Why I’m not a Monk

by Laurie Byro
Second Place, September 2013
Judged by Robert Sward

I like to talk. I contemplate while I talk and people say
I sleep-talk. I like the appealing collar, the lace around
the sleeve. I love Epaulets. I like the little details. Once,
while I was about to climax (in the wrong place, a closet,
don’t ask) I stood among the shoe horns, the winter

coats and bit my shirt to stop myself from crying out.
I worried (not that we’d be discovered) but that I would
ruin a lovely Nehru collar with drool. How is this possible,
I asked myself, knowing I was not a contortionist and
impressed with such detached determination. I covet sound.

I repeat the phrase inside my head; I love the taste of words
rolling around among my molars. Listen: persimmon, catalyst,
katydid, polliwog, drool. I love bargains and paying pennies
for cool shoes. I have stood inside a closet, my boots filling up
with blood. I have thought about this. Face it, I have more

than thought, I have spoken this out loud. Can a wind chime
equal a sacrament? Can a butterfly be worth the same
as a seashell? How do we measure thrift against desire,
passion against compassion, lie against thievery, incest against
adultery? Can a temple bell fill the air with language or is it only

noise? How many orchids does it take to topple a wall?
If it were up to me to build a bridge, I would ask a stranger
to pass me a stone. Once in New York City I begged a cop
to help me parallel park. Instead, he issued me a summons.
Take my advice, know what you do and cannot do but

do it out loud. Set the world on fire with wooden matches.
Listen: cinnamon, wolverine, clementines, audacious,
anemone, puck. A man huddles on the sidewalk and I am
unable to give him more than a nod and a compassionate five.
Here, take my words. Rub together my sticks of love.

I like the humor of the piece, the "easy" pace of the narrative, I like the gentle self-deprecation and the "flow," which strikes me as natural as opposed to contrived. I'd like a little more about the why of the title, "Why I'm Not a Monk." The poem opens with the line, "I like to talk." and that's followed by "I contemplate while I talk and people say / I sleep-talk..."

Then, also in stanza #1, one reads, "Once,/while I was about to climax..." so there's something of the confessional about the poem, in short, much that the poet believes would serve to discredit his application (should he make one) to serve as a monk.

Five lines to the stanza, an easy working with the formal limits he sets himself. And, yes, there's a jaunty quality to lines like "...persimmon, catalyst,/ katydid, polliwog, drool." and "Can a butterfly be worth the same/ as a seashell?"

In answer to the poem I'd say a love for language, a sensuality, a delight in the play of the imagination, a hint of compassion... none of these would in themselves disqualify the poet from a place in the monastery. Oddly, I wouldn't be surprised to learn at some point in the future that the author of these lines chose indeed to spend some time in a monastery.

The poet offers in parting, "Take my advice, know what you do and cannot do but / do it out loud." --Robert Sward