774: Uncertainty Principle at Dawn

774: Uncertainty Principle at Dawn

774: Uncertainty Principle at Dawn


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I meet with a very small writing group every couple weeks to work on various prose projects. Some of us are more poets than prose writers (I am pointing to myself here) so we thrive on the deadlines the group gives us, as well as the encouragement to write all the way to the end of the line and the page. Some of us are working on books that have already been sold to publishers, some of us are working on essays, and some of us are working on novels or short stories. Our process is simply that we bring in something to share and we read five minutes of the piece and then get some positive feedback. That’s it. And it’s wonderful.

In the last meeting, we started talking about the journals that we keep now or have kept throughout our lives. One of our members started talking about the journals she kept as a young person and how she was amazed by how few feelings were in them. They were only lists of things she did or had to do. Another member said that hers were just the opposite. They were all feelings flooding on the page like loose ink pooling on paper. She said she wished she had written some things down, some things about what she had done that day, anything concrete, instead it was all about her emotions and what she was going through in her heart.

My journals as a kid were all about what was happening, they usually turned toward crushes or things I desired. One entry was all about a boy I liked in elementary school and then the very next entry read that my best friend liked him too and, I wrote “that’s okay she could have him, whatever.” I think my old journals are weird, because they don’t seem to have any processing. It just goes from desiring, wanting, wishing and then when the thing doesn’t happen, that little girl on the page just says, “Oh well, I didn’t get the part in the school play, no big deal,” and moves on. What a resilient little sociopath.

My journals now, which I keep daily, often are a mix of a long and annotated to-do list, poem drafts, reports of my dreams, and still my wants and desires. And this journal, my adult journal, includes a lot more processing. I don’t always go from thwarted to thriving. I do love that it’s a recording of my life and whether I like it or not, I can flip through those pages and see what held my attention.

Today’s poem is an exploration of both memory and obsession and how sometimes we’d like a little more control over both.

Uncertainty Principle at Dawn
by Catherine Barnett

Come morning I’ll make a list of obsessions
and maybe you won’t still be on it,
only five-dollar bills, telescopes, anonymity,
waiting, beauty, silent comedy,
the silent comedy of beauty—
of waiting. Could I forswear

all these things and just crawl back
into the bed you and I once slept in?
What would happen then?
Play any film backward and it’s elegy.
Play it fast-forward and it’s a gas.

"Uncertainty Principle at Dawn" by Catherine Barnett from HUMAN HOURS copyright © 2018 Catherine Barnett. Used by permission of Graywolf Press.