Paper Trailing


I have been out for a while. To anyone who keeps up with my stuff, sorry for the delay. The poem is below in box quotes, if you’d like to skip to it. Not counting the “and now/and then” lines as stanzas, the fourth stanza is iambic trimeter, the ninth is iambic tetrameter, the fifteenth is iambic pentameter and the last is iambic octameter. Everything else is freeverse. After years of work, I am close to completing a long-term project of mine, and I have put most of my effort on that.

Though I did not have the time to see through something new, I could have put something old up here pretty easily. I just had no confidence looking back. Everything I did before either bored or embarrassed me. Had years of working at my writing only gotten me this far? The thought was toxic and smog-thick, pervasively entering with each drag of breath and refusing to leave.

The truth is that I have been a bit foolish. I let my expectations override the good in my reality. I got caught up in rejected job applications, circling endlessly over past mistakes for something that set me critically backward. I got caught up in thinking that I had to live to my exact expectations; anything less was accepting myself as a failure.

So I wrote a poem to match all the odd feeling of my post-grad pity party, but felt too scared to publish that. I worried that employers would look down it as disrespectful, as unconfident, as disparaging the whole process. The thought of projecting any failure or negativity seemed disgusting, when friends’ Facebook posts brimmed up with success. So I thought about staying quiet until it was time to broadcast some of the success I have had.

But I loathe that. I loathe the fact that I have spoken to so many in the same “class of 2015 rut,” but still feel alone. I loathe drafting a status for every win and concealing every loss so that when someone looks at me they’ll see the false measurement I wanted to be. I would rather own my mistakes than run from them. I would rather be and project the whole me – the me that accidentally hurts friends and family, the me that misses opportunities, the me that really exists – than the one smiling and accepting degrees in pretty pictures. I would like to have the confidence to stop selecting the truths I give to strangers.

I wrote this poem to take a step in that direction by expressing how dreadful the application process felt at times. I wrote this poem to confess that my cover letters were not up to snuff. I wrote this poem to say that I did not stack my resume up to the sky. I wrote this poem to say that all this slipping up can really burn me up. I wrote this poem to say that sometimes I don’t feel happy, brilliant, or successful, and most of the time that’s okay.

Hello, Success
I have been paper trailing you

I wrote for so long last weekend
My fingers fell into puddles of ink

Slick from the sick spit of grey matters
These hands could not grip the knob
And rip open a single door

The paper trails right off
toward the end I wrote.
Applied these hands too late

And now…

Sitting pretty on my only easy semester
My friends and siblings say its fine
We breeze by like it’s summertime

Hunched hard over the keyboard
These hands callous up from clasping at pavement
Sitting pretty on my only easy semester

Straining eyes shaky over my monitor
This mouth is all out of “Not Selected” sighs
My friends and siblings say its fine

Chowing down old accolades, this stomach grumbles.
The awards mean nothing when seeking the next thing.
We breeze by like it’s summertime

The paper trails on after ends
past friends, past bends, past days – I chase
the back of lines to sort me straight.
My mess can end where work begins.

And then…

Did I write I’d sell my soul
on the back of the cover letter?
Did I sign it in like an autograph?

Did I purge Facebook of all the follies?
Did I trace the edges of my fingernails
with talons and teeth to sweep the dirt clean?

Do I still look pretty lined up next to
all the inky achievements of the other applicants?
When you drench your eyes in the black stream, can you still see me?

Could you shoot me an email letting me know the lecture I missed?
Could you send me the sign-up sheet for the next thing I need?
Could you single out the second I could have stepped up?

This inbox is empty
These eyes are hungry
I’d rather you scorn me
then leave me empty of Calibri black ink

I run this paper trail in day and dream.
My cycle spins on silent wheels and tracks.
No mouths, just eyes all peeling even keels.
So I pretend my love of self lasts past
rejection that repeats in muted blinks.

And Now…

Reality is bliss of endless steam hiss modernity,
the up and downs of pounding pistons plow on,
the howl of heat planted me on migraine cushions.

It’s the sound of necks and knuckles cutting cracks
in sidewalks along chalk lines that’s busted my mind wide open
and filled it full with fantasies of fury I hiss, pound, howl loose.

Reality is bliss with parents, friends, the sun’s brilliance,
All bits of light to photosynthesize sweet smelling flowers
But reality stopped visiting

If it did it’d need a shovel
To exhume me out of this downer shit
It’d need acid spit to burn iron bars

Where is my reflection now? I need to stare it down and demand an answer.
Where is my acceptance now? I need to cut out oddities I can’t make fit me.
Where is my reality now? I need the bliss until sweets make me sick.

The paper trails have sparked, burn me up with empty ink “oh-wells!”
I want so bad to be well liked, what people should I please? Oh please!
I feel so sick at settling, still I spy both sky and earth as short.
Mismeasured this existence, fiery forms so burnt me out
and out of ash I’ll rise again and tighter clasp on paper trails.

And then…

~Austin R Ryan

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