ink and secrets

“ . . .let the poets cry themselves to sleep. All
their tearful words will turn back into steam . . .”
— Conor Oberst, Poison Oak
first mistake made, age 12:
an ode to a nighttime ocean:
“It appears beautiful, though
there is nothing to see . . .”
and then I listed everything:
great purple urchins and
menacing barracuda,
monolithic whales, breaching
singing secret love songs
mingled with cries for help
it doesn’t make any sense,
mother said, and pulled from
the shelf her copy of
Listen to the Warm, and
read a poem with a story,
A Cat Named Sloopy, as I
stared at the blurry picture
of Rod McKuen on the back,
and thought of my father,
away again, working
at the end, I cried for the cat,
she cried for the man
 years later, I knew
she wouldn’t be a fan
of the liturgy I purged,
words wrung, black and
blue and sometimes red,
from my fear-pricked skin,
when, given the space to
remember, I chose to
memorize the details,
as if I could, as if I wouldn’t
end up broken, as I am,
buried under the weight of
too many words, and the
motives and  deeds
that forged them
she caught me once, in the
college literary magazine,
a string of images that
had no meaning to me,
my voice gruff, painterly,
each word scraped through
thick oils and slashed
across a pristine canvas
ink is not for secrets, just
like crayons aren’t for walls,
remember? she said, her
eyes narrowing and mean
and my skin shivered,
remembering, even as my
mouth explained away
how my painting teacher
said the abstract expressionists
don’t NEED a story, their
work is PRE-story, it is POST-
story, it is primal emotion,
primitive application, it’s
just my adolescent angst
what’s the big fucking deal
WHAT secrets?
she seized her fur by its throat,
and turned her heel, demanding
my father, bag in hand, take her
with him to another country, and
he did, they just left, I stood
alone in their house, worried,
most of all, that he would
make me stop painting,
make me stop writing,
I was at his rich-man mercy,
my scholarship won with
words and paint, useless
on the sliding scale he sat atop
he had been proud at first, but
when the math was done,
he said: all prestige and no cash,
someday there will be
a confessional revival,
said the grad student
in charge of one too many
typewritten submissions
so I returned to my paints
to crush flat my heart, broken
by lovers’ arms mistaken
for safe havens
in the blocky typefaces
reserved for WARNING
and DANGER, I stenciled
microscopic poems over
abstracted corpses
digging their way out
of freshly dug graves
“slavery, slavery,
lust and oblivion”
what does it mean?
oh, you know, what
the world is made of,
the fate of human kind,
everyone is a nihilist
when they’re twenty-one
“not her . . .” said a boy,
pointing to the girl who
ran the suicide hotline
as she threw up green beer
in a paper leprechaun cap,
“she’s in it for the pot of gold”
I hid my scarred arms under
sullen turtlenecks, dyed my hair,
and pursued a career in
advertising, ads, you see,
are poems that sell things,
copywriters are anonymous
poets with big paychecks and
bigger audiences, with black
hearts, and at the ends of
all the busy days, drowning
in accolades, they close their
eyes and enter empty caverns
where once they kept
their very best strings of words,
they clear their throats, they
search for relics of their egos,
the echoes of their ragged
breaths sound obscene

About Wyeth Bailey

Raging my mid-life crisis. Reclaiming my riot girl youth. Resenting my overdeveloped intellect. Wyeth Bailey is a pseudonym. You may follow me on twitter @DangerousSweets View all posts by Wyeth Bailey

3 responses to “ink and secrets

  • claudia

    I stenciled
    microscopic poems over
    abstracted corpses
    digging their way out
    of freshly dug graves… very cool images in this… and it’s sad that most artists, no matter how talented, cannot really make a living from their art.. and maybe it feels a bit like betraying the talents if we use it for something different.. ugh.. not easy..

  • brian miller

    dang it, claudia stole my fav line…what a story…a mix of emotion, afraid they will take your art and having to fight your way out the paper bag of expectation and find your own voice, even if other s dont understand…i hear you….

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