They call you golden boy because you are born from lead and have the alchemist’s scar to prove it. Once you were able to close those gaps inside of you, weather patience’s tested hearth by being just young and foolish. You stood on cafe tables, leather lunged. Trading eyes for stares. You were knuckles, teeth, and hardcore. You were every Joe Strummer lyric you ever heard and were wrong as often as you were loud and confident.You burned through coffee and arms.
You kissed for blood. You were tornado mouth, swallowing friends and pens and pints and bad ideas with equal abandon. You were a magnet and the world was cheap metal. You were careless and clumsy but didn’t worry about stumbles or stammers. Then somewhere, a phone didn’t ring, a stare wasn’t met, a voice wasn’t returned.
You broke a chair. You were standing on the shore staring at still waters. You mistook stillness for indifference. You took indifference to heart. You let indifference become doubt. You stood still. You were unquiet in the dead hours of streetlights and dizzy decisions. You were a throb of morning and mourning. You placed wait, anticipation, hype, and neglect into the same pyre and let it set fire to your tongue. You had an MFA with nothing and everything to say.
You lived in a season of anticipation. In the great and delusional tally of days and wants, it’s the expectation and build-up that filled your lungs with air–the rush before. The gathering inertia. It’s also hype. Overblown. Overwrought. Thought beyond action.
Wait can be its own poison. Sour the taste. Spoil the harvest. Withering time’s unbiased grapevine of hours and minutes. Navigate turbulent waters the best you can. Predict based on experience.
Wisdom wraps its arms around instinct, wrestles it to the ground. Not a waltz. Not a ballad. The gaps between now and later can become a sinkhole you tend with an undertaker’s optimism. Doubt breaks ground with a rusty shovelhead. Once it gets a taste for the soil in your skin, the digging can be incessant. You buried promise not like treasure but like the dead and gone.
Patience is a hard won ally, not a friend and certainly not a virtue. Spend enough time behind the plow or page and you discover that patience is the anvil from which your heart is weighed, forged, and tempered.
The writer is a foundry of hope and neurosis. Pages are carved away from the hands of the clock, you understand how time shapes language. Beyond compulsion. Want for connection–even if it’s the tender carpentry between how you mean, what you know, or hope to know. There is no stillness at the desk, or table. Writers are fluid, spilled and flooding. Patience is Occam’s razor–paring away at the confidence and inertia that carried us to the page, pushed us to lines and verses. Patience tests ambition. The unanswered empty blank black is a cancer and a canvas. It will eat away at you and invites worst-case scenarios.
You are the penny tossed in the well without the sound of copper and brick echoing back an acknowledgement. Silence. The death of sound and reverberation. Disconnection.
Doubt has a strange addictive quality. It’s like a bad bet chasing a bad bet. You feel it getting away from you–irrational, a flint to steel sparking, becoming a strobe, becoming a hot white judgemental light–almost blinding, offering only grace to those who surrender to its hollow heat. If you let go, it will burn away the best parts of you. Words vanish, syllables at a time. Confidence to cinders. No warmth. Just nothing. Not even numbness. Just a space. Words just chase sound. Pages and keystrokes against the white on white. Disconnection. You get pale and then you get paralyzed.
What snapped you back into place? What made the swinging hammer relent? You don’t know. There isn’t a key. You are still anxious and if you let it, a whole day will be consumed with doubt–and once it devours the page, it comes for the other parts of you gracelessly exposed.
Your first teenage kiss was all bad timing. Late August. Junior year of high school. You were a late bloomer only in action. You were close to her. A summer echoing in the stairwell of a school dorm. The slowest song in the world turned air solid. A flipbook moving frame by frame, page to promise. You both closed your eyes. In. Close. Orange tic tac breath. You parted your lips slightly. In. Close. You kissed her. On the nose. You were a crushed blush of stupid and a pale seasick numb. Until she smiled. She had grace for both of you. This was your first lesson in patience.
Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Five Quarterly, and The Minnesota Review. For an audio version of this column, check out: www.soundcloud.com/whoismisterjim. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.