For twenty years I applied for a muse, but the waiting list was as long as a phone book. They gave muses to more established writers, who used them up like double-A batteries. I knew one overhyped screenwriter who went through 30 muses. Meanwhile, my work suffered. I wrote sestinas about my therapist. When I finally got the call, I wept.
My muse was named Jim. He had a tattoo of a Mondrian painting on his back. My favorite painting, he said. He then wondered what it would have been like to be Mondrian's muse. Modigliani, Mondrian, whatever. It's time to work! I said.
I hadn't expected my muse to be sporty. Jim lifted weights. He also had his own apartment. It wasn't much. Card table for a desk. Kitchen cabinets bare except for boxes of Shredded Wheats and tubs of protein powder. Then he had this sectional couch. Once a glorious pink, it was now faded, the color of a sick dog's tongue. It's Michiko Kakutani's couch, he said, She gave it to me when I used to be her muse. Critics have muses? I asked. They need us the most, he said.
I saw Jim every morning. I sat on his couch and watched him lift freeweights while sweat beaded on his brow. He'd finish a set, and ask, breathless, Well? Are you inspired?
In 1327, the poet Francisco Petrarch spotted a 19-year-old beauty named Laura in the church of St. Claire and spent the rest of his life addressing his sonnets to Laura. And this was based on one sighting. Perhaps a muse inspires best when absent. I said, Maybe you should be more absent. Sure, he said.
I didn't see him for a week. I sat at the computer without writing a thing. Then I allowed myself into his apartment. He was in the shower. I stood in the kitchen and ate the sugar side of a Shredded Wheat. Jim came out and sat on that couch, a towel wrapped around his waist. I sat next to him.
Well? He asked.
CATHY PARK HONG