Back in 2001, I wrote a poem called "I Never Knew". It was a depressed little piece about an unhappy winter we spent in an old farm house a few miles from where I live now. Some of it was autobiographical, some of it was poetic license. It was published an online journal known as Kota Press. At the time, being published at all was good, but I wasn't overwhelmingly impressed with my own "win" if you want the truth. I was aware that the poem was not one of my better pieces and it was associated with memories I'd like to distance myself from. For some years, the piece was filed away under "It seemed like a good idea at the time" and forgotten out of necessity as much as anything(kinda like buying the farmhouse). This evening it resurfaced in an unexpected way.
Here is the poem:
I never knew
By Mary O.R. Paddock
I never knew
how much I hated the cold
until it crept through
the blanketed depths of our bed
where I lay sleepless.
My breath dusted the air,
evaporating by the wide glow of the moon
which whitened the floorboards of our room.
Did I ever tell you how I felt
about shredding my Christmas tea towels
to fill gaps around the windows?
Those mistletoe prints that stopped drafts
from chafing our children’s faces
while they slept by the wood-stove?
I don’t think so.
So many times I woke up
already tired of morning.
Bound in thermal socks and long-johns
I slide-stepped down the stairs
to divine heat from a few pieces of wet cedar.
How I dreaded treks into the kitchen to pour coffee,
spilling creamer off the edge of the spoon
in my shivered hurry.
But the real measure of my hate had to be
how close I came to leaving you.
How easily those heated words slipped through
my chattering teeth and into the cold between us.
I was looking for another piece I wrote (one which I actually like) that I couldn't locate on my back up drive or among my hard copies. It too was published on a small ezine in about the same window in time. I'd done the search by way of my own name (that's always fun) and the title of the other poem and it led me to the surprise discovery of the link to I Never Knew on Kota Press (I figured it was long gone by now) and and then to the the even bigger surprise--an an Essay And not just any essay, but one for sale on one of those sites that offers up pirated essays for the edification of those who would rather not write their own. Also there's : another offering of the same paper here. Obviously this was an enterprising young person.
Further down the search page, I found a poor kid in 03 who was required to write an essay about the same poem and was looking for help with it. Gee, I hope they got an A.
Now look, I'm flattered, really I am. And a little startled. And a little concerned. I wish I'd known about it. I would have liked to talk with the teacher who apparently assigned this piece as the topic of an essay. I would have offered them something else of mine instead. Or suggest another obscure poet even (which was probably part of the appeal of the piece--at that point the kid wasn't likely to stumble across anything about me or my bits and pieces by accident).
Still it is almost otherworldly to see a kid asking for someone to help them with their homework and have that homework be related to something I wrote. And even more so to think that even the small things that we craft sometimes take on a life separate from us and go and live in other people's minds and serve other people's purposes. In an odd way, it is encouraging and almost makes that lousy winter in that house worth it. Almost.