Jeff Oaks

The Writing Life, Writing Prompts, Essays on the Ordinary

Tag: writing

Notes from the Wreck

It doesn’t matter that you didn’t do it yesterday. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t do it the day before that. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel like it now. Or that you’re only doing it now because you feel guilty. It doesn’t matter that your room is too dirty, that the laundry isn’t done or folded or the car needs to be washed. It doesn’t matter that the Golden Girls are on. It doesn’t matter if it’s loud or too quiet. Take twenty minutes and try to write a sentence each minute. It doesn’t matter if they’re true or ugly.

It doesn’t matter if you think it will be great. It doesn’t matter if the pen is right or you only have a napkin. It doesn’t matter at all, if the choice is between writing something or writing nothing, if you even understand it. It doesn’t matter if you get all the way through it. It doesn’t matter if no one else understands it. Or will like it. Write as many sentences as you can using a word that appeared in a dream, in the morning newsfeed, out of the president’s mouth. It doesn’t matter that you think you’re a wreck. Write a wreck.

Write, if you want, the worst thing first. Don’t put it off; rush into the fear. Write out what it tells you with utter seriousness. It doesn’t matter what it brings up. It doesn’t matter if you feel better or worse. It doesn’t matter if the wreck begins suddenly to float or drift, if suddenly out of it flash a gam, a herd, a frenzy, a school, or a shiver of sharks. It doesn’t matter which of those words is scientifically correct. It doesn’t matter if there’s a body in there or a book of myths or even a treasure that you could really use to give yourself and all the people you love a new start. It doesn’t matter that you’ve been breathing water in those last sentences. 

You can tell yourself anything you want to if you write it down. Twenty minutes and try not to look away from the page, holding onto the last sentence if you want to, or dramatically breaking with it if it’s become meaningless now. Somewhere oranges are growing toward your kisses. It doesn’t matter if your heart has been broken by this or that, if you’ve not had the courage yet to stand up to one of the bullies your world has in it. Or if you disappointed a friend who expected more from you. Or if you feel completely overwhelmed by the number of directions you could do something. It doesn’t matter if you’re already on the couch and even the couch is borrowed. 


A reblog from last year–AWP advice for first timers

I’ve been seeing all sorts of reference to the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference on Facebook, and I decided to go back and look at the advice I gave last year. Most of it still seems solid to me. So I’m reblogging it, with a minimum of editing.

AWP: some advice

1. Get in and get settled. Breathe. Then register. 

2. The Bookfair is the greatest thing: a beehive of ambitious work, humane undertakings, and stern and open faces. It is the central engine. 

3. The panels? Meh. So many of them have been merely self-promotional or stunningly bland. A simple key is this: if the central question of the panel can be answered by yes or no, that’s going to be a boring panel. You know the answers going in. 

4. Interesting panels are almost universally the ones you decide not to go to. Your friends will be the source of the information in that case, fragmented from the original, but also thrilling with your friend’s new enthusiasm. 

5. Try to have at least five friends you can talk to once a day. They should want to attend different panels from you. Don’t discard your interests to go with them. Remember: your job is also to feed them your enthusiasm. 

6. The first hour of the Bookfair is ecstasy, the second hour torture. The initial excitement at seeing all the opportunities can suddenly tip toward being overwhelmed by and deeply depressed by those same opportunities, especially if your work isn’t regularly being published yet. 

7. Your hotel room is sacred. Retreat there as often as you need. Use the tv. Look out its windows for a bigger view. 

8. Go to readings as needed. Too many and the function of them disappears and they become mere obligation, the death of all love. 

9. Give yourself a budget. Stay close to it. Pack in such a way you’d have to really want a book to buy it. Be willing to throw away your clothes for a good book. 

10. You will never know the whole of literature, but it’s good to have a few places (presses, literary journals, and writers) you can use as check points. Ask those people who they’re reading or for any new discoveries. You can start conversations that way, if you’re stuck. 

11. Walk outside a few times a day. Breathe real air and see the sun or hear the rain. Break the seal that can develop around any convention. 

12. For me, breakfasts have so far been the best times to talk to friends. Everyone is a little more vulnerable and open. Not everyone else is up for breakfast, so it’s a good test of real friendship. Plus, it’s the most important meal of the day. I prefer hotel breakfasts where it’s all-you-can-eat. 

13. Dinners are so largely ceremonial and often crashed by others and expensive that I’m rethinking dinners, even though I like them. Have one dinner in your hotel room maybe. 

14. Are the caucuses doing any good? Is AWP changing itself at all? A number of writers with disabilities who’ve been asking for changes in accessibility make me think it’s not listening to them. Should caucuses be given a certain amount of choice in the decisions where AWP is held and some number of panels that might reflect specific interests? 

15. AWP is not for everybody. What is? You need however to go to a couple of them before you condemn it altogether. The more I’ve gone, the better it’s gotten. There have been bad ones and very good ones. 

16. Be kind to yourself. It’s hard to be without a book to your name. It’s hard to feel left out of conversations by people who look at your name and move on. It has nothing to do with your worth. They have their own issues. Make yourself talk or thank at least one person a day who makes the life of your imagination a more interesting place. They often have no idea that people are benefitting from their hard work. 

17. Grade your papers before or after AWP. Write poems during readings. Find a coffeehouse In the host city and just write for two hours. 

18. Watch how the famous writers behave. You might learn something. 

19. Don’t assume someone doesn’t have some influence just because you might not have read work by them. Don’t assume people with clear influence have to be coddled. Don’t assume editors will remember you; remind them with as much courtesy as you can. 

20. If you’re only listening to people with the intent to get published, you’re not listening. Be ready, however, to say yes if an opportunity suddenly appears. 

21. Hydrate. You’d be surprised at the effect quiet dehydration will do to your mood. Drink water more than anything else.

Baby Steps

One of my friends used this phrase “taking baby steps” to talk about how she needed to walk last week, as the great icesheets on our sidewalks and streets were melting, becoming a little more dangerous in fact, even while the rest of the world seemed to be lightening up on its demands. It’s important at moments of change to take it slow, even though your heart might be leaping around wanting you to dance.  Popular culture tells us this all the time, doesn’t it? Think of all those horror movies in which the brave heroine has killed the slasher, killer, alien predator, enemy, and just at the moment when she seems to have beaten It, It rises up suddenly for one last slash, throttle, bite, or explosion. It’s a cliche at this point in film. Still, it’s easy to forget that lesson in real life.  Because, well, it’s us.

I’m also thinking about those little steps because a Facebook friend who recently graduated with his MFA asked a good question the other day: How does anyone move past the “if I write anything, it will inevitably suck” phase?

The answer from a number of friends was simple: you don’t.  You accept it and move on. Eventually it won’t suck. But you might have to write a lot of crap first.

It’s hard to take little steps. As someone who just joined a gym again and has begun working out again, learning to not eat everything I want, move my body again, I’m having to remember this.

For me, most of the work I have to do is simply getting past the threshold of not doing anything. If I can begin to do something, I know I’ll want to keep doing things. Sometimes it helps to start at the most boring but necessary point, I’ve found, which is why I often write out bills or check my bank balance, often writing out a budget for myself for the month, before I begin to write. Anything I write after that is going to be better than that dull accounting. Sometimes it helps to change the status on my Facebook page. Sometimes it helps to read the news. Or to read a writer I despise aesthetically or personally. Whatever it takes to get a mutter started, something in me to growl or wag its tail. I’ve done it for long enough that I now trust that something will happen once I begin. Usually there’s a metaphor that appears suddenly and almost joyously. And when it appears I follow its hints forward.

When I was in Lynn Emanuel’s workshop in graduate school, she used to have us write toward the thing we didn’t like. To write a “Bad Poem” about it even. To write as many bad poems as we needed. Dull lists of our angers and frustrations. It usually had a salutary effect. Who or what is the adversary? Exhaustion? Fear? Ignorance? Discomfort? Laziness? Grief? Anger? A Fear of Being Awful or Trivial or Disenchanted or Mary Oliver or John Ashbery or Doctor Seuss?  Write each fear its own ode, maybe a line a day for a month, for a year.

Of course, how do I turn that assignment on myself in order to workout, or to help my friend who is afraid of falling on ice? To walk deliberately slow maybe, as opposed to trying to be brave and trying to walk normally? To work out deliberately slowly maybe–five minutes on the lowest setting of the treadmill maybe? So far, I’ve been going easy on the ellipticals at the beginning and finding that my body begins to want to go longer.  This morning I started with a song on my iPhone that is the song my husband and I chose for our marriage song, Peter Gabriel’s The Book of Love. “The Book of Love is long and boring,” it begins…and then turns “but…” and the song begins to summon something out of me that still surprises me sometimes: hope, energy, love.

What if you made a ritual to write only three sentences every morning? Maybe only enough for a postcard. The sentences could be about the cat or the birds outside the window or that irritating guy at the cafe. Or to write only a list of twenty words that rhyme, or had the short a sound inside them, or wrote one word for each of the letters of the alphabet? What are 26 things that make your life worth living, make it joyful, make it your life? That might be more than enough for a day.

Maintenance: some notes

So, I’ve locked myself out of the house. Luckily I now have this person called a husband to call, who has a set of keys to the house and who will come home at five from work. Also lucky, I didn’t forget my wallet, so I could walk over to a coffeehouse nearby to wait out the time. Why not write a new blog post? I’ve been meaning to write something anyway but just never seemed to find the time to sit down. It’s been a busy fall.

At the moment, the new responsibilities I’ve taken this term as Acting Director have swallowed up the kind of free and open time I’m used to having. At first, being a Director seemed easy, almost a joke. I normally teach three classes a term, but as Director I teach only one. ONLY ONE! I thought. What will I do with all the free time? For most of September, in fact, there was little to do but attend a few meetings, speak authoritatively in a few public spaces.

Then the requests began to rise–for letters of recommendation, for teaching observation letters from colleagues, for meetings to talk about curriculum issues, about class proposals, about recruitment efforts, about preparing for a visit by the new Chancellor. Then there’s the scheduling and scheduling and scheduling one needs to do, of the tenure stream faculty, the nontenured stream faculty, the graduate students, each group with particular needs, rules, deadlines, expectations, traditions. It has helped enormously to have been trained as a poet; scheduling feels much like putting a sestina together. But at this point, it feels like I’m trying to write at least ten sestinas simultaneously.

So, I’m thinking today about the work of maintenance. A large part of the Director’s job is to keep the many threads of a program moving along, which means of course knowing about the many threads, which is itself exhausting in a large program like ours, which has undergraduate activities, graduate activities, committee activities, and faculty who are working on a wide variety of projects. You have to learn to trust and delegate, encourage some people to take risks, encourage others to restrain themselves, help yet others to articulate things they’d like to pursue. It’s a lot of listening to others’ ideas, hopes and fears. When I go home at night, I have to sit a while and let the voices of other people stop swirling around in my head. Video games have been surprisingly useful.

At first it didn’t seem too much to take home, but lately I’ve noticed how much of my own life has been put aside. I haven’t been to the gym for about two months. I need to take the car for an oil change. My hair’s gotten long. The house has become cluttered again. The laundry remains in the laundry bag, unfolded, picked through every morning instead of actually put away.

Of course, that might just be how the middle of the term always is, and I’m just not remembering it. The middle of the term is usually when it feels like everything is falling apart, when I begin to suspect that I haven’t taught anybody anything. Maybe it’s easier to blame this new responsibility I have for this feeling that my feet aren’t exactly touching the ground anymore. I don’t know. New things always suck up a lot of energy, I suppose, because we don’t know if we’ll succeed or what success even looks like. Maybe what would be helpful to do instead of feel anxious would be to think about what would count as success? What’s been accomplished so far? What needs to happen still?

I am glad to say that the prose book I’ve been working on is coming together. I am managing to give it time and space, which means revising these days rather than writing anything new. What helps is to work early in the morning on writing, give up the afternoon to teaching and administrative work, and then give the evening to the dog, the husband, and if there’s energy left, the house which is needing some repair work done.

This is, I need to remind myself, a full life. This is also, I should add, my first time having so much work entrusted to me.

I type that and wait for some feeling of happiness to flutter up, the dull ache in my back from typing this on a low coffee table ease up a little. Nope. I’m still tired. I do manage to sit up a little straighter so my vertebrae don’t have to hold up everything.

And when all else fails and I lock myself out of my own house, I can call my husband who will show up, tired from waiting on other people too, and unlock the front door, where the dog who has been expecting me back after all this time away, will begin whining with a mix of relief and happiness. I am not alone or responsible for everything, they remind me.

Teaching: at the beginning.


I like to have conferences early on in the term. Maybe fifteen minutes long. I tell students there are three reasons: 1) so I get to learn their names and faces; 2) so they know where my office door is; and 3) so I can give them a chance to talk about their own writing, history, and anxieties. Depending on the class, I usually give them some exercises to work on at home or in private, separate from the work of the class. I’ve been known to loan out books. Some never come back. Most do.


One thing I’ve been pushing hard lately is making students practice describing things. It’s astonishing how few of them are able to hold their minds still enough to notice color, texture, shape, size, smell, and other qualities in anything other than general categories. Maybe we are all that way until asked to make differentiations. Learning to draw helped me I think to see more carefully and so act more carefully, based on individual cases rather than general categories. Wasn’t it Ruskin’s plan to teach everyone to draw as a way to generally improve their intelligence? I remember a policeman on some talk show showing an audience how badly they all “saw” a suspect they’d arranged to run across the stage. I bring in “things”: an old turtle shell, a dried sunflower head, shells from the beach, an apple. We read poems by Mark Doty, by Mary Oliver and others. Then we read poems by Wallace Stevens and Neruda that try to defamiliarize common things.

Write out all the rules your teachers told you or even just implied about what makes writing good. Try to get at least ten. Spend every week from now until the end of the term trying to write something that breaks them. One after one.

Sleeping In Snowbanks

Snow has been falling all day today, a slight confectionary kind of snow that looks like it couldn’t amount to anything but has become inches already. I’ve come to the coffeehouse to escape the cabin fever that was beginning to burn in me. For the past couple of weeks either I’ve been sick or the dog’s been sick or we’ve had arctic cold the likes of which even the dog who likes snow and winter generally will only go so far out into it. Once number 1 and 2 are accomplished, number 3 is to get the hell back to the car as fast as possible.

Fortunately, the house has survived the terrible effects of the ultra-cold air. Friends have reported frozen pipes, cracked windows, electrical outages, furnaces collapsing finally from trying to keep their houses warm. We’re all feeling anxious about the shelter we ordinarily don’t have to worry about. All I’ve wanted to do is sleep, which is my general initial defense against anxiety. I’m one of those people who would fall asleep in the jaws of the lion. If I just sleep through this, it will be better soon…

But weeks of that kind of activity begins to re-tune my body to just stay asleep, to do as little as possible. Because I wrote a lot last year, I told myself that I’d take January off, using it to assemble and organize what’s already been written. I said I’d try to rewrite a couple of longer poems I need to concentrate on. I’ve done a little bit of it, but no where near enough. When I sit down in front of the folder that has the poems I need to work on, poems with helpful notes by friends of mine, notes that should make the whole process fairly easy, all I want to do is put my head down and surrender.

This is where the intention group I’m in helps tremendously. I know I have to see them tomorrow and report in, and that’s at least one of the reasons why I’m writing this post. Without them I wouldn’t have even opened up the computer. I need to go to the gym or, as I claimed I was going to do weeks ago, buy or go pick up an elliptical that I can have at home. I know that doing 30 minutes on an elliptical will make me feel better, will change the chemical balances in me toward optimism. But getting over the first threshold, committing myself to the first gesture, is so hard sometimes.

Which is why I love lists. They help articulate the actual work I need to do, help me organize them by priority, which might be deadline or might be need. My mother always told me to do the worst thing first, but in fact I’m doing the easiest thing first in this case: writing this post. Now that I’ve written my first hundred, I can write 500 words of prose pretty easily. And it’s a blog, the threshold of excellence is low enough that I don’t fear the work. Sometimes that’s the only way I can begin to clean the house when it feels cluttered, disorganized, dirty. I can, I say to myself, at least resolve those books on the dining room table. Soon, I’m filing or throwing out the scattered mail I put down and simply never picked up. Then I realize that the dining room table could use a dusting and I bring out the dusting micro-cloths I bought last month or the lemony Pledge wipes. As long as I’m doing the table, I might as well do the bookshelves, the coffee tables, the hallway table, the tv. Pretty soon the vacuum comes out. Pretty soon I’m folding laundry or cleaning the stove or washing the doggy blankets from the couch. The house begins to feel like a home again. I always wonder at the end of it why I thought it would take all day. It takes about two hours tops.

Just like writing, or composing at least. I start out with an easy gesture: talking about the snow that’s falling. I only have to describe, narrate, relate. Pretty soon that begins to link to other things, building a story, a set of questions, a rhythm or current that moves me along. By the end of an hour, I can say to myself that I did this at least, the blog post I told my intention group I’d write.

The rest I promised to do–write at least 10 pages toward an essay I’m working on about the year I turned 27, which was a pivotal year for me–I might not get done. I’m looking back at my journals from that year and have been frankly stunned by how crazy a year it was. It was the first year out of grad school. My first real relationship broke up, my first chapbook was published, I won my first grant, I was teaching in at least five different places to make money, I had to move, I experienced a crippling psychosomatic condition. I slept around a lot, breaking hearts and having mine broken. I read a lot of mystics. I complained a lot and anguished endlessly over what I wanted and whether I would make something of myself, be someone. The trick for this essay is, I think, waiting for that first gesture to occur to me, the sentence that might provide a kind of ladder down into the water, to use a metaphor from Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck. The trick is knowing that there’s something down there to explore. She doesn’t say how she decided to anchor where she did. That’s the first gesture I’d think, finding “the book of myths”. There had to be some sort of map that suggested where a wreck might be. Maybe it all starts merely with the feeling that

we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

Which is a bit how I feel inside these last days of January and how I feel for almost all of February: water-eaten, fouled. How not to let oneself drown? Find what will float until you can stop panicking. Even a small thing can work.

The Economics

One thing I’ve always been suspicious of in the journals of writers is the lack of discussion of their economic lives. If there’s one thing that weighs on the minds of my writer-friends, it’s money, the lack of it, the arranging and corralling and spending of it. For me, it is one of the great mysteries in their memoirs, journals, and letters. There’s of course Thoreau’s totalling up his expenditures, but most of us suspect that he had help from other literary types to make ends meet. I remember teaching May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude in my Writer’s Journals class, and students, who had no sense of who she was as an fiction writer or poet, kept asking where the money for her elaborately described gardens came from. Why does she never talk about the economics of that solitude? I think they’re right to be suspicious of anyone who can’t talk about that. They’re been raised to be mindful of the ways that wealth is supported by other people’s labor. There’s a fantastic essay by EB White in One Man’s Meat that actually tries to make an accounting of the “Nothing” that Bette Davis in Dark Victory ends up embracing, after losing her socialite life and her sight due to a brain tumor and moving to Vermont. It’s hardly nothing, needless to say. It’s one of the finest movie critiques ever.

Thinking about money was always my mother’s job when I was a kid. She was the one who scrimped and saved, protected and labored over. My father spent it like water–gambled away huge amounts of it, thousands and thousands on horses, lottery tickets, and god knows what else. He died penniless, dependent on the state. In our binary system then, spending money was immoral and saving it was a discipline that built character and spawned inventive solutions to everything. We were not poor, but then those were the days of gas so cheap you could buy gallons with coins.

One of the things I like to tell my students is that when I feel blocked as a writer, the first thing I do is to do an an accounting of my finances. What’s in the bank now? What do I know I have to spend out of that? What will I have left? What can I spend money on that’s outside of the essentials? A new coat? A couple of new sweaters? Once I establish the financial facts of my life, some part of my mind relaxes and lets the other parts of my imagination that aren’t so catastrophic get a word or two in.

For years after grad school, I lived on part-time work–teaching two classes (and luckily getting health care with that!), working at a coffeehouse, at Barnes and Noble, as a temp. I taught in a maximum security prison. I taught at an all-girls school, I taught anywhere I could find a need. For the first five years I lived on less than a thousand dollars a month, thanks to a series of cheap apartments, sometimes with lovers, sometimes alone. I didn’t have a car. I did have a bike. I took the bus when I couldn’t bike. I didn’t eat very well, but it wasn’t terrible as I remember it now. I never went without in any serious way. Once, when I was dead broke, a wealthy friend paid my rent for a month. And I knew if I really was in danger, my mother would find the money to help, although, because at that time she had just divorced my father, left her job as a secretary, and moved to Alabama where her one friend in the world lived, and remade herself as a house cleaner, I didn’t think it was ethical of me to ask too much of her. I had friends I met with in writing groups, so I kept writing. Or rather, we kept ourselves writing. It was who we were, since we weren’t anything else yet. There were many months when I had only a few dollars in my bank account at the end of the month.

I couldn’t do that now. I have a house, which has big costs. About a half of my paycheck goes into mortgage (which I have to remember to write rather than “rent”), gas, electric, water, phone, internet, groceries, and dog food. Thanks to Netflix and the internet, I don’t have cable. Thanks to my cellphone, I don’t have a landline. Then there’s the car payment and gas and parking. That’s a big chunk. This year, because I’ve been travelling quite a bit back and forth to visit my mother who’s been ill, there are credit cards which I have to be careful to watch. She and my brother, who makes good money, have been very generous in covering a lot of the expenses, but there’s still the ancillary ones–kennelling the dog most especially–that have added up.

I still take other jobs to cover these extra expenses–working as a reader for a press, teaching to adult learners, occasionally doing reading gigs. Last year, because of those extra jobs, I actually managed to end the year with zero credit card debt.

I’m also aware that I probably couldn’t do this if I had children. My dog costs enough, thank you. I would rather go without the car than the dog frankly. If I didn’t live in a section of Pittsburgh that is surrounded by hills, there’s a good chance I would get rid of the car. Next year, in fact, I’m going to experiment on a schedule that will allow me to use the bus more. It won’t lessen the car payment, but it will definitely lessen the parking and gas costs.

I’m still working out the economics of the new full-time life I have. I’m always aware I could be fired at any time, which keeps me from overspending generally. But then along comes a big need–my house had to have new fascia and some problems had to be fixed–and there goes my savings and I’m right back at being one catastrophe away from a selling the house.

I like to remind my mother that she told me that I would be locked up if I ever bounced a check. That kept me careful for a long time. When I did finally bounce one, I was almost happy to pay the extra fees rather than go to prison.

On the other hand, she gave me a great gift: anxiety about money doesn’t really impinge on my writing time that much. I know other friends who have enormous loans that never leave them alone. I’m not sure I’d be able to write in that case, but they do. I hope that a new relationship between creativity and money/debt might come out of their work. I remember when I was an undergraduate that only rich writers seemed to have made it–doctors like Williams or trust fund kids like Lowell or Bishop or Merrill or celibates like Marianne Moore or ones who sucked up (to my mind then) to rich patrons like HD or Pound. Now the idea is that you get a university job I suppose. I wonder how the new generation will reimagine the possible economics between art and basic needs. I hope they publish it, so we all might learn something.


My mother says that waking up in the middle of the night is normal “after a certain age,” and that she suffers from it too. My immediate sense is that it’s probably a mixture of certain biological changes coupled with a few psychological ones (many more things on my mind these days!) coupled with the fact that my bedroom faces the street where at 2/2:30 am drunks often stumble out into their cars, talking too loudly, selfishly, getting into arguments with other drunks. I have recently gotten a humidifier whose white noise seems to have helped; plus, it’s winter and the number of drunks out late has shrunk.

The way I handled this waking up and not being able to sleep was to write during it. I figured: Why not use it if I’m going to be forced to endure it? All of last year, in which my mother’s health declined, my sense of mortality reawakened, my dog and I bonded, and I tried to learn to love the little whats of the world, I mostly wrote between two am and four am. I learned to lean into the silences, the drunks, the strange noises (there’s one right now going on, something that sounded like the street cleaner going through the nearby intersection, although why at 4am that should happen is beyond me).

It is a little like being caught in a closet in a living room of a house of strangers. I listen to noises and try to intuit or imagine the party going on, the relationships happening simply by the sounds. I’m used to that, since I was always the littlest person in the family for a long time. I was the one who hid under the table, who eavesdropped while sitting on the stairs: which is where I found out Santa was really my parents, as well as where I listened to my parents fight when my father came home drunk at 2 am, when the American Legion closed.

Two am is a very rich time, in other words, for me. Full of drama, fear, curiosity, and excitement. If I write something–and I have already written today’s draft of a poem and now this entry–then I feel I can get up, use the bathroom, throw on yesterday’s clothes, and walk the dog around the corner so he can pee. There, in a little patch of grass he likes in an alley nearby, in a little shadow-space between houses, I get to look up at the stars, which appear mysterious and wild, now that the whole city is quiet around me.

I don’t even know half their names. Horse-star, The Wanderer, Old Love, Red Father, Bright Mother, Thirst, Hunger, The Big Cup, The Little Cup, the Cursor.

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