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Journal, Day Two

By Patricia Smith

Without naming any names, let’s just say that someone was a little “windy” yesterday, shall we?

I honestly don’t know where all those words came from. One moment I was seriously agonizing over how my reflections could possibly occupy this hugely public space, and I pondered the best ways to pontificate pithily (wow, I expected my spellcheck—or at least the haughty expressions police—to blow the whistle on that one). I even considered jotting off one of those posts sometimes found on the obscenely popular LiveJournal blogosphere (“Hey. Just sitting around. Ordered Chinese this afternoon. Wow. I’m bored.”) or the even more obscenely popular MySpace (“Hey. What are you wearing? What school you go to? Cool! Let’s have sex, OK?”). But just before panic set in, fully formed sentences—complete with subject, predicate, and a few nattily garbed adjectives—were dripping from the light fixtures.

I could only conclude that My Muse (who I’ve called, at one time or another, La Music, Jimmie Savannah, Her Bitchness, Ruby Begonia, Sista Sometimes, Mavis, Butterfly McQueen, M’Dear, Hot Damn, The Esteemed Imperial Inimitable Goddess Ms. Gwen, My Boo, Cleopatra Jones, Tamika, Miz Thang, and Mamie Eisenhower) was once again in residence. I always know when she’s come home. I write like a woman possessed.

What does that mean, exactly, to write like someone possessed? If your eyes are on this and you profess to be a wordsmith of some sort, you’ve probably been there. You mutter every word you write, and every time you write a word you mutter all the words that came before that word, just to make sure they belong together. The UPS guy taps on the door to announce a package and you answer with goop in the corner of your eyes and your left breast hanging out of your shirt because—to quote Yoda—a damn you do not give. You call up relatives you haven’t spoken to in years because they simply have to hear that stanza, experience that volta, or marvel at that brilliant rhythmic shift. Eventually those you live with start pinching their noses and cutting a wide, wide path around you because—well, hygiene is way down on your list. You don’t brush, bathe, douche, purge, or exfoliate—in fact, you’re considering a catheter—because you’re terrified that when you come back from your toilette, Mamie Eisenhower will have taken her leave.

La Music, she’s a fickle one. In the middle of a poem, she’s been known to rise up in a huff and desert me in the dead center of a syllable. Then, sometimes a week later, sometimes a month, she turns up again, contrite and droopy-eyed, clutching her toothbrush, a Luther CD (the one with “Superstar”) to re-woo me, and an overnight bag that’s always too small.

And of course I take her back, trying my best to ignore the fact that she smells vaguely of some other writer’s funk. ‘Cause by that time, I’m jonesin’. I need her too bad. Like Dubya needs language. Like Michael Jackson needs a nasal passage. Like Nicole Richie needs a hamhock. OK, two hamhocks. Deep-fried.

What does your muse look like? I imagine mine as the love child of Mona Lisa and James Brown. And not the “Please, Please, Please” James with the regal cape and immobile pompadour. And not the battery-powered “Living in America” James, surprisingly limber and dressed discreetly in the American flag. I’m talking the James who has done it and is dying to do it again, the James with absolutely none of himself being played on the radio, the pissed-off, butt-whupping James immortalized in the now-classic mug shot, the one taken a short time after he inexplicably pumped bullets into the chassis of his wife’s car, killing it instantly.

And I’m not talking about the Mona Lisa gazed at and revered by everyone, hanging royally in her own little room at the Louvre. Perhaps you didn’t know—but a short time before sitting down to pose for Da Vinci, Ms. Mona had her left nipple pierced, broke a stranger’s heart, bought her first thong (she’s wearing it, and it’s a little too small, can’t you tell?), puffed some killer weed, hit the gym, and made urgent love against a brick wall. Gal’s got a past. Plus, she snarls, sucks her teeth, and adjusts the friggin’ thong when nobody’s looking. That’s My Muse’s mama.

Once you get past the slightly disturbing image of the Godfather of Soul and La Gioconda gettin’ busy, close your eyes, and keep them closed until you can picture My Muse, Ms. Ruby Begonia. Consider her cool, startling parentage. Don’t forget that she has dusty copper dreadlocks as thick as tree trunks, tiny porcelain hands, and a mole she’s been thinking of having removed.

See her? That’s the temperamental diva who runs my days and fills me with fever. She’s the reason I found myself up one night at 3 a.m., desperately needing to know the name of Quick Draw McGraw’s sidekick. (Don’t think on it too long, it’ll make your head hurt.) She’s got me locking doors and nailing shut the windows so she can’t get out. She’s got me afraid to go the bathroom. Ain’t she a peach?

So if you had a hard time wading through my acres of prose yesterday, blame her. She knows how much I like an audience. I suspect she shares my addiction. And you guys are no ordinary audience, squirming in your folding chairs during stanza 12 of some poet’s masturbatory musings. You folks are out there doing stuff—considering omelets, picking your nose, dressing for work, listening to Nina Simone—and I can’t see you. I can’t see if what I’ve—we’ve—written is making you cringe, yawn, or laugh. For Jimmie Savannah and me, you’re the ultimate challenge.

So here’s a challenge for you. Ship me a comment. Introduce your muse to the world.


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, December 19th, 2006 by Patricia Smith.