How I Became a Poet
by Charlie Puckett
I wore a pair of overalls Robert Frost used to own. My great grandfather owned the pair because of an alcoholic preacher. R. Frost never went to the chapel, took to burning leaf and paper piles on Sunday mornings, which those in suits and floral dresses saw flipping black fingers of smoke off his property when the weather was dry. After one April service, the preacher left the chapel grounds and went to speak with R. Frost. The preacher wandered drunk into the drugstore several hours later wearing a very large pair of overalls over his naked, pale body. He said he discovered the smoke was black because R. Frost always started the fires with an old tire, said it gave him something to think about, and burned the pages of his contemporaries’ words back into the world every Sunday morning. The preacher stripped bare in front of my great grandfather, handed him the overalls and left the town. No one ever thought to ask R. Frost for a set of clothes again. He, the preacher, turned up dead in an Iowa gas station restroom several years later. R. Frost died the following year.
My great grandfather gave me the overalls and told me never to read R. Frost. I never did, except on accident once, when I spilled wine on the lap of the overalls at the neighbor daughter’s high school graduation party. When I went to wash the jean, I turned them inside out. Along the right flap of the crotch, down the side of where the zipper usually sets on slacks, a small poem sat quietly in black, scribbled ink. I had never seen the writing before because my technique for relieving myself involved dropping the overalls to my ankles. The wine blotched poem made me think of how R. Frost pissed just like any other man. I knew he was a big man, carried much of America’s heart between his shoulders and had lungs filled with farm wind that made his hands write the diction of man in bed with nature. He must have placed the poem there because he only folded the bib down when he pissed what was probably sweet New England cider. He must have put the poem there to read while that sense of relief shuddered his body; city man’s easy-bake Walden pond, R. Frost’s keyhole into the mad clarity of language alive in the world. I thought I was the only one who knew where Frost burst the lump in his throat. The poem went:
Dogwood flower is the confetti
of the clown’s busy fingers.
I will revel in my humility
because I’m not sure if that tree
I just saw was even a dogwood.
Remember to shake three times.
I never read a R. Frost poem besides the one written in the crotch, and I changed my technique just for when I wore those overalls. Every time I was at my Walden, I read the poem, taking much wisdom from both lessons. I never told my great grandfather about the poem, nor did I tell him about every girl that read it in the moonlight. They all laughed and that made me kiss them more, roll them over and take a hand full of flesh. I wore those overalls until they caught fire while I was burning leaves before church one morning. I still remember to shake three times. I still don’t know what the dogwood flower looks like but I assume it’s like any one of those girls who laughed before they took me into the night.