The Numbers by Kim Addonizio
Last weekend I finally finished writing someone else’s book after almost three months, four weeks of which involved one of the most intense cramming I’ve done in awhile. There’s a kind of exhaustion that has taken root deep in my bones, a chill that may never go away. How long must I do this, I keep asking myself. I alternate between trying not to scream as I continue to get one massive headache after the other, and trying not to cry as I remember that my heart is broken and might be permanently in repair after this.
There was a scene in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, when the beautiful Olivia Williams asks a wretched Ewan McGregor, “Didn’t you want to be a proper writer?” I kept thinking about that as I worked night after night after night, writing three hundred pages that will never belong to me. This isn’t the first time I have done this. While taking a shower, or going out for a quick smoke, I continue a conversation in my head for the sake of argument: If only you could use all this energy to write your own damn book then you wouldn’t be in this predicament, Oh, but you would be, because nobody reads in this country anymore, and you’re not exactly made of money, You are, it’s just that you’ve turned your back away from it, Now wait a minute: do you know how ridiculous you sound just now? Somewhere, a certain play we love says: Go fuck yourself! You writer! You liar!, I think your family has said as much, seeing as they look down on writers, Face it, you are alone, so you have to work first and write later, Just look at all the things you could’ve done for yourself by now, instead of doing it for other people, frauds, all of them— But I am doing this for me. I am stronger than I think. Soon it will all make sense. But by god I am doing this for me.
How many nights have I lain here like this, feverish with plans,
with fears, with the last sentence someone spoke, still trying to finish
a conversation already over? How many nights were wasted
in not sleeping, how many in sleep—I don’t know
how many hungers there are, how much radiance or salt, how many times
the world breaks apart, disintegrates to nothing and starts up again
in the course of an ordinary hour. I don’t know how God can bear
seeing everything at once: the falling bodies, the monuments and burnings,
the lovers pacing the floors of how many locked hearts. I want to close
my eyes and find a quiet field in fog, a few sheep moving toward a fence.
I want to count them, I want them to end. I don’t want to wonder
how many people are sitting in restaurants about to close down,
which of them will wander the sidewalks all night
while the pies revolve in the refrigerated dark. How many days
are left of my life, how much does it matter if I manage to say
one true thing about it—how often have I tried, how often
failed and fallen into depression? The field is wet, each grassblade
gleaming with its own particularity, even here, so that I can’t help
asking again, the white sky filling with footprints, bricks,
with mutterings over rosaries, with hands that pass over flames
before covering the eyes. I’m tired, I want to rest now.
I want to kiss the body of my lover, the one mouth, the simple name
without a shadow. Let me go. How many prayers
are there tonight, how many of us must stay awake and listen?
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