Transcribing Notes for Poems While Waiting for the FedEx Guy

John Guzlowski

So I'm staring out the window waiting for the FedEx guy to show up and pick up this case of wine we never ordered and didn't want, and I'm wondering what can I do while waiting.  I don't want to do anything where I have to focus too much, because then I might miss the FedEx guy.  But I don't want to be wasting my time, so I decided to finally get together all the notes for poems that I’ve been collecting for the last 6 months. 

Here’s what I mean:

I’m always writing down stuff that pops into my head, lines for poems, words for poems, topics for poems.  I write this stuff down on a piece of paper, or rather many many pieces of paper.  I have legal pads and scratch pads scattered around the house, and when something interesting hits me, I write it down on one of these pads.  I do this all the time, write stuff down, because I know that if I don’t, then I’ll just forget the line or the phrase.  

Trust me, it happens all the time.  

Just this morning while I was exercising on my stationary bike, two lines, a couplet, came into my head.  I went to write it down but couldn’t find a pen that worked, and before I got to the bedroom where we store dozens of pens, the lines were gone.  You know what that’s like.  Even if they were dreck, you’ll never know because they’re lost.  And what if they were the lost chord that Leonard Cohen always sings about?!

So while waiting for the FedEx guy, I figured I would gather all these notes together and type them into my computer, and while I’m doing this I can start shifting these lines and trying to see if they come together as poems or possible parts of poems.  My long poem "Third Winter of War: Buchenwald" that's included in Echoes of Tattered Tongues came together this way.  I spent about a year just jotting stuff down and finally when I sat down and typed it all into the computer, there was the book.  A good poem in fact. Then it appeared as a chapbook the publisher nominated for a Pulitzer Prize!

So I’m sitting at the desk, looking out the window for the FedEx guy, and typing. 

Typing slowly.

Typing slowly because I can’t easily read my writing for the most part.  When I dash these lines and phrases down, I usually write as fast as I can so that I don’t forget what I want to write.  This results in about 40% of the writing being a blur—is it “a land time egg” or “a long time ago”?  “Felt the brown stuff” or “Feel the torn skin”? 

So I’m doing this and keeping an eye on the window and typing and pretty soon I realize that most of everything I’m transcribing from the notes I’ve taken in the last 6 months is shit.

Holy smokes.


I’m not being coy and looking for praise.  I’m not looking for you to tell me, really this stuff is great. I can see it on the pages I’ve typed.  It’s all junk.

Let me give you a few of the pages I’ve transcribed:


·        In the dark there is fear and fantasy, dreams and nightmares
·        when we breathe our last we breathe still—all is well all is well all is well
·        thank you for listening
·        If a man has legs he should walk.
·        a man walks into a kitchen looking for a knife
·        the knife is looking for him
·        The Polish word for hand is ręka.  In German it is shovel, rake, fork, and knife.
·        Spring—I watch the earth as if feeds its dead.  I don’t know what to say.
·        A man will drink water if there’s no beer, no liquor, no love of a woman he knew as a boy.
·        No god waiting for his mother and father at the door of the home he knew as a child
·        For a second just then before dawn the sky is red.
·        All babies are born left-handed.
·        Some men turn to sorrow, others to anger
·        There is death before birth and birth before death
·        The last man on earth asks for a drink of water
·        there is no one to give it to him
·        There’s no pain like loneliness
·        Love isn’t love when it doesn’t exist
·        It came back like the devil and his son
·        Man was not built for staying put, that’s why god gave him two feet  and a soul that itches.
·        Self defense is the law of nature not the law of Jesus
·        forgiveness is indifference
·        in July the grass is dry, the leaves in the trees as green as they’ll get. 
·        if a man stands still for a moment, what he’ll hear is the silence
·        Winter is ahead, waiting for the world to catch up
·        The trees of heaven have roots that go deeper than sorrow. 
·        Love is a kind of literature
·        Anything but the wire.
·        His voice a violin at a funeral
·        Hell is the place where they keep the cigarettes


So I’m typing this kind of stuff up and getting tired and taking breaks to look for more notepads and slips of paper with lines written on them, and it’s getting later and later, and I’m getting disgusted with the stuff I’m typing up on my computer and wondering where all of it leads, and how come I don’t just stop typing and do something else, and I’m looking at the street through the window, and wondering where the FedEx guy is, and suddenly I see him.

There he is.  A big FedEx ground truck.  My truck. 

And I’m ecstatic because I can stop worrying about the case of wine, and the money it’s going to cost me if I don’t get it picked up, and I can stop worrying about the shit I’m transcribing that refuses to cohere, to come together in some kind of shape that I can work into a poem.  All of the world is suddenly golden because the FedEx guy is here, and I’m happy at last, and then suddenly the truck starts up and the truck is over the hill and out of sight in a couple of seconds.  He’s gone.  Him and his truck.  And he never even got out of the truck, to walk up the sidewalk to the house and ring the bell or knock on the door to pick up the case of wine that was waiting just inside the door.

He’s gone.

And I’ve got to go back to transcribing all of this rotten poetry.

All of it—that I can’t read and that doesn’t make any kind of sense.      

So I start typing from the sheets of notepads:

I just want to say to the world, hold me.
And here’s what’s God say, “Not now.” 
He keeps me waiting like a cow.


John GuzlowskiJohn Guzlowski's writing appears in RattleNorth American Review, and other journals.  Echoes of Tattered Tongues, his memoir about his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany, won the Benjamin Franklin Poetry Award and the Eric Hoffer/Montaigne Award.  He is also the author of the Hank and Marvin mystery novels (reviewed in the NYT and WST) and a columnist for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish daily newspaper in the US.