Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

Name:
Location: North Carolina, United States

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Still, Almost- Three Versions

Still, Almost

I still almost pray some nights. Laying there,
soft in bed, the world settles with me,
immense with thoughts and things in knots,
and always spinning. The spinning keeps me
awake, awake, with a need to slake
this looming discomfort.

I still feel water on my lips. Sinking through,
tossed about the murky blue, a place
thickens into heaviness
within.  The concave mind, flailing,
fails the surface, breathless.

Falling sleep is almost like falling.
The weightlessness, the waiting,
the world spinning ever-faster,
knotting into being

alone is lonelier at night,
anchorless.
Maybe I will marry someday.

I can feel it on my
what if


~~~~~

Hey look, it’s a poem! This is the final draft of a poem that had to go through a couple major edits in order to really shape up into something that works. So, what failures did the first couple drafts have? Well, let’s take a look:

~~~~~

Still, Almost

I still almost pray some nights. Laying there,
soft in bed, the world settles down with me,
immense with thoughts and things and knots,
and always spinning. The spinning keeps me
awake, awake, with a need to slake
some looming discomfort.

I used to think God was the best listener.
He never interrupted, not once- just listened
To everything and everyone. I used to wish
He would interrupt, just once! to let me know
That He was really there at all. He never did.

I can still feel the water on my lips. Sometimes,
it helps to feel before I sleep, before I sink
into the dreamy deep, where the dizzy blur
obscures the real sound, the real touch
that I care about so much.

Once I thought dreams might be like heaven.
Anything is possible, after all.
Then I remembered the nightmares.
Anything is possible.

Falling asleep is almost like falling, sometimes.
The weightlessness, the waiting,
the world spinning ever-faster,
knotting itself into worries.

“Please keep my family and friends
 Healthy and safe.” I prayed every night
In fear of what would happen if I didn’t.

Being alone is lonelier at night,
in a dark and sleepless room.
Maybe I will marry someday.

I never used to think about hell.
I was going to heaven, after all…

I can taste the salt on my lips.
What if I die too soon…

Nothingness seemed too empty to…


~~~~~

This is the first draft of the poem. There are some good moments, but it drags overall and the italic sections detract more than they add. Someone pointed these things out to me, resulting in this version:

~~~~~

Still, Almost

I still almost pray some nights. Laying there,
soft in bed, the world settles down with me,
immense with thoughts and things and knots,
and always spinning. The spinning keeps me
awake, awake, with a need to slake
some looming discomfort.

I can still feel the water on my lips. Sometimes,
it helps to feel before I sleep, before I sink
into the dreamy deep, where the dizzy blur
obscures the real sound, the real touch
that I care about so much.

Falling asleep is almost like falling, sometimes.
The weightlessness, the waiting,
the world spinning ever-faster,
knotting into worries.

Being alone is lonelier at night,
still in the sleepless dark.
Maybe I will marry someday.

I can taste it on my lips.
What if


~~~~~

Okay, I thought, much better. And, it is better. But, I got more input when I sent it to some other people. Consider what might be improved (you could compare it to the final version, but try just taking a look, right now, and picking out what’s *less* effective about this version), then take a look at some of these comments:

~~~~~

(about line 1) nice use of lay which references it to the world rather than the I

(about the second stanza) torch this stanza- a real letdown from the first- almost nothing works! (sure, this doesn’t elaborate on why the second stanza is bad, but it did force me to take a close look and see what wasn’t working)

The first one starts off nicely, but when you hit the last line of the first stanza, you can almost see it go off the rails.

Still, Almost -- Good little thing you do with the title. Usually, poems that reference the title so early on are worse for it, but the way you break the title apart with a comma adds another dimension, making the reader feel there's something else going on, too. (never hurts to mix in some positive feedback)

think the third line, "things and knots," should be "things in knots," b/c now, w/ fewer variables, you have something a little more concrete to contrast off the more abstract.

I agree... that the second stanza isn't very good, but, actually, look at the first couple of lines again -- there's something evocative about the suddenness of, "I can still feel the water on my lips" -- perhaps the speaker just got up to drink? Perhaps it's drool? Whatever it is, if you decide to keep the stanza, you need to connect it more deeply to the rest -- and I'd make that first line the axis on which this turns. (really useful advice for the rewrite!)

"Falling asleep is almost like falling, sometimes" -- the "sometimes" is weak and throwaway. "Still in the sleepless dark" is a weak line. But, "Maybe I will marry someday" is strong in its suddenness -- you should do something with it.

(about stanzas 3-4) move “being” up to the previous stanza (used this, but a little differently)

use “falling sleep” instead of “falling asleep” (this works, since the “a” will be added to “sleep” by readers automatically)

~~~~~

The critics quoted here are fair and focus on the quality of the poem. If you’re reading this, thanks for the help.

This post is somewhat related to the last one, but really, I just wanted to open up the (re)writing process a little bit and highlight what leads to the final product.

Take care,
~Neil

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