by Benjamin Harnett
“Where do you find the time?” someone asked the other day. Several people have. They mean, I suppose, to write, or really to do anything other than getting from one point in space-time to the next. We are all amazed, upon observing the achievements of others, since everyone fills their light-cone with more than they find possible to admit to themselves. The secret, of course, is we borrow the time. And worry, perhaps, that we’ll have to give it back. One way or the other.
I am old enough that when my creative writing professor advised us to always be ready to jot down an idea that may come to you, he suggested, as an example, writing something in your checkbook while you wait in line at the grocery store. I’ll be honest, even then we thought checks were on the way out, but I could not conceive of anything lasting the nineteen years that have elapsed since then, and I lived with the certainty that either everything would change, or nothing in the least would. I am still writing checks in 2016, and still writing 2015 on them.
But I have lived in two countries (three if you count the west coast as something…separate), twelve apartments or houses, had eight different jobs (including starting and running a company), written, quit writing, started writing again, seen four momentous presidential elections (perhaps they will all be of moment) and living in a fifth. Instead of a ballpoint’s variegated blue, the initial hard point fading its ink along the bright or dull surface of a scrap fished from my wallet, it is text thumbed into the smartphone’s “Notes” app.
A single entry each, just a few unpoetic, unsupported words, as: “She liked to pretend,” “Bimetallism,” “The moon like an old friend,” “Single ride only no bills accepted,” “The hand in the mirror,” and “Dish soap, toilet paper, cars marked funeral.” I started writing again, not when the accumulation of these slashes of thought became unbearable, but when I started reading again. I don’t mean the reading that buoys you up after a long day of juggling expenses and fighting with suppliers, but that active reading in which you find phrases or thoughts that you want everyone to know as you just knew them.
Then you are happy to have made a habit of piling up scraps, and some mornings get up a half-hour early, or let yourself be a bit late to the office, and you put one against the other, as if you have gotten a tinderbox as a present but no instruction. So here (soon) is a poem, it will live in this journal’s pages, and though I have had to borrow time to make it, somehow, I have a bit of faith, in sharing it, some time will be gotten back.
Benjamin Harnett’s poem “Yahoo! Answers,” will be featured in TLR’s next issue, scheduled for March 28.