577: Poem Beginning to Sound

577: Poem Beginning to Sound

577: Poem Beginning to Sound


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

One question that I often get asked is how to overcome writer's block. And the funny thing is, I overcome it, by not overcoming it. I think it’s OK to not write. I think it’s OK not to talk, not to make, not to create, not to produce, produce, produce. How can we listen to the world if we are always talking to the world?

I know that as the New Year begins, many of us will write resolutions for our health, for our careers, and for our creative projects. And I’m not saying that those things don’t need to get done, but I am saying that sometimes it’s better for me to take my time, to not focus on finishing, and instead focus on gathering, on sitting in silence, on receiving. That might not be what you need, but sometimes it’s what I need. I don’t always need to be putting my pen to paper, or my fingers to keyboard, sometimes I need to read, go for a long walk, share wine with friends, nap, and listen to the music around me.

It’s not that I don’t want to accomplish things or make poems or put work out in the world. I am saying that sometimes, the best work comes when I’m focusing less on the end result and more on the pleasure of making. When you’re making something that matters to you, the world seems to open up a bit, the anxiety in the chest seems to lessen. The more quiet I can become, the more receptive I can become, the more poems will come to me.

What I love about not writing is that suddenly, I begin to hear language returning to me, new words, old words, names of loved ones, and it feels like a gift. Images too, unbidden and swirling, start to let themselves be known.

Today’s gorgeous poem has a quality of deep listening interwoven throughout it.

Poem Beginning to Sound
by Wendy Xu

Myself as echo, failed synonym
              Disappeared music returns to my father’s house
playing against a white painter’s cloth nailed to the wall

               (a flag was waving distantly)
                            (the perimeter wet with flowers)

Like a child burying favorite words in the sandbox
                I filled the undying year with tasks
                            (I keep at it)
Planting fingers in the gaps between lines
I wrote notes into an opening
                for he who departed in color, I knew only lightly

                (across from the oil-filling station, rosettes of cloud)

It’s Saturday and I’ve made promises to remember the dead

                Some circuitry ticking painfully in the forehead now that Uncle is gone

A needle-work of electrical wire passing
                                        through the young heads of trees
Old books begin to bore me, their yellowing answers
Birds squawking poetry beside a rusty pond

and Uncle in my mind turning always
                           like the last abundant word

“Poem Beginning to Sound” by Wendy Xu from THE PAST © 2021 by Wendy Xu. Used by permission of Wesleyan University Press.