Thesis: each poem is an abandoning of a way of thought.
At least, that’s been my experience. I expect it’s not everyone’s. But looking back on “My Son is Born as a Telephone Pole,” (HFR #50) it’s hard for me to imagine myself writing it, even though I remember being in front of my laptop and putting my fingers on the keys. If you told me to write this poem today, I would barely know where to start.
What happened: I wrote this poem one night after driving home to visit my parents and passing a lot of telephone poles and because there’s really very little else to look at while driving through Florida, I thought about telephone poles and I was also thinking of my father, I suppose, or else where do we get this idea of fatherhood that anchors the piece? Don’t be ridiculous, Michael—of course you were thinking of your father, and more generally the idea of being a father and not being able to take care of the things you create. Yes, yes, you’re right.
When I was little, I got the hiccups a lot. My grandfather’s cure was always the same: close your eyes, count backwards, and think of the last white horse. He meant the last white horse you saw, but I can’t help but think—now, anyway—that it would be more fitting to think of the last white horse ever, on a mountain or in a field or an abandoned Burger King bathroom. In any case, the cure worked, unless you happened to be in a car and you drove by a white horse.
Also, one of the stories I’ve heard about Jesus is that the Jewish people expected him to come riding into the city on a white horse. Maybe that was the original “last white horse,” until Jesus screwed it up with that donkey business.
Also, if you scroll up, you’ll see a picture of me standing on a pyramid in front of a mountain. It’s hard to be cynical about anything when you stand on a pyramid in front of a mountain, until later that afternoon, when you drive by the church built by the people who killed the people who built the pyramid in front of the mountain. Of course, the people that built the pyramid also killed a lot of other people. They built their pyramid on top of an abandoned city.
I think the reason it’s hard for me to approach this poem is because it deals with a problem of fatherhood in a very specific, isolated way, and perhaps in writing this poem, I solved or attempted to solve or abdicated the duty of solving this problem, which is really a fear. But in doing so, I opened the door on a whole host of other problems that maybe have nothing to do with real sons or daughters but might have everything to do with the relationships we put ourselves into with the things we create and are later forced to abandon, though the abandoned things—poems, pyramids, marriages, sons—still exist, still haunt us. In which case, maybe we can never abandon them at all.
Michael Martin Shea is currently an MFA candidate and John and Renée Grisham Fellow at the University of Mississippi. New poems are forthcoming in The Journal, New Orleans Review, Washington Square Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi, where he edits Yalobusha Review and tweets here.