I just completed a hybrid prose/lyrical essay writing class (my first formal writing class). It was amazing. We studied a form that eludes form; a combination of poetry and prose.
We had a “reading” last Friday in Miami, and this was my piece:
I stare at a seed—a peach seed.
It rests in my palm, reflecting its mystery back to me.
Early on, I remember asking my mom where my younger brother and I came from.
A couple of days later, she hands us a picture book from the library.
We lay in her bed, turning the pages and giggling.
I could see the biology, how the parts fit together, but it didn’t really answer my question.
I was always asked two questions, by my dad, when I brought home my report card:
What grades did you get?
What did Robbie get?
Robbie: my best friend; my nemesis (before I had any idea what a nemesis was).
Nemesis: the inescapable agent of someone’s downfall.
At the end of 3rd grade, Robbie and I were called in to see the principal. Do you guys want to skip 4th grade and go to 5th next year? We nodded.
I stare at a different seed—from a black plum.
I had eaten it on my balcony, juices spilling over on the tiles.
It stares back, refusing the answer it sees me asking.
I lay my seeds on the glass table on my balcony.
The afternoon sun reaches them: beginnings shrouded in other beginnings.
Who takes the time to look at seeds anymore?
Robbie (1, Alex 0):
Robbie had leveled up during his summer break—leaving me in his parabolic dust.
When report cards came around, I had done very well, but not as well as Robbie.
A knot grew inside my chest that day, having to answer that second question; and a river, once flowing freely, was now dammed.
There is a wisp of eternity
in the wind; the trees stand, their hands in the air,
oblivious to my request for answers.
Wittingly or unwittingly, though, they still participate in the great mystery:
dropping their seeds, propagating, setting up new franchises.
Robbie (2, Alex 0):
Middle school brought more failure. Report cards came faster now. The gulf between us ever-widening, I hated them both now: one for excelling beyond me; the other for forcing me to admit it, out loud.
It’s the future.
I am the seed returning to mush, surrendering to the elements.
Only rotting makes sense now.
I choose it choosing me.
I grow down to the dark and moist.
Primary emotion: anger.
I am a big disappointment to him—and myself.
Next time he asks me, I’ll punch him.
When I was very young, I awoke one morning with a voice echoing in my head:
“Alex, you are going to do something great in this world.”
Little did I know how this voice would haunt me, as I continually failed to live up to its expectations.
Revenge (Alex 1, Dad 0):
I’m going to be a teacher, I told him. Mostly because he wanted me to go into business. He even gave me the book, “How to Win Friends & Influence People.” (I refused to read it.)
I saw too much. Seven-day work weeks and living for tomorrow. He was distraught by my decision, while I felt victorious.
The world tries to pull me up—“career,” “marriage and family,” “retirement”—but I resist with most of my strength. Thoreau’s Walden is a confirmation: don’t spend you best years preparing for your worst.
I turned my back on the world and go on a quest to the “Holy Land” seeking answers. I find a few holy people, but no answers.
Why am I here? What would you have me do? I need to know. I ask in the golden light of the Judean Hills. Two years of prayer, devotion and the study of ancient texts in an ancient tongue.
And nothing but silence.
I sink deeper into the void.
Return (Dad 1, Alex 1):
I return home. I’m between two worlds—neither here nor there.
Mood: waking up in a strange room, not knowing where I am.
I had been on a path to become a Rabbi. Every path I begin, I eventually leave.
My dad said, “Your whole spiritual journey has been a waste of time.”
I wanted to punch him; instead, I moved.
Between (Alex back to 0):
New York City.
I’m listening to 8 Mile Road on my headphones, on my way to see a friend on the Upper West Side. I looked up at the corner: it was a one-way street, no cars coming. About two steps in, I see a blur of yellow converging on me at 3 o’clock. (It wasn’t a one-way street after all.)
Don’t ask me how, but in that instant I become a whirling Dervish, a matador, a ballerina.
The only sounds were those of my CD player hitting the ground, and that of the spectators gasping on the corner, having just witnessed my great escape.
This was my wake-up call. I had been drifting for too long. It was time to commit to living in this world.
(God, was that you?)
Final Class (Alex):
Listening to the words of Caroline, as she reviews our final writing assignments with us:
This could be a chapbook.
I was so moved by your piece.
This sentence… (swooning smile).
My feedback: More prose. This needs fleshing out. I didn’t understand what you were trying to do here.
And I’m pulled back in time, age 12, sitting on the couch with my dad, showing him my report card. Yeah, and what did Robbie get?
But this time I don’t quit. I don’t turn to mush. I don’t want to punch her in the face.
I remember that Robbie is one kind of seed, and I’m quite another kind. And like the seeds on my balcony, we bloom—differently.
No longer my nemesis; no longer my friend, either.
My emotion: contentment.