The Poet

by Ed Nichols

            Five miles outside the mountain town of Clarkesville, Georgia, Sonny Butler, farmer—and poet—sat in a rocker on his front porch on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday and considered the ways he could commit suicide.  “How about hanging from a rope in the barn,” he said aloud.  Or, he thought, I’ll take an entire bottle of blood pressure pills.  Or cut my wrists.  Of course, there’s always the gun.  Hemmingway favored it.  He could join Hemmingway, and other writers, with this one act of commonality.  Why?  His poems—his damn poems—and his emotions, possessed him day and night.  Haunted him—things that can not be seen, or understood—until they are committed to paper.  Intangible, until they are made real, like wood, or water, or steel.  Or death.
            Bryon Herbert Reece had killed himself at Young Harris College.  And there had been lots of others.  Some killed themselves—some died early of disease.  Like Flannery O’Connor in Milledgeville.  Sonny had always figured she became famous because she’d died so young.  He didn’t particular like her style of writing.  He was aware that a lot of folks thought she was brilliant—maybe a “literary genius.”  So he tried to think good thoughts about her. 
            He knew he was as good as most well-known southern poets, and prose writers, too.  But what should he do?  He cleared his mind by letting it go blank.  Just staring at his pasture and cows.  After awhile, he went inside and fixed a tall glass of Scotch, with a touch of water.  He returned to his chair on the porch.  Sonny set the drink on the floor beside the chair and picked up a pencil and a sheet of unlined paper.  He placed the paper on the arm of the rocker.  He began to write, slowly, turning each word over in his mind several times before committing it to the paper:  
The mountains call,
Again and again,
Never ceasing,
Green and tall,
Hollows of pine,
 Valleys of maple and oak,
Deer, rabbit, squirrels,
All fine,
In the mountains,
Of my mind.   
            As soon as he placed the period, he read the poem out loud.  Then he wadded the paper up in both hands and tossed it on the floor.
            That morning, he’d had bad news, and good news, from his new agent.  She called to tell him that his new book of poems had been put on hold.  “The publisher doesn’t feel it’s the right time.”  Over the past thirty-five years, he’d had dozens of individual poems published, in literary magazines and commercial publications—several in The New Yorker.  And he had published two books of poems.  The first book was titled, The Mountains.  It had sold about fifteen hundred copies.  The second book was titled, The Deer Poems.  It had done a little better than the first book.  As a result of the books, he occasionally received requests from literary groups to read his poems, but he usually turned them down.  The good news, his agent had recently talked with the publisher of The Deer Poems.  They were considering republishing the book.  She might be sending him a contract in the mail soon.  Also, she felt that The American Academy of Arts and Letters might be considering him for an award next year.  He’d told his agent that was nice, but he didn’t care for awards—unless it would help sell more books.  She had said she understood.  Then she had told him—for the umpteenth time—she hoped he would consider finishing his novel.
            “What novel, cows?” Sonny Butler said out loud, waving toward his pasture.  He shrugged and took a long drink of Scotch.  It burned his throat a little.  Holding his glass up, he watched rays of sunshine dance through the whisky, turning it from amber to gold to deep yellow.  It finally warmed him, and gave him a momentary sense of peace. 
            Sonny sat on his porch until the sun went down.  Some days it was hard going back into his house.  He could almost hear the kitchen sounds his wife, Sarah, used to make when he would walk in from the pasture or from the barn.  The physical hell she went through before she died—no one should have to endure such pain and suffering, he reasoned.
            The problem with finishing the novel was keeping his emotions under control—not thinking of Sarah—and not writing page after page on the horrors of diabetes: kidney dialysis,  blindness, foot and leg amputations, and on and on.  He had almost decided to scrap the hundred pages he had completed, and write a completely different story.  Use new characters in a different setting.  Maybe set the story in Florida.  He’d thought about this idea a lot.  Have a fisherman on the Gulf coast as his protagonist.  Maybe he could do it.  He knew a little about fishing in the Gulf.  He would give it a try.
            A month later, Sonny Butler had rough drafted the first three chapters of his Florida novel. But, when he started rewriting them, suddenly one of the main characters developed diabetic symptoms.  He quickly stopped writing and revisited his porch for three days, and drank more

Scotch; wondering…why the hell the character did what he did?  He knew then that he would never get over the memories.  On the fourth day, he took his loaded shotgun to the porch with a bottle of Scotch.  He sat for a while, and then as he walked down the porch steps, he heard the phone ringing inside his house.  He kept walking, heading to his barn, where he would lay down in a pile of hay and blow his head off.  Just before he pulled the trigger, he remembered reading once about a writer who had committed suicide, never knowing that on the same day she did it, she had been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize!

Ed Nichols lives outside Clarkesville, Georgia.  He is a journalism graduate from the University of Georgia.  He is a short story award winner from Southeastern Writer’s Association.  Ed’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Every Writer’s Resource, Fiction On The WebShort-Stories.meVending Machine Press, Floyd County Moonshine Magazine, Beorh Quarterly, Belle Reve Literary JournalWork Literary MagazineDrunk Monkeys, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, The Literary Yard, Decades Review, Swamp Lily Review, Flash Fiction MagazineLiterary Orphans Journal, Front Porch Review,Chiron Review, Snapping Twig, Deep South Magazine, and The Literary Hatchet.


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