Monday, December 18, 2006

Suddenly, the Poet

The dead are always looking down on us, they say
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
They are looking down through the
glass-bottom boats
of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity.

Garrison Keillor's sublime radio show Prairie Home Companion featured from New York City this week Billy Collins, the 44th U.S. Poet Laureate and professor of English composition at New York City College. Fans of Collins cheer that he is the first Poet Laureate since Robert Frost to enjoy both critical and popular acclaim. Since I tend to be over-exuberant about things that interest me, I will spare you the descriptors and simply let you decide.

"This lament for the diminished audience is a soap opera, a 'Little Match Girl' of high culture. To me that's ridiculous because the facts are that good poetry is exorbitantly rewarded with grants, travel, fame and positions in universities that were unthinkable 20 years ago. It's a wild time to be a poet." says Collins.

Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.
It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again
I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.
I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.
I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.
And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.
It’s the one about the one-ton
temple bell
with the moth sleeping on the surface,
and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.
When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.
When I say it into the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.
And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,
and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

"Poetry is my cheap means of transportation," Mr. Collins said. "By the end of the poem the reader should be in a different place from where he started. I would like him to be slightly disoriented at the end, like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield. There is a wonderfully self-entertaining aspect to all of this. You feel delightfully insane in a way, slipping the bonds of logic."


“Never use the word suddenly just to
create tension.” —Writing Fiction

Suddenly, you were planting some yellow petunias
outside in the garden,
and suddenly I was in the study
looking up the word oligarchy for the thirty-seventh time.
When suddenly, without warning,
you planted the last petunia in the flat,
and I suddenly closed the dictionary
now that I was reminded of that vile form of governance.
A moment later, we found ourselves
standing suddenly in the kitchen
where you suddenly opened a can of cat food
and I just as suddenly watched you doing that.
I observed a window of leafy activity
and, beyond that, a bird perched on the edge
of the stone birdbath
when suddenly you announced you were leaving
to pick up a few things at the market
and I stunned you by impulsively
pointing out that we were getting low on butter
and another case of wine would not be a bad idea.
Who could tell what the next moment would hold?
Another drip from the faucet?
Another little spasm of the second hand?
Would the painting of a bowl of pears continue
to hang on the wall from that nail?
Would the heavy anthologies remain on their shelves?
Would the stove hold its position?
Suddenly, it was anyone’s guess.
The sun rose ever higher.
The state capitals remained motionless on the wall map
when suddenly I found myself lying on a couch
where I closed my eyes and without any warning
began to picture the Andes, of all places,
and a path that led over the mountain to another country
with strange customs and eye-catching hats
suddenly fringed with little colorful, dangling balls.

No comments: