|Photo credit: o0o0xmods0o0o at morguefile.com|
all my troubles seemed so far
across the street my best friend
or close enough stepped on her
She was walking it on a leash
like a dog pretty dumb I think
probably she forgot everything else and
burst into Tomorrow
I love ya tomorrow you’re
only a day
around the block
the Bartelli boys who like to stick
crawly things into people’s lunches
bought the gerbil guts for 50¢ &
2 red rubber balls & a swirly
marble all stuffed into
her hand too late for me
to yell cooties she smiled toothy
and wiped scritch scratch
her bloody shoe in the grass.
Muddy-Fingered Midnights, p. 20.
I wrote the initial draft of this piece for a poetry class in graduate school. As you might guess, I was experimenting on a number of fronts here: interpolating song lyrics, breathless stream-of-consciousness style, tone/subject dissonance and finally, voice. You could say my choice was somewhat in reaction to the mop-pushing megalomaniac in my poetry class who loved to use allusions to the Gilgamesh epic, among other pretensions. Being around him made me want to write real, to get past all the grad school trying-to-sound-important BS. What could be less important-sounding than some silly kid story?
I worked from of a true childhood tale a high school friend had shared about one of her neighbors who thought it would be fun to walk her hamster on a leash, then inadvertently killed it. I vaguely recall that money had been exchanged to use the rodent remains for some ghoulish purpose.
My initial inclination for telling this had been to take a knowing tone, looking on this scenario with adult eyes. But it felt entirely wrong. I realized that if I was going to be true to this story, I needed to enter into the child world—seeing the neighbor girl as the kid I imagined she was, impulsive and apt to burst into song. I mined memories for details, like what the truly evil kids did for fun. Instead of 30 pieces of silver, the beloved pet is sold off for kid treasures—the sorts of things I admired from my parents' desk drawers or my siblings' closet floors. By using onomatopoetic words, I tried make the gore concrete but not sensationalized.
The title, by the way, refers to the lyric snippets that in the original, both included the word "away." But in this context, when we're small, our world shrinks. Troubles are across the street. Tomorrow is just around the block. Not quite away.
If you've always wanted to try poetry, but don't know where to start, dip into your well of memories, and not just the shiny-happy ones. It's in the sandbox we discover some of the startling truths about life.
What lines or images strike you? How might you experiment with stream-of-consciousness or tone/subject dissonance?