Steve Almond’s Bad Poetry Corner #8: Owed to Water


(Writing wretched verse so you don’t have to since 1995)

Owed to Water

It is said the ocean forgets everything
forgets the lash of lightning and the stones
it grinds to sand and the planks it swallows
without joy or renunciation

Our way is to condemn reckless water
We like water we can walk upon, or stare into
or pour down our funneled throats
We like water that plays at tranquility,

a flatness laid like maps across everything
We might have come from this placid body,
might have grown smooth skin and flippers
and holes to breath from, those insistent hisses

which order us home to our villages, to our
wives and children, to hearths murmuring with stew
and black earth we trench and feed, sun
raising saltwater on our skin

Could I get any deeper? I suspect no. I rubbed this one out during my graduate school years, the proximate cause being the reading delivered by a recent graduate of the program, a woman named Christine, beautiful in a disheveled manner, with knee-high boots and a tight brown skirt. She was married to an older gentleman, but I was convinced that I had only to write a poem of sufficient feeling and she would come to her senses. So it was a love poem. What poem isn’t?

What I admire so much here is the utter imprecision of my thinking, the lunging about for high-impact words and associations. I sort of dare you to try to map the logic of this poem. Or maybe no – punch yourself in the throat. That would be more fun.

Bad poets want so much to sound good. That’s basically all we want. Funneled throats. Insistent hisses. Reading this now is like watching my one-year-old kid stagger across the kitchen; every time he manages to get a foot down without doing a faceplant, his little ego bursts into flame.

And did I summon the nerve to read this poem to Christine? I’m afraid I did. Wow. Those 35 seconds and, in particular, the stunned after-seconds of silence, were really a major human event. I’d put Christine in quite a spot. She was being wooed by a one-year-old. I was saying to her, in essence, “So Christine, babe, I realize I don’t have many teeth, and I still shit and piss myself every few hours, and my neck often smells like rancid cheese. But I’m pretty sure I have everything you could ever desire in a lover.”

And she was trapped there, on the other end of the line, breathing quietly and wishing to be – out of kindness more than anything else, she was a very sweet woman –  not alive. “Wow,” she said finally. “I really like the language.”

She liked the language so much she had to go. She was maybe so enamored of my ode, er, owed, and so confusingly in love with its maker, that hanging up was her only option. It was quite a high to wield that kind of power. I was ready to swallow a plank, without joy or renunciation. I was ready to condemn some reckless water. I was ready to murmur some goddamn stew.

Who’s with me, people?

This week’s bad poem comes from Sheldon Addai of Boonslick Township, Missouri. Mr. Addai is a registered nurse who insists he never puts out until after the third date. Liar.

Bad Sonnet #472

How can I have run out of things to say?
I haven’t said anything yet.
Each man has his way; a way is a way
Is a way of having met
The universe and nothing in a day,
Each day another day in debt
To a dreamed-of poem you’ve only dreamed of yet,
But haven’t had the chance to say
Or had the chance but didn’t have the strength,
Hoping things might come about by chance
As days of nothing turn to years at length,
Waiting to be asked to dance.
A thing of beauty isn’t happenstance,
Though I can only tell you what it ain’t.

A way is a way. I’d never thought about it in quite that way.

Steve Almond's most recent book, Against Football, was a New York Times bestseller for at least three seconds. More from this author →