Maybe you can help.
See, I misplaced a poem. It was here last night, right here on this same screen. Just six hours ago I wrote an amazing poem and yet I fire up Word this morning and it’s gone.
Yes of course I’ve searched the recent files. I’ve searched all my hiding spots.
Can I describe it?
I remember the first line: “the casino is always dead on Halloween.” Or was it “on Halloween the casino is always dead”?
No, the first one’s better. That was definitely it.
It had to do with horses, since the casino is at a race track, but it could have been about the horse, who was named Houdini, or the jockey, who didn’t have a name but held the riding crop like a conductor’s baton.
“Stringendo he whispers in her ear / remember?”
Let’s face it. It’s no use. I lost it. It’s gone… my masterpiece.
Days pass. I write new poems. Emails come and go. One day the world is going along and I open up a folder and there it is: Houdini.
How did I miss this? I don’t believe it. I click, and it’s here. It’s not lost. It was here all along.
I scan the lines. It’s not the way I remember it. The jockey’s name is Paco. The horse is male. It’s shorter than I thought. Rougher. Parts might be usable. It’s no masterpiece, but by God it’s here.
I take the rest of the day off.
Someday I’ll figure out how to do it better.
I won’t find, for example, another poem on my work computer describing a similar horse, ridden by a jockey with a similar name, which I can claim no memory of writing, dated two months prior.
Cultivate a writing habit, I know. Block out time before breakfast. Go full night owl. Frank O’Hara got it done on lunch.
I have a thought: Maybe this isn’t random. Maybe this is my habit.
To see with depth you need both eyes. I print the two versions and compare. I cross out, change breaks, shift tenses. It begins to move. New lines come. I can see Houdini for the first time. I run alongside her. We move, the two of us, in time.
Finally it’s finished. I print it out and read it aloud thirty times on the way to work, just how I’ll read this line aloud when I come to it tomorrow, probably around Batavia.
They say you can’t dream a face you’ve never seen. The faces you dream are chimeras you create by rearranging the features of your friends. Maybe this is my habit.
My advice: create the only way you know how.
Matt Kotula is an instructor at Writers & Books. Read his bio here.