Reasons Why Your Wi-Fi is Slow or What It Takes to Make a Poem

My Wi-Fi isn’t just slow; sometimes it’s catatonic, and I spend an inordinate amount of time shutting it off, turning it on, reinstalling drivers, cussing, running downstairs to see if some demon is holding the blinking lights hostage, cussing. 

It’s frustrating in this day of instant everything, even instant pots which work like the pressure cooker I use to can tomatoes and green beans every summer. Yes, I grow organic vegetables and “put them up” for the winter so that on a night like tonight, with freezing rain in the forecast, I can have bucatini with Bolognese sauce and freshly grated Parmesan.

After dinner clean up, I open my poetry draft files and stare, like you do, at the mess I’ve made with a bunch of words on my computer screen (or notebook), trying to figure out why I had to write about this or that and whether I’ve succeeded in committing acts of poetry. I have not. Not yet. 

I look at the few lines I’ve written—or the many—and wonder where I was going. I asked Ted Kooser, at a workshop some 10 years ago, what to do when a good idea stalled. He said to go back to your original impetus for writing.

What pushed me to think I needed to write about the dead squirrel in someone’s yard, the one I see as I walk my dog each day. What did him in? Was it the owl I heard calling from the rooftops in my neighborhood each night? Was it a cat? A hawk? We’ve a lot of Cooper’s hawks in the neighborhood. What bothered me about this image enough to write about it? 

Kooser’s advice is helpful. I go back to the lawn-kill image and wonder and wander some more. He said to focus on the object, let the object direct your poem. Put it first.  So: decimated squirrel. How long has s/he been there on someone’s lawn atop a frozen mound of snow? And why haven’t the owners of said property disposed of said carcass?  

Grist for the mill. 

Why indeed? People are busy. Perhaps the homeowners didn’t notice it—yet. Perhaps their black trash bin is full? Perhaps they’re expecting someone else to dispose of it. After all, with what we pay for taxes, shouldn’t dead-animal disposal be covered? Shouldn’t Big Brother automatically see this and take it away?

And next, what to do about owls, cats on the loose? There ought to be a law! Owls are nocturnal feeders, opportunists. Cats, too. 

I remember all the times I’ve walked by dead critters, the flattened dead cat on Linwood, decomposing, until the street Zamboni swept it away. Or the dead rabbit on the corner? The dead raccoon in the street in Oklahoma City, the path my daughter took to school each day. 

More grist for the mill. 

As I pick up the dead squirrel, I think about what we carry. Even with loss, the shadows of the dead are always with us. Li-Young Lee said, at a Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival many years ago, as he began to read a poem about his father (I paraphrase): the dead are never done with us.

My poem, “Picking Up the Dead,” begins to emerge from the mass of words on the page. For me, one of the pleasures of writing is removing the parts that don’t belong—like Michelangelo’s sculpture, the extraneous marble chiseled away leaving only the art. I love that poetry is compressed so that only the essence needs to be there—like mashing a piece of Angel Food cake into a single ball of sweetness. 

Finally, the conclusion offers itself, the interpretive lines, the truth moment, the reason for the poem’s “being.” The central object of the poem—the neighborhood animal bodies no one wants to touch—and the moon whose monthly rise is inexorable. Like the dead. It is always with us.  

Who is responsible
for picking up the dead?  
This morning’s waning moon
at my window—as I head out
to collect what others have ignored—
a mere splinter
of what was once ripe and vibrant
and the shadows of it
through the glass repeating:
this moon, this moon, that.

The Wi-Fi problem? Also inexorable, as is the cussing.

(Excerpt from “Picking Up the Dead.”
Previously published in Third Wednesday: 2013, Verse-Virtual, online 2016
and the chapbook, Grief Bone: Five Oaks Press, 2017.)

 Karla Huston  Photo by Phillipa Stannard

Karla Huston
Photo by Phillipa Stannard

2017-2018 Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Karla Huston, lives in Appleton, Wisconsin. Huston’s poems find their roots in the stories people tell—those memories and perceptions, personal and cultural mythologies which define us as human. From ancient Greek gods to Hollywood movie stars, Huston’s poems explore a wide variety of subjects, but frequently return to topics related to aging and women.

The author of eight chapbooks of poems, the latest Grief Bone, (Five Oaks Press), and a full collection A Theory of Lipstick (Main Street Rag Publications), Huston’s work has garnered many awards, including a Pushcart Prize for the poem “Theory of Lipstick.” She received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association for her collection of the same title. Her writing has earned residencies at Ragdale Foundation as well as the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Her chapbook, Flight Patterns won the Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest in 2003. Huston has also been awarded three Jade Rings (one for fiction, two for poetry) from Wisconsin Writers’ Association.