May 25, 2003

Poetry

I am a horse begins one, and here the speaker, the horse, is riding in a train that’s absolutely packed, and he has his hind legs folded on the seat behind him and is wearing, as the poet tells us, the six shiny buttons of sex appeal. The middle part I don’t remember, but then the comes the end which I love which is this: O how small this world is. How large cherries. And then another, quite different, begins, We don’t know anything. We haven’t learned one single thing about pain. That bitterly cold season only leaves long streaks in our muscles, and here again the best parts are the beginning and the end, whereas the middle could be the middle of anything, something to connect the beginning to the end, a bit of passing landscape, otherwise the poem doesn’t work, we get off at the same station we boarded, no time having passed, no distance traveled. Truly I don’t expect anyone to agree with me about any of this, poetry being a matter mostly of what you bring to it, but when I read those three lines, we don’t know anything and so on, I can feel them vibrate in my head like when I’m singing and I have my hand on my chest, and then the end too, no less, which goes, then we might understand that death can be a beautiful long voyage and a permanent vacation from structures, systems, and skeletons. Granted it gets a bit poetical there, but I’m happy to overlook that because it’s such a striking thought to me that in death there are no skeletons, that skeletons are something the living must live with, rather than the dead, who are evidently on a kind of loosely organized cruise ship. I don’t pretend to totally get that part, which in poetry is fine, almost the point really, make it interesting but not totally graspable, keep a certain friendly distance between what you mean and what you say, such as when Cesar Vallejo says that he will die in Paris on a Thursday in the rain and that they, whoever they are, will beat him hard, with a stick, and hard, the only witnesses being the bones in his arms and the rain and the Thursdays, so that you’re left feeling that Vallejo doesn’t quite mean what he says because first of all how would he know all this in advance, when and where and how he will die, not to mention the weather that day, and second, how could his own bones be witness to his own death, that makes no sense and is obviously the sort of thing that poets say when they are trying to say something that can only be said by saying something else, except that in this case Vallejo really did die in Paris on a Thursday that it rained, so perhaps this is not the best example.