BECAUSE I’LL NEVER SWIM IN EVERY OCEAN
By Catherine Pierce
Want is ten thousand blue feathers falling
all around me, and me unable to stomach
that I might catch five but never ten thousand.
So I drop my hands to my sides and wait
to be buried. I open a book and the words
spring and taunt. Flashes—motel, lapidary,
piranha—of every story, every poem I’ll never
know well enough to conjure in sleep.
What’s the point of words if I can’t
own them all? I toss book after book
into my imaginary trashcan fire.
Or I think I’ll learn piano. At the first lesson,
we’re clapping whole and half notes
and this is childish, I’m better than this.
I’d like to leave playing Ravel. I’d like
to give a concerto on Saturday. So I quit.
I have standards. Then on Saturday,
I have a beer, watch a telethon. Or
we watch a documentary on Antarctica.
The interviewees are from Belarus, Lima, Berlin.
Everyone speaks English. Everyone names
a philosopher, an ethos. One man carries a raft
on his back at all times. I went to Nebraska once
and swore it was a great adventure. It was.
I think of how I’ll never go to Antarctica,
mainly because I don’t much want to. But
I should want to. I should be the girl
with a raft on her back. When I think
of all the mountains and monuments
and skyscapes I haven’t seen, all the trains
I should take, all the camels and mopeds
and ferries I should ride, all the scorching
hikes I should nearly die on, I press
my body down, down into the vast green
couch. If I step out the door, the infinity
of what I’ve missed will zorro me across
the face with a big L for Lazy. Sometimes
I watch finches at the feeder, their wings small
suns, and have to grab the sill to steady myself.
Metaphorically, of course. I’m no loon.
Look—even my awestruck is half-assed.
But I’m so tired of the small steps—
the pentatonic scale, the frequent flyer
hoarding, the one exquisite sentence
in a forest of exquisite sentences.
There is a globe welling up inside of me.
Mountain ranges ridging my skin,
oceans filling my mouth. If I stay still
long enough, I could become my own world.
(Today’s poem originally appeared in Diode and appears here today with permission from the poet.)
Catherine Pierce is the author of The Girls of Peculiar (Saturnalia 2012) and Famous Last Words (Saturnalia 2008). Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Slate, Boston Review, Ploughshares, FIELD, and elsewhere. She lives in Starkville, Mississippi, where she co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.
Editor’s Note: Today’s poem speaks to the troubled inner workings of the Writer. Writer with a capital W because the poet speaks for writers at large. For the crippling fear that lies at the heart of my new mantra: Everything you want is on the other side of fear.
Catherine Pierce gets it. And she says it better than most, despite her willingness to “toss book after book into [her] imaginary trashcan fire” for the frustration of “every poem [she’ll] never know well enough to conjure.” The road to creation is paved with becoming “so tired of the small steps” because “There is a globe welling up inside of [you,]… oceans filling [your] mouth.” Yes, and yes, and amen.
Today’s poem is dedicated to Jenny Stella. Because. And then because, again. As for me, I have shared the poet’s struggle in my own art, in comic form, though admittedly with far less eloquence.
I should also note that I have had the pleasure of sharing Catherine Pierce’s work on this series before, and am continually drawn to the poet’s unparallelled way with words.