WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES: I have a confession to make
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I feel as though I shouldn’t need prompting to continue writing. I feel as though I should be this machine that can churn out a complete, beautiful poem – a machine without an “on” or “off” button. Earlier this week I started showing my poems to high school teacher Jason Hinojosa, and I started to run into a wall; I have issues with being honest and laying it all out there for readers. I haven’t been able to handle telling the truth in my poetry.
I realize this is very hypocritical, as I’m Quaker and try my hardest to live up to all the Quaker values, a major one of which is integrity. Oops.
So I got to my house the other day and I started working for once. I opened up my turntable, turned the receiver on, put on Springsteen’s “Born to Run” (probably), and wrote.
“Inspiration” comes to me in different forms. One: I get the beginning of an idea for a poem, then something else comes. Before I know it, I’ve thought of a good stanza or two and I need to write it down. Fast. Those poems are usually pretty good.
Other times, a line or two, or even just an idea, will come to me, and I’ll write it down in the hopes that it’ll grow into something more. But that hardly ever happens. I’m just too disorganized, and by the time I get back to it – if I ever get back to it – any inkling of what it could turn out to be has vanished.
Because of the low success rate, sometimes I’ll just ignore shorter ideas. Let’s face it: most times I’m not ready to write down a poem anyway; I don’t have an electronic device handy, or a pencil and paper, or even a pen to just write it down on my arm. So I typically try to stop thinking about it when I reject an idea, or else it keeps unraveling and I have to write it down.
And ignoring these typically works. But sometimes, an idea will bounce around in my head for days. When I keep mulling it over like that, I have to find a quiet time when I won’t be interrupted to crank out a poem. I find these are some of my best poems.
I wrote this poem a couple days ago, with “Born to Run” as my soundtrack. It started as an idea that I’d rejected. Frankly, I thought it was too basic. I thought I couldn’t make anything out of something so simple.
What was this idea, you ask? Windows.
We moved out of our house right before the start of last year, for renovations. When we moved back, I had a different room on the opposite side of the house. My old room is very small and had weird temperatures. So I developed a habit of keeping my windows open at night. (Yes, it may have been a little dangerous considering one of them was street-accessible and there’s a bar on practically every corner near our house.)
My old room had three windows; I’d pressed my bed against the wall, under a window. Every night I’d open the window before I went to sleep and I could see the moon or the stars or the trees, and I could feel the wind outside. I’d keep it open even when it rained in the winters or in the summers when the din of the crickets kept me up.
But since we remodeled, my bed isn’t pressed up against my wall anymore. I don’t even open my windows at night. Ever. We have new neighbors, and I can’t stand sleeping with the windows open with them living there. That’s what this poem is about.
After writing it, I was depressed. The next couple days at school, I couldn’t focus on anything. I walked around in a daze; I was antisocial. I felt like I’d betrayed a part of myself by writing the piece, despite not having shared it with anyone yet. I got caught up in this volatile extreme after I’d written about a small part of the truth. I couldn’t help thinking to myself: if this is how I feel after writing this, how am I going to be able to write more about my truths?
And I didn’t want to write. In this lull, I realized the reason I didn’t want to share my story was because I felt guilty – I feel guilty – about my part in it. I’m ashamed that I haven’t done more.
When I told Mr. Hinojosa how scared I felt about writing the truth, he told me to brave it and jump in the fire. What I didn’t hear until now was that he was telling me to grow up.
Everyone has these issues; no one is as perfect as they want to be. I put myself on this pedestal and kick myself for not living up to my own standards. But maybe the best way I can do good is by sharing my story and reaching out to those who have a similar one – and braving the storm.
I used to sleep with my windows open.
My bed was right beneath one:
I had pushed it there myself.
In the winter, Orion would tell me bedtime stories,
In the summer, the great bear.
In the spring, my arms would get speckled with water,
In the fall, the wind would accost the shedding trees—
They’d scream and scream and I’d comfort them as long as I could—
And then I’d drop my head down on that sinking, white pillow—
And I’d sleep.
Two summers ago they moved in next door.
She is in that crowded house –
With four other teenagers.
And five unemployed adults,
And two toddlers,
And two dogs,
And a cat –
But she’s all alone.
With my windows open,
I can hear them shouting at each other.
I can hear the men cursing and
I can hear a mother ordering and
I can hear the dogs barking and the toddlers crying.
Most everyone is drinking,
And she’s yelling.
And I hear her family stand against her.
Their lights are too bright;
If I leave my windows open,
Their kitchen light shoves its way through the oppressive dark of the driveway
And pushes against my eyelids.
Sometimes there’s the red and blue and white lights of a police car—
No siren, though.
All that keeps me up at night—
But the smell is the worst.
No way I’m keeping my windows open all night long
When all the adults are smoking outside –
When I can feel the fumes gathering up in my lungs –
I swear I even can see them penetrating my screen.
But I’m not the only asthmatic around –
There’s some next door, too.
So the children cry some more.
Don’t get me wrong: I miss the night’s noises.
I miss the maddening tap that the rain brings;
I always swore it was someone knocking.
I miss the drunks near midnight –
They think they own this abandoned street.
They think they are alone with their thoughts
And their songs,
Which they don’t hesitate to sing.
The night loves their music, you know.
I do, too.
But there’s an ongoing torture next door:
I cannot stop it.
She needs me now,
But I can’t bring myself to cross the narrow strip of concrete,
That great division that is driveway.
And so long as I remain apart from her,
So long as I refuse that risky task –
At night I’ll keep my bedroom windows closed.