Apr/May 2013 Poetry

The First Poem I Publish

by Brian Keathley

Artwork by Clinton McKay

Artwork by Clinton McKay

The First Poem I Publish

It will be a statement.

I will write it on my uncle's back patio
on a warm Tulsa night in April, halfway through
my first Wild Turkey and Sierra Mist,
after putting down a Billy Collins book that,
for the first time, has bored me.

I will be arrogant and think, "I can do better than that."

I will try to think of an image cleverer than
"long rows of devoted ants" to describe
the words on the page, and I will not succeed.
I might try "wasps fleeing from still lines of smoke,"
Or perhaps "children running the halls
after the last bell has told them it is summer"
would be more accurate to my handwriting.

I will unintentionally use a gimmick,
like writing the whole thing in future tense,
and won't even consider if I can
pull it off without being pretentious.

I will lie and I will contradict myself
because that is what the poem will quietly demand.

I will want to overcompensate for my lack
of academic credentials and allude to things
like the hovering chair of Cassiopeia or try to make a
convoluted metaphor where one of Neptune's moons
blows a conch to calm the seas of the galaxy.

I will be unable to keep the poem from being Meta,
maybe a little conceptual. In a not so subtle wink
at David Foster Wallace and Dan Harmon, in an attempt to
ingratiate myself to hip-intellectual college kids,
I will reference Abed declining to smoke pot
with Hal while they watch Inspector Space-Time
on video cartridge.

I will use litotes and not second-guess it.
Wait, yes I will.

I will sip my second drink and lose my train of thought
as a June bug flies past my head and I look up
and out into the black-light stars of the dark night sky,
and I will hear a car horn in the distance, and maybe a
vacuum cleaner, at this time of night, and fight off
the demons of this still emptiness, and think
of my last girlfriend naked, and let this whiskey
wrap its pallid arms around me,
and I will maybe begin another poem.

I will make a conscious effort not to sound like Bukowski.

After thought and frustration, I will want this poem to be epic
but simple, a couple in the park with the man on one knee.
It will come across with the implications of
a question, perhaps a plea,
and a promise of the future. I will realize, too far in
for it to make sense, that in some way,
this poem will be about love.

By the end I will wonder if I've gone on too long
and tried too hard.

Finally, I will imagine a reader,
a flannel adorned bartender with a lit cigarette,
a first time mother in bed on maternity leave
with child finally sleeping,
a journal editor with eyes straining behind
thin framed reading glasses...
I will imagine the reader with these words in hand,
wanting peace or insight, waiting to be
dazzled or caressed or scolded, searching
for a distinct voice with a touch of heart,
and I will merely pray
that they aren't wishing for
the last five minutes of their life back.


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