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A friend stops me in the headache-dim
flouresence of the hall that houses
our little hive of offices to say she liked
a record review I wrote for
a website that published it without
letting me know, her words
a soft echo of the cymbal-laden overtures
I once half-expected each time
I got in print. “I guess you’ll be leaving
now that you’re make money
on your writing,” she joked, and the eclipse
on her face from joking
to disbelief saddens me as I explain
21stcentury Grub Street, where
success is measured not in readers
or the quality of the writing
or even dollars, but in mouse clicks.
There are writers—I’ve shaken their hands,
stood-sentry still beside them
in elevators—who do get checks
large enough to cover a month’s rent
or take the family to the beach
for a week for writing a piece
on baseball or learning to tie a Windsor knot
by watching their dads. In 1977,
I was a college freshman, writing
for my school newspaper at thirty five cents
a column inch. My market value has
eroded since then, though not my worry
at being chased down by someone
I interviewed and quoted incorrectly.
In those post-Watergate years,
no one wanted to be taped, leaving me
to scribble as the subjects of my stories talked,
trying for something like the words
they said without thinking. I missed words,
the occasional phrase, sometimes
whole sentences. Has there every been
an administrator without the gift
of talking while saying nothing. One afternoon
I left a dean’s office after listening
for forty five minutes to an explication
of the thinking behind a new parking lot
and knew I never wanted to write any words
built only on the dry sand of facts
and economics. Not when the great pillars
of clouds supported the sky. The shifting
ceilings of leaves offered refuge for any
words wandering the alleys or perched
on corners of the ramshackle neighborhood
where my vocabulary dwelt. A place
to watch traffic tangle and pass while
I made plans that blew away like
silent syllables of cigarette smoke. I can’t
abandon that neighborhood, but long ago
abandoned the idea of making any money
on my sonnet cycle built on the numerology
of forgotten tribes or the blank verse detective novel
I’ve threatened but never found a plot for
or the desire to actually do the thing. So
I keep writing books that won’t find
their way into airports. But I won’t have to face
the nervous ghost of myself from 1977,
scribbling what he hopes are the correct words,
dreading my shadow in the hall when
I come, demanding payment for
inaccuracies he was not paid to write down.
Copyright 2019 Al Maginnes
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