David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Check-Out Lines

March 20, 2019

A whole bunch of songs have infused this poem, ranging from Bob Geldof's "When I Was Young" for the first lines, Warren Zevon's "Accidentally Like A Martyr" in the second stanza, and Concrete Blonde's "Tomorrow, Wendy" for the last couple of lines. 

While normally I don't like explaining the origin or meaning of a poem, whose value is always in the eye of the beholder, in this case, I will explain a little more, if for no other reason than alleviating friends' and colleagues' fears about my state of mind.

This poem serves well to describe the process by which what I hear becomes what I can't forget becomes some thread of an idea that becomes an eventual poem.  Good or bad, pop music infiltrates my thoughts and evolves into some kind of poetic release for me. Last week, I picked up the CD version of Geldof's album that has "When I Was Young," and as I couldn't sleep through the night, the song's central line "I'd believe I'd never die/when I was young" wouldn't go away. 

The more I couldn't sleep, consumed by the kind of dark thoughts that many of us have at 2:00 am, I started thinking about a terminally ill person who was ready to die but refused to commit suicide. How hard must it be to go to sleep every night wishing you don't wake in the morning?  The first stanza is born while I fight my dogs for bed space, and eventually I am up while there is a full moon in the night sky and the basic poem is written. However, it doesn't feel complete.  Eventually I give in and try to sleep before the alarm makes me get up.

With about 75% of this poem completed, I hop in my car and drive to work.  The last song I hear before I get to work is Concrete Blonde's "Tomorrow, Wendy," which seems to provide me the coda I was struggling to find, especially because I have been thinking off and on the last few days if I will know when I die what the "last song" is that I hear (and gets stuck in my head).

All in all, maybe too weirdly profound for such a cheesy title.  But I do like the title, which came after the poem was completed.


Check-out Lines

To believe I'd never die

When I was young and full of life

Was to live the easy lie.

Now I believe I'll never die

When I am old and full of life

In broken body as I lie.


My goals as I started out

Fit so nicely on a note card,

The dreams to last a lifetime

Before turning aside too many calendar pages.

For the things I should have done,

Could've done along the way,

Some are noteworthy only in absence,

While others reside in my darkest rages.


My sleepless nights of youth,

Endless drinking of vermouth,

Certainly didn't feel like abuse.

Now that I am long in tooth,

Sleepless nights are an inevitable truth,

With alcohol not the easy excuse.


To share these thoughts

When my hair is still tousled

And my back is still straight

Brings closeness to the two of us.

But when one is thinning 

And the other is curving

To speak these harsh lines

Wounds you with my hubris.


To hope I'll never die

When the world could still be mine

Was the cliche for all time.

To believe I'll never die

When the moon is high in the sky

Is my twisted nightly lie.


They say goodbye,

Tomorrow someone is going to die.

By and by, my oh my,

What song will be my final guide?