Last Girl Standing, A Poem (Plus Backstory)

From my collection

A proper piece of poetry should stand on its own—no poem worth its salt should require a backstory. But I don’t claim to be a poet, so here it is: I am reeling from a recent rejection.

I talk a big talk about dusting myself off and try, try, trying again. And again. About how the ol don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you is part and parcel of this crazy, beautiful game. Still, it stings being told thanks, but no. 

I have come to hate letters signed “Best,“.

Have you ever heard this story, which may or may not be true? Jerry Seinfeld once told it something like this:

It was a dark and stormy night. Engine trouble forced the Glenn Miller Band’s plane to land miles off from a gig. So the musicians grabbed their instruments and commenced a cold, rainy, cross-country trek—the show must go on, right? Wet and weary, they came upon a farmhouse, all aglow, with a family gathered fireside at supper, a regular Norman Rockwell scene. One of the band members peered in the window at the cozy sight and remarked, shaking his head, “How can people live like that?”

In other words, come hell or high water, you do what you do because you love it.

And it’s a high honor, doing the work and putting it out there—whatever the weather.

But lately there are days—so many days—I want to say hang it all. Go inside, get warm. Strictly do the hearth and home thing, along with my finest impression of somebody stable and well-adjusted, some one who doesn’t feel compelled to write anything down. I mean, what is that?

But then I write all night in restless dreams (I can’t explain how this happens), and I know the answer is no, no normalcy for you!

Submit, rinse, repeat.

I check my motives. If I am honest (and why not?), I cannot say with metaphysical certainty I would mind being admired, appreciated, acclaimed. I once asked my writer-husband if he wanted to be famous. He smiled wryly and said, “No… although I’d take it. Because that would mean I’m good.”

Yes, what he said.

I’m driven by many things—some of which I’ll never understand—but chief among them: love of craft and a God-granted compulsion for expression and a desire to gift others as I’ve so often been gifted with, What, you too?

(Oh, also, I’m not rich. Money, I like money. Money helps with things like: college tuition, shoes, sandwich meat.)

So here’s my little ode to the Mias… and to daughter Maggie… and to me. To all of us who ache with want.

Outside Atlanta’s Fox Theater

Last Girl Standing

Big news pops on tiny cell screen—
she crumples to the bathroom floor,
checks again,
cries a little.
Cold water rescue, then,
drawing a bottomless breath, shoulders squared,
tip-toeing back to the party.
Trembling, whispering in eager ear:
I got the part.

Next time she doesn’t, though,
or the next.
You win some, you lose some, they say.
What do they know?
Shrugs and safety and good sense.
She aches with want.

Christmastime, Midtown with Mother to see the show.
Mother, with her collection of no thanks from publishers
and her lost contests.
She doesn’t shrug,
but afterward hums snow scene song down the street
to the car.
Mother and Tchaikovsky and daughter, driving.

Back home, upstairs in white cotton nightie, long hair half-up,
being Clara.
Half-past midnight, spent,
folding finally into sugarplum dreams.
She wonders, is eighteen too old for bedroom twirling?

Long morning–early English lit, economics, pointe class, sore feet—
stretches into evening.
One whole day without shimmering dreams—
flat.
This won’t do.
She slips on headphones,
emerges into cold night,
alone across campus—
no one’s looking.
She skips,
sissonnes,
leaps a little.
Vole!
A gazebo—behind the business building?
How funny, flight of fancy—
why hadn’t she noticed it before?
It is hers
for an hour,
steam rising in January air.
She’s got the part,
all the parts.
Take them, one way or another,
reckless girl.
Unrelenting, rash, foolish,
brave girl.

7 thoughts on “Last Girl Standing, A Poem (Plus Backstory)

  1. Dear Author,

    Well, just in the last couple of posts, you and Lanier have helped me zip my Inner Tigger out of his Eeyore suit, and he has written a song to prove it. Not the same as the Pulitzer Prize, I grant you, but, if it’s any comfort in the wee hours, you do have the gratitude of one moth-eaten tiger.

    I trust you have no aversion to letters signed…

    Sursum Corda

  2. My daughter the writer, and now a poet too. I love this poem. Remember, it is very easy not to fail doing dishes or walking down the street without falling. But taking a leap way up into the air, a big challenge, now failing will usually happen. You are reaching for the stars, dreaming ——–keep reaching and dreaming. Meanwhile, while waiting for your big break, what you write is warming our hearts (and sometimes making us laugh and cry). So, you are making a difference.
    Love,
    Mom

    1. Yay! Thanks, Mom. I’m glad. p.s. I break those pretty antique glasses sometimes when I do dishes, and I remember that time you fell just standing in the street…

  3. Oh Laura – if there is one thing harder than receiving personal rejections, it’s feeling our children’s pain in feeling rejected.
    What a lovely image you paint in that last stanza…

    PS I’m still getting over the thought of your ninety-nine rejection letters – take care of your heart.

  4. Laura, you must have a good bit of me in you. I have fallen many times but have never given up. Recently someone asked a group of us to describe ourselves in one word and that’s not easy.. The word that came to mind first was ‘persistent.’ Throughout my life giving up did not enter my thinking for long. Remember what Jimmy V said as he was dying of cancer…”never give up, never give up.” I understand you and am proud you are my daughter, and really liked the poem, great job.
    Dad

  5. Yes! Thank you for writing this post. I’m a classical musician currently living on a desert island (literally!). Even in the midst of an unexpected life situation and the sad lack of traditional music opportunities, I’ve been thankful for this time that has shown me I HAVE to keep playing.

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