Morning Work

by Jeff Oaks

This morning I was up at 4 am after a very complicated night of dreams. The last one involved my catching a kite I was flying over the neighborhood on one of my neighbor’s TV antennas. I was running over all of our roofs, the kite flying behind me. Once I realized it was caught, I tried over and over to pull it free, but only ended up wrenching the antenna out of shape. I knew I had to go back finally to just untangle it, and of course, in the cruel language of dreams, when I got back to where I thought it was, I found that the tangled kite was further separated from me by the street below. Then I realized I could simply become a bird, fly over, turn back into myself, and untangle it. That’s when I woke up.

Since the insomnia hit about a year ago, I’ve used this morning time to write a daily poem. I’ve been playing with a little, less well-known form called the triolet, so I wrote another one of those. It’s a compact form with a number of repeating lines–one of the reasons I like it is that once I get the first two lines, I’ve actually got about half the poem already written. Today’s went like this:

Triolet 3

All those little songs you sing to yourself,
what happens to them at the end of the day?
When you’re stirring the soup or dusting a shelf?
All those little songs you sing to yourself,
half remembered, half invented, to keep away
this or that urge, whatever dangerous elf
would let it all burn, would watch it decay;
all those little songs you sing to yourself,
what happens to them at the end of the day?

I post it here because I’m pretty sure no editor’s going to take that one.

Triolets are not big on depth unless you get the implication right. I hate, for example, that I felt forced to use the word “elf” which carries so much cartooniness, but once I decided on “yourself” I was stuck with shelf, Ralph, and maybe pelf as possible rhymings. But the point isn’t to make a good poem, it’s to draft a poem, which you can then later go back to and rip apart, rewrite, and revise as necessary. Most of the poems never appear again once I’ve written them out.

Then, I realized I still hadn’t seen the second episode of Downton Abbey,Season 3. I watched that, cursed Matthew for his stupid pride, felt a little sorry for silly Edith, and was happy for Mrs. Hughes.

By seven, I finally got up, washed, dressed, and hitched Andy to his leash, or leashed myself to Andy, and out we went. I like the quiet of morning walks. Almost no one else is out, so we get to see Pittsburgh more architecturally I suppose I might say. This morning the colors were particularly Andrew Wyeth-ish: rust, steel, copper, blacks, whites, frozen ground browns, river blue-grays. I’ll post a few pictures below. When I got my iPhone years ago now, I fell in love with taking photos with it. I got on Facebook at about the same time, and I decided I’d try to take a photo of something interesting every day and post it, thinking it would help me remember things I wanted to write about. It actually made me more aware of the world around me. According to iPhoto I have about 2000 photos now, including some drawings I’ve done with the Brushes application and more lately the Paint app. Morning walks began to fill up with images, digital paintings, and status updates, some of which turned into poems. And I get some exercise at the same time, which I badly need.

I need in fact to lose about ten pounds. I know how to do it–cut portions, drink more water, exercise more–but it’s always harder to do in the winter, when I just want to do as little as possible. Honestly, the first of January is a terrible time to think about losing weight! We should only resolve to get more sleep or to be less social, things that we’re perhaps more naturally inclined to agree to. It’s easier to give up potatoes and bread and sugar and caffeine and alcohol and desserts when there are fresher vegetables everywhere to replace them.

The morning in other words, is all about drafts, about getting out into it: language, the world, the body. It doesn’t have to be great or even good, I remind myself over and over and over. If you’ve trained the dog well, he’ll pull you along until you can keep up.

The Black Dog’s Triolet

The Black Dog knows I will never catch him.
He also knows without me there’s less pleasure.
The stick won’t be flung. No one will scratch him.
The Black Dog knows I will never catch him
once he starts running, an inhuman measure
taking over, making him wild. Can I match him?
The Black Dog knows I will never catch him.
Still, I call his name. It’s another pleasure.