Sometimes they come easily; this went from idea through three drafts to here in about two hours. It started with a prompt calling for bringing new life to a dead metaphor by taking it literally. Up a creek without a paddle came right to mind. As I considered how to breathe energy into the phrase, it occurred to me: We always use it to mean being in trouble and helpless. But whether that’s the case depends on which direction you were going in when you dropped the paddle.

That brought rowing against the current into the mix as well, and that in turn recalled to me a card from the Osho Zen Tarot. From that point, I didn’t stop writing until the poem was completed.


Far worse then to have been downstream
trying to work her way up, she thinks as
she stares glumly at her beached canoe.
Dropping it — stupid hands! dull fingers! —
and watching it float away would have been
disaster then, not mere inconvenience.
But it has taken all afternoon to get here.
She’s hungry and grumpy, and her arms ache.
Her shoulders click in their sockets as she
stretches and groans and cusses at fate.
Then, with a looser shrug, she floats the canoe,
clambers aboard in the hip-high, glittering water,
and watches the shorelines unfurl themselves to
either side of her — the first time all day she’s had
the leisure to look — as the current takes her in
the direction she’s been trying to go all along.


(photo: card from the Osho Zen Tarot, for illustrative purposes)


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