I You’ve published enough books, old man. Let someone else have a turn. The letter doesn’t say that, but it might as well. Might as well tell him, too, that he’s exceeded his limit on walks with his dog or pickup basketball games with his granddaughter or afternoons saving the world with the help of his grandson and some plastic dolphins. II Please forgive my verbs for working so hard. Hard work is all they’ve ever known. Maybe not the best cover letter for an old man to submit to the young editors at university presses. III It’s raining. It’s often raining when I write. The drops throw themselves against the window. They want to be in a poem, too. They don’t care which one. IV What are you writing about? asks my four-year-old granddaughter. She expects I’ve put her in yet another poem, and she wants out. Now. V I’m sorry, my wife tells me when I open the letter that says exactly what I was afraid it would. It’s the same voice she uses when she cups her hand around a moth and walks it to the door and watches it dart off. VI How do others do it: sit at their desks and labor over poems in the hope that maybe a magazine named after a flower or a constellation might be interested in the day their mother forgot them at the rest stop or their cat decided to stop eating forever or they fell in love with the color yellow or looked in the mirror and saw a dead sister? VII Lullwater, Crab Orchard, Pegasus, Maverick Duck, Main Street Rag, Moccasin, Katydid, Nimrod, Taproot, Seaweed Sideshow Circus, Bottom Dog, Milkweed, Red Moon — I could make a poem out of the places that have returned my poems. How can my words travel to RainTown or Chattahoochee or Cimarron or Cream City or Cold Mountain or the River Styx or the Pleiades and come back unchanged? Adastra, Anabioisis, Anhinga, Apalachee, Aquarius, Axe Factory. I’m working my way through the alphabet. Every time I go to the mailbox, I’m one step closer to Zephyr, Zoetrope, Zombie Logic, and a world record. VIII Say a man writes 2 poems a week for 50 years — take away 1 poem for every week his hands got distracted with a papier-mâché Mount Vesuvius his daughter was molding or a fort he was building with his Cub Scouts or a protest sign he held up at the statehouse. You do the math: 52 weeks times 2 poems a week equals 104, minus 15 neglected poems equals 89, times 50 years equals 4,450, minus 52 for the long year his mother took to die, minus 26 for the six months his father took to die. That leaves 4,372 poems by the time he’s 70. Maybe 400 or so, if he’s lucky, make their way into print, which leaves 3,972 poems just waiting to be thrown away when he dies. But, look, he’s at work on yet another poem. IX Why do I keep writing? Maybe because words ask the same toughness of an old man or woman as they would of a young one: to be seventy — or eighty, or ninety — and still be held to a code of honor. Poems don’t want excuses. X The trees must have noticed my attention wandering. I look out the window to find them holding up their latest work. Their first drafts have turned incandescent. Who’d believe anything as ordinary as a maple could have such an extraordinary vocabulary, with so many variations on red and orange and yellow? While I’ve been dawdling, the trees have been busy revising. The light’s the only critic they trust. They count on the sun to polish their scribbling, to see their first drafts all the way to print. What would we ever do without such independent publishers?