How Long Did It Take?

I wrote a poem once
about something I’d just read
and I recited it to a guy
who liked it a lot but asked me,
How long did it take?  And I shrugged:
Coupl’ hours, I said.

I didn’t tell him, Yeah,
two hours of standing there
freezing in my pyjamas,
leaning over the chest of drawers
in a small circle of lamplight
scribbling almost faster than I could think
before the tremor faded, only 4.8
on the Richter Scale, but strong enough
to drive me out of my house in bedclothes
into the streets to run till it stopped
which it started to do
when the first draft shaped itself,

no, it took the whole night
that began with the reading,
the pages that turned inward,
into the heat of the cauldron,
the pressure of the plates on each other,
the deliberate counting of sheep,
one hundred and twelve, one hundred
and thirteen, the two bright blanks
of the backs of my eyelids,
the wreck of the covers, the roar of the
clock racing toward daylight and,

no, it took forty years.
What the poem was about
were earlier dawns and midnights
the reading had rediscovered,
the rocks it turned over: a job,
a joke, a burial, tears of laughter
at a kitchen table, tears of relief
in a hospital bedroom, a football game
in a downpour, one telephone call
that ate fatigue, the sweet silence
of a sunrise once in the mountains,

like the first morning.  No,
it took forever.

~~ Keith Peterson ~~

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7 responses to “How Long Did It Take?

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