Illustration by Kali Gregan

"Phantom Limb"

Christopher Locke

Not writing is a lot like breathing; it can continue without notice. And as I moved through my days into weeks and months of not writing, it started to feel completely normal. Like I never wrote at all: I was never that MFA student devouring every book of poems I could get my hands on, fervent, with my own poems coming like extended fever dreams, these bottle-rocket incantations that my mentor could barely keep up with. Everything I saw and touched was imbued with…what? Incredible potential: every damn dogwood, sewer drain, sunset, and brick facade. My fiancée’s face and a hill of daffodils snapping to attention held equal wonder. No surprise my first chapbook came at age twenty-four, with several to follow. Then full-lengths. My Poetry World Conquest Tour was imminent and unstoppable. I should have made T-shirts!

Then it was essays, nonfiction; the words to a memoir that seemed to fall from my hands like seeds to soil. Sitting in a bright room in Mexico, listening to the gas truck announce his arrival to the neighborhood, the keyboard was a clicking blur, with me stopping only briefly to admire a profoundly orange bird that took to visiting our garden right outside the window. Mornings I’d lie in bed with my daughters as the desert heat pooled up around us and invent whole adventures about the bird. I named him Philip, and he was always brave.

But one winter when I was not writing, (and by the way, this happened so casually, almost painless enough not to notice) my writing thoughts were replaced with things like: Should I have that third glass of wine? Or: Is Netflix still streaming that show about the kid with superpowers? My conversations with my daughters became inconsequential: How’s school? How are you? Any boyfriends? Girlfriends? Oh look, I received my thirtieth like on Facebook, that photo of the crumbling barn (good play of shadow and light—who doesn’t love an iPhone camera nowadays?) I mean, how could I write when the poor cat needed petting and the woodstove required attention? Feet up, more wine! Wasn’t I going to read that poem by what’s-his-name? Didn’t I already? Wonderful, it’s late and I’m drunk and here’s time for me and my wife to choose to resent each other a little more precisely. Our voices strained the corners of the house.

And right before I drifted off to sleep in the guest room, regret still abstract, I didn’t think Where is my new poem? Or, will I be happy again? Or, I know that there is good inside me. I just kept my eyes closed until there was nothing but breath. Steady. Constant. Like waves.

Christopher Locke is the nonfiction editor at Slice magazine. New books include Trespassers (Finishing Line, 2016) and Ordinary Gods (Salmon Poetry, 2017). 

Illustration by Kali Gregan. Kali Gregan is an illustrator based in Richmond, Virginia who finds inspiration in Cubism and collage.