They say insanity is defined by doing the same thing and expecting different results.
An ex once left this line in my voicemail box. This was back when we still referred to them as mailboxes. Most of my first boyfriends were poets because, well, I was also a poet. To be honest, I don’t think any of them ever called themselves my boyfriend because poets don’t believe in commitment. Commitment suffocates arts. It is the death of the poet.
This particular poet, the one who defined insanity in my voicemail box as part of a line in a poem he had written to me in the middle of a tumultuous period of our relationship, I am sure, never referred to me as his girlfriend. I only referred to him as my boyfriend to people I would never see again. A woman who sat next to me on the bus. A man in line behind me at the grocery store on the other side of town. A girl I used to babysit.
Voicemails from poets are different than voicemails from sane people. There is always an epiphany. There is always a deep silence on the other end after you have finally returned the call. This is followed by an audible breath of self-satisfaction. This comes from their knowing that the power of their words have propelled you to return the call. They never say the first word either. Ice crackles or a spoon taps a ceramic mug in the background as they wait to hear how their words have moved you.
There is something worse than voicemails from poets though. Phone calls to poets. A scenario: a young woman calls a much older poet. Edit: this young woman is also a young poet in a new city trying to live the sordid writerly life she has seen depicted in films and beat novels. She is not good at this. She has slept with older poet. In fact, she has lost her virginity to older poet and now would like to see him again. Edit: before young female poet living wide-eyed in new city sleeps with older poet he befriends her. Older poet is actually first friend to young virgin female poet upon her arrival in new city.
It goes like this:
I haven’t seen you in a while [Note: young female poet hasn’t seen him since the night he made her bleed on his mattress that smelled of cigarette smoke and vinegar]. How have you been?
S, I really don’t think we should talk anymore.
A silence follows. Young female poet feels pang in her chest at having lost her virginity to a poet who now wants nothing to do to her. Despite thinking of herself as very different from women her age, she has just discovered that she is just like all women her age: susceptible to artfully rugged looking men with a lyrical control of language. You are susceptible to the ways of a poet.
Why shouldn’t we talk anymore?
His response is a long diatribe — a manifesto of sorts because he is the kind of poet who is always writing manifestos.
The last original thought was thought and the thinker died and now we are all orbiting around one another hoping for something to cling to when it is seeds we should be sowing in separate nations to begin again
Subjectivity destroys the subject and in doing so the object from which it was born and you are fixating on your subjective rendering of an object that never existed in the first place
You have no idea what he is saying, but you can interpret enough to get his sentiment. He is not going to be your boyfriend, no matter how many strangers you talk to about him.
As he goes on, taking up data on your cellphone that you are now hyper-aware of because data is expensive and your mother no longer pays for it you think of a conversation the two of you had only a few weeks prior.
I envy you of your rough up-bringing, he said inhaling his cigarette. You have so much material to use.
You stared at him because for the first time you realized this poet you spent so much of your time with — his overgrown beard and tattoos and cigarette stained fingers — was a projection of poet. Of course, this wouldn’t stop you from losing your virginity to him. Even holograms of poets have enchanting abilities.
I wish I hadn’t come from a white picket fence.
You laugh because you think this is a cliché and for all the times you have heard it you still have never actually seen a house with a white picket fence.
No, literally we had a white picket fence.
Now on the phone, this poet, this hologram with the white picket fence says
Sometimes friendships are fleeting. Sometimes people come in and out of your life and they aren’t meant to stay. Maybe you should start getting used to this.
You feel the urge to scream. You feel the urge to say go fuck yourself.
You are not very good at squelching the urge and so you do both of these things. You are the kind of poet who believes in erratic behavior.
In the end, you will decide to never date poets, but first you will write a poem that never gets published. You will title this poem Life Changing Moments and you will cut the small block of page it takes up and carry it with you in your wallet to remind you to never date poets. It goes like this:
Life Changing Moments
was thinking of buying a cat. I hate that I want one, I hate people with cats, it says something negative about their personality. I think. I think maybe I am one of these people. I don’t know when it happened. maybe when I slept with that boy from the bar. he had a cat. after sex I cuddled with the cat instead of him. the cat turned out to be more interesting.
Yes. this must have been when I decided I wanted a cat.
Shelby Hinte is a writer and educator from the Land of Enchantment. She currently lives in the Bay Area with a pack of Chihuahuas and her small family. She is completing her MFA in fiction at San Francisco State University. Her work has been published in Witness Magazine, Hobart, Quiet Lightning’s SPARKLE + BLINK and elsewhere. She is at work on her first novel. You can read her work here.