Luther Hughes’ You Smell Like Outside: The Labor of Living
“You Smell Like Outside” is Luther Hughes’ wonderful column for Frontier where he seeks to answer the question every month: can poetry help us with our real, day-to-day life? For July, Luther explores finding freedom in the labor of living, wherever he can.
The Labor of Living
It wasn’t that I tried to kill myself again, it’s that I considered it. I know, I know. I’ve talked about depression many times on this blog before. I know, I know. You are probably tired of me talking about the times I thought about killing myself or the times I’ve been depressed or the times a poem have “saved” me from doing the deed. The labor of not living. Well, that’s not right, more like the labor of living.
I have a question for you, dear, dear reader: have you ever looked at an animal and saw yourself? Probably, right? Like you, you’re probably a poet or some other writer or affiliated with art in some cool or cumbersome way. Listen, a few weeks ago, the maple trees outside my boyfriend’s window hosted a murder of crows, squawking, crowing, almost, at least what it seemed like, crying. Weeping. And I was there, I mean, they were me. I mean, when the sun crowded behind the afternoon clouds, there I was, all of me, weeping. And I watched and listened, in bed by myself and suddenly, the feeling of wanting to die came back, and, reader, would you believe me if I said I grew peaceful? Telling you this now reminds me of the poem, “Tulips,” by Sylvia Plath, which, to put it simply, is a speaker meditating on their existence while in the hospital bed. I am particularly thinking of this stanza:
I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free—
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.
I take to the line, “How free it is, you have no idea how free—” and, reader, are you curious about this type of freedom? About what this type of freedom allows? About what this type of freedom unleashes? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking you if you want to kill yourself. I’m not asking if you ever felt like a murder of weeping crows. I’m asking: when’s the last time you felt free? What does freedom mean to you? Don’t worry, I’ll wait until you think of something…
Have you thought of something? I have. The last thing that made me feel free wasn’t, surprisingly, wanting to kill myself, but it had to do with poetry, more so, my poetry. Lately, it has been hard for me to write any poems. Lately, I have been feeling my poetry has been, for lack of a better word, bad, and, because of this, I decided something that ultimately brought chills to my spine. I’m sorry, I’m not ready to say what that thing is just yet. In fact, even now, thinking of it, brings me to tears.
On the thought of one’s writing, I think of these lines from “Study in Black” by Rickey Laurentiis: “I wonder if these words, my words, / will ever bring me fame.” Now, fame isn’t what I want from my writing. No. But let’s admit it, we all wanted or have wanted to be published, or better yet, everyone wants their writing to be recognized as “good.” On an episode of The Poetry Salon, we briefly discuss this and, on many occasions, I suggested waiting before sending out work or waiting to let that poem or that manuscript mature into something worthwhile, and today, right now, I am suggesting the same thing.
On feeling free, remember that heap of crows, remember, in the beginning, when this post was about killing myself? Writing this has made me feel free. Not in the sense of dying, but maybe more so in the sense of about ten crows weeping at the same time, letting out their grief in the easiest way they know how. The feeling of wanting to die hasn’t went away, and, to be honest, may not for some time, and for now, I’ve accepted that, at least for now, in the time of writing this post. Dear reader, I am weeping. Thank you for letting me.
Luther Hughes is a Seattle native and author of Touched (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018). He is the Founding Editor in Chief of The Shade Journal, Executive Editor for The Offing, and Editor-at-Large of Frontier Poetry. A Cave Canem fellow, his work has been published or is forthcoming in various journals including, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New England Review, TriQuartlery, Four Way Review, and others. Luther received his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. You can follow him on Twitter @lutherxhughes. He thinks you are beautiful.