It’s a Tuesday, which means I’m sunbathing on the beach from eleven in the morning till nine o’clock at night. It’s a business expense, me being out here—those morons down at the publisher’s office need to understand that. As an artist, how am I supposed to come up with anything without some sort of inspiration? No, you just can’t do it. Not at all. You really think Walt Whitman sat in an office cubicle and produced Leaves of Grass?
Inspiration, that’s what I’m out here for. Poetry, in a way, writes itself—it only needs a guiding hand to bring the words to life. Unfortunately, there is nothing out here that can motivate me to write—I can only invent so many stanzas about sand—and, as I’ve learned over the years, introspective poetry doesn’t sell. The intellectual community wants something fresh, captivating, and most of all, nuanced. I’ve tried different rhythms, rhyme schemes, meters, structures, topics, word counts, and writing with my left hand, but it’s all resulted in nothing that even stood a chance of reaching significant mainstream popularity.
My latest poem, The Gull, has more or less cemented itself as the worst-selling piece of poetry I’ve ever written:
White wings of rabidity
Flying above without pity
A gentle afternoon sunbath
At the whim of the flock’s wrath
How could I be so blind
As to plan my day
Without consulting the bird, unkind?
For Tuesday has been lost and gone
Nevermind the sun’s faint ray
Because the sky echoes with the gull’s song!
Jon Hughes, my lead publisher, is two things: a coward and a pain in the ass. The Monday following The Gull getting placed in a short poetry collection, he walked up to my desk and dropped a pail at my feet—a metal pail—full of angry letters calling me “an affront to a growing literary tradition.” Look, I’m not in the business of pleasing critics, but Jon Hughes is, and it kills me each time I see his thin, weak face lording over me. In other words, currently, I’m a no name poet with a checklist a mile long.
I check my wristwatch and it reads six-forty; the sun is halfway sunk below the edge of the horizon and my notepad lays empty. I look up at the shoreline to see only a woman and her kid wading out in the water. I hover my pencil over my notepad but come up with nothing. What the hell am I? A limp-wristed romanticist peddling empty metaphors? I need to confront the real, metaphysical intricacies of life and this scene here isn’t going to cut it. No, what really needs to happen for me—
The woman screams and I see her boy get tossed in the air by a shark the size of an automobile. It’s black body jutting out from the sun-kissed water like a torpedo. My pencil hits paper and I just let it happen:
Water meets land
Prey to hunter
Blood red, skin tan
No discrimination from jaws like thunder
The shark finishes off the boy in raging, crimson splashes. The woman is screeching like a maniac, pushing against the water, trying to escape now. While this would normally be distracting, I can’t help but feel the passion flow through to the paper, my masterwork. Jon Hughes, that sniveling prick, will never look at me cross again. I glance up again to see the shark clenched around the woman’s abdomen, tearing viciously. The crack of bone rings through the air, followed by a noise I never would have felt was humanly possible: a wail of despair met with shackles of pain. My hand aches with this woman, and it flies freely across the notepad, leaving a trail of granite worth its weight in gold:
With loss of son
Throes of death have begun
Never meant to be outrun
That ocean beast, true hellhound,
Till his deed has been done
Unchained, unkempt, the shark clenches down
Dragging innocents to their final rest
Where even the mighty come to drown
The water claims another, without malice, without protest
The woman disappears with the shark underneath the surface. A black fin against an orange, fading sunset gradually drifts out to sea and I finish my work. Eventually, my heartbeat calms down and I title the piece Inspiration.