I started writing today and abandoned the draft. I probably won’t finish it. It didn’t feel… real.
I’m having an off day, where the past and the future are looming on either side of me, where it’s difficult to sit in the present moment and just be. What is authentic: today I am down with a head cold and feeling listless. It doesn’t help that I went out this weekend, that I stayed up late and ate food that’s not the best for me. In the moment it was worth it, to be with friends and feel like I was a part of the world. But today I am tired.
I see that though I have been having fun, I have been trying to distract myself. Distract myself from the waves of awareness: my relationship is over. My new life, the life I have been working the past five years for, has begun. The low and the high, in stark relief, can be overwhelming at times. To not be able to share the excitement with the one person who knows how hard I’ve worked for it is strange. To miss the person when you just want to be angry is hard. But everything has an end. Just as everything has a beginning.
Thinking about this today, feeling sick and a little glum, prompted me to find and re-read a poem that has been with me for a long time. My mother shared this book of poetry with me years ago called Picnic, Lighting, by Billy Collins. Though I don’t remember many of the other poems, this specific one has seemed to accompany me on my many journeys, through my trying moments and my hard days. It’s just so… honest, sad, beautiful. It’s like life. I thought it appropriate to share it today.
Rather than write more when I am feeling depleted, rather than slap something together because I feel like I should, I would prefer to send something out into the void that has beauty and meaning. That has soothed my soul by reminding me, in a beautiful, truthful way, that everything ends. That it’s okay that everything ends. That life is cyclical, wondrous, unadulterated even amongst the confusion and the grime. I hope it is a balm for you, as well.
by Billy Collins
This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage
as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.
The first-person narrator introduces himself,
tells us about his lineage.
The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
Here the climbers are studying a map
or pulling on their long woolen socks.
This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
The profile of an animal is being smeared
on the wall of a cave,
and you have not yet learned to crawl.
This is the opening, the gambit,
a pawn moving forward an inch.
This is your first night with her,
your first night without her.
This is the first part
where the wheels begin to turn,
where the elevator begins its ascent,
before the doors lurch apart.
This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.
Cities have sprouted up along the rivers
teeming with people at cross-purposes—
a million schemes, a million wild looks.
Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack
here and pitches his ragged tent.
This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,
where the action suddenly reverses
or swerves off in an outrageous direction.
Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
to why Miriam does not want Edward’s child.
Someone hides a letter under a pillow.
Here the aria rises to a pitch,
a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.
And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
halfway up the mountain.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
This is the thick of things.
So much is crowded into the middle—
the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall—
too much to name, too much to think about.
And this is the end,
the car running out of road,
the river losing its name in an ocean,
the long nose of the photographed horse
touching the white electronic line.
This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
the empty wheelchair,
and pigeons floating down in the evening.
Here the stage is littered with bodies,
the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
and the climbers are in their graves.
It is me hitting the period
and you closing the book.
It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
This is the final bit
thinning away to nothing.
This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.
I wish you a wild, free life.