Michael Collins is a graduate of Kalamazoo College, the Warren Wilson College MFA
Program for Writers, and Drew University, where he completed an MA in British and
American Literatures. He teaches creative and expository writing in the Paul McGhee
Division of the School for Continuing and Professional Studies, a liberal arts college
within New York University. His work has appeared recently in Glasschord Art and
Culture Magazine, Mad Swirl, Danse Macabre, BlazeVOX, and Eunoia Review. It will also
be included in upcoming issues of Brevity Poetry Review, Inclement Poetry Magazine,
Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction, The Subterranean Quarterly, Ginosko Literary
, Subliminal Interiors, and Grist Journal. He lives in Mamaroneck, New York, with
his wife, Carol.

Ars Poetica with the Snowmen I Drew

Back then the world seemed a one trick puppy,
whose death took the "play" right out of it,
made folks shuffle nervously, look for shovels.
And my own life seemed a joke too often told
by someone just outside my consciousness,
who had the annoying habit of laughing
in armature fashion before the punch line.
I looked back at the childhood it now seemed
historians would no longer call
"the period in which he first glimpsed
the precocious brilliance of intuition
he would labor bravely years long to master."
No biographer would commiserate
with the tragicomic fate that led me —
as if I'd heard the oft repeated myth
that all real artists draw perfect circles
on command, effortlessly, a parlor trick
by which the ingenious win friends and influence —
in sad prescience to perceive
how far short I fell of this round feat,
and quit my orbital mimicries in shame.
I forgot that we learn to be human by aping,
categorically cease drawing snowmen,
notwithstanding my green and singing age.

I entered a dark time when I learned to see them
in my own pictures; I drew and drew snowmen,
hundreds of portraits of that long lost
fragment of me that appeared on my notebooks,
on phone messages and bathroom stalls,
on bar coasters, in Shakespeare's margins,
a proud insurrection against goodnightness,
I imagined, an untamable revolt
against my calm, vile, dishonorable
submission to the sin of limitation,
half rollicking past the traffic cop,
half quiet mind one with a cold
like death; I drew them with scythes,
with chainsaws and giant foam fingers,
in Viking helmets, with ice cream cones,
and every single snowman was terrible,
flat, disproportioned, ridiculous, my own
tiny mirror of my fleeting, contingent
striving through ephemerality,
my daily miracle, my compensation
for what would never become my impregnable
bulwark of greatness, casting agon
shadows across the adoring and silent.

I resigned myself to a life in his service;
some, after all, have piety thrust upon them.
I daydreamed him speaking with my tongue,
as he relearned through my poems' channeling
to speak in the hearts of my readers,
who I�d free from their quiet paralysis,
free them each to speak unique voices
in blurbs on my dust jackets, in Master's theses
about my "midwifing of all posterity," speak
of one who "like none before has restored
to poetry its ancient, sublime birthright
of creative totality," whose "wisdom
speaks from the center of life itself,
from a door of perception lost in the amnesia
of cold, rote language and ritual despair" —
a grand pilgrimage of ancient meaning
through humankind and back to me!

My mind wandered on through mirages of laud,
until the soul who demanded my snowmen,
rude as truth, just bluntly interrupted
my Noble introduction, being presented
just then by a distant descendant of Rumi,
just as he began his encomium
on "stout panegyrics to the lifedance
which sing every reader into being,"
and said, Listen, when the applause
from this narcissism clinic fades,
I also have a couple of things to say.

Dear Reader,

I'm asking you to listen; I can't live
anymore in a light world of water cooler
gossip that always seems to turn
six or seven of the same blank face
when I try to imagine the other side
of people like this week's tabloid villain,
who hid in a rest stop bathroom,
patient as a punch line, waiting
for the right moment, late at night,
when a young man came in alone,
material for a tortured joke, told
by stabbing him twenty times, spreading
rouge in circles on his dead face,
and affixing a rubber clown nose
with a warm knife left to hold it �

But, Reader, Ear to the Poor of Spirit,
surely you can picture with me
the way that a man is made into a demon;
conjure the days of his stomach clenching,
waiting for dad to look up from his whisky
when the boy, as was expected, reported
he had finished his chores and was ready
for bed, so that his dad could glance
at his watch and, with a blithe smirk,
pronounce, Almost. Maybe someday hiccup
you�ll be quick enough
, and fumble
with his belt, ask, calm and deadpan,
for his son's assistance with the buckle,
so that he could watch the child cry twice,
first from the indifference, then the beating,
so that the titan might laugh even harder
as he flogged him, mimic the sobbing,
haw-heh, haw-heh, haw-heh, haw-heh,
and, when finished, send him to bed
with a kick in the ass and an invitation:
Come back tomorrow, donkey boy.
We can do the whole thing over again.

Dear Reader, Seer of Total Beings,
decipher the hidden pictographs
this father has drawn in his son's tears:
I've made you the image of my weakness.
You are the part of me I despise.
Go make disciples.
Perceive his spreading
of this sick gospel beneath all his shouting
obscenities at teachers' questions,
knocking out praised kids' teeth at recess,
and then laughing in his small heart
all the way home to be whipped by his father
for once as punishment rather than dalliance,
finally master of the twisted snickers
by which he was crafted and knew himself.

Surely You, who never turn Your face,
can imagine the hidden hieroglyphics
the killer's knife didn't know it would leave
upon the body of his subject:
This one is you feeding the dog my dinner;
this one is kids calling me Navajo
when my bruises looked like war paint;
this one's the night when I stopped crying;
the smell of your laughter; the nights your demons
tore my fallen nestling's body
like a stray's teeth with their terrors;
this one's for the violent smile
I wore to make the world make sense,
the one no officer or cell could make me
wipe off of my face, and this —

Dear Reader, O Glorious Impossible,
what if the last one was for a firefly
one of his teachers helped him capture
and watch flicker and wait and flicker,
and she said, I think he likes you, look
at all those lights
, let him take it home,
but told him tomorrow to let it go,
as if she knew that he would hide it
under his bed, his first real treasure,
until days later, the clicking against glass
ceased in silence, and in his despair
he heard an I told you so and laughter
that throbbed like a paper cut with no band-aid?

Or could he have watched it suffer
and for seconds nearly learned to love
through mourning and, scared of that strange feeling,
returned to cackling, plucking wings,
a life of mocking the brittle objects
he'd learned to make of other people,
each time so certain, for those only moments
in which he knew even caricatures
of the tyrannous contentment
that his world taught him to covet,
that he, the stronger, would live on —

Nights when my gravity scoffs at sleep,
my mind too creates another world,
in which such a weedy, pathetic creature
is all I will ever be to you, Reader.

What if that's all he is to me?

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