Have a problem? Write a poem. Don’t worry, here at Make You Write a Poem, we’ve got you covered. Covered in cut-up newspaper. Oh, you didn’t hear? The poems are already here, you just have to find them. Unfortunately, the problems are here as well. What, you think that’s not your problem? You’re the one covered in newspaper, pal. It’s your funeral. No, really, this is your funeral. Haven’t you looked in the casket? Ah, yes, they never like this part … Who am I talking to? Don’t worry about it. You should get to writing poems—bringing them out of the paperwork anyway. That body isn’t going to bury itself!
Content note: this piece deals with addiction, abuse, and intergenerational trauma.
I wish my father a happy birthday.
He tells me he’s drinking again,
And that he hardly heard from anyone.
I can only ever write poems about him.
Write back, he always says.
His emails come quickly, contain hardly anything.
Write back, he always says.
I have to come up with more to say, more that I can share.
There are so few safe topics to choose from.
He wants to see me. I don’t know if I can let him.
Just a few years ago, seeing him on the street would send me reeling—
Running, hiding, heart pounding, panic swelling.
I don’t know if he ever saw me run away.
I don’t know how to write that fear into a poem,
And perhaps this is where I fail as a poet.
I never thought I would speak to him again,
Never expected to write to him.
Five years of estrangement passed,
And then I did.
Something within me shifted.
Words like abuser, monster, Jekyll, and Hyde
Moved over to the side—
Making room for
Illness, sickness, and intergenerational trauma.
It took five years for my fear to begin melting,
For my anger to start eroding,
Revealing layers and layers of fresh-cut
Write back, he always says.
Get your brother to write to me,
And write back.
What more can I say, Dad?
Those little things that
Don’t add up
Or make sense.
Those things that
Don’t sit quite right.
Are they concealing something larger?
When, finally, we lift this old stone from the mossy earth,
Will we find, writhing on the ground,
Churning in the dirt,
Attempting to flee the scene,
Creatures without mouths, without eyes?
In place of a man, will we find a nest of lies?
I like to walk through urban wastelands.
I like to walk where I won’t stumble upon anyone.
I like to walk where the grass is dead and the buildings are disused.
I like to walk past peeling billboards, abandoned advertisements.
I like to walk out of pedestrian-friendly zones, out of friendly zones.
I like to walk in areas only meant to be seen for seconds through a car window.
I like to walk where the aesthetics have never been considered nor cared for.
I like to walk where I’m not supposed to go.
I like to walk with music.
I like to walk all alone.
I like to walk out here in the open.
I like to walk at night after the joggers have returned from their flight.
I like to walk until the muscles in my legs twitch when I stop.
I like to walk where I can sit on the ground and type out a poem.
I like to walk where I won’t be given funny looks for writing a poem.
I like to walk until I am unimportant, unworthy of comment.
I like to walk through places that don’t matter as a person that doesn’t matter.
I like to walk where and when I won’t be seen.
I like to walk through urban wastelands.
I like to walk,
And I like to pause
Without holding anyone up,
Without drawing any attention.
I like to walk at dusk as the joggers are just finishing up.
I like to walk as the sun sets, as the heat follows it out of the pavement.
I like to walk where the ashplant is cracked, and there is no one around to complain.
I like to walk until I empty every last thought from my brain.
I like to walk to the bus shelters without waiting for the bus
Because I like to walk.
I like to walk.
I like to walk,
I wish I never had to stop.
I select a piece and pick it apart and put it together and click submit and there it is,
at the mercy of the world.
It’s not really what we’re looking for,
but we’re glad you submitted and hope you do so again!
It’s not really what we’re looking for, but it’s good that you found it.
You’re not really what we’re looking for, but we’re glad you exist! Hooray!
There’s probably something you can do with that.
It is what you’re looking for.
You are what you’re looking for
and there isn’t an email template in the world that can take that away.
Lately, I’ve been feeling stuck. I’ve grown tired of the repetitiveness of my routine. I’ve been asking myself what the point of it all is. Where is this leading? Why am I doing it? What’s the purpose?
When you’re a young person, you’re taught to structure your life around your future rather than your present. You’re meant to perform well in school so that you can apply to do more school. You’re meant to decide on potential careers to pursue. You’re meant to engage in clubs and extracurriculars to bolster your resume. You’re meant to work part-time to save money for future you, who’s gonna be really fucking broke. They don’t tell you most adults change careers several times in their lives. They don’t tell you it’s okay not to go to university, that college and trades are fine too. They don’t tell you the real world often isn’t as stressful as school can be. In your mind, the real world is a terrifying place that will take one taste and then spit you out, which is why you spend the entirety of your youth preparing for it.
When all was said and done, it was actually pretty anticlimactic. You finished your undergrad and declared that you were done with school forever. You wanted to do “something real” with your life and school didn’t feel real. You got a temp job two weeks after you wrote your last exam. Three weeks went by and they extended your contract. A few weeks after that, they hired you on permanently. You got an apartment alone—finally, no roommates—because you were making more than minimum wage for the first time. This would change, of course. Rents continued to rise and wages stagnated, making having your own place difficult to swing.
You stayed at that job for well over a year. A few months in, you started to ask yourself, “Is this it? Is this what I want to be doing? Is this what I’ve been preparing for my whole life?”
You felt dissatisfied, stuck. You were living in your hometown and that didn’t feel quite right. You had left to travel and for school and then returned without intending to stay. You decided to leave again and began making escape plans. You talked to a close friend who lived in a nice little town you had visited several times. You asked them about it. They said it was a great place to live. You needed to leave your town, you didn’t want to go too far, and you weren’t interested in living in a big city again. You decided on a date and handed in notice at your job. It felt good to have plans again, to pin your hopes on the future once more. It felt familiar.
You moved to the new town. You stayed with your friend until you found a job and your own place. You got a part-time job and a side gig. You explored the new town, connected with the communities there, and settled into your new life. Moving was the right call. For awhile, things felt good, better than good, actually. You revelled in contentment.
The clock kept ticking and another year passed by in a blink. They increased your hours at the job so you were no longer reliant on side gigs. You moved two more times within the town, struggling to find decent affordable housing, but eventually landed in a nice (though overpriced) two-bedroom apartment with your partner.
Week in, week out, you go to work. You pay rent. You cook dinner. You take out the garbage. You write in the mornings. You try to get published. You finish another zine. You see your friends. You go to events. You attend weekly meetings. You go for walks. You call your mom.
You feel those questions come creeping back up: “Is this it? Is this what I want to be doing? Is this what I’ve been preparing for my whole life?”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice life. It’s comfortable and relatively easy. It reeks of familiarity. Not too much has changed since you first arrived here, and yet, your contentment has waned away. You’re beginning to resent the things that once made you happy. You’re looking for meaning in it all and not sure if you can find any. It might actually be too easy. You’ve settled down into a routine and none of it is exciting or challenging. You think back to the plans younger you had: get a Ph.D., become a professor and a published author. You gave those dreams up during your undergrad when the big city you studied in made you feel like you were drowning and the school that was meant to support your development was apathetic about your dissolution. While in school, you felt alienated by the competitiveness, the institutionalization of education, and the pretentiousness of accreditation.
Maybe I don’t need to reach those heights, you thought. Maybe I can have a smaller, quieter life.
So that is what you built for yourself, and here we are: something isn’t quite right.
I resent the way I was set up to always think about the future as a young person because now I can’t stop focusing on the future. I seem incapable of being comfortable with the present. I am constantly looking elsewhere for satisfaction; looking to escape, explore, and go on adventures. I resent routine, repetition, and familiarity. I am happiest when I am learning, having my limits tested (within reason), and being challenged by life. I believe that part of this is just the way I am. I thrive on newness and change. I need to feel like I am growing, and if I am not being challenged by life, then I feel stuck.
I also think that part of this is learned and it isn’t healthy. I have a hard time being in the present and I am constantly searching for happiness elsewhere because it never feels attainable in the moment. I am always pinning my hopes on the next town, the next job, or the next school, as though a little change is all I need to be happy. Though change is an important part of the recipe, I don’t think I should just pursue it for its own sake. Sure, I might be happy for a little while if I get a new job, a new place, or a new routine, but that will eventually wear off and I’ll be back where I started.
I need to pursue a life where I feel challenged and invigorated, to some degree, by my surroundings and by what is expected of me. This is something I have to give some thought and attention to. I will never be happy just getting up and doing the same thing over and over until I die (because let’s face it, millennials don’t get to retire). I need to respect and attend to the part of me that thrives off of change, challenge, growth, and development.
But I also need to heal something within myself that is unable to fully engage with the way things are.
I have to learn to live in and appreciate the present, even as I make plans for the future. I wrote a short poem recently about this:
I don’t think the answer is out there
In the next town over,
At the new job,
In the new school,
Coupled with the new lifestyle
I think it’s right here,
Staring me in the face.
I think it’s always been.
I’m not going to find satisfaction by constantly running around like a chicken with its head cut off, running towards this or away from that. I need to figure out how to be in my life as I build my life. I need to hold space for the discontentment as I learn to live with the discontentment. I need to think about and plan for the future, but I can’t keep only ever living for the future, because eventually, I will run out of future.
I think I am going to try two things then: explore my options for the future and start meditating again. I have a love-hate relationship with meditation, but I need a practice that will help pull me into the present and that seems to work for some people. I’ll give it another go and see if it works out. I was reminded about meditation as something potentially useful while reading Transcending: Trans Buddhist Voices edited by Kevin Manders and Elizabeth Marston. So many of its contributors cite meditation as a practice that, albeit difficult, enabled them to get in touch with themselves on a deeper level. There is something important about being still and I am missing stillness. I race from one thing to the next with little mindfulness and it’s having a negative effect on my overall life. So, fine, I’ll try it again. Thanks, I hate it, but I need to find a way to strike a balance between coming home to the present and respecting my need to plan for the future.
Note: I’m referring to myself with the use of “you” in this piece, not trying to generalize or dictate your experiences, which I recognize may be quite different from my own.
Content note: this piece contains discussion of illness and grief.
I’m waiting for the leaves to come back on the trees.
I’m waiting for the New Year to really begin.
I’m waiting for the spring air to roll over me,
Chilled but full of moisture,
Smelling of plants soon to be.
I’m waiting for the grass on the hill to turn green.
I’m waiting for the opportunity to try again.
My false start has come to an end,
But the world will come back to life
And I will be able to try again.
We’ve survived another winter,
Apart and together.
Now we have the chance
To breathe again,
To live again,
To think again,
My false start has come to an end
And I am getting ready to try again—
When the leaves, the grass, and the fresh air
Come rolling back in.
I turn twenty-six on Tuesday the twenty-sixth. I feel more like myself than I have for awhile. I am writing more like myself and I am writing more in general. Poetry has come back into my life and is taking up more space than ever before. Prose and ideas for prose are everywhere. I am compiling the past few years of my transition into a zine. It’s all been falling into place since I let go of the need for a refined product, success, or legitimacy and focused my energy on the process instead.
I love the process. That is the essential piece, you know, loving the process. The piece that can so easily go missing. You can become so focused on the end goal, on the need to be and to appear productive, that you lose sight of why you create in the first place. We create because we love and need to create. This doesn’t mean that creating should always be easy or simple or fun. Sometimes, especially when you are deeply invested, it can be incredibly difficult and confusing and frustrating, but if you love it, that drive will help you move through those challenges.
I was sick last night. I lay on the bathroom floor for hours, shaking. Something went wrong in my body and I felt it in every part of me. I could barely keep my eyes open. I was alone. I lay there and cycled through the following thoughts: I wish this wasn’t happening. What’s wrong? When is it going to stop? Why is this happening? I wish this wasn’t happening…
Then another thought came into my mind as if from elsewhere: this is what it means to have a body. This is what it means to be alive. Having a body means that sometimes that body gets sick. I felt lucky for a few moments just to have a body, even if that body was angry with me. Then I fell back into the cycle: I wish this wasn’t happening. When is it going to stop? Why is this happening?
I was cold and couldn’t stop shaking, so I ran a bath. I lay down in the warm water and felt just as unwell, just as alone, but didn’t shake anymore. I lay back and I let go: this is happening. I can’t stop this from happening.
I started to sing an old song, a song I learned from a community that would stand in two rings and sing two rounds into the night. I sang that old song in an old language and thought about how I didn’t know what the words meant but could feel what the song meant. I sang it to myself, over and over, and I stayed there with my hurting body in that bath and became okay with what was happening.
I was at a New Year’s party a few years ago when something traumatic was triggered and my vision took on a ring of black spots and I felt like I was going to be sick. I lay alone for hours on the cold tiles of a stranger’s bathroom floor, even though I hadn’t had a single drink that night, and rang in the New Year. I had just lived through one of the hardest years of my life and felt the weight of it in my body that final night. I didn’t sing then but I did ease into the pain, mind and body joined together on that cold tile floor. This is what it means to have a body. This is what it means to be alive. Sometimes, you will be sick and you will feel it in your body whether the cause is from your body or your mind. Sometimes, you will be sick, you won’t be able to make it stop, and you will have to get down on the floor with it.
My body is a beautiful alarm system that has always reliably sounded the bells whenever I’ve become too cerebral. Pay attention to me, it says. Take care of me.
That New Year’s Eve, my body took on all of my grief and pain and made me lay on a cold floor all night so I could move into the coming year with a clearer mind. Don’t take this with you, it said. I felt the fog of death, disappointment, betrayal, anger, loneliness, and fear rise like smoke off of my body and leave the room. I came back downstairs at one in the morning and smiled quietly at the party guests who were getting ready to head home. It was a new year and I was new. My family and I drove home in the car. It was dark and they were tired and I was awake and feeling better than I had in a long time.
Yesterday, I lay on another cold tile floor and then in a warm bath. I let all of the awful feelings wash over me. I sang an old song that I did/didn’t understand and thought about renewal and how I was turning twenty-six in three days. Pay attention to me, my body said. Remember to pay attention to me.
I can’t promise to always pay attention, body, but I will try. You will be twenty-six soon, as will I. You have carried me this long and have always been my friend. I will try my best not to let my mind get in the way of your needs again.
Spring is almost here and soon it will be my champagne year. I am leaving something bad behind. I am writing every day. I am searching for community. Just like that NYE all those years ago, something in me died last night and something new came alive in its place. I let toxic smoke rise from my body in that bath and I became new.
I am turning twenty-six in two days and finally, I am ready.