Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Friday, October 12, 2007

What To Do With An Old To-Do List?

A "found poem," as we know, is one in which the poet takes existing language from its original context and arranges it into a poem. Words from labels on food jars; instructions posted in an elevator; a note someone dropped--these sorts of things. A poet can also be more aggressive and use the "found" text as a starting place, the way a jazz musician might take a well known musical-phrase and then improvise like crazy.

Another kind of found poem is a poem you forgot you wrote; you find it in an old notebook or in an old computer-file. The following poem is a found poem in all of these ways. It starts with found language and meditates on it. But it's also a poem I'd forgotten I wrote, maybe for good reason. (The poem notwithstanding, and it probably won't withstand much, the concept of "To-Do" lists fascinates, for one is writing orders to oneself. Now that electronics are allegedly replacing paper, do people leave To-Do lists to themselves on voice-mail, and do they then delete the voice-mail in a fit of self-rebellion? Do they write To-Do lists on Blackberries? [What is a Blackberry? I'm still not sure, and yes, I know I'm a Luddite.] Do they send themselves To-Do emails or instant To-DO messages? A massive compendium of To-Do lists, taken from around the globe on a given day, might be interesting to examine.)

The Author of a To-Do List Discovers It a Decade Later

Pack.
Get money.
Make sauce.
Got to school.
Organize greenhouse.
Move stuff into drawer.
Get fish.

He never liked to pack luggage--
a tedious, sad task. No doubt money
was gotten then released into a variety
of shops--into the world, the air.

(Sauce?) Noting, at age six, that School
was outfitted with drinking fountains
and free books, he has been going
there his whole life; nonetheless, reminders
to return are not unwelcome. (Sauce?)

Regarding the greenhouse, he remains
perplexed but seems to recall encouraging
plants to unionize. . . . Probably stuff
remains in a drawer, which, like certain
ancient cities, has been lost. Salmon

or halibut, which is nobler? That is not
the question. The question is: Sauce?
Was it connected to getting the fish, or
to getting the money, neither, or both?
Was the sauce, in fact, made, or does it
remain packed in a Platonic suitcase of unmixed

ingredients? Did the sauce by chance
or design end up in the drawer, at school,
on money, or in the greenhouse? The older
the To-Do List, the more
uselessly beautiful it becomes. He goes now
to get money so that he may continue
to list what to do. He goes now to list; and to do.

Copyright 2007 Hans Ostrom

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