boats, boats everywhere

boats, boats everywhere

R

oy had to write a poem: six stanzas, six lines each.

The poem needed to have other things, too. An object or an idea or a natural phenomenon had to be personified over the course of the poem. And that personified whatever-it-was couldn’t just sit there for six stanzas, being reluctantly described by Roy, oh no; there needed to be an opposite number, another something betwixt which conflict could brew.

A story had to be told.

There are things that Roy does well, secret things that a person who bumps against his blustery boy-ness might never suspect (unless, say, his mother spilled the beans on him). Among these things is this: Roy is the only one of The Three who has ever expressed a specific affinity for poetry. He likes the musical nature of the language, I think. The rhyming and rhythm sound like what fun and sport feel like to him. I watched him on a visit to another

school once. The room we’d landed in was filled with third graders he’d never met before and he listened to them recite a poem they’d learned together. I watched him clap his hands and try to match the movements of his mouth to theirs as they spoke, to more fully participate in their play. I remember trying not to cry.

While it is all well and good to appreciate the playfulness inherent to some well-crafted poems, it is quite another to write one. I can’t do it—build verses from stem to stern, bind them together and push them off away from me to watch them float. It is a kind of craftsmanship I don’t bother aspiring to because the skill set required to do it well seems entirely foreign to me. No kidding, poets speak a language I don’t even feel I have in common with them (like Liesl; check her out). Upon discovering that a teacher-friend’s daughter was a poet I was staggered; it was as if I’d learned she was a champion bull rider or a warlock or a snake charmer.

Sadly, such was the case for Roy yesterday, too. His poem undone, the deadline looming, he groaned at the dining room table in the painful throes of fourth-grade writer’s block.

“I can’t think of anything!” he howled. “It’s going to take so long!”

It went on for a while, his lamentations and wailing, the gnashing of teeth. Finally, though, he bemoaned his state until he was becalmed. In that eventual quiet, Roy began to name things: the ocean as thief, a ship as sheriff, and his story began to tell itself, rhymes and all.

It is the fear of failing that keeps us tied to the shore, I think; we are afraid to sail off because there might not be any place to go. There is poetry even in this hesitation, the stutter step that comes before creation of anything beautiful, I’m sure of it, but I would need someone else to write about it for me.