I lost a poem last night. Traveling down the great San Joaquin with my parents, under a thirsty waxing crescent of the moon, it appeared in my mind large and promising. I typically get 3 or 4 words of an idea if I’m lucky – just a tiny fuse to light in a stiff wind of distractions. But this was a complete thought, a compound sentence of maybe 10 words. A small stanza, if I’d been in a position to save it. But I was driving. Otherwise, I could have typed it into my iPhone and tonight or tomorrow I might have a new poem to share with you.
So it goes. It lies out there in the cold, nameless and faceless, with all the others. The dead by the side of the road. I have lost a thousand embryonic poems, or more, that way.
I ask you: Are the ideas that we lose any less valid and precious than the ones we save, nurture, and even publish? Are they any less a part of us, and don’t they go on into the same infinity? After all, even if I’d taken that idea and made a poem, joined it with others, made and published a book, it would be no more or less gone in 10,000 years than if it never existed. In either case, the energy of consciousness Is and Is Not, neither Is nor Is Not.
I’m not suggesting that work product is futile. Sharing is human and imperative. I’m suggesting, rather, that creative thought is art in itself. Consciousness that transcends the self is a mandala of the universe, written in the wind. So the poem I lost in the headlights of surrounding traffic is the sacrificed spirit of an imminent, potential work of art; the unborn ghost of a fragment of a human life.
Maybe that ghost will flicker past again, and I’ll catch it in my little book and leave it here for you. A ghost left behind by a ghost. Because I don’t believe I have a spirit. I am a spirit, as are you. I believe that life is not a body that has a spirit, but a spirit that has a body. Glory to God.
Out beyond the harbor, where the road runs along the beach, I even lost the feeling of being on land. The fog and the sea seemed part of each other. It was like walking on the bottom of the sea. As if I had drowned along ago. As if I was a ghost belonging to the fog, and the fog was the ghost of the sea. It felt damned peaceful to be nothing more than a ghost within a ghost.
— Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Love this and absolutely think that you having that experience of the poem is real and it is still there. Maybe you will find it again or maybe someone else will, or maybe what it left with you, the ghost of itself, will push you toward something else. I think sometimes we writers cling to the things we couldn’t get down on paper, as if doing so as you say is the “real” thing. From a Jungian perspective that fragment is spinning in the collective unconscious, and there are billions more fragments spinning. That you tapped in, that you went deep enough into yourself to access it, is the real thing.