Sampson Starkweather

That phrase “your chosen field” always makes me think of the fields of my youth— the bright green fields of North Carolina in the summer, the brown fallow fields of winter, and those morning fields harvesting fog and god knows what. Fields you’d like to wade out in like water or music, never knowing what will happen next. Memory is a department store. You walk around dazed looking for a field to choose. But it’s fucked up, like a dream that ends right before it merges into the real. No one chooses their field. The way it works is, it just happens to you. It’s perfect, like the weather. Like this poem.











Remember those fields I invented a few emails ago? Of course you do. Here are the things I culled out: a girl’s dress, a bull, wind, barbwire, grass, a chunk of ice, dragonflies, fireweed, gasoline can, a little blood, one cloud, too blue, the sun, the sun. Go, do what you must with them.











I’ve been thinking about fields again. Specifically, how we should write a book about fields. A Field Guide to Fields. I’m talking

about the field that doesn’t exist yet. We are its experts.











I thought you said a field of opposites. What is the opposite of a field anyway, a mountain, a pinprick? My philosophy professor said everything has an opposite. What is the opposite of midway? That’s where the poem happens.











It’s like when you said a field of poppies and I thought you said a field of opposites. That’s what a mountain is, a perfect misunderstanding. A ghost, ignorant of the rules.











You know I don’t believe in ghosts. It’s an occupational hazard/lack of empirical evidence. When the dead and the living momentarily cross paths, there is a flash, a familiar pang, as if they just saw someone they went to high school with, but aren’t sure if it’s really them or if they could even remember their name, and too embarrassed about who they’ve become or who they once were, they put their heads down, and continue their journeys in opposite directions toward that same thing.











I finally read these Self Help Poems to a live audience. You would’ve called it fieldwork, a barometer of shame. People’s cell phones kept going off, between ringtones there was laughing, silence, and what sounded like pity or seaweed, that composed a kind of second weather. Afterwards, everyone whispered how god-awful the reading was. Needless to say, you would have been proud.











I was afraid everyone was going to think I was just sharing transmissions from the dark part of the machine; I was afraid I’d sound like a man at confession; I was afraid I’d erase me, that some imaginary canopy I’d worked so hard to build would come crashing down, hell, I was afraid it wouldn’t. But once I was standing at the podium, alone with the spotlight blinding me, faces blurring into those floating electric seahorses you see from staring at the sun, I wasn't afraid of any of those things anymore— I was just afraid.











At the end of the poem where you die in the backseat of a rental car and I die wrapped in a huge tropical leaf, it happened. The shame came. So long little levee. I didn’t cry, but my voice wavered then collapsed, like a video of engineers testing a bridge. It had nothing to do with us dying or our friends and family turning into wind, it was the part where I lied, the part where I said we’d never be forgotten by anyone ever again.




from Self Help Poems