There are moments when I’m something outside language. In these grunts, gasps, these gaps where, yes, there may be thought, but no words, there can be no poem. Poems may begin in spaces absent of intention, but they take shape in syntax.
I come to an end, so many thousand times a year. I pause, listening, my ears flexed, quivering as feee-beee morphs to something I call chirp, as whoooosh changes to bird, inside my mind. I fall asleep, I eat, conceive of nothing as I crunch my way through Corn Chex.
Whitman may have wanted the United States to be his poem, but a poem can’t be a place any more than I can. As I live inside a country, a poem is resident to syllables’ irreverent borders.
My favorite time to be a poet is while swimming – every third breath my head emerges from the pond. Sometimes I zone out, exist in images untethered to specific pitches. But often, the literal splashing rhythms conjure phrases, in an urgent triple meter. If I do not write it down, it’s still a poem, since there are nouns and verbs nestled together. I hesitate to call it order, or logical, but it isn’t random.
It was a phoebe, I was hearing. An animal we named after the noises that it makes. I reach my hand, sing out. But it’s gone. When I am in the ground, the poems I’ve made will still reverberate because they have a home, in sound.
A sentence is a set of steps next to a sometimes wobbly railing. If one of us falls, will the other reach out? Will we eschew carpentry, or learn to carry nails?
Thomas Mixon has fiction and poems published in Rattle, Sundog Lit, At Length, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter (@truckescaperamp).