The Beg-ending of the Ind

A letter was waiting atop the desk. It must have been Donovan who had left it there. Letters addressed to the owner of the desk were not unheard of, but never brought pleasant news—reminders of debts to be paid, invitations to feign enthusiasm at the marriages of former lovers or apathy-inducing acquaintances, and, most commonly, rejection letters in response to literary submissions.

Ian Poorley, owner of the desk, tended to toss bills and invitations toward (though never quite into) the cold, empty fireplace in the corner of the room, but the rejection notices remained. For reasons he could not quite articulate, he collected them there under a mateless heavy boot of obscure origins that had served as a brutal paperweight since around the same time he had cobbled the desk itself together from a salvaged door and a few packing crates. The desk, he would sometimes try to explain to people who couldn’t reasonably be expected to care, was really his only successful creation thus far, and he therefore ought to call himself a carpenter rather than an author. The ever-growing pile of rejections on the desk silently affirmed this bitter assessment.

By the way, please don’t take the third-person narration of Ian’s inner (and outer) life to be some sign of a lack of richness or depth therein. Quite the opposite, in fact—sometimes the workings of his head or mind or soul (or whatever) are just so excessively deeply felt that kind of the only way to really be able to afford them any kind of expression (let alone contemplation) at all is put them at the merciful arm’s length you can really only get in the third person.

Ian’s not, rest assured, the kind of mentally ill person who would naturally refer to himself in third person in all situations and without awareness that it’s abnormal, nor does he do it in the sort of trying-way-too-hard-to-appear-eccentric-as-cheap-substitute-for-being-interesting kind of way that creative types can so often be tempted into adopting, especially those who are not getting any/much/enough attention.

Which, granted, Ian is not (getting attention for his creative pursuits, that is), but there’s still a certain battered pride in him that prevents him from gimmicks and affectations or even adequate levels of self-promotion, for that matter.

But so anyway, please understand that when Ian employs the third person, here, sometimes, it’s not like he’s going for some wink-and-nudge-type literary self-awareness of being self-aware masturbatory [1] exercise; it’s just that sometimes the experience of being Ian Poorley is too much to handle at the intimate proximity of first-person description, is all.

Sighing and settling onto the precarious chair, Ian wondered which of his recent writings this letter would be about; he had produced admittedly few of late, and though some might have yet to see responses from potential publishers, the vast majority were present and accounted for under the boot. He opened the envelope with the kind of curiosity that dully hopes for new information merely to then get it out of the way, to throw it onto the pile of already-known unpleasantnesses.


[1] He can think of three ways to maybe pronounce this word, all of which sound absurd to his mind’s ear. But still, it’s what he means, so there’s really no way around it.


To Ian’s surprise, however, the letter he pulled from the envelope, which was scrawled onto a single sheet of paper displaying an impressive array of clashing varieties of off-whiteness, was no rejection at all. His eyes scanned in suspicious interest:

From the Staggeringly Rich and Very Influential Offices of Goiter & Crawe to:
Messrs. Poorley
Number Two Letchworth Commons
(The creaky one with the foul-smelling cat)

Sirs,

We find ourselves at the end of yet another year (which is just as well since we usually lose ourselves somewhere towards the beginning), and Company Stock is positively soaring. So between the rounds of rigorous backslapping, handshaking, and some rather auspicious ’attaboys, we are in a most reflective mood. At the conclusion of our copious gin and sours, we the Gentle Folks of G&C have decided to dispense our collective Spirit of the Times by this Most Generous of solicitations.

As follows:

Our sponsor, the goodly Doktor Plotnik, is christening a new produkt [sic] for distribution this coming year: Doktor Plotnik’s Liquid Stool—a marvelous bit of engineering that’s quite handy in a pinch. Simply pour one out and watch it take shape. Hardens in seconds!

Pour one out and take a load off!™

He has meanwhile commissioned a [Y]ear-End* Compendium of Poems to help ring in the New Year. (Rhyming only. His stomak [sic] is quite sensitive to prose.)

But seeing as how three quarters of our staff are completely sauced at the moment and only a FEW of us get paid overtime while the REST of us have to make up the ruddy difference and do the job on your rotten, stinking behalf, Alan!, while YOU go taking all the credit with that stupid bloated face of yours and that wretched, simpering, dung-crusted kiss-up, Nigel, and—Sorry, where was I?

Oh… Right.

Seeing as how we’re short on staff, we are reaching out to our dutiful corps of lyrists, rhymesters and sonneteers for help which is where you, dear Sirs, will enter if you are indeed able.

The topic: equal parts Reflection, Winter, and New Beginnings.

Please submit any and all rhyming verse to our office before day’s end. If published, you will each be handsomely remunerated to the sum of eleventeen free samples of the good Doktor’s Stool as well as a hundred pairs of mismatched socks that have been collected during the many after-hours parties I was never invited to, Deirdre!

Yours in self-delusion,

The Chieftains-in-Chief

[Editor’s Note: I think this is what Mr. Plotnik meant. It would have been a very misplaced ‘R’ otherwise.]


He set the letter atop the desk, next to the envelope it had arrived in. Wonderful, he thought. Rather than a full-grown rejection, they’ve sent me one in embryo, one they want me to lovingly raise before they slaughter it and feed it to me. He squeezed his tired eyes shut and pressed a hand against them. He spared a moment to think on how many times he had walked this weary way, and how little he had to show for it.

At the same time, though, Ian had to admit to himself that his inadequately stockinged feet were cold in a way that was far more pressing and unpleasant than any possible idiomatic sense of the expression. If for nothing nobler than the hope of earning some mismatched socks, he supposed, he might set pen to paper yet again. He hunted around the scattered surface of the desk for unused paper and some kind of writing implement.

He would write this poem—had to, really—and send it to Goiter & Crawe for their ruthless appraisal. He might have to trudge across town to deliver it in person if no postage stamps were at hand. He might well be rejected roundly, just as he had every other time this year. And if he succeeded, the stakes were so low that it would hardly mean a thing.

At the same time, a stubborn thought insisted: though success this time might be nearly immaterial, it would represent a change in direction. Inaction might look appealing, a passive shortcut to the failure that awaited effort, but he could now see that to not write at all would be a failure on a grander scale.

If both action and inaction were likely to bring discomfort, disappointment, and disaster, action was clearly the better choice. It wasn’t really even about the sliver of a chance of success, but just, in some urgent sense, the restless need to carry on. To die swimming for the shore rather than sinking with the rest of the wreckage.

The new year began the next day, and though Ian had long since lost all faith in resolutions, he resolved there at his desk to say ‘yes’ to every solicitation, no matter how sparse or insipid, no matter how trivial the heights or demeaning the depths he risked in doing so. And he would begin with the one before him.


The other kind of freedom

By discovering the borders I cannot cross,
and testing the restraints in which I am bound,
my true strength is discovered;
my real freedom is found.

Any room is a prison if thought to be so,
and I often have paced, with despair, to and fro,
for there’s pain at the edges,
and it’s foolish to go.

But it’s also unpleasant to sit still at home,
facing double damnation in any direction.
So now step out the door and gain traction,
and silence the voice of inaction.


Dear Reader, I, too, have managed a verse or two on the subject after my dear brother Ian proceeded to expound the untold merits of a good pair of socks.

Thus spurred, I sat and wrote the following air:


Old Lang Sighing

Gone and come the Spring and Sum,
the Autumn time behind me;
And here to eke: the Winter bleak,
its icy ties to bind me.

I cannot say, I do not know
what treasures wait in store;
But rest assured, by deed and word,
I’ll seek them nevermore.

For what is gained when what is left
is precious next to none?
A year is here. What hope and cheer
can greet the waning sun?

I guess I might suppose it luck
that Fame has found her Fortune
betwixt the paws of Goiter’d Crawes,
or mirror-Fate’s distortion.

If I perchance a twinkling piece
of light from heavens fractured
do reach to pluck, with just my luck,
the skies withhold their rapture.

But so it is and such has been
the curse of Poorley’s plot.
What cheers to cheer this coming year?
The answer: not a lot.

But this is all the chance I’ve got.
Yes, this is all the chance I’ve got.



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