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John Donne Is My Pusherman

                                    Erica Dawson


I, like Donne, confess I am a little world made cunningly / of elements and an angelic sprite. Mix earth, wind, air, and fire, mortar and bricks, oxygen and carbon copies. Cunning and bright, thoughtfully thick, lay it down, and know it must be burnt. 

I can’t silence surging sounds.  Sights blaze only to snuff their smoke.  Behind my face, a thousand eyes and ears of cognizance that don’t have the sense to shut up.  They dig, and hold fast: not-knowing’s eudemonia, a question mark’s comfortably open mouth.

Writing is a gateway drug.

Writing poems encloses this gateway.  A poem preserves chances for answers to move and retreat.  Addicted, my jaw gets tired, I try so hard to break the gateway’s hinges, looking for more.  The pencil splits as I draw circles widening into circles. Though, all eyes and ears, I don’t know I hold my breath when my mouth gapes, mouthing yes, please, I will have another.

When I write “DrugFace,” though, a poem chronicling a drug-induced state surrounding a state school’s campus, I remember what teachers tell me: write from experience.  I sometimes say the same to my students: sense the demotic world, a thousand nows and recollections, your memory’s vernacular.  Remember.  Remember. Trust.  I don’t look for more.  “DrugFace” begins with the line I pen first: I was born.  For me, one surefire option exists: I died follows I was born.  I write the poem page by page in the order they come, convinced of that order.  In each section, I only move through time chronologically, time aging all the while.  I style the experience as separate moments addressing drugstore bottles’ individual warning labels (Take with food; don’t drive or option heavy machinery while taking this drug; etc). Stored, I cap it childproof.

Now, in the same poem, I see moments where I allow myself something which I, as a writer, often tried to elude: writing’s constant reminder of inexperience. Off the page, I wake up surprised I wake up.  I wait and unseasoned Florida never changes.  I scoff salt on my tongue expecting sugar. I ask why I’m hungry. On a corner across the street from another and its adjacent other, I move through people, thinking I cannot move them, thinking I cannot move.

My thousand eyes and ears can never hear or see the same thing. I write in an attempt to understand that. A poem brings language around those openings distinct as a bus’ airbrakes or a too-high cobblestone: no full stops, no right steps, no balance.  Jane Hirshfield, in her essay, “A Question of Originality,” asks, “[H]ow does a poet enfold into language the singularity that marks each living creature and objects” (33).

It’s not through remembrance; it’s not a faculty.  No matter if the poem reads like autobiography, writing a poem is not as linear as the pretense of thought-then-memory, next thought-then-memory.  Writing a poem takes what I know to find something else:

          I pull the covers up,
          Blink fast until the night-light dances
          In afterglows and second chances
          And reflects inside my cup

          Of water still, untouched,
          And sweating in a single drop.
          I pick it up like it’s a prop,
          A moment’s weeping clutched

          With a fingertip and placed
          Against my eye.  When the tear won’t fall,
          I choke and cough and start to bawl.

“DrugFace,” as a poem and the writing of the poem, preserves chances for answers to move and retreat.  Condensation proves a tear completely disappearing in the following stanza. The singularity of language’s subjectivity, and the poet’s willingness to let metaphor fuel a poem, traces the originality that comes from the opening of objects revealing other objects.  As much as my orderly-impulsive brain subjects me to my inevitable death, on and off the page, every sublingual word’s uniqueness embodies endless possibilities.

If only the words at my disposal could have infinite syllables, I could live, callow.

Yet, as I poet, I do live, callow. Ten years from now, I’m as wet behind the ears as when I’m born, my mind’s eye sturdy and young enough to see another opportunity to not shut up, dig, and hold fast, smoke, snuff, fail, choke.  Gateways, however steady or secure, can’t find the balance of this, not that.  Something else slides through the jam, the weight of the gate on its hinges where its opening starts.

I’m sated, writing poems, and open wide. 

Give me more, no, more, and then some.


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