I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary poetry of late. Not to be too predictable, but it makes me gloomy. It draws me into myself, causing self-reflection of a muddy-pond-water sort, shallow but silty.
This week, I opened my Issue 67 of Willow Springs literary magazine to see my former university poetry professor featured. I was lucky, lucky, lucky to have been taught by this woman, a Pushcart Prize winner and Bynner Fellows recipient. She single-handedly birthed a love of poetry in me 15 years ago, just by the sheer presence she brought to any poetry reading or workshop. She would speak each word, whether they were her own or another’s, with such measured control that in my head, I could see each syllable and beat weighed as singularly as on a scale, as separate and whole as eggs in a bowl or pearls in the palm of a hand.
And I guess at the time, while my life revolved around academics, and I was student assisting her classes and editing the university literary magazine she oversaw, I thought, I’ll be there. One day. But I’m not, am I? If the end goal was a shot at a Pushcart, I certainly put some speed bumps in my way: I married young. Got pregnant. Traded an MFA degree for a 40 hour work week to pay the rent. I bought a cute little house with the man I love, then spent half a dozen years sleep deprived and weary, years I lived just around the block from the professor who was my inspiration.
I’d see her often, as we both spent a lot of time outdoors. I’d be raking the leaves in my tiny front yard, or pushing Nate on the swing we’d attached to our huge weeping willow, and she’d walk by with her little dogs (they might have been Pomeranians?) and I would wave, and set aside my rake, and shift Baby Calvin to my hip, and she would wave, and maybe stop to chat, and I’d think: I’m a million miles away.
From that life I had planned, then measured out so carefully. That I’d tested the tepid waters of with one toe.
Somehow, I’d fallen headlong into another one, and it’s a good one. A very, very good one. But when we’re young, we all think we’ll be that next someone while being taught by that someone, that maybe we have a shot at that next Pulitzer or that next Pushcart because someone has to win it, and that someone might as well be us. We watch our mentors speak from the podium or the pulpit or the heart, and we’re as delusional as the chronic lotto player, paying daily for the chance to lose. We see them step into the lab, or the office, or the classroom, shrugging out of their coats or taking off their hats or winding up their scarves and hanging them on a peg by the door, and we think, just maybe, we’ll be the one to pick it up.
But this is what you learn when you’re older: someone has to rake the leaves, diaper the babies, peel the apples, bake the cobbler. Someone has to run the front counter, make the change, sign the time card, fetch the mail. Someone has to break the bread that dips into the soup that cools on the table, waiting for someone else to come home.
But that same someone can be a dozen different someones in one lifetime.
And so there’s still time. If you’re weighing and measuring and coming up short, I’m saying there’s still time. Today, yesterday, tomorrow, the scales are probably tipped in favor of something else, because we all put our hearts fully into something, and usually just one something at a time: your baby’s first real giggle. Your promotion at the job you never thought you’d have and maybe didn’t want. Your son’s little league game. Your husband’s something.
Next month, next year, next decade, maybe the balance will shift. Maybe you’ll find your attention diverted from what it rests upon today, your ambition sparked, your will hardened. And maybe that will be a good thing. Or maybe it will send you careening in the opposite direction, clinging to what you have today.
Either way, remember this: you have something.