In the Beginning

“Song of an Invalid” was my first published poem. I wrote it during my junior year of high school when Mrs. Campbell (after two days of playing Simon and Garfunkel tunes and having us dissect their version of “Richard Cory”) gave us our homework assignment: write a poem. I don’t have a clear picture of what happened before and after I wrote the poem, though I imagine it included playing my most recent Beatles album at a volume for which I am now paying with some hearing loss. But I clearly remember the moment, only the moment, in which I wrote this poem.

It flowed out of my pen and onto the paper as if I were not even a part of the process. It came from nowhere and from everywhere. In her presentation, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, speaks of “divine attendant spirits”. This is an ancient Greek concept that we think of as a muse, the muse in the wall who whispers words, images, sounds to us and we write, sketch or pluck them out. It has nothing to do with my human intelligence or ability to create. That’s how it felt when I wrote “Song of an Invalid”. It was born on the page and I never even felt it stirring within me. Was it a good poem? I think so, for a junior in high school who lives with the daily angst and drama of 16-year-oldness. See what you think.

Song of an Invalid

I laugh at your insanity

seeing from my window
the follies of humanity-
I laugh.

Running till you’re out of breath

chasing after dreams
that one day end in death-
I laugh.

I close the drape to block the view

heaving a heavy sigh
because I want to be like you
I cry.

Now, Mrs. Campbell loved it and wanted me to submit it for publication in the Spectrum, a local annual literary magazine. Only the finest work was included in the Spectrum. There was one condition though. She said I had to change the last line from “I cry” to “Like you” repeating the end of the previous line. It was a real moral dilemma for me. After all, the poem flowed out as is, and now you are second-guessing the muse, Mrs. Campbell? But I relented because getting that poem published meant everything to me.

They read my poem on the school announcements one morning, and everyone congratulated me. But I felt a little like I had betrayed myself and my muse in the wall. I still wonder if I should have stuck to my guns and fought for my original line even at the cost of publication.

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