In my worst nightmare, I am 5 or 6, riding in the back seat of my family’s car. My dad is driving up a steep mountain, around and around, almost like a child’s cylinder cone I used to play with. Suddenly, we stop. As we look out the front window, we realize the road has ended, as if it has fallen away.
A dead end.
I was thinking about this today when I read a piece about an artist’s need to balance control and risk. So often we find ourselves at a dead end, a place that seems to have no way out. A poem fails. A character loses authenticity. A sentence forces itself. We stop.
Our culture tells us failure means loss, an emptiness, a lack of worthiness. And yet, isn’t it in that space we often find ourselves?
This poem has failed at least five times:
I glimpse a second of your life
as the train barrels past Philadelphia and then south.
Smokey clouds pulse to rhythmic clacking
The toddler, too long in one place, runs up and down,
bumping into books and food, saying “Mama, Mama, Mama”
a thousand times.
And we ride along, managing our own stories
But, something in the telling makes me want to rewrite it again. I may finally pluck only the first line. But the poem will not have failed.
In my dream, my heroic dad manages to turn the car around inch by inch, until we are heading back down the mountain to safety.
I’d like to think I can turn this poem around as well.