Around my birthday (April 24) I think about mushrooms. The woods just starts greening up and the grays come first and then the snakeheads and then the blacks and yellows. My dad always called them sponges but others call them spikes or hickory chickens or morels. I would climb to the top of a hill in the middle of the woods to look down into an ancient foundation where the leaves were black from rotting. I would stand up on the foundation and look down into the rotting water and think, It is warmer out.
I was never a good mushroom hunter. When I was young I would mostly just fight trees with my mushroom stick. I would dip the mushroom stick into the black water down in the basement of the foundation and stir up the leaves.
My dad was a good hunter and so is my brother. When I was down in a cove I remember my dad saying, “David, stop...look.”
I would stop and look. I saw nothing. I would look and see last year’s leaves on the ground with some plants just beginning to push through. And like a dream they would materialize. Small nubs from the ground, like instant growths from the brown leaves. And then I would see another. Another another. Right in front of me. I would have committed an unpardonable sin of the mushroom hunter if I mistakenly stepped on them. Dad saved me from that disgrace. I filled my bread bag with the yellow sponges but I felt bad knowing I never found them on my own.
I didn’t have patience or a true want, though the want to find has grown in me so big that I have to forget about it to get what I’m looking for. And there is another thing. It is the most important of things.
An artist needs a sense. This sense is beyond character. All skill depends on what is behind you. Writing means nothing. It is just a bunch of words. There is a poem by the late Jack Gilbert called “Hunger” about a narrator really getting into an apple, through the skin and the flesh and the juice and the seeds. It ends with him wanting to get “beyond the seeds.”
By this “beyond” or “behind” I don’t mean the past but I do mean a past life. Good writing doesn’t get to me where it counts. I read a good line and think it’s a good line. I don’t necessarily want to be that line. A true line makes me feel I’ve lived before I was David Morton. A true line makes me know that I was once a dog that drank from a brook with other wild dogs that were to become Henry Valentine Miller and Knud Pedersen and David Herbert Lawrence. The sound of tongues lapping up water is behind the line. The western plain is behind that line. What made us thirsty is behind the line.
Behind the line. Before the line. Beyond the line.
There was Percy Bysshe Shelley who wrote that poets were “an atom to a Universe.” D. H. Lawrence believed in the darkest of gods. “O for a life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts,” wrote Keats. Emerson wrote of an Over-Soul, the “wise silence.” The Old Master wrote that the Tao could not be written.
A Poet is a hierophant and not someone who thinks they can speak to butterflies. The butterfly would suck them dry if it could. And, of course, it can and it does. It makes them frail by mesmerizing those gentle spirits with its pretty wings and its consorting with colorful flowers. A slight wind could kill those poets after the butterfly is through with them. Before they die, those poets say “muse” a lot to their friends.
That’s what the butterflies tell me.
GLUTTON writers sucking from the muse tit and crying for more. My papaw told me that he watched bloated dead bodies being pushed into a massive grave and he said they bounced when they fell in. An artist knows there is something more because they felt it just one time. They just don’t go wanting more. I know that inspiration to write isn’t going to be perpetual. It shouldn’t be. Writers are inspired enough. They’re sickening fat with it.
My current method of writing is very simple. I write lots of notes. I set a timer and just write things down. I guess it comes from my being afraid to talk up to the time I was in my mid-20s when my nature yanged. It is a significant thing to happen. The language was always there. It just didn’t make it into the world. Language circled in my head. I was afraid to let it out.
And then the day came and that reversed. All care was transplanted with spontaneity. I was like a coondog in a cage waiting to be released so it can hunt. I was a big malamute chained to a tree that kept pulling until the weak link broke. I was liberated. I ran to meet the child that antagonized me by putting a scrap of molded bread a foot past the length of my chain. The spontaneity came and I said things that could never be retracted.
Don’t bring those unretractable things to the workshops and let people with their cares turn your loves into intellectual exercises.
Forfeit yourself to the irrevocable wild dogs waiting in you.
Robert Johnson walked to the crossroads and got on his knees for Satan to gave him the power to agonize with a guitar. Unlike Johnson, I gave mine to a shrew in my garage. I gave it freely with no obligations on the shrew’s part. I feel it back there now. The shrew is dangerous. It crawls. It squeaks.
I Submit to it. Submit, kneel, obey, bow, give it away, give in, quit. Know there is more where that came from. Marry the opposites like a Poet.
David M. Morton is the associate editor of Hobo Camp Review. Read more of his work at www.davidmmorton.com