Christian Anton Gerard Thinking He’s Milton’s Adam by Christian Anton Gerard

I can’t be the only one waking up
thinking I’m Adam looking down at my
hand in Eve’s, clouds rumbling, the Miltonic

narrator: The world was all before them.
I can’t be the only one scared shitless
imagining that first night outside

the garden. I’ve imagined paradise
atop a grassy hill taller than all
the way Red Cross Knight sees that bright city

on the hill, and I’ve imagined always
the world outside just as lush as inside
and Adam and Eve hand in hand atop

history’s tallest looking out across
the forests and fields below thinking
they’d lost something despite having

gained the whole rest of the world. Imagine
what they must have thought looking up, seeing
the fallen sky for that first time? Broken?

What could Adam have thought of those night lights
without Milton’s narrator telling him
what to think? How can a man muster a wish

out loud, or not, when his maker’s made himself known?
Cast him out? I can’t be the only one who’s been
out in the night, two hands opened screaming,

“if I can’t make it with my own hands,
if the lean-to leans to the ground, and
the Solomon Seal’s all I know to eat,

I’ll make it if this world’s a wilderness
with room for those who’ll give themselves to it.”
Maker, don’t let me be the only alcoholic

who stands out under your stars praying
all the lights I see are others who’ve lived
by listening to all the words you’ve made.

 

 

Apt was born the year after I finished my bachelor’s degrees at Miami University (OH). I thought graduate school was what you did when you finished college with an English and Creative Writing double major. When Apt was born, I’d found out graduate school is for those who want it, need it, and work hard to get there. I learned this because the eight schools I applied to in 2004 all turned me away. I hadn’t wanted it bad enough.

Fall 2005 was my second year in a dive-bar kitchen and my second year applying to graduate schools, but this time all of them accepted me. In a year I’d learned that writing and thinking is about community. In a year, I’d asked for help, read more, and learned that I’d drink myself to death if I stayed in the bar world.

As it turns out, I’d learn over the next seven years that I’d drink myself to death no matter what. I’m an alcoholic, but I’ve recovered from my disease because of community. My recovery, just like my writing and reading, is contingent on my day-to-day maintenance of my spiritual life. I used to believe I was alone as a writer—that writing is solitary and reading is solitary. I used to think writing and reading were actions I did and kept with me. Now I understand writing and reading as essential to my spiritual center. Not a day goes by that I don’t share something I’ve read with someone and ask for someone to share with me.

The poem above, “Christian Anton Gerard Thinking He’s Milton’s Adam,” to my reading, is a poem about community versus solitude, fear versus acceptance, acknowledgement, and my search for community. By and large, alcoholics (even recovered ones) can be some of the most selfish people you’ll ever meet. It’s because we’re afraid and often don’t like to admit it. I’m no exception. I’ve learned I have the right to be wrong, and knowing this has made me a better listener to the universe.

This poem, for instance, couldn’t have been made if I hadn’t listened to Milton. I couldn’t just read Paradise Lost; I had to listen and understand all the characters and their motives. I had to have empathy to listen, and in developing my empathy, I also felt the need to respond to Milton, who also felt alone for most of his life. No wonder Adam and Eve felt alone. What a change to leave the garden community and look out at the whole world knowing something must be made of it. Yet, I love the fact that Adam and Eve go together into the world. Milton’s God casts them both from the garden, and there’s a hopeful tone to the end of Paradise Lost because there’s faith in the community of two.

Along the way, I also employed the same reading practices with all the books I’ve encountered. I was struck by the notion that Milton’s Adam, Spenser’s Redcrosse Knight, and Christian Anton Gerard all find themselves at a point looking out at what can only be translated as hope and faith in community and themselves a part of community.

I don’t know that I can say I’ve become a better writer in the last ten years, or that I stumbled upon a secret. I stumbled upon a community I don’t want to leave. Knowing others struggle with their books is helpful. I do as well. Struggle allows us a shared celebration when the work works. In ten years, I’ve learned that I’m human and so is writing: both of these must be able to be humble and also be willing to acknowledge the importance of the past and present. As a poet, I’m afforded the gift of taking part in the great conversation. For this, I am grateful, which I was able to see right after I’d written the lines,

I’ll make it if this world’s a wilderness
with room for those who’ll give themselves to it.”
Maker, don’t let me be the only alcoholic

who stands out under your stars praying
all the lights I see are others who’ve lived
by listening to all the words you’ve made.

More work by Christian Anton Gerard in apt:
“Wilmot Summons His Grandfather’s Ghost” (Third print annual, 2013)
“Do You Have Anything of His? Stella Said” (Third print annual, 2013)
“You Bent to Smell Artichoke Thistles,” (Third print annual, 2013)

 

 

Christian Anton Gerard’s first book of poems is Wilmot Here, Collect For Stella (WordTech, CW Books, 2014).  He’s received Pushcart Prize nominations, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference scholarships, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and the 2013 Iron Horse Literary Review’s Discovered Voices Award.  Some of Gerard’s recent poems and essays appear in national and international literary journals such as storySouth, Post Road, Diode, Orion, Smartish Pace, B-O-D-Y, and The Rumpusamong others. He holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Tennessee and lives in Fort Smith, where he’s an Assistant Professor of English, Rhetoric, and Writing at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. Visit Christian on the web at www.christianantongerard.com.



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