Consider, as we recommend, allowing the video below to play as you read the piece. A Defense of Waiting
The confines imposed upon the one who waits are like no other: the woman early for the train, the sniffling man in the doctor’s office all wander as widely as possible within the borders of their waiting.
Those who wait aspire to definite postures, from pacing to shifting to reading to texting – but the limits of these postures are most often found in ennui.
As I write this, I am proctoring a writing placement exam for incoming freshman. I jumped at the chance to proctor this exam because I love to wait. I love having something concrete to wait for. Even if that something is a raised hand.
When asked to wait in a place where I cannot move or move far from what I am waiting for, I begin to move slowly, and in this slowness I find great freedom. I begin building machines that pick up discarded luggage and of them build giant mosaics of fallen airline pilots. I find and befriend my double in a small town in Oregon, and from there we give great attention to sine waves. I am invisible, or, at least, another person entirely.
As I walk back and forth among the computers, away from and back to this open document, I have been thinking of a short story by Elizabeth Bishop in which the narrator imagines his perfect prison. With great detail he describes how often he would be fed, the dimensions of his cell, what kind of recreation would be available, etc. Bishop brings this love of waiting to an ironic extreme, but I love that her narrator, like me, longs for a secular monasticism.
Pessoa described this well:
I never kept sheep, But it’s as if I’d done so. My soul is like a shepherd. It knows wind and sun Walking hand in hand with the Seasons Observing, and following along.
Observing, and following along. Yes. Always in two aspects of the same past: one past not lived, and the very same past lived. And when the two aspects meet, the similes and negative capabilities carry the day.
Every time a student finishes an exam, I must say the same thing I’ve said fifty times, walk to the printer, get the printout, direct them to their next slice of freshman orientation, and walk back here. But where is here? The lectern at the front of the room where I’ve propped my laptop? On a pier at dawn several summers ago? On the phone of someone waiting for a train? None of these and all.
After AWP I missed a train. Pissed off and delighted, I sat in Union Station eating spring rolls and drinking beer. I read two chapbooks (James Haug and Sampson Starkweather) that were both excellent and both gone too soon. I looked at my phone. I leaned so the railing divided the people below into two warring groups. I was in a fort.
Dan Chelotti’s recent poems have appeared, or will be appearing in Fence, notnostrums, North American Review, Bateau, Gulf Coast, Handsome, Court Green, and other fine journals. He was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and is the author of two chapbooks, The Eights (PSA 2006) and Day Later (False Indigo Press 2011). His prose can be found in Slack Lust and Kenyon Review Online. He teaches writing at Elms College.