Poetry lives on in the soul
I know this sentence, which I wrote here in 2014 when I first met Michael Larrain “selling blissed-out flowers from the back of his Jeep about two blocks east of downtown Cotati (California), sounds a lot like the first sentence in James Crumley’s finest novel, The Last Good Kiss. Which may or may not be coincidentally set in nearby Sonoma (California). It could also be something evocative about The Land that is Sonoma County. I don’t know. But you might want to find the time to read Crumly’s novel and endulge yourself in that first sentence. But before you do, please read (and comment on) this magnificent poem by our featured poet today. Another of his poems appears here in a week’s time.
A Little Space for Happiness
Between more lucrative assignments,
I’ve been eking out a modest living lately
ghost-writing suicide notes.
There’s not much money in it,
what with no repeat business and no word of mouth
(unless in the next world).
I don’t even know how these characters find me.
It’s not like I advertise.
It must be the legal tablets.
I live in a small southern California beach town
in a room above a tiki bar.
The owners allow me to sit and sip coffee at a table
in the corner most mornings and every once in a while
a shadow will fall across the page I’m scribbling on,
and I’ll glance up into the face of someone
who might be standing in the middle
of the Golden Gate Bridge
staring down at the water as if wondering
whether he can execute a flawless entry into eternity.
No one ever asks directly.
They inch up to the idea.
I see you’re a writer, they’ll say, pointing at the tablet,
There’s a story I’d like to tell
if only I could find the words.
Eventually it becomes apparent
they don’t mean their autobiography
(as told to) or a novel, or even a screenplay
at least not for a whole movie,
only the closing credits.
They’d like me to boil it down,
the whole of their life and why they are leaving.
One paragraph tops.
Boil it down but get it all in.
I want them to understand, they say to me,
I want them to know it wasn’t their fault.
You might think I would try to dissuade these people,
talk them around. This will pass, I could say.
Time will excuse you soon enough.
But their minds are made up, and in the making,
they have also made a little space for happiness.
I can see it in their eyes when I tell them to come back
the next day and we can agree on an amount of payment.
There’s nothing left for them to worry about.
The hard work has been done. Now there is only room for relief.
It’s just a theory of course, but what I believe
is that they choose a memory—
one is all you would need—
and live in it, perfectly content
until returning the following morning
to pick up the finished note from me,
dropping a few bills on the table,
as if paying a waiter at the end of a meal.
I see them twice and then
no one ever sees them again.
It’s weird labor, ghost-writing suicide notes.
You must work your way to the bottom of someone else’s sorrow.
You must, as it were, write as though there’s no tomorrow.
I lie awake all night. Sleep is out of the question.
A man could dream himself to death and leave the job undone.
Finally, I put pen to paper sometime around dawn,
the words like an official’s signature on the certificate.
All through those nights, it feels like the world is childless,
like the world has died without ever setting eyes on the sea.
The pain isn’t mine but there’s no way to give it back
to its rightful owners. And by now they are so many
that my mind is like a cemetery where all my clients
are buried with their hearts still beating.
All these small drums and no one is dancing,
all of these pulses without a single wrist.
If I stopped buying legal tablets,
maybe then I could rest. But I owe it
to someone, I owe it to the next one,
to persist in this strange occupation.
And it gives me something to live for.
These people need me.
How else are they ever to make
a little space for happiness?
Frequent contributor Michael Larrain was born in Los Angeles, California in 1947 and has lived for many years in northern California’s Sonoma County. He is the author of twenty books of poetry, prose fiction and children’s storybooks.