First and foremost, Happy Veterans Day, and I say that without even an ounce of sarcasm or sanctimony. Today might be a good day to look at the work of Bruce Weigl, Tim O’Brien, Brian Turner, Yusef Komunyakaa, Szymborska, Milosz and others. Thank you, Veterans, for your service.
Now, then, I hate the idea of a Bucket List. I hate the idea of that goddamn movie, too. But, yeah, having nomenclature for the things one must do before he dies is absurd. Here’s a thought: stop thinking about this insane list of life goals and just start doing shit.
I suppose that’s somewhat disingenuous, in that I, too, have places I’d love to visit one day (Vietnam, Singapore, Portugal) and things I’d love to do (catch a 500-pound tuna, for instance). All the same, I won’t consider my life a failure if I do not, in fact, do those things. (My life’s already a failure.)
With that, today’s poem, also written a few months ago, sort of describes my anti-Bucket List mindset, but applies it more to poetry. That is, to my poetry, or lack thereof. I started thinking about all the poems I’ve written that have gone unfinished, wondering if and when I’d ever return to them — wondering if it was worth returning them. In a way, the things we fail to complete but keep around all the same are a sort of albatross around our collective necks. I guess, then, the great irony of the poem is that it is, in fact, completed.
Before I die
there are not a million things to do
as most people would have you believe.
I’d wager 200, maybe 250 tops.
No way we all of us are foolishly
keen on hiking the Appalachian Trail, or
really seeing just how miniscule the Mona Lisa,
or secretly etching our initials
into the Great Wall of China
like some kind of clandestine operation
circa the first World War. Nah.
That’s all the stuff of bad movies and,
worse, bad imagination. Because, really,
when tasked with doing anything
outside my usual orbit, it is, in fact,
work. It is the promise of stress
and exhaustion. It is the extra cup
of burnt coffee after midnight
to knock out that last hour of cramming,
that bonus problem set, that one more crack
at writing and rewriting the stanza
that will never see its way out
from my hard drive, that will sidle up
to the other unfinished docs
in my graveyard of parboiled work,
and it, too, will be dated and named “Poem,”
and it, along with the others, will be
forever burned onto my flittering screen
like a ghost begging for exorcism.