David Berman |
I know it's a bad title
but I'm giving it to myself as a gift
on a day nearly canceled by sunlight
when the entire hill is approaching
the ideal of Virginia
brochured with goldenrod and loblolly
and I think "at least I have not woken up
with a bloody knife in my hand"
by then having absently wandered
one hundred yards from the house
while still seated in this chair
with my eyes closed.
It is a certain hill
the one I imagine when I hear the word "hill"
and if the apocalypse turns out
to be a world-wide nervous breakdown
if our five billion minds collapse at once
well I'd call that a surprise ending
and this hill would still be beautiful
a place I wouldn't mind dying
alone or with you.
I am trying to get at something
and I want to talk very plainly to you
so that we are both comforted by the honesty.
You see there is a window by my desk
I stare out when I am stuck
though the outdoors has rarely inspired me to write
and I don't know why I keep staring at it.
My childhood hasn't made good material either
mostly being a mulch of white minutes
with a few stand out moments,
popping tar bubbles on the driveway in the summer
a certain amount of pride at school
everytime they called it "our sun"
and playing football when the only play
was "go out long" are what stand out now.
If squeezed for more information
I can remember old clock radios
with flipping metal numbers
and an entree called Surf and Turf.
As a way of getting in touch with my origins
every night I set the alarm clock
for the time I was born so that waking up
becomes a historical reenactment and the first thing I do
is take a reading of the day and try to flow with it like
when you're riding a mechanical bull and you strain to learn
the pattern quickly so you don't inadverantly resist it.
I can't remember being born
and no one else can remember it either
even the doctor who I met years later
at a cocktail party.
It's one of the little disappointments
that makes you think about getting away
going to Holly Springs or Coral Gables
and taking a room on the square
with a landlady whose hands are scored
by disinfectant, telling the people you meet
that you are from Alaska, and listen
to what they have to say about Alaska
until you have learned much more about Alaska
than you ever will about Holly Springs or Coral Gables.
Sometimes I am buying a newspaper
in a strange city and think
"I am about to learn what it's like to live here.
Oftentimes there is a news item
about the complaints of homeowners
who live beside the airport
and I realize that I read an article
on this subject nearly once a year
and always receive the same image.
I am in bed late at night
in my house near the airport
listening to the jets fly overhead
a strange wife sleeping beside me.
In my mind, the bedroom is an amalgamation
of various cold medicine commercial sets
(there is always a box of tissue on the nightstand).
I know these recurring news articles are clues,
flaws in the design though I haven't figured out
how to string them together yet,
but I've begun to notice that the same people
are dying over and over again,
for instance Minnie Pearl
who died this year
for the fourth time in four years.
Today is the first day of Lent
and once again I'm not really sure what it is.
How many more years will I let pass
before I take the trouble to ask someone?
It reminds of this morning
when you were getting ready for work.
I was sitting by the space heater
numbly watching you dress
and when you asked why I never wear a robe
I had so many good reasons
I didn't know where to begin.
If you were cool in high school
you didn't ask too many questions.
You could tell who'd been to last night's
big metal concert by the new t-shirts in the hallway.
You didn't have to ask
and that's what cool was:
the ability to deduct
to know without asking.
And the pressure to simulate coolness
means not asking when you don't know,
which is why kids grow ever more stupid.
A yearbook's endpages, filled with promises
to stay in touch, stand as proof of the uselessness
of a teenager's promise.
Not like I'm dying
for a letter from the class stoner
ten years on but.
Do you remember the way the girls
would call out "love you!"
conveniently leaving out the "I"
as if they didn't want to commit
to their own declarations.
I agree that the "I" is a pretty heavy concept
and hope you won't get uncomfortable
if I should go into some deeper stuff here.
There are things I've given up on
like recording funny answering machine messages.
It's part of growing older
and the human race as a group
has matured along the same lines.
It seems our comedy dates the quickest.
If you laugh out loud at Shakespeare's jokes
I hope you won't be insulted
if I say you're trying too hard.
Even sketches from the original Saturday Night Live
seem slow-witted and obvious now.
It's just that our advances are irrepressible.
Nowadays little kids can't even set up lemonade stands.
It makes people too self-conscious about the past,
though try explaining that to a kid.
I'm not saying it should be this way.
All this new technology
will eventually give us new feelings
that will never completely displace the old ones
leaving everyone feeling quite nervous
and split in two.
We will travel to Mars
even as folks on Earth
are still ripping open potato chip
bags with their teeth.
Why? I don't have the time or intelligence
to make all the connections
like my friend Gordon
(this is a true story)
who grew up in Braintree Massachusetts
and had never pictured a brain snagged in a tree
until I brought it up.
He'd never broken the name down to its parts.
By then it was too late.
He had moved to Coral Gables.
The hill out my window is still looking beautiful
suffused in a kind of gold national park light
and it seems to say,
I'm sorry the world could not possibly
use another poem about Orpheus
but I'm available if you're not working
on a self-portrait or anything.
I'm watching my dog have nightmares,
twitching and whining on the office floor
and I try to imagine what beast
has cornered him in the meadow
where his dreams are set.
I'm just letting the day be what it is:
a place for a large number of things
to gather and interact --
not even a place but an occasion
a reality for real things.
Friends warned me not to get too psychedelic
or religious with this piece:
"They won't accept it if it's too psychedelic
or religious," but these are valid topics
and I'm the one with the dog twitching on the floor
possibly dreaming of me
that part of me that would beat a dog
for no good reason
no reason that a dog could see.
I am trying to get at something so simple
that I have to talk plainly
so the words don't disfigure it
and if it turns out that what I say is untrue
then at least let it be harmless
like a leaky boat in the reeds
that is bothering no one.
I can't trust the accuracy of my own memories,
many of them having blended with sentimental
telephone and margarine commercials
plainly ruined by Madison Avenue
though no one seems to call the advertising world
"Madison Avenue" anymore.
Have they moved?
Let's get an update on this.
But first I have some business to take care of.
I walked out to the hill behind our house
which looks positively Alaskan today
and it would be easier to explain this
if I had a picture to show you
but I was with our young dog
and he was running through the tall grass
like running through the tall grass
is all of life together
until a bird calls or he finds a beer can
and that thing fills all the space in his head.
his mind can only hold one thought at a time
and when he finally hears me call his name
he looks up and cocks his head
and for a single moment
my voice is everything:
Self-portrait at 28.
Adrienne Rich |
A conversation begins
with a lie.
speaker of the so-called common language feels
the ice-floe split, the drift apart
as if powerless, as if up against
a force of nature
A poem can being
with a lie.
And be torn up.
A conversation has other laws
recharges itself with its own
false energy, Cannot be torn
Infiltrates our blood.
Inscribes with its unreturning stylus
the isolation it denies.
The classical music station
playing hour upon hour in the apartment
the picking up and picking up
and again picking up the telephone
The syllables uttering
the old script over and over
The loneliness of the liar
living in the formal network of the lie
twisting the dials to drown the terror
beneath the unsaid word
The technology of silence
The rituals, etiquette
the blurring of terms
silence not absence
of words or music or even
Silence can be a plan
the blueprint of a life
It is a presence
it has a history a form
Do not confuse it
with any kind of absence
How calm, how inoffensive these words
begin to seem to me
though begun in grief and anger
Can I break through this film of the abstract
without wounding myself or you
there is enough pain here
This is why the classical of the jazz music station plays?
to give a ground of meaning to our pain?
The silence strips bare:
In Dreyer's Passion of Joan
Falconetti's face, hair shorn, a great geography
mutely surveyed by the camera
If there were a poetry where this could happen
not as blank space or as words
stretched like skin over meaningsof a night through which two people
have talked till dawn.
of an illegitimate voice
It has ceased to hear itself, therefore
it asks itself
How do I exist?
This was the silence I wanted to break in you
I had questions but you would not answer
I had answers but you could not use them
The is useless to you and perhaps to others
It was an old theme even for me:
Language cannot do everything-
chalk it on the walls where the dead poets
lie in their mausoleums
If at the will of the poet the poem
could turn into a thing
a granite flank laid bare, a lifted head
alight with dew
If it could simply look you in the face
with naked eyeballs, not letting you turn
till you, and I who long to make this thing,
were finally clarified together in its stare
Let me have this dust,
these pale clouds dourly lingering, these words
moving with ferocious accuracy
like the blind child's fingers
or the newborn infant's mouth
violent with hunger
No one can give me, I have long ago
taken this method
whether of bran pouring from the loose-woven sack
or of the bunsen-flame turned low and blue
If from time to time I envy
the pure annunciation to the eye
the visio beatifica
if from time to time I long to turn
like the Eleusinian hierophant
holding up a single ear of grain
for the return to the concrete and everlasting world
what in fact I keep choosing
are these words, these whispers, conversations
from which time after time the truth breaks moist and green.
Sylvia Plath |
The photographic chamber of the eye
records bare painted walls, while an electric light
lays the chromium nerves of plumbing raw;
such poverty assaults the ego; caught
naked in the merely actual room,
the stranger in the lavatory mirror
puts on a public grin, repeats our name
but scrupulously reflects the usual terror.
Just how guilty are we when the ceiling
reveals no cracks that can be decoded? when washbowl
maintains it has no more holy calling
than physical ablution, and the towel
dryly disclaims that fierce troll faces lurk
in its explicit folds? or when the window,
blind with steam, will not admit the dark
which shrouds our prospects in ambiguous shadow?
Twenty years ago, the familiar tub
bred an ample batch of omens; but now
water faucets spawn no danger; each crab
and octopus -- scrabbling just beyond the view,
waiting for some accidental break
in ritual, to strike -- is definitely gone;
the authentic sea denies them and will pluck
fantastic flesh down to the honest bone.
We take the plunge; under water our limbs
waver, faintly green, shuddering away
from the genuine color of skin; can our dreams
ever blur the intransigent lines which draw
the shape that shuts us in? absolute fact
intrudes even when the revolted eye
is closed; the tub exists behind our back;
its glittering surfaces are blank and true.
Yet always the ridiculous nude flanks urge
the fabrication of some cloth to cover
such starkness; accuracy must not stalk at large:
each day demands we create our whole world over,
disguising the constant horror in a coat
of many-colored fictions; we mask our past
in the green of Eden, pretend future's shining fruit
can sprout from the navel of this present waste.
In this particular tub, two knees jut up
like icebergs, while minute brown hairs rise
on arms and legs in a fringe of kelp; green soap
navigates the tidal slosh of seas
breaking on legendary beaches; in faith
we shall board our imagined ship and wildly sail
among sacred islands of the mad till death
shatters the fabulous stars and makes us real.
Robert Lowell |
Those blessed structures plot and rhyme-
why are they no help to me now
i want to make
something imagined not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter's vision is not a lens
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything i write
With the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot
lurid rapid garish grouped
heightened from life
yet paralyzed by fact.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun's illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts.
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.
Marianne Moore |
Strong and slippery,
built for the midnight grass-party
confronted by four cats, he sleeps his time away--
the detached first claw on the foreleg corresponding
to the thumb, retracted to its tip; the small tuft of fronds
or katydid-legs above each eye numbering all units
in each group; the shadbones regularly set about the mouth
to droop or rise in unison like porcupine-quills.
He lets himself be flattened out by gravity,
as seaweed is tamed and weakened by the sun,
compelled when extended, to lie stationary.
Sleep is the result of his delusion that one must do as well
as one can for oneself,
sleep--epitome of what is to him the end of life.
Demonstrate on him how the lady placed a forked stick
on the innocuous neck-sides of the dangerous southern snake.
One need not try to stir him up; his prune-shaped head
and alligator-eyes are not party to the joke.
Lifted and handled, he may be dangled like an eel
or set up on the forearm like a mouse;
his eyes bisected by pupils of a pin's width,
are flickeringly exhibited, then covered up.
May be? I should have said might have been;
when he has been got the better of in a dream--
as in a fight with nature or with cats, we all know it.
Profound sleep is not with him a fixed illusion.
Springing about with froglike accuracy, with jerky cries
when taken in hand, he is himself again;
to sit caged by the rungs of a domestic chair
would be unprofitable--human.
What is the good of hypocrisy?
it is permissible to choose one's employment,
to abandon the nail, or roly-poly,
when it shows signs of being no longer a pleasure,
to score the nearby magazine with a double line of strokes.
He can talk but insolently says nothing.
What of it?
When one is frank, one's very presence is a compliment.
It is clear that he can see the virtue of naturalness,
that he does not regard the published fact as a surrender.
As for the disposition invariably to affront,
an animal with claws should have an opportunity to use them.
The eel-like extension of trunk into tail is not an accident.
To leap, to lengthen out, divide the air, to purloin, to pursue.
To tell the hen: fly over the fence, go in the wrong way
in your perturbation--this is life;
to do less would be nothing but dishonesty.