Birds

People sometimes ask me (it’s pretty rare these days)
about the dominant themes in my writing, the “leitmotifs,”
as we used to say, and sometimes I just brush off the question
with another question, an inquiry into the dominant themes
and motifs in their own writing, or if they’re not writers
(it’s pretty rare these days) about their travels or hobbies or kids,
but every so often I tell a story about this time in college
when one of my professors caught me before class
tinkering with a poem (if you could call it that) in my notebook,
and though she never asked, I could tell by the look in her eye
she wondered what I was writing about, which got me
to wondering what I was writing about, and all of a sudden,
like revelation, I realized: I didn’t know! No clue whatsoever.
Seems I just liked moving words around on a page in the same
reasonless way I used to like moving toy trucks around
a sandbox, but this was college, and I was a big boy now
(the draft registration card in my wallet proved it)
so I figured I’d better find some—any—type of subject
or theme or, here comes that word again, leitmotif.
That afternoon I poked around in the reference section
and found a hefty hardback whose title ran something like
An Alphabet of Literary Leitmotifs or Classic Leitmotifs A-Z.
I thrust open the cover to the contents. There they stood,
clear as day, glinting like the grail: adultery, alcoholism,
asinine behaviors of men. Okay, I made that last one up.
In fact, I made the whole story up. I made it up long after
I’d gotten okay at writing poems, and people started
asking me about my dominant themes and subjects—
good people, not just other writers, but honest-to-goodness
interested readers, some related to me, yes, but others
perfect strangers posing a legitimate question for which
I had no answer. So one afternoon, I sat down with my poems
and started reading them for leitmotifs. I took out
a blank sheet of paper to make a list, a table of contents.
And you know what? The list was pretty short, real short:
adultery, alcoholism, asinine behaviors of men.
This can’t be true, I told myself. I have to be writing
about more than three things! I read through the work again,
pencil poised, ready to supplement, extend the alphabet
a bit, at least get out of the “a”s. And you know the story.
Nothing. Just adultery, alcoholism, asinine behaviors of men.
But I’m working on it. I swear. Just this morning,
as a matter of fact, I looked out the kitchen window
and thought Birds! I can write about bloody birds!

Gregory Fraser

Gregory Fraser

Gregory Fraser is the author of three poetry collections: Strange Pietà (Texas Tech University Press, 2003), Answering the Ruins (2009), and Designed for Flight (2014), both from Northwestern University Press. His poetry has appeared in journals including The Paris Review, The Southern Review, and The Gettysburg Review. The recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, Fraser serves as professor of English at the University of West Georgia.
Gregory Fraser

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Author: Gregory Fraser

Gregory Fraser is the author of three poetry collections: Strange Pietà (Texas Tech University Press, 2003), Answering the Ruins (2009), and Designed for Flight (2014), both from Northwestern University Press. His poetry has appeared in journals including The Paris Review, The Southern Review, and The Gettysburg Review. The recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, Fraser serves as professor of English at the University of West Georgia.