NDJ:8 Michael Harty

An Interrogation

Okay, so you claim you want to be a poet, and you know in order to actually get much writing done you have to reserve some time each day. So why don’t you do it?

Gosh, so many practical things – the bills to pay, the calls to answer, the closets to organize… Hey, I’m kidding, I’ve been around and around with those excuses so many times I know them by heart. And the answers, and the answers to the answers.

A cycle that needs breaking. Ever heard of the concept “resistance?”

I’m afraid so. I do have an idea about it, though.

Yes, go on.

I was thinking about a particular image that keeps appearing in my poems, those I manage to write. It’s the image of water coming from underground. That’s always carried a lot of meaning for me. I grew up in very dry farm country. Water wasn’t something to take for granted; even so, a lot of farmers irrigated their crops from their own wells. In some places they could drill down only a hundred feet and find what seemed like an unlimited supply. That always seemed miraculous. So there’s something about scarcity and abundance that underground water symbolizes for me, a reservoir waiting to be tapped, magic waiting to happen. And something about secret knowledge, too, secrets and revelations. Maybe I’d like to think of myself that way.

And when your writing runs dry…?

It’s like I can’t tap into that reservoir in myself. I need a dowser with a forked stick to tell me where to drill…But there’s more to it than that. There are so many complications with trying to get at that underground reservoir…

Such as?

Well, for one thing, the results could be disappointing. My mental image is this vast peaceful subterranean sea, fresh and pure, enough that there would never be another drought. But when it actually comes to light, maybe it’s something else: brackish, salty, contaminated. No good for anyone. Now there’s another thought: a reservoir reminds me of San Francisco Bay, where I was born. My brother, too – he was swimming around in a reservoir before he arrived. Did I want him to stay there, or come out? Was he taking my place? Tapping into that water, what a taboo, what an idea of doing damage by trying to get at what you want. Melanie Klein would be so pleased.

Probably she would – but to you it’s no joke.

Never was. And then there’s the other symbolism of something being confined underground, kept down, repressed, kept unconscious because it’s dangerous. Why is it dangerous? Maybe because it’s angry, it’s being kept underground, blocked, frustrated. Some kind of a fusion there of underground water with lava. There’s an entire outline of a novel I never wrote, in which the underground water was going to symbolize the immigrant Mexican people I grew up around – this huge potential resource, the wasting of potential and no one cared, the oppression and anger building up to some kind of eruption.

So if someone should take away the restraint…

Wait, I’m not done. There’s a whole psychosexual gender dimension. Is reaching the reservoir a matter of searching, drilling, the water spewing out in this powerful phallic-aggressive way? Or is it more like inviting a flow, a passive letting it happen, the kind of experience you’d definitely keep to yourself in the locker room if you didn’t want to be suspect. If you’re going to court the muse, do you do it actively or passively?

Are you cruel or kind, clean or dirty, a have or a have-not, a boy or a girl? So much at stake when you pick up that pen.

But I don’t see any way around it, except maybe to write about it. And even at that, none of this baggage is going to just disappear. I can stall, I can rationalize, feel sorry for myself, but eventually I’ll have to face it. Sit down and write. Feel whatever it is, guilt, anxiety, shame, and hope I can put it in its place. Either that or stay stuck.

It does look as if that’s your choice. The question is, will you make it?

As soon as I can straighten up my desk and sharpen some pencils.