for Professor Eliot, with love

Short Stories



Professor Eliot says, beware the facile.


I've been thinking about this through several poems, and through my runs to the park, and through my more personal moments. I say, beware facile statements from professors, but I am only kidding.


It is puzzling, the Asian poems with which he presents us often seem facile. Can insight truly be presented in three or five or a dozen short lines? I wonder. Perhaps standing alone, no. Perhaps, taken as a whole, as a body, as tenets of a philosophy, yes. Perhaps it is a matter, in part, of keeping at it, of practicing, of living the words.


Beware the facile.


He said this in reference to writing, of being too clever, or, too clever by half. I don't think he had anything specific in mind, but we've reached a point in our writing where we're beginning to say what we mean, and that may be giving us a certain cockiness. I think that's all he means. Watch it. 


In a way, it's no different than the warnings he gave us in September, when he cautioned against emoting on paper.  We've learned the skill, a little, of manipulating words. Beware the facile. Wrap your words too cutely and the heart of it, the essence, will be just as lost as if . . .


This is all well and good. I take it to heart. He knows I have to have fun when I write or I won't write. He encourages this side of me, and he tempers this side of me. I think he's saying several things, don't habitualize my writing, don't succumb to the comfort of repeated voices and forms, don't narrow my focus ever-tighter around the same few concepts. 




The Cold Mountain poets have won my heart, and they seem to be everything professor Eliot professes one should not to be. I am trying to reconcile this for I do not think for one second that they, Han Shan, Shih Te, and Fan-chih, are facile. 




One day, some years ago, I was walking through town, with a park on one side of the street and houses on the other side. It was a busy street. I watched as two squirrels ran from one side of the street to the other. One car killed both squirrels, one with the front left wheel, one with the front right wheel. I watched this. It was winter. I didn't know what to do. The cars kept going by, sometimes running over the dead squirrels. No one stopped, no other people walking by noticed. 


The squirrels were much heavier than I thought they would be, one in each gloved hand. I walked toward a brushy area in the park, about a hundred steps away. My arms were trembling when I got there. I set the warm, bloody, squished squirrels down among the leaves and plants. I felt I should feel something. I did feel something. I felt that I needed to wash my hands. That my arms were tired. That nobody else cared. That the world is heartless. That these poor squirrels were so happy and frolicky only moments ago. I wanted to feel something spiritual. I didn't feel anything spiritual. 


Perhaps the Cold Mountain poets are saying something spiritual, but couching it in humor and metaphor. Perhaps their sense of spirituality, which as I write the word sounds false, is a construction so fundamental to their nature as to be a non-concept.




It has to be more than what you feel.


That would be facile.




It isn't about my love for terri, it is about terri.




When I was in middle school I played the flute in the school orchestra. We had a spring concert, the auditorium was full with parents and grandparents and siblings. After we played as an orchestra, we, most of us, sat in the back of the auditorium while there were some solo performances, and a quartet.


The four came onstage and set their sheets of music on the stands.

One of the quartet members was a boy with red hair. He played the oboe. 


As the red-haired boy turned to adjust his chair he bumped his double reed against the stand. He didn't notice. I did. 


No one else did. His teacher did not. His parents, if they were there, did not. The other seventy-five percent of the quartet (that was facile), did not. From the very back of the auditorium I squirmed in my seat, and wanted to cry out, to tell him. Of course I did not.


They settled in, counted off the beat, and began. He squeaked his first note, then he squeaked some more. 


I don't know why they didn’t stop playing. I suppose because they were eleven or twelve years old, and didn't know they could. The three played while the red-haired boy squeaked and squeaked and squeaked until he stopped squeaking and sat still. 


When the piece was over they left the stage to applause. 




Did he turn to a life of crime?




Is there a poem in this, or is it facile?




Three weeks ago I was ready to give up writing. My B+ had fallen to a B. I felt like my thoughts and my hands were disconnected. I was obsessing over non-poetic . . . my images were non-poetic, better suited to a graphic novel, or vixxxens_i_have_known. com.


I was living, breathing, eating, tasting images, and I couldn't write a word beyond these triple x images, and professor Eliot had had enough. I sat through the tea and wine and cheese at Mrs. and Professor Eliot's home and fantasized away the evening. He couldn't reach me. Marcy and Colin and Antoinette seemed to be in one place while I was somewhere else. I thought they, and everything else, were distant and nonsensical. 


I was on the beach. 


I was lying on a yellow and white stripped towel. Nearby was a beautiful woman.


Nothing else mattered to me. What I wrote, I don't remember. Nothing could reach me.


I don't know what changed, other than time. I will have to work very hard to raise my grade, we're almost at mid-term. I've talked to professor Eliot about it. He is hugely understanding and patient, but he says I have to do the work. 


Beware the facile, he says.




When I was little my grandfather was very ill. He often took naps on the couch. We had to be very quiet, and this was very hard because we, my brother and I, couldn't remember to be quiet. We had to feel bad about this, about making my grandfather sicker. 


He died two days before Christmas, on my mother's birthday, and we had to feel bad because we still wanted our presents and to have fun. 


Then we had to feel bad because grandmother was alone, and we had to feel bad because Poppa was gone and he wasn't coming back, and it left a big hole that we had to step around, and it was black and deep.


And we had to feel bad because pretty soon we forgot about him, and spring came and were having fun.


Then grandmother was putting away all of Poppa's things, and she gave my brother a watch of his and she gave me a ring and we didn't have to feel bad anymore, and I'm sure there is a poem in there which is not facile, but I don't want to write it. 




Something personal and bad happened in our family. For a while a lot of bad things happened, but this was one of them. I won't use names and I'm going to say it quickly.


My cousin was sixteen. He had just gotten his braces off. He was pitching in a baseball game and a line-drive hit him in his mouth and broke all his front teeth. Later that summer he was riding his bicycle and was hit by a truck and killed.


I know there is a poem in there, and know it would not be facile, but I don't want to write it. So, what should I write about if not these things, and not terri, and not playing dolphins, and not the women I love, and not coming?




I'm at a loss, but it's ok. I'll figure it out.












Poetry by one trick pony The PoetBay support member heart!
Read 412 times
Written on 2015-03-28 at 11:18

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Your Professor Eliot seems an excellent teacher, though perhaps mentor is a better word. You have intelligence, wisdom and sensibility far beyond your years . . . that can't be taught but it can be focused, tempered, tuned to the truths we all seek in our writing. Beverly Sills said "There is no shortcut to anywhere worth going" . . . I think you are and will be going to some astounding places.

josephus The PoetBay support member heart!
I never studied writing and composition as you are. I've therefore never given my work up to critical comment and grading. I suppose I should but frankly I'm not as brave as you are.

Writing, to me, has always been a need, like breathing or laughing or crying. It's uncontrolled and fashioned in haste lest it somehow be shaped artificially by too conscious a thought.

Your honesty here does you credit. It also smacks of Hemmingway's brevity and starkness while not stealing from him but simply having a comparable yet uniquely personal similar style.