My video reading of the poem “easter” from my book Iron Man Family Outing is featured today on the Beyond Meds website, accompanied by a short written reflection on the poem and its role in my developing view of my father over the years. Click here to watch and read.
I’ve created a playlist on my YouTube channel (rickbeldenpoet) for the video readings I made a while back of poems from my first book, Iron Man Family Outing: Poems about Transition into a More Conscious Manhood. The seven poems included in the video series are:
- little iron man
- fused at the wound
- gift (iron man dream #3)
- charley horse
- body memory
You can watch me read these seven poems in sequence using the player above, or you can click here to select and play individual videos directly from the YouTube page for the playlist.
PDF versions of these and many other poems from Iron Man Family Outing are available on the “Contents” page of my website.
watching leaves turn riding through mountains dreaming of oceans dining in splendor. landscapes unseen faraway planets hearts beating softly sleeping in springtime. fingers inside her panting and sighing rising and falling bottomless lake. time without time space without space face like a mirror she is my river. who comes in dreams who has no name I wait for her my unknown love.
mister know-it-all is finally getting a clue the former smartest guy in the room is receiving his wake-up call the so-called genius who thought he was gonna save the world is beginning to realize that it's passed him by. tonight he dreamed of a reunion with all of his high school peers no one had changed too much then he woke up and realized everything had changed. while he'd been struggling with how it was and dreaming about how it oughta be everyone else had been getting on with it getting married having kids building careers making money growing up. now the arrogant aging wonder boy looks in that yearbook in his head and sees doctors lawyers businesspeople bosses owners academics masters of government and commerce kings and queens of the corporate world wily investors and more millionaires than he probably realizes. he jolts awake at four in the morning sweating heart pounding no wife no kids rented apartment lousy job a few thousand in the bank wondering if there's still time to turn it all around scared to death there isn't worried it's already too late worried that the same reverse jedi mind tricks that got him here will keep him here. so here I am at four AM in the dead quiet of the dark the only sound I can hear is the ringing in my own ears peter pan at midlife plus a few years wondering what the hell happened where it all went the former smartest guy in the room mister know-it-all a victim of my own inner hype narcissistic grandiose egotistic idealistic moralistic unrealistic overcompensating underperforming king of the world (population: one) slapped down by time and my own inflated pretensions. even my dreams lie to me now no one got older nothing has changed plenty of time left ... wake up sleepy man time is ticking am I gonna get real or am I just gonna get old or is it too damn late now anyway no matter what I do.
At my last job, there was a fridge in the break room covered with those little word magnets known as poetry magnets. During my first couple of months, I’d wander in there most every day, usually late in the afternoon, and construct some little ad hoc one-line poems on the front of the fridge like:
Shadow language is black lake.
Seeing your forest may take years.
Look up: power of sky like symphony.
Recall each day as a life.
Leave in peace, as if about to whisper.
It was fun and it gave me a way to connect with my deeper, truer self and my identity as a writer and a creative person, an identity that was being crushed out of me rapidly by the severe demands of the job. That fridge with the little word magnets was a lifeline for me, a lifeline to myself and to who I really was in an environment that required me to disown myself to survive.
One night, after I’d been on the job seven or eight weeks, I had the following dream:
I walk into the break room at work and see that all of the words I’ve arranged on the fridge, all of my words, are gone. I’m horrified. I’ve lost my words.
Every so often, I have a terse, tight, concise little dream that tells me precisely what I need to know in a completely unambiguous way. This was one of those dreams. I knew exactly what it meant and what it said about what the job was doing to me, and it scared the hell out of me. Twenty years ago, I would’ve walked away immediately from any job that was sufficiently toxic to who I am to provoke a dream like that one. But this wasn’t twenty years ago, and I stayed.
Now the job has ended, as they all do eventually, and I’m still waiting for my lost words to come back to me. The last new poem I wrote (“time is burning me down”) came to me a little over five weeks ago, on the Monday immediately after the job ended. I haven’t written a line, a phrase, not a word of poetry since then. Nada. Zip. Nothing.
I’ve always been at the mercy of forces beyond myself (my conscious self) when it comes to writing poetry. It’s essentially an autonomous process, one that I don’t initiate or control, at least not consciously. Once it begins, I have some choices, but that’s more a matter of facilitation than of willing or deciding something into existence. Conversely, if I try to write a poem, the result is inevitably a disastrous, frustrating waste of time.
Every poem that comes through me feels, at some level, like a matter of life and death, and at some level, it is. It’s a matter of life and death for a very fleeting state of mind, body, heart, soul, word, image, and energy that is trying to coalesce itself into something more permanent. It’s a moment trying to give birth to itself in form, and if it fails to do so, it’s gone forever.
Every poem I write also feels like it might be my last. I never know if there will be another, so when something comes, I give it everything I’ve got. When nothing comes for a while, I begin to wonder if maybe the last poem I wrote really was the last one. Maybe there’s nothing left for me to say. Maybe I’ve said enough. Or maybe I’ve simply run out of ways to say it.
The whole process is a mystery. The only time I ever feel like I understand it at all is when something is coming through me. It’s kind of merciless in that way, to live in the service of something so fickle, so mercurial, and so demanding. Most of the poems I’ve written have come fairly quickly, but that doesn’t account for the amount of time and space I have to make for them to come, and all the time (like now) when nothing comes. It doesn’t account for all of the time alone, waiting waiting waiting, in the dark, in silence, with no assurance of anything, for a feeling, an impression, a surge of life energy to form itself into a previously unheard, unspoken stream of words.
When that stream stops, I am lost. This is the double bind of it all. As demanding and unpredictable as the process is, as much as it takes from me, I need it. I need it even when what comes out of me sounds dark and hopeless. Being able to express my hopelessness gives me hope. Being able to express my darkness generates light.
And now … nothing comes. I’ve lost my words and I don’t know what to do about it. Classic cosmic joke, right? I finally have some time and space, a little oasis between the horrible jobs that drain me and interrupt my creative flow, and nothing comes. I have ideas but they go nowhere. I have feelings but have no words for them. I’ve been burning for months now to write about some very specific things, just waiting for the time and space to do it, but I wind up writing this instead, because this is what comes when nothing comes.
Even writing this post has been insanely difficult. The first version, posted three days ago and removed several hours later, was a half-baked, ill-focused, rambling wreck. It’s not just poetry I’m having trouble writing. It’s everything.
In an audio interview recorded in 2000, the late musician Warren Zevon said, “I can’t write more songs than I get ideas for, so it doesn’t do any good to have better work habits.” It’s true. No matter how much I might want to, I can’t force writing out of myself any more than a farmer can make rain come down on his fields by staring at the sky.
In the same interview, Zevon also said, “But you just keep doing it if you’re a writer. Even if you try not to, you’ll keep doing it.” Also true. I couldn’t stop writing if I wanted to. I just have to wait this out. I’ve gone as long as sixteen years before without writing a poem. Twice. I doubt it’ll be that long this time, but it’s not my call.
Maybe some time spent staring at the sky while waiting for my lost words to return wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.
I have in my care three elephants two males one female they are very sick from too much time in the heat of the sun they've come to a place of shade and safety now but they're dying the female is the sickest. they have large ragged holes in their skins burned into them by an unforgiving sun weak and withered dried and dying drained of power they wait and they suffer. I've noticed them only recently I know that without my help their time is short. I haven't been trained to care for these holy creatures so I ask others for help one well-intentioned man young bureaucrat in uniform suggests a cage for shade and safety they're dying! I remind him but they'll be very safe he says. others are not interested at all some make jokes this is urgent! who will help me? these animals need water lots of it more than I can ever provide with the old buckets once used by my father my uncles my grandfathers elephants have other needs too but water is basic and must come first. I'm desperate time is short I walk up a slow hill on a back country road (I've walked this road in younger days) looking for someone to help me save these sacred beasts.
she lies with me in a dream I wrap myself around her breaking the shell I cast 'round my heart breaking the spell that put it to sleep the night she left me for him the night she left me for dead.
my dreams float just below the surface of consciousness like ice floes drifting out to sea. asleep on an airplane they are the clouds beneath me always there and out of reach real surreal and everywhere half-seen in drowsy glimpses. invisible as gravity insatiable as imagination they are the wings that hold me to this earth they can take me anywhere but they always bring me home.
speak to me
in forgotten languages
in forgotten dreams.