Naked. Running in the woods. The first sign of madness.
It’s been a while since I saw him the last time. We have known each other long before our births. We are what you call ‘besties’. Best friends. Compadres. I missed him. Was curious what he was doing. Can you imagine my surprise when I heard he was a poet. So not like him. An assassin turned into a poet. Was he killing with words now? It took a while to find him. He was living in a small house in the middle of nowhere. When I finally got there the first thing I saw was him running naked in the woods. Screaming like a girl.
I called to him
He did not return. I entered the house. Papers covered the floor. Was there an explanation to his behavior? I picked up few papers to get a sense of what he was doing. Out of nowhere a wasp, a size of a fist, attacked me. A swift dodge and precise throw of my kunai got rid of this nuisance.
He was writing a poem. Indeed, he had traded his killer instincts for a poetic expression. I was curious; gathered all papers I could find on the ground. There were notes about selling it. For one coin. Had he lost his marbles? I remembered my encounters with poets. All of them walked in rugs. Traded poems for food. Instantly I searched the house. Found only rugs. Few items of food. My heart sunk.
Few books and an essay
Flipping through pages I saw circled letters. ABBAAB and ABCBBB. A code. No. Rhyming structures. Former was from a “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” by Robert Browning, latter from “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. He was studying them.
I met Poe once. Interesting fella. He urged me to read his essay “The philosophy of composition.” I glanced over it to make him happy.
My friend wanted to write a sad poem with a touch of melancholy. Why on earth would he want to do that? Was he sad himself? Or he was justifying that one-coin price. Poem had to be philosophical. Let’s be honest. If you look deep enough you can find philosophical revelations in a cookbook too. The cooks I’ve met have been real treasures. One day I should tell you about a cook who run a secret wedding business. He called them ‘The Red Weddings’. What a funny guy.
Keeping up with Poe he aimed at hundred lines. He wrote only eighty four. Let’s look at the beginning.
A glimpse of the first thought.
Look at this.
“Just thinking about it images began to appear. Orange hues in the beginning. A dry place. Ronin or Gunslinger is walking toward something. To create a movement, a change, ending had to be different. Colder colors. Some blues and greens. Rain falling. At the very end someone approached the traveler. At that time I had no idea who. It was a cool thought.”
Then he followed with this little gem.
“Single leaf picked up by the wind
Sun in the background. That visual heat thingy. Ronin emerges from it. Like a shadow. Chasing the rain. Earth is cracked. His skin is cracked. Dry lips. Unwashed cloth. Skin wraps around his muscles. Dirty feet. Sits under the tree. Wooden sword. Sprouting seed. Two leaves. Green. Shriveled leaves. Ronin exhausted. Hallucinations.”
Looks nothing like poetry if you ask me. Ah, another page. A little bit longer.
“Starts with a single leaf on the ground. The leaf is picked up by the wind. Dances around Ronin’s dusty feet. Maybe he’s called traveler. Leaf travels up. Ronin catches it, and leaf crumbles. Or leaf crumbles before Ronin’s eyes. Or crumbles in Ronin’s palm. The feeling I want to convey is that wind is gentle in contrast with Ronin. Whereas later wind becomes more violent. And Ronin much gentler? Leaf crumbles. It should be like a journey. A single path. Surroundings are dry and cracked. Ronin is thirsty and weary. His skin cracked and dirty. Lips dry. He’s been chasing the rain for a while now. Ah, what if, poem begins with third person narrative, a distant one. And as we go deeper in his head we experience his delusions and illusions. It could turn in quite psychedelic poem with a spice of humor. A journey. So. Leaf crumbles in his hand. Then we travel along his arm. To his face. One or two lines (possibly last ones) touches his mind. A glimpse in his mind, his madness within. Next stanza pulls violently back. Distance again. Showing what is happening. Scorching sun. Cracked earth. Dead animals. Pretty bleak world. Small description of Ronin. His clothes. Wooden sword. Straw hat. Maybe a tiny flashback. Where Ronin is coming from. Where he is going. What he is chasing. What or Who put him in this situation. Traveled with boat. Some lessons he learned from the nature. In each stanza there could be line that shows wind is becoming stronger. Then he sits all falls under the tree. We start go deeper in his head. See how he is seeing the world. All the while wind is becoming stronger. First rain drops. New sprout from the ground. Green. Two leaves. He snaps out of his madness. Catches rain. Becomes relieved. Someone approaches Ronin through the wall of rain.”
He expanded the first thought. The overall feeling. He decided on end rhymes and internal rhymes. Can’t see them there. No metrical patterns. I bet his laziness took over. Such a mess are these papers. There we go. The next step. To put imagery in stanzas. Nothing looks completed. Alright. These two will do, to get a gist of what he tried to do.
Third stanza. Let the reader drink the surrounding scenery. Let them feel the hot sun, cracked earth. Half-dead traveler. A sharp pull back, like in fear or pain (the first line) Illusions steaming from the skin of earth Corpses filled with maggots, popped. Traveler walking through the veil of mirage Birds high above waiting for him die Flesh craving beasts waiting for him to fall Fourth stanza. A small flashback. Why traveler is here. What made him come here. Why he is in this situation. That little liar said it's not far Just over that bridge is what you seek / is that what I seek / I'll find what I seek Over that bridge was nothing but salt flat Turned to go back village was no more I cursed the little liar was out luck Spat my last snot followed straight line.
As you can see he wrote short images/questions how stanzas should feel. Then it was a simple matter of compressing the rushing thoughts. Almost all lines had more then two versions. Some had a sample imagery only.
There is a little note on the side, “When I got to the tenth stanza, it felt incomplete.” I looked at it. He was right. Maybe my friend was unto something.
I didn’t notice how much time had passed. Darkness loomed over the house. My friend came back. This time clothed. With a weapon and food. I was glad to see a glistening metal in his hand. Decided not to disturb him; I slipped in the shadows.
He walked inside with a battle stance I knew well. Searched the house. Relieved went to sleep. Next two weeks he wrote, ate, and slept. When he was asleep I looked through his work. All this time he was trying to find the right words. The right rhymes. Persistent as in our old days.
Final rhyming structure he chose was ABBAAB. I approved his choice. One day his eyes lit like a fire. I felt that story had completed itself. I was right.
“Somewhere in the middle, story completed itself. The traveler is a Ronin from a village that hasn’t seen rain in ages. He travels far to find the Storm God with an intention to serve him in exchange for little rain in his village. In other village he meets a nice lady that tells him where to find the Storm God. She probably lied. Traveler is trapped in a desert or something. Gets delusional from heat. Wind sees him boasting about his sword skills. Tells to Storm God. He comes down to have some fun. Raijin is a Japanese storm god. Musashi is a famous Ronin. I had no lust to invent new words.”
Fourth draft was a final one. It was for punctuation and some word changes he didn’t liked. He wrote title of the poem at the end when all was finished.
What he did next?
He made a book. In a computer. We are not savages, you know. At this point he was talking loud to himself.
“I could, of course, make a simple pdf from the text and be done with it. No can do. One coin or one million coins, it must be presented in a nice way. That means a cover and nicely made package aka A Poem Book. My first three books I made with OpenOffice Writer. This time I wanted to try my hand at Scribus. It’s a free page layout software. Spent one half-day messing around with it. Skill acquired. Basics at least. It’s not super complicated software, but there is a small learning curve. Cover I made with Inkscape (free vector software). Been using it for a while. Not much learning there.”
Look at that work. All that for one coin. Madness.
I faked my arrival couple days later. He was surprised. Understandable, we hadn’t seen each other for hundreds of years. I read his finished poem. I expected no less. I asked him if that was a story about someone we knew. He avoided that question. Now I need to dig in my mind for a fella called Musashi.
Oh, and that naked running? It appears that my friend has developed a fear from small wasps.
My friend is a bad salesman. Can you believe it, he thought that writing one poem was enough. Unbelievable. And selling it for one coin. Outrageous. I can’t change his mind. Also we are in a pickle. Are you here from the book or you are here before you have read the poem?
If you are here before the book. Go get the book. Read the poem.
If you are here from the book. I have a question to ask. Is this poem worth one coin?
If the answer is yes, let’s shake our hands. If the answer is no, you can still keep it. No obligations.