A Longer Life in Words - a Poem About What Writing Does for Me
A Poem That Answers a Slightly Rude Question
A few months ago, someone asked me why I bother to write when only a few million people have ever read my words and likely very few of them even remember any of them. She suggested I shouldn't bother if I'll never be famous and if writing doesn't make a lot of money for me because I'm just not very good at it, anyway. To her, fame and money are clearly the only things writing might be good for.
She's right; I'll never be famous, but writing is about so much more for me than fame or even money for me. Maybe she's right about my writing not being very good, too, but that isn't even relevant to the lion's share of what I get out of it.
Perhaps the most amusing aspect of my conversation with her is that, as a high-functioning autistic person, writing is my primary form of communication. Over 90% of what I say takes the form of written words. In essence, the person was suggesting I shut up, stop communicating with other human beings, and stop doing the only work I'm able to do with my collection of health issues!
This poem expresses why it isn't necessary for anyone to even read my words for writing to continue to be worthwhile for me. It's about just a few of the many, many things writing does to vastly improve my quality of life without even having another living soul read it. If reading it leaves you with no feeling at all for how important writing is to me, personally, there's nothing I could put in words what would.
A Longer Life in Words
Life is longer put in words or at least the good parts are.
Writing has a magical power over time.
Joys can be made to last for thousands of years,
to seem eternal within a single lifespan.
Terror that seems endless can be tied down
to a page with inky knots and shrunk
to fit on an eight and a half by eleven inch slice
of material reality I can crumple in one hand.
Disappointment can darken the pixels of a screen
and become nothing but a story told in electrical impulses
that takes up less than 25k.
Writing slays demons one keystroke at a time.
I've cut off the sweaty, groping hands of memory
by slamming them in books of my own creation.
I've seen the most hurtful words of my childhood
perish in electronic darkness.
Their echoes come back to hurt me sometimes,
but they seem weaker, drained of vividness,
no longer lingering like the smell of old mildew.
Over time the stench of vomit and blood on hot asphalt
can be made to smell like old books.
An assailant can be made to look like an old stain
rather than someone I could draw photographically
if only I could draw so well.
Writing stores the precious gifts of the dead.
It lets me run giggling through summer-lush yards
holding the strong dainty hand of a ghost
with the lips to an ocean
I tried to drown in one joyous year.
It lets me remember the wee waxy pink blossoms
in the sparkling black coils of her hair
with more clarity than the flowers on her grave.
I can touch her face with coherent marks on a page,
glide my pen along my lost lover's cheek,
using pigment on wood pulp like an appendage
to reach beyond the end of life.
Words preserved my mom's last hazy, blue-eyed smile
and the warmth of her slack hand squeezing mine,
Like an endless jar of bread and butter pickles,
I can come back to it to taste
the last sweet thing she gave me
anytime I want to until I die.