Sunday, February 5, 2006

white on white

All around you, poems were being written. With fingertips gliding on dust-covered windowsills. With tired eyes scanning mottled sidewalks. With toes pressed into raw sugar sand on cloudy beaches. Poems for the unenamoured. Poems for the unarmoured. Poems for the unmoored. All around you, poems were being written, but at the centre of your universe where pen tip touched paper, where the point made but a single depression, a poem would not unfold. No words were written - your hand remained steadied, your pen remained stilled. Quieted. Hushed. You had no story to tell.

So you went away to find your self, but wound up, instead, farther from yourself than ever before. A backward island, and a thousand others just like you. You listened to their stories, each and every one of them; always searching, always halfway there. Time passed, and you never quite felt comfortable. You looked at the newcomers and saw bits of who you were - lonely, confused, and overwhelmed - and you looked at the veterans and saw bits of who you might become - lost, arrogant, and hardened. Time served brought with it a surprising relief. There was a silent promise and a ticket home. A long flight back to there.

But you still miss that backward island with its perpetually cloudy, raw sugar beaches, and shining, futuristic nightlife. Another place, another time - and it's all too easy to place great distance between your present and past selves. It wasn't me, it was he, you say, while unconsciously censoring the past. You'll hold close the high times, while pushing away the low. You'll make plans to go back. Still lost, you desire to be found - and instinct tells you to flee. Another city will offer up new opportunities. Another scene will bring a new life. A new lie will bring more lies.

All around you, poems are being written. In the zigzagging tracks of a squirrel in the park. In the rush of air from the flap of an owl's great wings. In the howl of a coyote at two o'clock in the morning. Poems for the disenchanted. Poems for the disenfranchised. Poems for the disavowed. All around you, poems are being written, but at the centre of your universe where pen tip touches paper, where the point makes but a single depression, a poem has yet to unfold. No words are written - your hand remains steadied, your pen remains stilled. Quieted. Hushed.

How long can this last? you ask yourself. Another week without verse. Another year without meter. An entire lifetime without structure. All around you, poems are being written, and it seems so easy. Plagiarism comes quickly to mind. You could live the life of another. Image over substance. Make yourself a home in the shell of another. Your hand begins to shake, and the pen tip begins to quiver as you push harder into the paper with pent-up frustration. Just one line. Just one word. A start. Anything. Nothing comes.

Your life is like this - a poem written with white ink on white paper. Years from now, when you're gone and your page is added to the Great Book, the critics will analyze your contribution. Is it art? they'll ask superciliously. White on white. A blank sheet. They'll share a good laugh while clapping each other on the shoulders, united in their disdain. Poor fellow, they'll add, someone might have told him that even poor art is better than no art at all. And they'll laugh some more. They'll laugh because they know they are right. Their laughter will fade because they know they have always been right. And they'll stop laughing because they know they will always be right. Their laughter ceases because each shares with the others the same disturbing dream. No beginning and no end. Nothing. White on white.

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