Where I Write #28: A Small Bench Between Two 25-Story Buildings

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Up until five years ago I had a strict routine for daily writing that I clung to as if the routine itself was the talisman that made the writing sing. I was doing clerical work for a magazine publisher in a high-rise along the Wilshire corridor and each day I would take my one hour lunch on a small bench between two 25 story buildings. The proximity of all these tall structures created a vortex of wind that constantly combed through all these magnificent trees. One by one I had to know and then write about each individual Jacaranda, Magnolia and Floss Silk tree. But as tranquil as that environment was, it mainly served as a place of solitude, a place for a poet to grieve the death of his father through verse.

Each day I was writing/editing these heavy poems for my first collection (aptly titled) Eulogy To An Unknown Tree. As much as I felt the poems had body, they always felt absent of any life. I was always searching inwardly for that spark that could drive the work past just a rehash of death. It took life to intervene one rainy day in February while leaving work. It is best described through a poem I wrote 2 years after the incident:

February

Once I fell down a flight of stairs

on Valentine’s day. As my legs failed,

slipping from under me, arms (akimbo angled)

instinctively tensed, ready to own the body’s weight.

One would think the fog of probabilities

would take a stranglehold of the senses,

darkening the mind like a movie theater.

But there is a funny thing about February

with its slippery drizzle, with its stumpy days that

fall hard against night’s obviousness. Its

cushion is always a woman that lies in wait.

Even as vertebra smacked down against

the firm lip of concrete, shattering the

spine’s dainty fingerlets, the well-lit billboard

of that lover’s month was an active anesthetic.

I can still recall sitting there at the

baseboard of defeat’s alter, testing the body’s

angles for pain’s inevitable on-set thinking: there

is never a better month be alive and in love.

That wet day in February changed me in many ways. I lay in bed for a month with absolutely no desire to write. The reason was not so much the pain involved but the situation that had been altered. I did not have my trees and my solitude anymore. It was replaced with four walls and silence. But the idea of having a half-finished manuscript drove me to adapt to this new situation. There is a funny thing about anxiety and stress, it only allows for short bursts of clear thought before everything else more important chokes out that stream of thought. Most days I would write these short lines of verse and that would maybe be all I could muster that day. Eventually after a week of 10 to 15 minute bursts of verse I would begin to piece together these lines that for some reason always seemed to follow a theme, then eventually a clear cut poem.

My life that typically ran on a strict routine became a life without any routine at all. I always felt that I was unable to write through traumatic situations but this new lifestyle forced me to face that trauma and write through it without hesitation. So I would carry a pad with me at all times to jot down lines whenever they popped into my head. Being unable to drive meant I often wrote on the bus, even though I suffer horribly from motion sickness. I wrote while on the table at physical therapy, during acupuncture treatments, in doctor’s waiting rooms, before and after psychiatric appointments, I wrote through it all. And after a year of piecing it all together, I had finally completed my book.

It has been five years since my injury and life is still as hectic and traumatic as it was then. I rarely have blocks of time that I can set aside for writing. There are no pretty benches to sit under or Jacaranda trees blooming overhead. But what I do have is the constant buzz of life around me at all times. The one thing that I always felt was missing is finally there. The people I meet while writing in public places infiltrate every piece of poetry that I write and I often will let strangers know that they are being written into the narrative. Where I write is not as important now as the state of mind that I am writing in. I don’t own a pretty mahogany desk or a bright room with a great view. My writing room is the city of Los Angeles and its colorful people that I meet on a daily basis. I finally can say that I write poems with a pulse and each day I am given a new reason to keep giving those poems life.


Billy Burgos is a Graphic Designer/Illustrator/Poet originally from Belize, Central America who grew in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles where he still resides. He is an active member of The Anansi Writer’s Workshop and hosts Blog-talk Radio’s poetry show Word Ballast where he has made a name for himself by interviewing poets of color such as Nikkey Finney, Nikki Giovanni, Thomas Sayers Ellis and Jericho Brown. He has been published in numerous journals both in print and online and served as poetry facilitator of The Beyond Baroque poetry workshop and host of their monthly series The First Sunday Reading. In 2009 Billy was chosen as newer poet to watch by the L.A. Poetry Festival. His first collection of poetry titled Eulogy To An Unknown Tree was published by Writ Large Press in January 2013. More from this author →