Practical Concerns

(for Neil)

The choice of subject declares what aspects of existence the artist regards as
important – as worthy of being re-created and contemplated. — Ayn Rand

By four a.m. you’d refined three hours’ crude
Theory into two sentences I didn’t understand.

Love and poems, you rasped, waving
An unlit Gitane carelessly
Around both our heads.
That’s how you know what life is
To you: what you write, who you touch.

I wore one of your shirts for every bedroom
Philosophy session we had that winter, a tradition
Like those cigarettes you never put
A light to, afraid you’d start
Both our hair on fire with one unthinking sweep.

That night and morning it was blue
Flannel against the winter and the heat
We always forgot to reset.

What keeps you up at night?
What do you say when you’re telling the truth?
That’s what matters, what you love and pull
Out of empty air, pin to the paper.

I never told you the answer to both questions
Was you, but you knew, kept my secret
Intact by never naming it, just brushing
A strand of my hair from
Inside the collar of your shirt.

Fifteen minutes past dawn,
Chesapeake, White Christmas and Billy broke out,
Splintering sleep.
You lunged for the stairs, buttoning your jeans.

Inspiration isn’t just for art.
Forget that and you’ll miss it every time.

You ran to the broken corral gate,
A hammer in your hand.
As I pulled your shirt back over my head,
And ran out to gather the bridles.

(1993)

Neil was my first real love, a painter and poet. As much a romantic influence as he was on me, he was far more an intellectual and creative one, and the first person to take my talents seriously and to encourage them.

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