The Bar Prep Poems

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From a rainy day in Buffalo.

I return! While another hiatus from this blog pained me, it was necessary in various ways. First I was studying for the bar exam, then I was taking the bar exam (results pending, could go either way)… and then I spent two weeks abroad for the requisite “barcation”! A trip with family to England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland was just the (plane) ticket; every day was full of exciting moments and Instagram-worthy sights like this:

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A final night near Stratford-Upon-Avon.

But for better or worse, the first of those pictures is more relevant here. For the opening weeks of bar prep, I tried to keep to the Poem-of-the-Week schedule. Eventually, though, my free time didn’t allow for even that, and I was compelled to spend the majority of my time inside nearly all day, nose to the grindstone. Still, I managed to produce a handful of comparatively short poems over a month and a half. Some were, quite honestly, “filler,” but into others I poured with relieving clarity my frustrations about life changes, the prep process, and contemporary world events. For convenience’s sake, I’ve consolidated five of the best “bar prep poems” for this post.

[1] Days

Like a path from campus to a mountain

on the horizon, the only thing separating me

from the past is days.

 

You see me in scenes, a scrapbook clasped shut when backs turn,

but life isn’t a film that ends,

that eclipses with a resolution, then back

on the shelf next to a new time and place

and cast of characters to select,

bound together by glue or gigabytes.

There’s no dividing line between baby teeth and a jaw clenched mid-final

but the one burned by sunsets.

 

So in my head, ten thousand times laid to bed,

I’m still just the kindergartner puzzling over how to count change,

smashing controllers over bad videogames,

screaming atop the stairs when I don’t get my way.

I’m still only the middle-schooler who can’t talk to a crush,

who says gay to complain,

who bullies one boy and punches another sitting down.

I’m surviving high school as I write,

plowing into puberty like a retaining wall,

cradling a pillow when I skip out on the dance,

doodling a dozen would-be book ideas like a whip to ward off the lion of writing them.

Undergrad runs in the background of my mind like a bassline:

Trudging cool Seattle streets alone,

mouthing lines of plaintive pop songs into a smog-lit sky;

always tired, never satisfied.

Sandwiched across square miles

between interchangeable exchange students

and liberal arts darlings who think heartbreak perpetuates the patriarchy.

And higher education still echoes

with every lesson but the ones I paid 100k for:

Nobody actually cares what you do for fun.

If you think they’re too good to be true, you’re right.

Maturity is not taking breaks for weeks straight and still wanting more.

A beautiful view, but no perspective.

 

We can look down that path

and plan a hike.

Boots. Trail mix. A mortgage and diverse portfolio.

Contemplating the climb is tiring enough,

but History isn’t the mountain—

it’s the backpack.

The burden we shrug and slouch under,

of expectations, adulation, admonitions, prescriptions and proscriptions

spilling out of every pouch and zipper.

Every day, every name learned and forgotten,

every skill taught and taken away,

every to-do and what-if determined or discarded—

absent a crack to the head, it’s going nowhere.

Held hostage by memories, there’s no talking down

trying to measure up.

And looking up, to another sunrise

Past the peak,

 

we can shift our legs, try to redistribute the weight—but in vain.

The load only grows,

and this trip, in the end, is solo.

 

[2] Enough

It’s never quite.

Upper back ache, slumped over

the monitor, mind strays—

the key-jangle of studies to come

and Wikipedia search possibilities.

Snap to, for another MCQ,

only to drift again,

shift like the apartment foundation

on leather under summer heat summoning swampass—

as if there’s time for laundry.

 

Preview, view, review,

and still not comprehend it all.

Breaks bend, extend into building a bookshelf

or Swiffering the kitchen.

My mind is a ball on a slight slope, always

in need of nudging to keep it from rolling away.

But I can be distracted by distractions

or by the thought of them;

either way, progress gets put on hold.

 

Surely normal people pay more attention, I say.

Maybe.

Maybe I got this far on charm and chance, a roll of the loaded dice.

Maybe less disciplined parents would’ve put me on Ritalin since middle school.

It’d be cool, in a sense, to pretend my trials are extraordinary,

to install a glass ceiling for my work ethic

and laud those who run across it.

But I have everything I need,

 

for better or worse. The curse

of competence is discontent with just that.

Get a higher percentage. Run another drill.

Reread that sentence. Give me an example.

Every second, an opportunity

to move on, home in, bone up, flesh out,

and doubt, doubt, doubt.

If it turns out I fail, I know who to blame,

 

but it’s the same guy I’ll thank if I win,

until I reach another challenge again.

 

It’s the perfect cycle of panic, a silent fire alarm:

Everything will be okay

as long as I don’t think it will be.

Everything I try will suffice,

as long as I don’t think it’s enough.

 

[3] Catchup

There is confidence in when.

Consecrated delay, a prayer

for the future: another person, inverted

from this one: willing, able, stable.

The invisible blood blister of a torqued shoulderblade

rejuvenated to soft unobtrusiveness;

the paper-eyed dry gaze given a new coat

of sleep, to glaze over anew at the sight

of bullet points and blank lines to fill—

they’ll make more sense tomorrow.

 

Not postponed, just prejudged:

an assumption, wishful unthinking,

that this internet-addled eight-track mind

will digest it like fiber, when experience bangs on a sliding glass door,

mouthing in vain

to prepare for a restless nesting doll

of double-checks and jotted notes.

 

But it can’t all be blamed—we must maintain, whatever break it takes.

Vacuum judiciously. Clean the countertops. Do the dishes.

One wishes for a reason to season the day with chores,

those classic domestic dalliances,

and leave but a peppercorn of practice before bedtime.

All of the withdrawal from a sweaty slump before the computer,

none of the toothache-type guilt

from filling that gap with games.

 

I’ve seen this before,

the weekend’s allure. And sure,

it’s predictable, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same.

Variety is the prize we crank a crane to catch after work,

because that goal won’t come cheap.

But if I can give myself permission to take one evening off,

the rest don’t have to follow.

 

[4] 2016

I know how it feels.

The rush of division.

The high of mighty.

Every catastrophe erupts a pyramid in our midst, and we all tumble down the sides

to make a point with the pain still fresh.

No war without retort anymore,

no riot without secondhand rhetoric,

and the Conversation inflates hate and cowardice until ambiguity asphyxiates.

 

They can’t be blamed.

Terrorism is a natural disaster,

police racing headcases to see who can kill faster,

and so it’s satisfying to put on our passive war paint,

lament the end of humanity and order

from our middle-class palaces.

Pity is mechanical, the sickening cyclical,

as if God ever cared to let hashtags be prayers.

 

But there is peace

in the median, when mean is the mode.

It may not make a great thinkpiece, hitpiece, or placard

thrust aloft in the background of a montage

of martyrs and marauders,

but ambiguity is a luxury long lost.

We can say “ok.” Meh. Maybe. I can see that

both sides have a point, but I’ll sit this one out.

The world has always begged for salvation, sagged at its four corners.

I can all but guarantee the same souls who say “Silence is violence”

crank their earbuds when they pass a homeless person.

 

I understand.

It’s the fear—deep, a hard seed in a bitter fruit—

that the labels we claimed as our base are just ornaments.

That anyone can kiss, kill, donate, or decimate

in the name of a cause we wanted to die (for).

That all we thought was solid is air.

 

It scares us, and so we compare

and contrast: root out the True Scotsmen,

trumpet excuses and exceptions.

Better to err on the side of spiteful

than admit that behind every title,

every Twitter handle or burnished badge, is

a person. Private. Finite. Tired. Trying.

 

We’re lying

when we act like this is as bad as it gets

or as bad as it’s been.

We have the power now to be patient—

to toe the line, keep more than two sides in mind,

and check our facts.

 

I know.

It’s alright.

But this world can still make sense,

if you don’t force it to.

 

[5] I Earn

my inertness.

Tell myself the difference is in the buildup—

a prog rock prelude, not a poppy count-off.

But the end is the same

four chords.

See? Easy enough.

 

Such is hindsight. One’s mind

might perspire—mental hyperventilation—

knuckles digging into bunched-up sweats…

only to lift this skin out of bed and have nothing to hold onto

now that the trial is passed.

 

The perspective, reflected in an invisible thought bubble:

Anyone can play games all day, but I worked for it.

Sure, I can backslide

on diet and discipline,

but at least most folks’ to-do is my back-then.

Burdens buoy me; I tell myself

the effort was there. The obligation was a station

I sat down and refueled at;

not a brick wall I blew through—drive first, take painkillers later.

 

It’s a temperamental tightrope, this balance

between decompression and depression.

A flat affect could be calm or sloth, depending on the audience.

Good thing I’m getting better at social cameras,

though the blooper reel never closes.

 

Don’t tell me I don’t deserve this,

I insist. I could list

everything I went through to get here, but it’s self-imposed.

No more external than drug abuse or loose morals,

just the converse.

Gotta spend money to spend money.

And it’s funny:

 

The less I work, the less there is to work out.

Time decides our priorities for us,

so when I want to do nothing

that matters, the choice falls

to the black-lit sharpened strips of digital time.

 

Let them be

kind.

 

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