April 2011 Updates
Strangers in a Hotel Bar
We're strangers, he says, so we can tell
each other anything. It is a tease, how
he opens himself to me, like the journal
he has pulled from my hands into his,
the pages between us glistening—soon,
we are thigh deep in secrets that wend
their silver paths around our ankles
like electric eels, our own droplets
charged, cilia bristling in the ocean
he has etched in his sketchbook, split
open in my small hands. What, I ask,
is your greatest regret? We spark,
skin singing. He shakes free brushes from
his pocket, dips one into a glass,
suspends us in a wash of watercolor. I loved
two women, he says, and lost them both.
The inked line of my nose inclines, implies
a diagonal to him at the page's corner, the paint
wet, his lips inches from mine. I never kissed,
I say, the man I loved most. He leans toward
me. The gilded night swells between us—
the saffron swirls on the sand-colored page
the only act joining the smudge of his mouth
to my shoulder.
My main goal in writing this poem was to take two abstract things—words and relationships—and give them literal substance. This idea was based on the line from Sappho, which I find completely captivating. The idea that words really are just air but are something that can feed and compel you was so lovely. Nonetheless, getting the poem into anything that could do justice to that idea (hopefully I’ve done a little) took a lot of work. This poem went through many, many forms before it settled into this one. It was originally one block of text, then many stanzas, then slightly more separated, etc.
I had several content issues while revising this poem as well, and they are issues I have in a lot of my work: how to incorporate dialogue while maintaining clarity in who’s speaking, not overdoing the dialogue, not overwhelming the reader with too many metaphors, and not doing a back-flip in the ending. The version you see here contains language which is less florid than it was at first; I tried to focus in on the best descriptions and take out some of the words that seemed to be detracting from the stronger, clearer sections. Much of this I determined based on feedback from my peers and ultimately from intuition. Also, the water and painting metaphors were competing too much in the original version, so I backpedaled and incorporated the painting surface into the poem earlier so it could stand on its own.
What I found from workshopping this poem was that many people weren’t sure what the subject or occasion of the poem was, which also affected how they responded to the metaphors. Some thought it was from the perspective of a model being painted. To make sure the interpretation was more accurate, I incorporated more narration and let the title do the work for me. By naming the location and the relationship between the people, I can immediately alleviate confusion from the reader. Besides that, a lot of my process of writing is learning to be quieter. Shocking and bowling people over is not the end goal for every poem, and there is much to be said for effecting just a twinge of emotion, a bit of wist. Hopefully something delicious to hear.