I am jealous of the plow which moves earth. It’s honest work. It’s my father’s labor. It’s my mother’s yield. It’s the season of wither which takes hold of my crop so I am learning how to best subsist on such stretches of words.
I grew up across from a cornfield. I used to think about that cornfield from offices and classrooms and bedrooms miles and miles away from it. Nowadays it’s the backdrop of recurring dreams–waking up in the muddy tilled earth, buried in the rows of summer corn and dying season. When I’m in Danville, I can’t sleep.
The failure is not yours alone. Most days it doesn’t offer much in the ways of solace. Who such splits affect is not a solitary space either. There is enough hurt to go around–to resonate–too much to be contained by one isolated paragraph or set of arms or an empty bed or an empty chamber inside your heart.
Your shortcomings are your own. Your shortsightedness, your nearsightedness, your failure to be something larger, to see a big picture, to have the experience you needed and the wisdom to guide better decisions. You have betrayed, in a sense, your desire. You are alone and beholden to no one but your mistakes. The cost of the lesson is simple; it doesn’t leave you alone some nights. It is the tall shadow in the long hallway connecting days to tomorrow’s illumination and dismissing other rooms to an equal and unknown darkness.
You could’ve seen it coming but you chose not to–you are the lump sum of your misgivings and somehow you have let this most recent version of your dream die upon the vine with seeds cast into asphalt. The cornfield is a paved road, criss crossing waking hours.
The failure is not yours alone but the lonely hours in exile are; holidays chain themselves to you as you collect Christmas cards in a house not your own. All you own and all you possess are two different ways of life. You’re learning that truth now, etched in the quicksilver madness of highways and insomnia. Even this rambling wreck of a post has enough ambiguity and coded language–that ends here, in this paragraph.
I’m sorry. I am writing this to no one but four people, and chances are you are not one of them.
You’ve come for something else and this week it’s not on the menu. (Leave your name at the beep and I’ll get back to as soon as next week’s post…beep)
I am sorry I could not be the partner you needed, the father figure you deserved, or the lover of love you expected. I was an advent and then an albatross. I wanted something so much I couldn’t tell when I had it. I wish I could pretend to be something other than these ill fitting labels. The golden boy. The only child. The writer. The great and grand observer of life’s rich pageant. Instead I didn’t have what you needed to sustain you. I was so afraid to lose this thing–this family–I never realized it wasn’t mine to have to begin with–it wasn’t about possession–it was about sharing that world. I thought I did but I didn’t. I was not there in the spaces where silence flooded a room and I was overflowing in the shallow gullies you had tended for yourself as personal space. I was not the help you needed but the intervention I thought you required. I was wrong. I was wrong and what bitter spoils come to harvest rust the scythe in my hands. I am too old to learn how such a family grows old together. I grow apart at the seams in my chest. I am only fertile, here, sowing seeds in the white open spaces of a page.
I am not the family man I have dreamed to become. I am not the plow but the anvil. I am in the forge reducing embers to tempered steel edges. I am cold but not from the cold. I am sorry the family life is not for me. I turn my back to the fields and pour molten lead onto the page so eagerly awaiting the hammer swung with regret.
Maybe this letter is not for four, but for one. For me. I always thought the cornfield which stood in the wake of my house needed a scarecrow. Is that who I’ve become? Maybe you’re the scarecrow and this cornfield is where I’ve come to lay down the weight of past mistakes. Here the plow is lowered, there the anvil of my spine is forged. It might be enough to know the blunt edges of failure, to run my hand across it in pale hours–to know its touch as the reach of shadows pointing me towards a source of light. All you are and all you own are two different ways of life. I own my failures.
Jim Warner is the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Word Riot, and other journals. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University and is a huge fan of both Breaking Ground Poets and the Bullseye Podcast. Follow Jim out of suburban Hell on Twitter: @whoismisterjim.