Burnout


"I want my lines to be like dreams dreaming of dreams dreaming;..." he read in the basement of a small Paris cafe. The audience was responding enthusiastically but nevertheless he felt tired.

"I want my lines to be the song of songs, pitch perfect, a frequency divine;..." he read passionately, but at the same time he wanted the whole thing to be over.

"I want my lines to be like first love, hearts beating, lips pressed, mouths mashing and eating each other ..." He could see the rapt eyes of the woman in the front row of listeners, yet he felt his own energy subsiding. What was wrong with him? Would he have the strength to walk off stage when he finished reading, or would he just stand there waiting for someone to lead him away?

"And I want my lines to tell the whole story from beginning to end, joy and madness, murder and gladness ..." What would he do if he could not move after he read the last line? What a way to end his short career as a poet!

They were good lines, maybe the best he had ever written, but he was burned out, in need of a change. Poetry had consumed him. He had given everything to poetry, and poetry had taken everything from him, leaving him empty.


The train nudged out of Gare Austerlitz in Paris. He had done this trip before, and it had always recharged him. In seven hours, Toulouse; in another two, over the height of the Pyrenees Mountains, Latour de Carol; then Puigcerda across the border in Spain. But this time he found himself in a sleeping car converted to a second-class passenger car with five other occupants. None spoke a word, and all but one were staring at that wrecking ball of personal communication, the "smart" phone. But at least he was spared the word "cool," meaning the same in French as it does in English, and "génial," the French equivalent of the English word "awesome."

He began thinking about poetry while staring out the window at the passing landscape. It was mostly lush farm lands dotted by an occasional village. The little groves of trees on nearly every farm pleased his eyes. He tried to shut off poetry but had trouble stopping the flow.

Green between houses, spouses espousing, love sousing, lush green grass;

What did that mean?

fields, folds, fresh cuts, sluts, hay, new blooms doomed to blades of sharp steel, ruts of plows, sows, siblings sidling;

Did he just like the sound?

land to river leaning, bridge crossing, tipsy train tossing from side to side, and a quick look down into murky green water that does not look back;

Did that mean anything? Anything at all?

no frown, fretting, poetic fever abating, nonsense aiding and abetting nonsense fleeing the jaws of reason;

Have you lost your mind, he wondered.

and another town, crossing, turmoil, tossing, people factory, furnace of fornication;

Too many ings. Verbal impressionism has limits, Manet!

steeple down, clown not found, 'round midnight merry;

Merry?
Marry yourself, fool!

but don't ask why because the leaves are green and the boom car has boomed its final boom;
 
and the organ grinder, having released his monkey from a life of slavery, plays for free;

free at last! monkey lives the monkey dream!

And your dream, dreamer? Is it any better?

because we are out in the country now, gone fishing!, care left behind to care for itself, and the land is gently rising, devising a plan to ascend great granite peaks ahead;

don't look back! life's nothing but a tragedy on stage and off!

Oh, he knew that story backwards and forwards!

then down around bend after bend, rush of river running below, meadow with a cow, barnyard birds scratching, hatching, firewood stacked below a flapping canvas cover, blue Hail Mary, hope, eternal suffering;

Monet, quit Maneting the day away!

and still heading down around another bend;

the end is near, all is fear and free beer!

then the valley below as the train straightens, slows, then comes to a stop, no more rationed nudging out of stations;

then the end of one journey and maybe the beginning of another, who knows or doesn't;

Start making sense, bro, because the journey is coming to an end! free beer?

between which a small girl with a long braid is waving, then hugging, her mother standing nearby, and the "poetry man," fettered in letters, savoring syllable sounds, becomes just an ordinary person, teary-eyed and holding onto whatever hand he can.


"I want my lines to stretch themselves out like serpents' tongues ..." he heard himself saying in the basement of Au Chat Noir.

But not right now, he told himself. He was tired, broken, and needed a way to put himself back together, or there would be no final act other than this one.
 
 
By Louis Martin