Theoretic Success

Jeannette Stacey  |  3 min read

James Tyler Jones lies on the floor of his attic surrounded by pages torn from his books of cheap,  existential poetry. He buries himself in must and his childhood clothes as he sifts through leaves of the sculpted penwork of artists far more talented than he. Others paint pictures; bring to life forests full of trees and illustrate with their diction the most vivid array of fall leaves. But words are such stale and dull creatures in his hands—little beasts of black print that take a sweet and tender touch to come to life. They lie still, lazy, and naked for him. Each finger that reaches to stroke the spine comes back bloody; each murmur of comfort is drowned out by their own untamed noise. He possesses no such touch—harbors no such skill.

Fatalism crawls into his lungs with the dust of the damp and crooked loft. He grips failed works with fingers that ache from clawing at rotting wood and pulling at dirty nails. High piles of great works, untouched unlike his own which lay scattered, cast shadows that lay heavy upon his shoulders, and one book lies open before him. The finely printed script etched upon its pages mocks him with its eloquence; a buck kicking up dirt in the woods nearly brings him to tears.  It is more to him than letters placed with care; it is the very same particle of light that edges august antlers and presses against the leather-bound backs of books.

And then there is the dull haze of his imitation—the melancholy mimicry of majesty that is his own work, and how it pales in comparison to the few simple lines that muse upon the mark of a buck. The drafts of unfinished works and undeservedly published ones litter the floor; he tears to pieces one more. But the true sign of his failure remains pure; the poet’s rendition of the buck is undisturbed.

Is it really failure if there is no evidence of success? he wonders. The open book beckons and the low, pained bellow of the buck as the bullet strikes sounds in his mind. Would it take anything more than to destroy the object of his envy to return to him his satisfaction? His hand which reaches out to lift the book from its delicate position is one commanded by greed. He wishes for fame and fortune, to be sure, but these are easily attained. His talentless fingers stroke the pages and feel the sticky warmth of blood pouring from buckshot wounds; to kill is a simple act, but to forget life is the struggle. He longs for hubris to carry him afloat—at the very least enough pride for him to read his own work.

He knows there is no other option. Dying breaths of a forest king press into his lungs and he feels almost as though this act will bring it peace. He knows this is rationalization, but surely it is better than suffering. The buck’s slowing heartbeat pounds in his ears like drums that call him to action. With one deft motion, he tears the poem from the book with biting fingers too poor to write such beauty, but just base enough to destroy it; one more and it lies crumpled upon the floor. The breath is silent and the light of day dims as it streams through the windows.

He reaches for words and finds them no better than those touched before. He looks for sights and sounds of his own creation but finds only silence. No man of poetry, of creation, can succeed through destruction—can find satisfaction in such a wretched act. In the corner, mixed unceremoniously among his own works, is the description of the fallen deer; gathering dust beside it, the unattainable happiness of James Tyler Jones.