A prose poem woke up in an alley. He was lying on the pavement among trash bins, empty bottles, cigarette butts and the smell of urine. He raised his head and noticed the rear exits to buildings. He hadn’t wanted to wake up as a prose poem. He coulda been a story. Maybe just a very short story, but at least something in which something happens. He coulda been a fight or a murder or a dying child, a beautiful woman who has forgotten her name, or a soldier coming back from the war. Something. He coulda been a book of related stories in which an unnamed character, one who played no actual part in the stories, would make an appearance in each story. Perhaps he would be the unnamed character sitting, unnoticed by anyone in the story, on a park bench. Or he would deliver the mail. Or you would see him glance from the window of a departing bus. The prose poem got on his feet and dusted off his pants and the front of his shirt. He needed a shave and his teeth felt scuzzy. He knew the rear doors to the buildings were not real doors. No one would be coming to the alley. No one would pick up the garbage. It was not a real alley, but maybe it was a story—the story of his blankety-blank-blank life. Nothing would happen. He wouldn’t be doing whatever he would be doing if he were a story instead of a prose poem. Damn.
Photo:Cancer Debris by Maxwell GS; licensed under CC BY 2.0 Click here to read Richard Garcia on the origin of the poem.
Richard Garcia: ‘Waking Up’ is a prose poem. My recent book, The Chair, from BOA, is a collection of prose poems. My forthcoming book, Porridge, from Press 53, is a suite of related prose poems. I wrote ‘Waking Up’ while I was sitting in on a workshop on the from, conducted by another poet. I don’t remember a prompt. We were just supposed to try our hand at it.
“In a piece of short fiction something has to happen, in a prose poem nothing has to happen.”
Robert Olen Butler
I wanted to write a prose poem in which a prose poem gets a chance to speak for itself, in this case, himself.