Where Poems Come From

Lee wrote a poem everyday. Sometimes two. He’d done that since he was 15 years old. Now he was sixty seven years old and retired from the steam fitters union.

It was Friday night and he had nothing to, so he decided to walk down to the end of his street. There was a small bar there that had a monthly poetry reading. He’d been flirting with the idea of going and checking it out for six years. Lee had been to absolutely zero readings. So he wasn’t even sure if he would like what he saw.

Inside, there was a small stage in the back of the bar. Four poets ambled up on stage one at a time and pretty much mumbled into the mic. Sitting at a little table in the corner though he thought he recognized a line, “ordinary life glows hyper violet and becomes a staircase leading into the unknown on payday”.
He couldn’t place it. But he thought that once, he had written something very much like that.

After the reading was over, the thought crossed his mind that he ought to try and do something with his poetry. He ought to submit some stuff, he thought he might like to have some poems of his published before he died. Afterall, he was an old man and the clock ticks down on everyone. Isn’t publication some kind of immortality? Ha! To think.
To live forever in some ratty little zine that fifteen people would see.
But- still, the idea was there and he knew he’d finally act on it.

On his way out of the bar, one of the poets was still milling around. He was loading some boxes into the back of his van. Lee waved as he walked past and the poet flagged him down and gave him a gift. A copy of a hand made zine.
“It’s got some great writing in there, check it out.”
Lee thanked him and walked back up the hill.

A few weeks later, Lee opened up the zine and flipped around. He didn’t know any of the names of any of the poets, after all, what did Lee know about published poetry? Nothing really. He’d written his own his whole life but had never pursued it himself. It wasn’t like Robert Frost was in the zine. That’s the only poet Lee would have known. Walt Whitman maybe.

As he flipped to the center of the publication, his heart froze. There was an all too familiar poem. It was about a man who was skipping stones on a lake and the stone just keeps skipping and goes flying up into the sky and causes the moon to spin out of control and spiral down to the earth, crushing him.

It was his poem. No doubt in his mind. Lee had written it.

He went to his room in a stupor and pulled down his milk crate full of journals. He knew exactly where that poem was. Exactly what journal. He opened the old notebook and flipped to the correct page, coffee stained from long ago. The poem was called “Skilling Stones” and he’d written it in 1982. 30 years before.

The poet in the zine had plagiarized him somehow. Perhaps had come into his room and somehow leafed through his journals? It was insanity but it was the only way it could have happened.

It couldn’t have been a coincidence.

As Lee flipped through the zine, he saw more and more poems that he recognized as his own. Nearly half of them were his, some written long ago and some of them more recent. Each of the poems in the zine was written by a different poet it said.

Line for line. Exactly the same.

He went back to the bar and asked the bartender about the poetry reading and the poets who had been there for the reading. The bartender said he didn’t know. When the next reading happened, Lee came back, sat right up front and listened very closely. No one read any of his poems, but they all seemed to have a certain look in their eye. A fear it seemed, as they regarded him in the audience, murmuring. Lee searched for the man who had given him the zine full of his own poems but he never found him.

Lee went to the book store at the county mall. He found a few very popular poetry journals, nationally published, nationally distributed poetry magazines and anthologies but out by some of the top universities in the country.
His poems were in there too.
They occupied nearly 75% of each of those publications. Each one he leafed through, there were his poems.

Terror filled him and nearly debilitated him. It was so bad, that he just stood there for over an hour staring straight ahead at his feet, until one of the workers in the bookstore had to come up to him and ask him if he was Ok.
“I don’t think so.” Lee said.

He went home and he thought about things. He was losing his mind, wasn’t he?

Perhaps he needed to see a doctor. To talk about these things- these hallucinations. He was frightened to think of that. That he’d have to see a psychiatrist. Would they put him into a ward? Would they give him shock therapy? Did they still do that?

He debated the idea of seeking professional help for the afternoon. One of the things he did do though was move all of his journals down from his closet and he locked them in his large fire safe in the basement.

Lee stopped writing. For the first time in his life since his fifteenth birthday, he went a day without writing a poem. It was a strange day.

Another day passed. And then another.
Lee began to feel better.
It was a week without any poems being scrawled long hand in cursive in some composition book.
Maybe he was better off that way.

Then, in the middle of the night, men came into his house in ski masks and dragged him out into the darkness. A rag was stuffed in his mouth, a bag was pulled over his head. He was thrown forcefully into the van, taken away at high speeds into the hills.

When the van stopped and the bag was taken off his head, Lee was face to face with the men.

The poets.

A notebook was thrown at his feet. A pen lobbed into the concrete, skittering to a stop at Lee’s feet.

“Alright, keep writing and we won’t have to hurt you.”

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