In Honor of National Poetry Month…”When Do You Write?”

April is National Poetry Month, and that’s worth a cheer or two in my world.  I wrote poetry long before I ever finished a novel, and my junior high school journals still live on my bookshelves, full of free verse celebrating (and sometimes cursing) certain junior high school boys.

So to celebrate this month celebrating poems, I decided to share one that I wrote as part of a lecture I gave this winter.  I’m guessing my writer friends may appreciate this one…

When Do You Write?

When people ask when
amid this teaching-wifing-mothering-reading
dinner-making-lesson-planning life
I write,
I assume they want to know
when my bottom meets my chair,
when fingers meet keyboard,
when words spill onto white.
And so I answer,
Nine to eleven.
That’s it?
That’s it.

But really, it isn’t.
The truth is, I write always.
From the quick-quick backpack mornings
to the last click of the bedside light.
I write in the shadows of sleep
before my alarm clock starts singing
for the second time,
and if you must know,
strange characters often join me
in the shower before school.
We have conversations in the steam,
discuss their dreams
their failures,
and where they hid the secret map
while I shampoo my hair.

I write spreading peanut butter.
(Sometimes the plot gets sticky,
but there is nothing to be done about that
nor the fact that one misses turns
while writing on the drive to school.)

I write in the classroom,
those moments before class
when I am at my desk
and my not-quite-teens file in, chattering,
secure in the knowledge
that people over the age of 20
are completely and fully deaf
until the bell has rung.

I scribble down their "Oh. My. Gods."
Their "Can’t believe its"
"Who could blame hers"
The occasional joke about the principal’s shoes,
and every last
"Why’s she going out with him?"

I collect their lines like seashells from the beach.
Shining. Wet. Alive.

I write on the way home,
which is why I sometimes forget the milk,
the dry cleaning,
gas for the car,
and to stop at that red light.
It was yellow, really, until I started
considering its amberness —
a perfect metaphor for fear of change,
and I’m truly sorry, officer,
it must have turned red
while I was searching for the right words.

By dinnertime the voices in my head
are too hungry
to care about the rice on the stove.
They ask me questions,
demand nicer apartments,
lament their broken dreams,
and wonder if just once
they might end a chapter on a positive note.
And when the rice sticks in the bottom of the pan,
they laugh and slap one another on the back
and say, "Use that in your story, lady!"

And finally
I sit down at the keyboard at nine
And I do.


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