The Sideways Door

The difficult deed

I had imagined someone composing a poem in their head for several days, remembering each line and perhaps re-ordering them; an extravagant act of memory performed in the silence of the mind.

 |  The Sideways Door  |  3-minute read |   24-02-2015
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The thing about reasonable fears is that they tend to come true and when they do, they're not as fearsome as one had thought. I have always wondered what it would be like to reach the end of a month and find no submissions, or maybe just one. Sure, enough, this month there has been just one submission. Perhaps it is fitting, in a short month that asked for a short investment of time (or an apprenticeship that is of long standing) that I should have to contend with a very short list.

As for the prompt itself, I imagined the moment before one began writing: the stillness and waiting, as before a game or a moment upon the stage; the heart beating faster than usual, a slight giddiness; and then the words arriving mysteriously from all the accumulated vocabulary of all the years, somehow knowing what shape they must take on the page.

Or else, I had imagined someone composing a poem in their head for several days, remembering each line and perhaps re-ordering them; an extravagant act of memory performed in the silence of the mind until the poem had taken full shape so that when the hour called, the poet was merely a scribe taking dictation from herself.

This month's sole entry by David Jairaj could be either or something else altogether. It's a poem about smoking, which is also a fleeting act but in the duration as steady and regular as breathing.

As with any poem composed in the moment, it has its problems which are to do with individual choices of words, or rhymes and lines. For instance, 'last drag of the day' is surely wrong - it must be last cigarette of the day; it ought to be 'ugly or pretty sights' and not the singular; and it is more usual to say 'stare you right in the eyes' and not 'your eyes'.

Elsewhere, I would have finished the line at 'creating a nameless energy' not just because the rest of it feels too long but also because 'freely' and 'energy' work better together than 'freely' and 'mind'. And I have to wonder: why cows? And why are lovers always shameless?

Pulling back from the mechanics of the poem, though, there are some interesting threads pulling the poem together. The vivid image of the limping dog with crusty eyes is good; the line of thought linking 'eyes' to 'blinking' and to 'momentary' is also good; and 'this persistence of momentary life' is a happy oxymoron. For me, the most inspired rhyme in the poem is the pairing of 'with' and 'chaotic' at the very end.

I think the idea of the smoke as a 'magical device' is something that has possibilities but is not explored enough and so I'm unconvinced. The final idea, of the smoke dissipating - being the momentary, unsustainable thing that it is, like the imagined connection between the speaker and the 'you' he is addressing - mirrors the exercise itself: an effort bound to briefness.

Here is the poem in full:

 

  • Untitled by David Jairaj
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  • I sit down for the last drag of the day
  • Lighting, fighting a thought I am afraid to say
  • A dog limps past me with its crusty eyes
  • As I pretend to understand its whys
  • Somewhere else, I know, I am sure
  • Someone else, I don't know, is thinking
  • These exact same things
  • That have gotten me blinking
  • This persistence of momentary life
  • Of cows wandering to the other side
  • Of women wondering - daughter, sister, wife?
  • Of lovers, shameless, clothed in moonlight
  • Of judgments on ugly or pretty sight
  • Guiltless, synapses dance freely
  • Creating a nameless energy in my mind
  • And passing it to you through a magical device
  • Staring you right in your eyes
  • Now, the smoke leaves my cigarette
  • Its path, so damn straight to start with
  • Is beginning to diverge chaotic

*

I see how this prompt, though requiring very little of one's time, might have been particularly hard to do. Perhaps next month, we could take a few steps back and have a simpler exercise that looks familiar and is achievable.

Until then, au revoir from The Sideways Door!

 

Writer

Sridala Swami Sridala Swami @sridala

Sridala Swami's latest collection of poetry, Escape Artist, has been published by Aleph Book Co. She is an alumnus of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

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