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Poisonous Butterflies (Johnny Levy)

Just put the marks
On the page.

This is what
I tell myself

When my canvas
Is too big for me.

When the paper's
Whiteness blinds me,

And I've failed
Before I've started.

It doesn't have
To be good.

Just put the marks
On the page.

What's more intimidating
Than coming to a page
With a pencil?

What's louder
Then the silence?

What if I try
And it all sucks?

What if my last good poem
Was a fluke?

It's enough to make you
Shut it all down and go home.

Literally, today,
I want to shut it all down
And go home.

I want to stop torturing myself
With the disconnect between
My ocean-sized desire

And my teeny little fingers.
My broken little fingers.
My filthy little fingers.

But, see,
I'm still writing.

This is the lesson.
This is what I have to give to you

This is what the teachers
Never taught me.

My stepson is an artist.
He and I can talk about art
And stories and creation
For hours.

He's young and fearless.
He draws things
I would never attempt.

He hasn't learned to stay
Neatly inside the lines.

And I love it.

He passed on to me
Something his best teacher,
His art teacher,
Passed on to him.

"Got to put the marks on the page."

"Treat it like a job.
Clock in, clock out."

"Put the marks down."

When he told me that quote,

Something came through the phone
And entered my ear
Like a bullet. No,
Like a drop of red dye
In clear water. 

I am 44 years old.
I've done graduate level
Poetry workshops.

And I had never heard that before.

Clock in, clock out.
Put the marks down.

Never been given
That sweet permission
To show up and fail.

It's okay to fail.

Put your face in my hands.
Look me in my eyes
And hear this.

It's okay if this one
Isn't as good as the last one.

Or as good as whoever else's.

It's okay if you try
Ten times in a row
And it sucks ten times in a row.

Put the marks down
Get your marks in.

No such thing as flukes.
Just people who stop trying.

I, like you,
Want to take that perfect
Sun above the rolling mountains

The exact blue of the sky.
I want to inhale it
Into my chest,

Thick and fragrant
As storm clouds,

Season it with all my heart,
Let it cook for a little bit,

And serve it up to the world,
A steaming hot meal
That makes you gasp and slobber
And forget to use your napkin.

I, like you,
Rarely feel
Like I'm doing justice

To the radiant lovely poem or piece
That wants to exist, but doesn't yet.
Waiting somewhere in the darkness.

Whimpering to live.

Mythical butterfly, big as
Both hands and feet
Multi-colored iridescent angel
That I hunt for.

They only come out at night
When no one is looking.

You have to walk backwards.
You have to be silent as
Wind kissing leaves.

I thought I felt
Your wing graze my eyelid
When I was sleeping.

My longing for you,
Is so fierce
It scares me.

To search for you
And not find you

Is its own kind of heartbreak

And so we do what humans do
When trying to mitigate our risk.

We buffer our disappointment.

We bargain with ourselves.
We hedge our bets.

We go out to the jungle
Less and less.

We turn back early.

But what if, my friend,
You don't find your
Big radiant butterfly,

But a shiny river rock instead,
For your smiling little girl?

Or the sound of a brook
That sings your soul supple?

What if that big butterfly in your mind
Is stealing from you?

Stealing your river rocks
And brook sounds
And the smell of Jasmine
And the stretching of your legs
And the thick jungle breath
Across your cheeks?

And the billion other treasures
Waiting to be found?

Those mind-butterflies
Can be poisonous, homie.

They steal the marks, you know.
They steal your steps.

They tempt you to be
Satisfied only with

And then they hide.

There is so much more
Waiting for those
Who venture out.

And venture out
And venture out.