The first word I remember reading was a scarlet
Heidi printed on the spine of a yellow
and brown hardback my parents kept
near the breakfast table, though maybe I didn’t
really read it because what I remember most
is how the letters carved out the shape of the word,
tall, short, short, tall, short, to make a sort of camel
with a misplaced hump and what I remember next
was not reading, till suddenly I read everything.
That was the year I wrote my first poem,
which I think had something to do with autumn,
and I remember I asked my mother
to type it out so that I could present it
to my father for his birthday, and I told her
I wanted her to type, “To My Father,”
but instead she typed, “To Daddy,”
which distressed me, for somewhere
I’d imbibed the notion
that real poetry required pomp, or at least dignity.
Clearly “Daddy” was for everyday use only,
but I said, “Thank you,” glued the typescript
to a sheet of green construction paper,
and gave it to my father, who said, “Thank you,”
told me how smart I was, and stuck it up
on his filing cabinet, where it hung for a thousand years,
much to my dismay. I had no intention
of ever risking a poem again,
now that I’d discovered how wrong a thought could look.
And if you believe this is a dull incident in the life of a dull child,
then you’ve never felt the knife edge against your larynx
when a shape does not take shape,
when re-reading becomes unbearable.
Do not make me live inside
this thing, this scrap of verse,
that I meant to be pure and whole and gleaming.It never was. It was always dead.
[from Vocation, a chapbook in limbo]