January 29th, 2014 (Metaphors)

by Steven Townshend

Deadly Redly Knife Room by The Townshend
Deadly Redly Knife Room, a photo by The Townshend on Flickr.


When I was nineteen years old I took a poetry class at Ohio University. When I was nineteen years old my ideas about poetry were limited. When I was nineteen years old I admired poetry with a rhyme scheme and a meter because I thought it was cleverer and harder to do than free verse. When I was nineteen years old the poet Mary Oliver came to Ohio University to do a reading and our class was required to go. When I was nineteen years old the last thing I wanted to do was go to a poetry reading by a contemporary poet on a spring evening in Athens; I’d rather be outside on the green, or down in the basement of one of the big brick quads playing games with my friends. When I was nineteen years old I went to Mary Oliver’s reading and stood in the back of the auditorium, but the work was lost on me; two decades later, her work is a complete revelation I can’t believe I missed when she was standing right in front of me.


Failure is my bones. Failure is my blood. Failure is my brain. Failure is my best friend–I know Failure better than I know most people. I spend a lot of time with Failure.

I have another friend. Success. Success visits infrequently, but when success visits she makes a grand entrance. Success is kind of a diva.

Success is kind of a slut too. I’ve caught Success making out with my other friends. Lots of them at once sometimes. Like full on make out. With tongue.

It’s easy to feel jealous. It’s understandable. Sometimes I get so tired of Failure’s company I get up and run toward the house of Success as hard and fast as I can.

Success isn’t home, of course. The doors are locked, the lights are out. I knock on the doors and ring the bell and knock harder, exhausted from my hard run. Who strolls up behind me while I’m banging on the door? You guessed it. My old friend Failure. We walk home together. It’s embarrassing and awkward to explain. Everything with Failure is awkward. We go back to the way we were.

Eventually Success shows up again. She makes her grand entrance and I’m hers again. I drop all my grievances and bask in her warmth. That’s just how it goes.

It’s great having success around. But after a while I feel languid, sluggish. I look out the window and see something just over the horizon. A gleaming. A glimmer like the sea, or the night sky lying on its side, wavering with stars. I want to go there.

Success doesn’t want to go anywhere though. I get up to stretch my legs and walk down the path, but it’s a long lonely journey and I don’t know the way.

Two steps down the road and Failure shows up again, a bag packed with all the necessary supplies for the journey. I know I’d never make it there without him.


I’m in a period of discovery. I’m standing at a crossroads. I’m looking out over a new frontier.

From this vantage point, looking back I can see where my path has twisted an turned. I can still see the impressions of my footprints in places where my past is stamped down from walking in circles, and other places where I sprinted so fast I hardly left a mark. I study the patterns. I make notes. It’s hard not to get lost in such a vast place as the Future. Before I might have thrown caution to the wind and charged on ahead, afraid of losing time. Today I take some time to think on what I’ve learned in hopes that the challenges ahead will seem more familiar, and that the bends and diversions in the path will no longer lead me in circles but toward equally interesting destinations.


American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, and New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver.

I read H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth this week for the first time, after seeing Wildclaw Theatre’s adaptation at the Athenaeum in Chicago. More accurately, I finished reading The Shadow Over Innsmouth, having begun it 20 years ago. I like the story of ‘Shadow,’ but always drift off during Lovecraft’s erudite and mannered telling of it; I like several of his other works a lot more. Apart from switching the protagonist’s gender and a few tiny plot adjustments, Scott T. Barsotti’s stage production was rigorously faithful to the original and (in my opinion) a far more compelling experience than the story as written by Lovecraft.

Stranger Than Fiction

I have a cat that jumps at a blank piece of wall space. Over and over again he jumps at it. I’ve checked the wall for marks and dust, I’ve washed it down, but there’s nothing. He doesn’t care. he returns to the same blank piece of wall and leaps repeatedly at it. Barks at it sometimes (he barks). The place isn’t old enough to have ghosts, let alone ghosts that live outside the wall 3 stories up. Maybe I should hang a picture there that he can appreciate.