One word, then another. That’s all Montgomery Stevens asked out of life. Montgomery had been a successful shop owner (selling mostly books, newspapers, and various sundries), but was now comfortably retired with a military pension. This allowed him time for his poetry, but he was a failed poet. If he’d been dependent on his writing to survive he would have starved years prior. Every day Montgomery wrote, and most days he completed at least one poem.
Montgomery remained unpublished.
Still, words were what kept Montgomery up late at night, and they were his sole reason for getting out of bed in the morning. He liked to play with a clever turn of phrase and would often agonize for hours over the best word choices. He was overly fond of incidental rhymes and overwrought imagery. Sometimes he would illustrate his own poems, but he was self-aware enough to know he was not an artist. He didn’t much care. There was value in the act of art, of creation, whether through writing or drawing, and he understood this. He accepted his illustrations were poor, but he did not understand why his poetry was never met with acceptance or acclaim.
He used to write poems for the women in his life, but these women never appreciated his writing, genius, or infatuation, so eventually he kept all these to himself, boxes upon boxes of pining poetry shoved to the backs of closets or under his bed. Sometimes, he imagine that upon his death someone would discover his cache of verse and publish them in multiple volumes, and the world would finally understand its loss. Too late, of course, but still he would be mourned, his passing felt greatly by all.
Montgomery loved fine tabacco (pipe or cigar). He considered this to be his one vice besides poetry (a joke he’d often tell). He refused to drink; never had a drop of alcohol passed his lips. He also did not womanize (though this was mostly from a lack of opportunity), did not gamble, and did not comport with any religion or diety.
A survivor of the war, Montgomery had a prosthetic ear on the left side. It was a clever device made of ceramics and tin, covered in enamel closely matching his flesh tones, and was held in place by powerful magnets embedded in his skull. He was totally deaf on that side and could never recall the actual event that injured him. There was fighting and blood and he woke in a surgical tent to screams of the wounded and dying. “You’re lucky to be alive,” he was told by the man in charge of his care. His recovery was long. Grotesque flaps of skin crudely stitched together and allowed to heal as best possible. No attempt was made to reconstruct the auricular from his ruined flesh. He’d also lost two fingers of his left hand and would carry a piece of schrapnel in his leg for the rest of his days.
The battle that ended Montgomery’s enlistment was not famous. His was not a storied regiment. He was maimed and disfigured in an unnamed battle less than two hundred miles from home, so it seemed fitting to him that he could not recall the moments of his wounding.
His first poem was written while convalescing. He no longer had a copy in his possession, nor did he remember much of what he’d written. Perhaps he’d gifted it to a nurse. Of course lost poems were always exceptional poems; his best work! Sometimes he could recall some of the imagery and symbolism. There were lines about fever and infection and blood, of pain and remorse and love. Anything more escaped Montgomery.
Montgomery wanted to live a life with few regrets. “I want so much more out of life,” he whispered, almost a prayer. “I’ve lived longer than most and I am not ready to die. There is so much agony and terrible beauty and I want to capture it all!” The older he became though, the more disappointment he endured, and the more he muttered to no one at all.
“I wish I had loved more.”