My Wobbly Bicycle, 47

Posted by on Oct 30, 2013 | 1 comment

tesseractSome people have told me that the poems in my new book, No Need of Sympathy, feel like premonitions. Did something in me know, when  I wrote those poems, that I was in danger already? But consider how much poetry is about love and death. Okay, I’m not dead. But the very word cancer sounds the echo of mortality.

All thoughts, all images, if you stay with them long enough, hit bedrock. Love and death. We’re drawn to bedrock. We almost can’t help ourselves from slowing down or stopping at a car crash, even when we can be of no use there. We’re looking for something we probably won’t find until the moment of our own death. A clarity, a sense of what this life is, at its root.

Love: the same. We start a poem by loving a leaf, or a vase, or a moment, an emotion of the moment. But, oh, what if we can’t hold on to it? The more love, the more awareness of what its absence feels like. If we stay with the beloved without flinching, it leads us to where love and loss, love and death, are interchangeable. Don’t ask me what that means. It just feels that way.

I was looking through my book to see which poems might ring as premonitions. I don’t know. . . How about “I Take the Boys Up the Eiffel Tower”? In the midst of this excitement, getting to the top of the Eiffel Tower and looking over all of Paris, the thought of death takes center stage. The leap from the Towers, the moving far from the details of life we’ve held dear, the death of the bees, the polar bears, my fear of falling at Niagara Falls. We’re all suspended, swaying, if we pay attention.

eiffel tower at night

If we could see time, supposedly
it would look like a tesseract, beams sliding
along vectors, sideways and inside,
difficult as the leap out
from the Trade Center Towers—
you only get there by releasing a death-hold
on the last frame you’ve got.
                              We are on the way
up, late in the day, sun striping
the cross-girders, the boys and I
on the second-level elevator to the top,
crammed in like cattle. The higher we get
the more time’s suspended, something to do
with Einstein, something to do with distance
squeezing out details that have meant
everything to us. The bees, for example:
what if we kill them off? And what if
there’s nothing left for polar bears
to sit on?
               I tell the boys about Niagara Falls,
about sitting on the stone wall, my bare
little legs, knit cap, water pouring and tearing
below. “What happened?” they want
to know. “I didn’t fall, of course,” I say,
not remembering, really, only
the photograph.
               The rooftops of Paris fan out
below. “A giant spider web,” say the boys.
Spiders, too, they’ll be gone.
Meanwhile, they go on stringing
webs while our sky disappears behind
threads of lights, wind swaying
the platform. The boy’s eyes get all
far away, as if the body could be emptied
enough to forget to die, or, at least
to fly through itself, god-speed.

[The top image, by the way, is a tesseract].

Is this a bleak poem? Is Keats’s sonnet, “When I Have Fears” bleak? It seems to me that the only way a poem can qualify as bleak is when it doesn’t touch bottom, when it doesn’t reach the place where love and death merge in some sort of glorious jazz, some bow scraping across catgut, some brush-stroke made of a perfect balance of pushing and pulling.

Paradox is the only way there is to speak of anything real, it seems. Not this, not this, but something that requires the two.

Of course. Those of us who write poems are fervently hoping for the tone, the language, the pull toward death and the pull toward life to be in perfect balance to sound the music of the spheres. It’s what we do, all of us in our own way, with our own art, in this precious time we have before our own personal gravitational collapse.

Another note: If you go to The Writers Handfulyou can read a brief interview with me by the wonderful short story writer and essayist, Patricia Ann McNair. Her award-winning collection, Temple of Air, is breathtakingly good reading and her website is full of good stuff.




One Comment

  1. Truth! Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *