By William Reichard
The dead call to say they’re not dead, or they are, but in any case, would I please stop writing about them? All of my old lovers call to say they prefer their privacy, so maybe I should stop writing about them. My brothers and my sisters call, then my mother, then my partner, all to ask, would I please stop writing about them? All right. But what then? This morning I sat in an office surrounded by a sea of papers. They all had to be put in order. So I put them in order, in neat little piles, then larger groups, then into the folders and the files where they belong. This is what I’m good at when I’m not writing about the lives of those I love, have loved, may love; when I’m not borrowing heavily from the lessons they’ve learned through pleasure and pain. This afternoon I stopped for the things we need to keep our house running: cleansers, cat food, laundry detergent. I pick them up week by week, we use them up week by week and then I go and get more. This is what I’m good at when I’m not remembering the fields of my youth, the evenly spaced rows of green and black, plant and soil, the odd sunflowers that sprang up because hungry birds carried the seeds from feeder to nest and dropped a few along the way; the sudden tall yellowness of such flowers in the cultivated order of things. This is what I’m good at when I’m not recalling a former love, the bend of his back, shoulders sculpted by afternoon light. This evening I made dinner, something not too good but edible. This is what I do when I’m not reliving the scenes of a childhood I remember more from stories than experience. I feed things: my partner, my cats, the strays in the garage. This is what I’m good at: taking care of people and things that need taking care of. This, when I’m not thinking of my parents, their lives intersecting at just the wrong time in order to make each of us, my brothers and sisters and me. When I’m not dwelling on this then I’m washing the dishes, washing the clothes, taking out the garbage. This is what I’m good for: running my little life, when I’m not locked away in my room, trying to write about all of the things I’m told I shouldn’t, yet must, and do.
Today’s poem originally appeared in Midway Journal, and appears here today with permission from the poet.
William Reichard is the author of four collections of poetry, including Sin Eater (2010) and This Brightness (2007), both published by Mid-List Press. He is the editor of the anthology American Tensions: Literature of Identity and the Search for Social Justice (New Village Press, 2011). He lives in Saint Paul, MN.
Editor’s Note: Today’s poem contemplates what it is to be a writer, and William Reichard obviously gets it. If you are being asked to stop writing about the ones you know and love, you are probably doing something right. If you are not writing, there is plenty to do to comprise a life—chores, errands—but what kind of a life is it when you are merely surviving, as opposed to living? Amidst the clarity and logic of today’s prose Reichard breaks into beautiful lyric imagery. In so doing, he lets the reader know what always lies beneath the surface—even of the mundane—when one is a writer.