Tuesday, June 1, 2010

8. If You Could Excuse Me These Excesses, You Would Prove You Realize and Accept that I’m a Poet

As you might gather
or guess
or wish or want
or hope or yearn
for or desire or crave or covet
or plead for or
fall down onto your knees hard into crumbled glass
and crawl, knuckle and knees, through blood and pain,
wailing all the while and begging against hope for reward
for some small inkling of this fact,
I am working on the design for your book cover

I do this for you because
you have gathered the words
of all these hundreds of others and
fashioned for yourself a poem of
your own voice, or your manner, and your
manias—every glimmer of every right word
snatched for this giant unfolding mosaic,
page beyond page, tessera, tessera, tessera,
put each down, and the picture
(not a)

I do this for myself because I must
take apart yours to build something else,
an edifice of language that cannot be spoke,
a collection of characters that exist
only here, like words heard right
but the letters seen wrong. From your words,
mutations are made, and I want
them to have mate with which
to make children. So my wordless words
dance upon yours, laughing,
and praising your words.

But these words of yours aren’t
your own except that
you’ve stolen them.

Poets are dreamless empty vessels
so they steal the words
and dreams of others.

Pfft! that’s a lie,
the kind of poetic lie we poets
always tell, the lie that makes
poetry out to be little more than the collective
and everlasting soul of the race, but poetry,
it is more than that
and much much less.

It is the breath that moves you,
the sound of thinking, what a word does
when a word does what it does, waterfall
and what the water falls upon,
the least word reduced to profundity, the fallen
vowels of a song half sung, the rising
from the bed in the morning
of a body too tired from writing, too addled by bourbon
to wake, the marvel of the hidden, north of the place
of the wind, lamps in daylight or other borrowed
and unnecessary light, the haunting in
the stones, stumbling on a rock, on this salt
and sleepless, more beautiful most, the shadows
of water, O and an infinite gash.

No, no, no, no, NO.

The poet is required to lie,
you see. I cannot control it, union contract
and all. All I can do is point out the conflict
between poetry and truth,
the necessity of poetry to hide the world
behind a wall of words. Hear the music,
here the music, sweet and soft. Let it
take you to where you would go.
You want the drug,
not the truth.

Not that I mean, not that I would
ever mean, you. I mean the reader,
that poor decrepit thing that reads poetry
for pleasure under the misconception
that there is any pleasure to be had.

This is(n’t) messiness. Honest.
This is (not) messiness. It is just a
way of thinking, something like a letter sent
from a poet to a poet, a handshake
across a wide continent, and desert
in between. Go to Death Valley sometime in the summer,
and you will be able to feel your head throb,
to determine the absolute dimensions of your skull,
be able to feel everything you think, and
you will scream, you will scream,
at what you know.

Or not.

Because this is just a poem,
just a lie, like all the other lies our lives are
based upon, the lies that keep us afloat
in deep cold water, these walls
of kelp coming in on us,
and we cannot breathe,
because we don’t want to

Have I changed,
I wonder (out of habit
if nothing else), my tone of voice as
I’ve spoken to you, even
if only with words, if only with
words typed out and mailed out to reach
across the country to you?
I didn’t mean it, except
that the night is late (and later
still) and I’m tired from a day of work
at work and a night of work at home,
with a long day and a trip ahead of me tomorrow,
and much of what I need to pack
heaped, disordered, beside me,
as if a life, as if it is
a livable life with
maybe ten nights ahead of me
sleeping far from home
this month alone.

(Pay no attention to me.
I’m a poet and lie.)

Getting tired now, speaking
without subjects. I must reduce my words
to those that matter, the voice that penetrates
the fog of the quotidian (living life a day
at a time, the sentence is worse than
the paragraph).

Thanks for the melodies of your
pilfered words, the way you riffle through
a hoard of books for those phrases that surprise
with their injudiciousness, their élan, their
delicate and ruptured beauties. My thanks
for the simple accuracy of what you learned
from my dead friend Hayden Carruth,
without ever meeting him, or understanding
the curmudgeon he was, maybe even at the end,
decrepit and wheelchaired.

Thanks for understanding, from Hayden’s poem
(I think I have that someplace), “So that’s all there is
to it,” and you were liberated to write again,
after ten years’ silence. And you told me,
“So, in a way, I owe him everything.”

And so, in a way, we owe everyone
everything, for giving us a word, for saying
a sentence, for being a human person
intent on not even anything bigger
than living, and finding,
in the end, and against
our desires to consider ourselves
above such inanities,
joy in the simple act of living,
among ourselves and the savages
who are our friends and family,
that sometimes it just works.

the poem begins:


  1. Whenever you can thank me, you're welcome. This is Nancy's favorite of this set, because she says it sounds like me, that (for instance) my sense of humor comes through.