Sunday, December 12, 2010

202. Running to Ronkonkoma

You must know this is happening.
It’s been going on long enough.

This writing I’m doing,
these letters not asked for
and sent forth in the form of poems to those
who might not want a poem.

Poems are, after all, slippery beasts,
not so much beautiful as about beauty,
and more often ugly because of it.

And this one is hardly a poem.
I am hardly a poet anyway,
just a wordworker. Words
are merely my medium.

Working my way through the evening,
I became burdened by extreme weariness,
eventually falling asleep on the couch.

It was early still, but my sleep lasted hours.
My body had given up for the day much earlier
than it usually would have, and I didn’t fight it
(because, you see, I’m more of a mind than a body).

Inside this sleep, my mind kept worrying about this poem,
this one here, one that didn’t exist at the time of the worry,
in the middle of a dream, but my mind worried enough
that I began to write this poem in my dream and wrote
quite a bit of it, more than you might imagine,
a few strophes, enough to make a poem of some kind.

But a mind can’t hold onto much of a dream,
not even if the dream is about writing a poem,
not even if the dream writes a poem for you,
not even if I tell myself from within the dream
that I must remember the poem, because I need it,
because you need it (without your even knowing it).

With all my subconscious effort, I did remember
the poem, which is to say that I remembered one line,
a single line isolated from the rest, and maybe not
a line that has anything directly to do with you:

To be the one who always gets the same result.

It is a strange line for me, a line of iambic hexameter.
Not that meter is strange for me, not at all, though this poem,
which works with a more loping and conversational meter,
might lead you to believe that. But this is a personal poem,
one clearly directed only at you and only for you,
so it follows different rules. It requires more syntactical clarity,
full sentences, a direction, a more prosaic way of being.

No, what is strange about this line is not
the fact that it is so systematically metrical,
or even that it’s iambic, which is hardly unusual
in our native tongue. What is slightly odd is that
it is hexameter. Given over to my nature, I use
iambic tetrameter. Giving into convention,
I use iambic pentameter. A six-footed line
is foreign to my ear, though I like the sound of this line,
its meter, how it flows just a little longer than I’d expect it to.

To be the one who always gets the same result.

And maybe it’s not a line about you, maybe
it’s a line about me, maybe I’m writing about myself
in my sleep, for, you see, this is the 202nd poem I’ve written
in a string of 202 days to people I know, some whom
I know well and others whom I know only a little, some of whom
I’ve met, some of whom I might never meet, but I know these people,
and I send them letters to tell them that I’m thinking of them,
that I want them to think about my words, that I want them
entertained by the words, that I know that the surprise
of this foreign way of writing, which appears unbidden
in their mailboxes, might be a little disturbing, might even
cause them alarm. That is the danger of writing,
and the danger of speaking, but silence
isn’t much of a way to live. Life is a risk,
and speaking is one of the greatest risks.

I worry, I suppose, even in my dreams,
that I’m doing the same thing over and over again,
making the same points, using the same words,
exhibiting the same fascination with language,
in these hundreds of poems written out of my body
as if there were a way to cleanse myself of this need,
to say, and to say, sometimes, only to hear something
go forth from me, this mind, this body, these fingers typing.

To be the one who always gets the same result.

I am trying, in these many poems, to show the way
a language works. English, that is, though a few others
appear, as evanescent specters and only momentarily,
within these poems. English is my material. Its syntax,
its word-horde, its multifaceted way of being, its grace,
its awkwardness, the richness of its many sounds,
how it looks always uncomfortable and inconsistent
on the page, on the screen, on whatever material carries
its textual form forward. But I fail and keep failing
and keep going, because Samuel Beckett said to.

I am not a poet.
I am a worker of words.
Sometimes I work them poorly.
Sometimes I work them well.
But I work them.
That’s my only job here.

Still, I hope you enjoy these words, clumsily presented
as if they were clumsily thought out, but I don’t think they were.
I meant this, all of this, this way of speaking, this colloquial voice,
one maybe a bit more like the voice I use out in public,
as a person of flesh and blood and bone, which is what
I sometimes am, but not always. This graceless writing
is exactly how I want it to be: seemingly mindless, almost
random, as if written by a tired mind unable to think straight,
as if written by someone almost incapable of stringing words
into a new and remarkable sequence. These are prepared words,
so these are lies, obfuscations, prevarications carefully
attempted. Even revealing this fact is a lie.

To be the one who always gets the same result.

We always come back to that line, which is all that remains
of my dream, so this poem replaces the dream, and I give to you
my dream of early evening, a dream of an exhausted man,
but a dream written late at night when I am wide awake.

Maybe, I think to myself, you will enjoy this poem
because you are from Ronkonkoma, my favorite place on earth,
but not for its highways and convenience stores. I love
“Ronkonkoma,” the name of the place, not Ronkonkoma itself.
It is, probably, my favorite word, and if I pass by
a sign for it on Long Island, I think of you but I also
say the word aloud to hear it and its queer little rhythm,
and I wonder what native language the word had come from
and how twisted from its original form it had become
when transferred to our own native tongue, even if both of us
trace our own names back to France.

Say that name for a second:
Ronkonkoma.

Say it aloud.
And remember one thing:

To be the one who always gets the same result.

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