Tishani Doshi, “When I Was Still a Poet”

When I was still a poet I used to dream of rivers—I would like to be dreaming of rivers right now, instead of floating from insecurity to insecurity, wondering if I have anything to say that can be of use. Being a poet I take to speak optimism: one can be loved and accepted, one’s life can flow into something greater, one can be natural and nurturing. All you have to do is accept your creative power:

When I Was Still a Poet (h/t @kavehakbar)
Tishani Doshi

When I was still a poet
I used to dream of rivers.
Flowers had names and
purpose. Small birds
the shape of scars
made nests of braziers
of sky. Now that I
have given up,
afternoons dry
as raisin skins scrub
by. Thieves approach.
Dogs bark. Love springs 
from dirt like carrots.

Our poet is no longer a poet, though. Flowers had names and purpose—the ridiculousness of this is acknowledged. Still, the ridiculous can be powerful, transformative. Small birds the shape of scars made nests of braziers of sky: a creative power made scars fly—not necessarily away, but into places where the sky itself could give warmth.

All of this has changed for the speaker, and I can’t help but think about my own situation. I want to be creative, producing more. I don’t want anyone’s particular regard or disregard of me to affect my feelings, and certainly not my purposes. To be a poet is to be a maker who appreciates making. If this sounds more noble than useful for oneself, that is exactly the case. Utility, at a broader level, concerns the feasibility of one’s ambition, not just making money or getting attention. The trouble is that in making, one depends on some value for one’s efforts. Nothing happens in isolation, and the hidden cost of trying to speak while not being heard collapses into frustration. “Water from stone” feels less a miracle, more an imperative.

Now that I have given up, afternoons dry as raisin skins scrub by
. A more realistic perspective means dropping the expectations one has for one’s labor. Truth be told, there can’t be any. You just have to hope you “scrub by,” maybe show some gratefulness for being able to breathe another day. If this sounds like it’s on the edge of despair, it absolutely is: Thieves approach. Dogs bark. The world is a bleak and nasty place, and it hurts everyone, whether they have expectations or not. But one may have learned something from trying to make. Love springs from dirt like carrots. There is something real, nourishing, and strong even in the dirt. To take proper note of it is to step away from the activity of poetry for just a moment, seeing something earthly and ordinary for what it is.

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