Becoming the Novelist
Agatha Christie wrote in the bath.
I could do that, you think to yourself.
Though what you really mean is,
you could take a bath.
Imagining bath, you can't really imagine
paper and pen. You imagine submersion.
You imagine only your nose and mouth
peeping out. You imagine candles.
And maybe Agatha Christie's biographer
didn't mean writing with paper and pen.
Maybe he only meant that she thought
while bathing, building the plot
in her head as she soaked.
First Poirot with his fastidious moustaches,
or Miss Marple having tea.
Then the corpse. Then the clues stacked
one by one like wafers of soap,
or like towels, waiting for her to step out
and dry off, to reach only then
for her writing tablet. It's messy,
this business of becoming the novelist.
It's sopping. You have to climb
from the tub, holding your head steady
so the details don't drain away.
You have to dry off your body
which has become merely the vehicle
for getting your head soaked in plot,
in setting and character and perspective.
And then you have to walk from the tub
to the keyboard. You have to sit down.
You have to lower your hands to the keys
because, finally, it's not the bath
but the wriitng that makes the book.