Loving Language, Concerning “The Drawing”

In my thirties, as I was finally learning how to write poems, “The Drawing” was one of the few poems that I sent out for publication in a journal.  It was accepted by Sulphur River Review, my favorite of the Texas based small press journals. At the time, this poem was published, Sulphur River was based in Commerce Texas; now it is published in Austin. James Michael Robbins is its brave and tireless editor and publisher. Support your local small press!  [Sorry to say, now the journal has ceased publication.]

This is another poem about drawing—like “The Dying Leaves”—but this one is a child’s drawing and the poem describes basically what happened. I was in my study working, and my son Will, who was about five years old, stood by the desk and made a drawing with a ball point pen, first kind of stabbing the paper, then making a big line and then a curve and maybe added some other things. Little by little, I asked him what he had drawn and the poem records what he told me.

It stuck me as kind of a frightening drawing and I postulated that it came from the fact that his mother and I were not getting along at the time. I don’t know why but the poem from the very beginning was a family poem—“our son.” It was always a meditation about “us,” not necessarily only “me.” So addressing it to “you,” my wife, always seemed part of the rhetoric. But the truth is, this rhetoric or writing TO a person has always be with me.

But you know, I guess I have described only the first part of the poem. The poem shifts at the “Of course.” There the poem becomes about the couple. And the writing of it was a search. The first images were given to me and I wrote what my son said they were or what they reminded me of. Then the ax and the clippers were images that I pulled out of my imagination—what were like lightning and thunder but were domestic? Anger and fright during yard work!

Then be poem becomes sad and I realized that I was falling out of love. The last image of the letter personified as being separated from the word it belongs to was something I saw and felt in the imagination. What would, for instance, “lo” feel? What would “ve” feel? I see the “lo” and “ve” coming together like small magnets—the force field strong between them. Then when they connect there is this sigh, this sense of happiness, a desperation dismissed.   And thus it is there that the title changes meaning—the drawing together, not the drawing that my son did.

This poem also marks the beginning of my obsession, now over twenty-five years and ticking, of the nature of language—the forces that act on words and the forces that act through words and the forces that act out from words. A written word, after all, is a drawing.