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That Gift: A Poem
Or rather a non-poem by a non-poet, with gratitude to William Stafford and my demon muse
Welcome to The Living Dark. I’m Matt Cardin, and this is my blog/newsletter on waking up at the intersection of creativity, writing, religion, horror, nonduality, apocalypse, dystopia, consciousness, and culture. You can subscribe by clicking this button:
Six months ago I published a poem that had unaccountably emerged from an unlikely source, namely, me. Three weeks ago, it happened again. As with the former one, I honestly don’t know if it’s any good, but I decided to follow precedent by going ahead and sharing it with you here.
Unlike the first instance, which was the product of a freewriting session in the early morning hours that engendered a kind of creative trance, this one happened during the daylight hours, as I was walking from the kitchen to the living room. For no reason in particular, I suddenly noticed that a sentence was speaking itself repeatedly in my head, and had been doing so for three or four minutes. That sentence was, “I never knew how deeply I relied upon that gift until I went to use it and it wasn’t there.”
After I noticed it, I sat down on the sofa, tuned into it consciously, and listened to see if there was anything further. The answer proved to be yes. Subsequent lines began to suggest themselves, along with the recognition or idea that this was, or could be, a poem. I picked up a pen—or rather, my reMarkable 2 tablet, which has been a significant boon to my reading and writing life over the past eighteen months—and began following along to see if this would amount to anything. About twenty minutes later, I reached what was obviously the concluding line. Ten more minutes of minor adjustments resulted in the finalized text below.
This includes the opening epigraph from William Stafford, which felt inextricably linked to the whole thing from the start. Stafford’s essay “A Way of Writing” has felt like a quintessential statement of my own experience of creativity ever since I first read it some twenty or so years ago. The entirety of it feels veritably talismanic to me. And yet, if you read it—the whole text is available through the link above—you will find that the point it lays out so lucidly in its famous opening paragraph, which is followed by the one below that serves as my poem’s epigraph, actually asserts the obverse of what this poem apparently wants to say. Strange.
Finally, I think the genesis of this poem is probably located in the fact that when it came up and out, I had been working furiously to create the manuscript (which I submitted this week) for my second volume of private journal entries by transcribing the notebooks, both physical and digital, that I kept between 2002 and 2022. Many of those entries deal with the experience of writer’s block that afflicted me for virtually the entirety of those two decades, examining it from different angles and using my felt sense of inner smothering to draw insights into the nature of creativity in general as an inner relationship between the ego and the deep self. In other words, they illuminate an especially galling and painful facet of the overall schema that I laid out, in 2011, in A Course in Demonic Creativity. That doesn’t necessarily have to determine how you read the poem, though.
“Back in school, from the first when I began to try to write things, I felt this richness. One thing would lead to another; the world would give and give. Now, after twenty years or so of trying, I live by that certain richness, an idea hard to pin, difficult to say, and perhaps offensive to some. For there are strange implications in it.” — William Stafford
I never knew how deeply I relied upon that gift
until I went to use it and it wasn’t there.
That gift had never failed me.
Even when the going had been rough, the writing raw,
like uncooked meat inside my mouth that I could never chew,
the gift had always come at last,
revealed a ray of heat to cook the meat,
complete the meal, deliver satisfaction.
And yet I never knew how deeply I relied upon it
or that it was the very substance of everything I had ever hoped to do
until the darkest day
when I went inside, pressed down deep,
drew upon that fund within my soul,
and brought up absolutely nil
an empty hand
a vacant heart
well sucked dry and sealed up with cement
ancient treasure stolen, lost, or spent
The gift was gone, and with it all my hope of making good on
anything, everything I had ever sought to say
Now I spool on aimlessly, emitting strings of uselessness,
knowing it will never work, but since it’s all I know to do,
I still press down, draw deep,
and hit that rough, blank, unyielding seal,
collecting bruises in the antechamber of my soul
because bruises are better than longing for that gift
and wondering where it went, who took it, and why,
and slowly doubting, with horror,
that it was ever really there at all,
and knowing that, if it was,
I did not deserve it.
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