For days now, I’ve been following him around,
looking for flaws, cracks in the paint, bubbles,
spots where the old colors poke through, drawing
his eyes there and there and what about that?
leaving him a list of to dos. Then, off-handedly,
my husband mentioned He’s an engraver, you know.
He recognized our Kolwitz, our Tissaut. And just
like that, I saw myself in my classroom, a poet
at her day job, laboring, my students dissatisfied,
wrinkling their noses at this task or the other and what
about that? I saw us both scraping away, trying
to be diligent, do the best we can, while, really, our fingers,
our whole souls, itched for something completely different.
in a dark landscape, receding
somewhere between toilet brush and dinner, the image, the spatula splatters as it falls, but is it art? artful? the dog plants his paws on my knees, shoulders between me and the screen, I push him down, shut the door on my children, yell I’m writing! decades ago, no dog, no husband, no threatening letters from the IRS, leaking this, broken that, somebody else’s problem, I could cherish each baby thought until its egg tooth poked through, now I rush climax, quickies in a room where the sliding door hangs off track and must be blockaded against ferrets, four!, and shit in the corners, how to unskein metaphor when shit curls against the wall, up the moldings, goddamn these animals! doesn’t anyone notice? the sonority broken, the line reeled back in, hook empty, let fly, left hanging as I clatter downstairs, water boiled away, no excuses, no excuses, the work stands or falls on its own merit, but still I wonder what if? like looking from a speeding car at houses in a dark landscape, receding, mysterious and quietly illuminated.
These two poems together exemplify some of my challenges as a working mother-poet. Now, at least, my children are old enough that I can write for hours on end and feel only slightly guilty that I am not engaging with them. When they were younger, of course, it was impossible for me to find enough quiet hours to go to that deep place from which I write poetry. Time to write was always stolen, hastily, from other tasks.
Like most artists, and especially poets, who receive so little financial remuneration for their work, I fantasize about finding a patron to deliver me from my day job so that I can devote more time to my craft and afford to submit manuscripts that have reading fees.
I usually write, before and after work, for almost as many hours as I teach. While at work, I get caught up in resentment: “I can’t believe I’m wasting my time with this when I could be writing.” Of course, the reality is that work pays the bills. The poem “Day Jobs” was a good reminder to me that anyone I meet could be facing the same frustration. Ironically, given I waitressed for many years, I tend to stereotype service and trade’s workers as non-intellectual or “unlike me.” My encounter with the man who painted my house was a wakeup call.