art :: eileen gunn
we may be dead,
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T H A N K S !
My wife says she can hear the difference between hot & cold water. But I never could when I was a pot washer at the Northwood Inn. There was this hillbilly — John — who smoked Luckys, used to scrub down the stoves — no matter how clean you got 'em they'd still look licorice. John had his own stall at the market where he sold antiques & he used to watch me on his break like he was appraising a stool or a lamp — his eyes narrow, his face puckered like a chunk of bark, his hands all pruned & shaking & he'd ask me all these dopey questions like "Watchall going to college fer?" I told him one day: To Be A Writer. That was a mistake. He says, "How about that? I'm a writer, too. I write POetry." He says "Got me a POetry maker from YugoSLAVia." I stop scrubbing & give him a look. He flicks his eyebrows up — twice, reeling me in. A poetry maker? I say. "Yup. Looks kinda lika spinning wheel 'cept it's got these fancy notches & it runs on footpower. You just feed this roll of paper in one end & squirt a little ink in this nozzle & peddle a bit & out comes the POetry." John, I say. "Bet you didn't even know they made 'em anymore." John, I say. & he pulls a folded piece of paper from his white denims & says "Look." I look. "Whatsamatter?" he says, "Ain't it a good POem?" It's good allright, I say — who wrote it? "I made it," he says, "I peddled it out last Sunday. Listen — you being a writer & all — do you understand that one line where the earthquake shrinks the safety from the land? I don't quite get that". GODDAMITT, JOHN! YOU DIDN'T GET THIS OUT OF A FUCKIN' MACHINE! IT TAKES A HUMAN BEING TO MAKE A POEM! IT TAKES BRAINS! IT TAKES PASSION! IT TAKES COURAGE! IT TAKES PAIN! "Well, maybe that's why they invented this contraption! Maybe those YugoSLAVians are smarter than you think!" I stuff the poem in his shirt pocket & get back to my pots. He grinds out his lucky & says "Thought you said you were a writer. Thought that meant you had a little imagiNAtion."
Patrick O'Leary bends words to his will. People pay him real money to do this, but that doesn't stop him from writing fiction and poetry. He is the author of three novels, The Gift, Door Number Three, and The Impossible Bird, and of a collection of stories and poems, Other Voices, Other Doors. You can read a swell interview with him on Infinity Plus, an excellent webzine that is no relation to the Infinite Matrix, which is where you are now.
"The Yugoslavian Poetry Maker" was first published in Uncommonplaces: Poems of The Fantastic, Mayapple Press, 2000, Don Riggs and Judith Kerman, editors. It is reprinted here by permission of the author.