‘What Will You Be?’

I’m not a 10 pages a day man.

I watched a movie recently where a fiction writer bragged that he wrote that volume daily. He wasn’t exactly a trustworthy fellow, but I don’t doubt this character was being truthful about that.

I wish I could sweat out 10 pages of fiction a day. At the newspaper, it’s not as much of a problem to find material. Things happen, or will supposedly happen, and you write about those things.

Fiction is much more difficult.

There are so many choices. And there is a lot of doubt about whether I have the good judgment to make those choices.

Almost all of my fiction — the stuff I believe I would like to read if I were an impartial observer —  I feel is the result of something “other” working through me. It’s a feeling to which many artists would attest, I think. You just don’t know where something came from, and it’s hard to believe that it actually came from you. I’ve even heard some writers speak of arguing, pleading or thanking this “other.” I’ve never gone to such lengths. Perhaps that is to my own detriment.

I cannot categorize this mysterious influence, but certainly do not couple it with any sort of religious belief. I’d be more inclined to describe it as a vast butterfly house. Beautiful butterflies, or ideas, invisible to our normal senses flutter about this world and sometimes someone is lucky enough to catch one. The butterfly then allows the individual who caught it to make it visible, whether that is through writing, painting composing music or some other creative endeavor.

Obviously, some people are better at catching these butterflies than others. Luck is definitely a factor.

So every once in a while, I catch a butterfly. And in an even more sporadic once in a while, I have the tenacity to transcribe it into our visible world. Some butterflies are more beautiful than others. Some aren’t beautiful at all, but necessary.

All of this is a very circuitous way of saying that I’ve written something during the course of the last year that I felt was largely given to me but also required a lot of my own sweat when the image tapered off into the ether.

“What Will You Be?” is what I consider a written portrait. It is short and concentrated on a moment in time. Perhaps it elicits the viewer to contemplate not only the subject’s outward but also inward features.

For me, it has a pleasant rhythm and is a bit of a lullaby …


“What Will You Be?”

By Nathan Johnson

So ask me a question. “What will you be?”
Place your words so carefully. I find them hard to believe.
“I will be the scarecrow. Steady. Transfixed by the leaves. When you fly over, I’ll sway in the breeze.”
You are wandering. Quiet. You want to be free.
I am with you. I am delicate. I feel your relief.
The lilacs exhale. We both can breathe. Our souls are dancing. But we must be brief.
You spread your wings. Clutch me. Then leave me to sleep.
So ask me a question. “What will you be?”
“I will be the postcard. Traveling. By land, by sea. When you happen to find me, I’ll be bruised with sympathy.”
Black and blue. “How are you? Love your smile. Come visit for a while.”
You are buoyant. Lifted. Your thoughts are with me.
Write them down. Press hard. I want to feel their power. I want to read what you believe.
The lilacs exhale. We both can breathe. Our souls are dancing. But we must be brief.
You put down the pen. Clutch me. Then leave me to sleep.
So ask me a question. “What will you be?”
“I will be your casket. Black. A vessel for a dark sea. When you sail among the stars, I will carry you within me.”
We’ll be guided by voices. Travel alien lanes. We’ll sing for sirens. Ride sun dogs for days.
You are a lullaby. Alive. But soft as a dream.
I am a wave. I am a snow angel. I dissolve in the breeze.
The lilacs exhale. We both can breathe. Our souls are dancing. But we must be brief.
You kiss me clean. Clutch me. Then ask me not to sleep.
So I ask you a question. “What will you be …?”

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