VI. More than Music
from LIFE AND OPINIONS OF DOCTOR BOP, THE BURNT-OUT PROF
A poem is a posit, an assertion, an act,
and in action we forget fear: respite
in creation, the maker takes a stand, in making,
but is it a stand no better than gimmick-makers make?
Well, poetry possesses the virtue of being a record,
at least, and you can date a poem, if you wish,
thus giving it the merit of a worldly fact
contained in a system of time, which, admittedly,
is a system which is perhaps pseudo-fact itself,
or will become so as matter completes its withdrawal
upon itself to revisit its beginnings in a black hole in space;
and yet, until then, something like a fact,
a fact in the sense that Sherlock Holmes is almost real
and lives in Baker Street in a fictional series
in a real world that may exist only in a dream
that is being dreamed elsewhere, perhaps—dare I say—
by Der Abishter; and so poetry becomes an actual little stab
and, poets hope, rip in the black sheet
that covers the deserted, haunted mansion.
DEFENCE OF A DREAMER
He collects these splinters, these little bits
Of guessed-at wisdom and whispered clues; but,
He will tell you, even a paper-cut
Can bear witness: that time is a prism
And history is an old cloth that splits
Like a laugh at the seams. He woos these glints
And waits, for this pent-up present to spill
Its brim, the veins of this moment to fill
With a more-than-music, half-remembered
Half-anticipated, attuned to dreams.
You call him a fool and a fantasist,
Say that he broods too much, this alchemist
Of illusion, that torpor soon ensues
And the tail-end of longing will get him.
Sure, he may go down dour and deflated,
That melody he moved his marrow to
Dammed-up or dissipated; and he may,
If the cold lips of long nights beset him,
Grow lukewarm, and lose the love that rises;
But, if he courts such crises, just let him:
Let him sculpt his blade, trade his skin for stone;
If he wills, let him wear his waiting thin,
Let him whittle his dream-stuff to the bone --
He may stir some late light from these cinders,
Chip some tinder from his brain's abstractions:
He may coax these feathered hints into flight
Full of true desire: may strike fire
From the flint of these figments and fractions.
In London, many years ago,
When in my early teens,
Too young to think what lay ahead
Or wonder what life means,
My mother told me of a dream
In which she garnered fame:
A celebrated authoress,
Her books proclaimed her name.
She toured the country, lectures, workshops,
Entourage in tow,
The media extolled her work
Her future was aglow.
Her name was Rumi Morkin,
And she reveled in acclaim,
Until she woke, her dream dissolved,
Left only with the name.
She'd cut and joined up all our names,
Not difficult to see:
My sister Ruth was there as 'Ru-'
And then came '-mi' for me;
My father's name was Morris
Shortened in the dream to 'Mor-'
Our surname, Retkin, added '-kin'
We're in her dream – all four.
I loved this explanation, vowing
If I write one day,
To use her dream name as my own,
And let that memory stay.
Silence. The moving facets of the stream
contemplated for irony.
I would not have it said
I spun this, grey on silver,
out of mere
a hemisphere, open, a bowl
or cup, with twig
and leaf, twin
and tendril—some fraction
of the dissolving forest.
—Esther Cameron, 1966
Packing the Poet’s Suitcase
L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
--Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Know where you’re going.
(Inklings will do in
Include only accessories
that provide reasons to
wake up in the
Expect detours for
which you are bound to
Bring abundant currency;
don’t expect to understand
the exchange rate.
Become a neophyte:
Before you depart, forget
everything you ever
learned about the
In the end of days what you need is a good first line.
To distract you from the truth with its own truth.
The way pain can sometimes distract from pain.
The way beauty can sometimes distract from pain.
The way a good bedtime story can light up the dark
side of an entire planet, given a little room
with a bed in the corner, a few right words, a child
listening. In the end of days what you need is a good
beginning. Something hopeful and trembling like a tongue.
Something open and unselfconscious like a mouth,
listening to the words, and the music of the words.
Something steeply rocking like a ship, or a sleep, heavy,
floating, viable, smelling of saltwater and infinite possibility.