POETRY NEEDS MOONLIGHT
From the youngest age my son was a climber. Out of his crib and smacking onto the hardwood floor, which caused us to install carpeting in his room. The backyard playset, where he made it to the very top and sat there gazing at the little world that was his home, until called inside. The oak tree with its low, long branch that was a perfect seat. Even after he fell off with only a few bruises, he climbed again and again, higher each time. At age eight he wanted a treehouse and he wanted to build it all himself. He and I searched the for the best tree behind the house and found one with crossing branches that could support planks and a couple small boys. I helped him plan it, gathered all the needed materials, and supervised his sawing and nail hammering. When I felt he was ready, I told him to build it. And he did.
Some years later we took it down as it was too small for him and was also beginning to rot. Hauling and stacking the wood into a neat pile, I began to compose in my head a poem about his building it. It was the dismantling that sparked the memory of building. So I built a poem in my head and wrote it out a day or two later when I had time. The poem is called, simply, “The Treehouse,” and was published in the first magazine I submitted it to in the early 1990s. But I didn’t include it a book until Captive in the Here, published in 2018.
Such delays or separations from the actual time scale are not unusual for my writing, nor the initial composition in my mind before committing a poem to paper, or computer. This means that I have folders full of scraps of paper and napkins from restaurants, spiral notebooks, and blank journals scribbled with images, ideas, or lines for possible poems, that sometimes, and, typically long after initial inspiration, actually do become poems, though much of these have not, yet, been fleshed out.
The problem? Available time for myself and my writing. There was always time for the family, for the kids’ activities and projects, for the bed time stories. But not always time for writing. This is simply the facts of parenthood. And I wanted to be a good parent. And I wanted my son and daughter to have a close to normal childhood, whether or not their father was a poet. I did find a solution to the time problem early on during my kids’ first decades of life.
The title of my first book is The Night Watches, published 1981. My son was nine years old and my daughter six. The poems were all written in the 1970s as my wife and I went through pregnancies, births, and all the wonderful, joyous little events in a growing child’s life: first words, first steps, that red and white tricycle, the bruised knees, the first days of kindergarten, and all that ensued.
Night Watch is a Naval term for overnight guard duty aboard a ship. Various sailors in rotation would be assigned this shift above and beyond their regular assignments. My father told me how boring and dull were his turns at night watch aboard ships headed to the Pacific islands during World War II. But they had to be ever attentive in case of sudden attacks by the enemy, which was a real possibility.
All the poems in that first book were written after I gave the baby his or her late feeding. In those early years of our children’s lives, my wife was a stay-at-home mom and needed her rest more than I did. So I got the night watch duty in the family as that gave me the time to actually write. And write I did, most every night, sometimes until two or three in the morning, then slept a few hours, got up and left for work at 7:05 AM to teach five classes of high school English. Rigorous and draining. But exhilarating and joyous at the same time, else I never would have done it this way. I loved fathering. I loved teaching. I loved writing. And I figured out a way to do all of them.
As the kids grew they needed less and less father involvement with each year. That gave me more opportunity to write during day time on the weekends and evenings on school nights. But every now and then, I will write late into the night as the need of a particular piece requires. And I will pause to gaze out the window and nod at my old friend, the moon.
BIO: Gary Metras is the founder, editor, and letterpress printer of Adastra Press. His books of poetry include Captive in the Here (Cervena Barva Press, 2017), The Moon in the Pool (Presa Press, 2017), and many others. His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in such journals as The American Voice, Another Chicago Magazine, The Bellingham Review, The Boston Review of Books, California Quarterly, Connecticut Poetry Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Poetry, Poetry East, Yankee, and former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. He is a past recipient of the Massachusetts Fellowship in Poetry and has worked as a store clerk, tobacco picker, short order cook, air traffic controller (U.S. Air Force), bookstore manager, high school English teacher, and college writing instructor. Metras holds degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Goddard College. He fly fishes the streams and rivers of western Massachusetts as often as possible.