As I keep noting, the spring of 2009 was overall pretty productive, although with few exceptions, the quality of the work was indicative of someone who hadn’t written creatively in eighteen years, and the torrent became a trickle as the months progressed. March saw a cascade, yes, God, yes. April flowed, yes, but less so. But May? I wrote only two poems in May. I had a lot of work at Orange Coast College, wrapping up the semester.
I thought the summer would immediately see a return to productivity, since I hadn’t been given a summer class to teach and would have plenty of time to focus on writing. But I blew my interview with the unintelligible man from the Employment Development Department, ensuring I would receive no unemployment checks. And I struggled to find any places that were even accepting job applications, further suggesting this would be a lean, lean summer for Raquel and me. And after a quick, early spate of acceptances from a journal specializing in filth, I spent several months receiving no positive responses to the vast amount of work I submitted in March. I was a broke, broken loser. I shut down. I went into cocoon mode, spending nothing, thinking nothing, doing nothing, producing nothing. I embraced June gloom. The first three weeks of July were similarly desolate, professionally and personally.
Something happened. Maybe I just needed time to lick my wounds and recoup my sense of self-worth. Maybe it was just an extended creative refractory period. Maybe I really was in a cocoon, preparing for an artistic metamorphosis. Whatever the case — and yes, this sounds cheesy — I started to dream again. I once again started to daydream about random bits and pieces of fluff. So there my idle thoughts and I dawdled in the shower on July 21, wasting water and soaping our chubby little flanks, when we thought about an alligator that had been flushed down the toilet. Or maybe a crocodile. A crocodile abandoned by his original caretakers, as Moses had been sent adrift on the Nile. And if the reptile is Jewish, then Noah must be an amphibian. No! Adam and Eve, the first two ex-fish to crawl up onto the land! Something, something, something is here; keep it straight in the head while drying off. Get to the computer!
There was a new ease and playfulness to writing this new poem. The basic structure fell into place: amphibious Adam and Eve, reptilian Moses, avian Jesus, mammalian Mohammed, future creatures and religions. Having established that, I could fart around and have fun with the piece. There was far less of the clenched, desperate energy and portentous pretentiousness — Guh! Guh! Empty and contort the guts! Must squeeze out Art! — that frequently marked and marred my March poetry.
It still wasn’t perfect. I think the easy flow of energy tapered off just before the final section, or maybe I hadn’t thought it through enough. I do tend to struggle with endings. I mean, I think the ideas I wound up with are good; the execution just strikes me as a bit stilted. What do you think?
But what’s to be the final revelation? Kerchieved roaches teeming
within Frigidaire cathedrals or nanotech pathogens waging jihad
in the pleural cavities of fathers, sons, and sacred goats? What else
will emerge to ape hominid genuflection in the Aesopian mirror?
Perhaps all flesh will fade to dust, leaving all holy mountains to the
automatic bagel-slicer, the cross-cut saw, the robot bomb-sniffer
and mp3 hymn-player. And with a set of 10 new commandments,
“Resistance is futile” and “Kill John Connor,” shiny new fables will come.
I mean, I have a binary “pun” in the second to last line (making that stanza tough to recite). I had to stretch a bit to get that one. But then, I dunno. Reading it now, I like it better than when I originally came up with it.
Some nice bits of positive blowback occurred after writing “The Gospel of Darwin.” It rekindled the fire I had in March and part of April; I wrote ten more poems over the next three weeks, each pretty solid given my capabilities then, each marked by the same newly unclenched energy. I became inspired to submit more work to more journals. And finally, the acceptances started coming in from my spate of March submissions; given the funk I’d been in during the first half of summer, their timing was appreciated.
“The Gospel of Darwin” first appeared in Watershed Volume 33 (Fall 2009). A revised version of the first section of “The Gospel of Darwin” appeared in Oyez Review Volume 37 (Spring 2010). It should have appeared first in Oyez Review. Someone from that journal called me on the phone October 16, 2009, after I dropped off Raquel at work in the morning; it’s the only time I’ve been telephoned about an acceptance, by the way. Oyez Review wanted the first section of the poem, after I made a few revisions. Fair enough. Then a month later, on November 19, Watershed contacted me to say that they would be publishing “The Gospel of Darwin” and “The Appointment.” I said they could only have the latter poem; they said it was a fait accompli, that the galleys, including both poems, were already at the printer. Not cool. The faculty advisor responded to my unhappiness by writing, “I apologize for this error, and we will print an errata sheet to be included in every issue distributed. Our print run is only 250 copies, most distributed locally, so I hope the damage is minimal.” I received my contributor’s copy, which did include the errata insert, so I guess things turned out as best they could.