles Simic, Philip Levine, Robert Frost. Mark Strand’s “I Was an Arctic Explorer” was on my mind, but I couldn’t put my hand on the book. Mary Oliver’s What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems will do.

“Black Snake,” first line:

The flat rock in the center of the garden heats up every morning in the sun.

Instantly, you are somewhere else. You see it in your mind as you’ve seen it before. You feel it; you are the rock.

This poem was in front of me like a piece of cake I could not eat. I know I am exaggerating. But I am close to the cake — so close I could put a fork into it, put the fork into my mouth — but I cannot. Not because I am unable, and not because I am afraid, but because I should be doing something else. I am preventing myself. I am in my own way.

And time will pass, life will happen, I will notice things like flat rocks, bare toes on concrete, and the uptwist of my daughter’s hair, and someone else will be writing about them.

I will be grading your paper, attending your meeting, revising a lecture, listening to your complaints, fielding a question, cooking a meal, signing a school form, getting some sleep.

This may not be factual. This though is what it is like for me to not write.

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