I was told before writing was even a hobby:
“Don’t take that. It’s not yours.”
I still remember that day when I stole that toy
from the kid across the street.
See, he had different Lego than me.
But then, I had it, stuffed in pants pocket,
Pieces clanking together with each step like skeleton keys on a jailor’s ring.
I hid the pieces behind my clothes in a dresser.
Didn’t take them out for two days.
I couldn’t even play with them.
What if the neighbour came over
and asked where I got them?
Or mom asked, or… (keys rattled in my mind).
Finally, I took them out, all wrapped in an old t-shirt,
and sent them back across the street, dropped on the front steps.
Never said a word.
See, mother always said that if you want something, ask first.
There is no fear of someone finding out, if you ask first.
Now, people say, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”
But I know they’re wrong.
I know what self-guilt feels like.
It feels like borrowing.
It feels like, “you are smarter than me, so I will take your words, use them, then put them back in your mouth.”
They tell me the difference between borrowing words and stealing them
is not whether you can put them back,
or if you asked permission first,
But that you say where you got them from
so that as they rattle out your mouth like Lego pieces clinking,
And someone hears them
and asks you where you got them,
you can tell them without guilt eating out your heart.
All our lives we learn how to copy—
Walking, talking, potty trained copiers—
But once we learn the basics, they say “Stop.
You are stealing!”
Like when Suzzie wanted to build a tree house
and I did, but not with her,
and she cried because I stole her idea.
“No, Suzzie, I know what stealing feels like
and this wasn’t that,”
But I never said that to her;
Just stood there, confused, later apologizing.
It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Did the painter ask the sun for permission before casting it with oil on canvas?
Did the musician ask his girlfriend for permission to compare her to
the Spring showers that come to wet his desert heart?
Or should he ask the rain?
Or the clouds?
Or the sky?
Or God himself?
Does the poet ask the airwaves before pulling them in
and pushing them out with new words between the strands?
And when I am inspired to write because of someone else’s art,
Is my entire piece stolen, borrow, plagiarized…
If someone asked me where it came from, I could not tell them,
And I did not ask permission of the world before using it as my muse.
So, form hand-cuffs out of Lego bricks and
throw away the skeleton keys,
Because I will never stop being inspired,
Never stop copying other’s ideas.
Always steal words from the airwaves,
And never give them back.
And don’t tell me that it’s wrong
because I know what stealing feels like.