This Is the Poem That’s Going to Get Me Out of the Mines

by Ron Riekki

Jonathan did it. He teaches at a university in Washington now.
Or Oregon. I forget. But he said he gets fifty grand a year.
To teach creative writing. That’s like winning the lottery.
I make thirty grand and my lungs are turning into a collection
of twisted lies. I cough more than I think. I asked Jonathan
how he did it and he said he didn’t know. It was like God
napalmed him with luck. He got some award for a poem
about a goddamn lake and suddenly they pay him a thousand
dollars to read for fifty minutes in an auditorium filled
with students who don’t want to be there. I tell him to seriously
tell me how to do it and he said you have to make sure
there’s a lot of mist in the poem, that they can see the mist,
feel the mist, and then just go from there. He says that poets
love mist. They want so much mist in a poem that you can’t
see anything else other than mist and then from that mist
you have something really beautiful peek through and then
something really ugly peek through. But it can’t be too ugly,
he says, or you’re fucked. And he says don’t swear. He says
you want mist and beauty and a touch of ugly and every word
has to sound like it’s linked, like it’s a big game of Scrabble.
He says that the real important thing is that you don’t have to feel
anything writing it. Don’t get caught up in the poem. That’ll trick
you, he says. What you want to do is be a little mathematical
devil and just plot that shit like Stephen King, but with so much
thesaurus crap that people think you have a Ph.D. If you do that,
they’ll give you everything in the world. They’ll eat your feet.
They’ll kill your children. They’ll throw money at you
like it’s made out of cotton. They’ll light random Vietnam villages
on fire, if you ask for it. They’ll drive a bellhop insane,
if it’s your wish. He keeps going, a long list. I ask him
if he could set up a reading for me at his college. He says no,
that they only give money to people who don’t need it.
The more famous you are, the more money you make,
the more we pay you. If you need it, we can’t give you a cent.
It’s a rule. Then he’s gone in that way that humans do, just
disappears and goes back to his life and kid and perfection
and I think of mist. I keep thinking in my head, “Mist, mist,
mist, mist, mist, mist.” With all that sand kicked up in the air,
the mask strapped to my face like I’m in Shanghai, the sawdust
of air I live in, all day, I keep thinking about that goddamn mist.

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