Best Worst Year: Episode 24 (Or, Changes, Changes)

Humid mornings do very little to hide the anticipation of summer.  There is a weight to air, a certain thickness usually reserved for August downpours, but here we are at the tail end of May and the sky is on the verge of spilling over with thunder and exhaustion.  I sleep with the window open, waiting for the strained opening chords to a storm to strum across me in bed.  The radio murmurs Nick Drake’s haunted poetry.  The light of day has barely come to pass over Danville, sleep yet to be wiped away from its eyes.  I’ve been restless for an hour or so, ever since I thought I heard the quiet and distant rumble of weather.  I am passing in and out of consciousness–for once I am actually sleeping well and my body is fighting with my need to listen to the rain.  Instead, I am a skip in vinyl–repeatedly waking up to sounds I may or may not be hearing.  Is it an echo of sleep?  Is it really thunder?

Another hour passes and so does the threat of rain.  Birds fill the open window with morning.  I remember one of my first mornings in this house–a bird ran right into my window.  I wandered outside just in time to see it stagger and fly off.  That was almost a year ago, about two weeks shy of a year, to be more specific.  It was almost this hot and humid when I moved most of my life into my cousin’s basement.  A year later and I feel less like a guest but still as temporary, well at least temporary here in Danville.  Someone recently asked me about the “holding pattern” my life was in, and that really bugged me.  Obviously, it was someone who doesn’t know me (or hasn’t been reading Best Worst Year).  The last calendar year was much more than doodling in the margins to create a flip-book. It has been a year of preparation and miscues.  It has been a season of reflection and distraction.  It has been a year of acceptance and avoidance.  I am the differing sameness which has learned so much about himself and might almost be ready to take those lessons and stretch beyond these truths, or at least willing to make the smart mistakes of growth and change.

Change is coming, but it’s not true.  Change is already here.  Change has been the constant companion throughout the last year.  It has been silently riding shotgun, remarking only when I’ve been ready and receptive to hear its voice.  It has spoken through turntable.  It is the pause before nights have slipped away from open bottles.  It is wheeze in my own chest–a warning that my lifestyle choices need to be smarter.  It is the blower hum of the Buick’s defroster, letting me know that distance isn’t about how far you’ve gone but how far you’re willing to go.  Change is the parted lips of careless kisses I’ve given away like lighter flame to cigarette fingers.  Change is the awkward silence of girls out of reach and the rising tide filling a bottomless cup of coffee at diners too numerous to mention.  Change’s poem has been in the laughter of my friends so late and blurry with weekends in our veins.  Change is in the keystrokes of these very words I’m committing to you, right now.

There are so many more miles to go, and pretty soon I will be reclaiming the highway not as home but as highway once again.  In the last month I’ve been in New York, Baltimore, Scranton, Chicago, Philadelphia, Danville, and Springfield–some have been just layovers, some have been gigs, some have been the very essence of change.  I don’t know if the me of a year ago would be able to hear the voice of change in any of these locales.  I still don’t know exactly what I should be listening for–it’s not like this is an exact science.  In a way, it is the act of active listening which is the point here–to be still and find quiet enough within yourself that you can be open to sounds of the poem surrounding us.  I used to think that the poems we write or the words we create were the product of something solely internal–that the long hours alone at a desk would be the real path to creating a good poem, a place free of life’s distraction.  I was so wrong. Pursuit and distraction is how the poem is shaped and created.  Life needs to occupy what you create and how we create changes us in ways we may not fully appreciate until much later.  Life itself is the courier of change and our capacity to live it in a way mindful of what it offers us provides us with the potential for great art and moreover, becoming a more honest representation of who we can possibly be. Of course, that’s not to say everything has to be played with such high stakes. Not everything we come across needs to be a poem, or moreover, poetry shouldn’t be the first thing on the mind of a poet.  Our ability to be in love with so much of our lives should occupy those spots on our High Fidelity Top 5 list.  Fill up the dance card and don’t sweat the creation of something new, it’ll come in due time.

I always carry my Cross Contour pen.  It used to have a metallic satin red finish, but most of it has been chipped or worn off the pen, revealing a tarnished brass.  That was the first pen I bought when I became Assistant Director of Graduate Creative Writing at Wilkes.  I figured I needed a fancy pen to match my new title.  Almost everything I’ve written since starts from the ballpoint of that pen.  It is the stylus pulse of my life.  It is how I know I am ready for what comes next.  A pen.  A notebook.  And me listening for the voice of change in the coming weather.

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.

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