We will get to some stoner material soon, but first I must justify this post with a little background information.
Throughout my 20s I wrote poems (or notes toward poems) every day. I’d write for an hour in the morning with coffee, and for an hour after dinner with something a little stiffer. The idea was to pile up a mountain of Word documents, and then slowly chip the material into books.
This process, I thought, would reward my years of faithful work by imbuing my awkward and neurotic and endlessly distracted self with the kind of sagacious benevolence I valued in the personas of my poetry professors.
But my poem production came to a halt the day I started writing for the Stranger in 2015. The demands of Slog commandeered my morning and evening writing times, and I more or less abandoned the practice. I only wrote new stuff when a literary organizer invited me to read at an event. The less I wrote, the less I published, and the fewer invitations I received.
In all honesty, it’s hard to miss the work of writing poems every day. I’m now much more interested in calling 10 Democrats to ask where they stand on a capital gains tax than I am in trying to figure out whether a poem about my thoughts on fire extinguishers would work better in couplets, though the products of both efforts admittedly matter about the same amount. But I do miss the kinds of questions I asked of the world when my primary aim was poetry, and in the last year or so I’ve tried and consistently failed to pick up the habit again.
The only writing strategy that has reliably kept me on a non-Slog page is the one that overlaps with reporting, and it’s the one contained in the “Parable of the Sunfish.” Ezra Pound used the parable to kick off his book, ABC of Reading, and one of my poetry professors passed down the lesson to me. For me, the parable amounts to this: The more you look at an object, the more you’ll see; and the more you see, the better your writing will be.
I’ve always resented prompts—as if the world weren’t enough of a prompt!—but now I’m chained to them. To mix it up for this High-Brr-Nation newsletter, instead of getting stoned and watching the Vikings on Hulu last night (rather than writing poems), I got stoned and for 30 minutes I wrote about a stone I found on Rialto Beach some years back. What emerged wasn't much more than a journal entry, but the point of prompts isn't the product, it's the process, and maybe a thought or two from this little riff will end up in something a little more substantial later.
In the abstract a stone is a perfectly round and smooth mound of grey—so gray it adopts the British spelling. But this one’s flat-round; a stepped-on coal. A thousand shallow pocks mark its surface, but in the hand the hard rock feels smooth. It looks quiet. Unassuming. A standard specimen for a cobble.
Cold and palm-sized, you could imagine someone pulling it out of the Pacific and keeping it despite the stern warnings on the signs. I do. And then I picture it among its friends on the pebble beach in the last half of Jack Gilbert’s “Failing and Flying:”
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
Titled to the light, dark little rivers run along on the surface. And the white specks salting the top stand out. It’d be infinitely skippable, if weren’t for its weight. Though small, holding the stone sidearm strains the wrist.
I might be misremembering, but in Nick Payne's play, Constellations, the characters talk about the possibility of living in a multiverse where a whole universe could randomly sprout up in the center of a living room. This stone looks like it's auditioning for one of those living room universes.
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