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The Poem that Will Never End

October 8, 2009

The poem that follows is compiled from my own procrastinatory activities and those of others who’ve shared them with me. Procrastination isn’t always a bad thing, although I can certainly provide firsthand evidence that it can be taken to an extreme. It does refresh the mind to take a break.

Something—Anything–Else
A pARTicipatory contemplation on procrastination

They laugh
when I hand them index
cards and ask them to write about what
they do when they ought to be doing something else.
I tell them I’m working on the world’s
longest poem about procrastination.
They think I’m joking.
Ha ha, they say.
What do you really want?

Are you collecting data
about cell phone use
and video games?
Trashy novels?
What’s your motive?
Do you want to know
how much time I spend
just looking out the window
wishing for snow or
hoping for the blossoming of spring
or waiting for the last leaf to
drop from the oak tree in
the yard?
Do you want to know
how often I troll for
just the right quotation
thumbing through books or
clicking page after page
until the lines align?
Or doing
crossword puzzles that I’d
rather face than think about
the insolubility of life?
What is it that you want?

Do you want to know
how many people
read the news at work
the glowing screen that
should be filled with
spreadsheets or words processed
sharing jokes instead or
checking profiles?
What’s your motive?

And this had better be anonymous.
My husband watches the
kids and thinks I’m doing
homework, but there’s
a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup
under the bed and a
People magazine
hidden in my bag and I just don’t want
to read about adolescent psychology or
the history of China
or quantitative analysis of data.
Not yet.
I want to forget for five minutes
that I’ll never be done.
That there is never enough
of me to go around.

There’s a certain way
the light looks in the afternoon
like butter slowly dripping
from the sky and
I want to take my popcorn self
for drenching in its glow.

What do I do?
Nothing.
That’s what I do.
Nothing.

What do I do when
there’s something else calling? Always
something else but not
the thing they want.
They can wait.
I do me first.
A cigarette.
A cup of coffee.
A practiced air of purpose
that hides an idle mind.
Escape.
They look and see a still life
carefully composed to
mimic action.
A busyness person whose
mind they can’t control.
What do I do?
Not much.
Isn’t that the point?
When I should be doing
I don’t.

Poetry.
There’s never time for it
and yet it’s always in my head.
A line a word a phrase and
how I want to draw them out.
Instead I plan dinner in class.
Write a grocery list in the
margin of my notes.
My diligence
fools everyone but I
can never lend my
notes to anyone.
I keep my secrets safe:
Don’t forget to get extra eggs
to devil for the picnic Sunday afternoon
laundry detergent wheat chex
hamburger peanut butter
celery oranges avocado.

What do I do, you ask.
I spell words backwards and forward.
Hmmm. Backwards.
How many words can I make?
back
ward
backs
wards
war
wars
draw
draws
craw
craws
drab
brad
raw
bar
bars
bra
bras
scab
cab
cabs
bard
bards
rack
racks

I could go on.

Anything.

Balance my checkbook
Feel virtuously guilty.
Call my mother
Text my brother.
See if my best friend found
the scarf I loaned her
last summer.
I have lots of things to
keep track of and
sometimes I make new lists.
Combine my old ones
into one grand gigantic must be done
that I’ll get around to
soon but at least I’ll
know it’s safe and waiting.
Clean the closets.
The drawers.
The car.
The garage.
The refrigerator.
I close my eyes
I wait.

What do you do?

When I have to do something,
I cut up paper.
I know, sounds weird,
but I  have piles of little cut up papers.
I do this for hours.

What can you get lost in doing for hours?

I go out to the woodshop when I get tired of writing.
• Jimmy Carter on writing books and getting up from the computer,
on
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, December 5, 2005

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