Saturday, September 28, 2013

work in progress

I have recently been looking over old poems, ones culled from this or that collection, and it occurred to me that their inadequacies were somehow ones of format. I may be wrong or right about this, but at all events, I have slowly been "translating" them from verse to prose, whose relative suppleness –especially for a poet with formalist leanings like me– seemed more welcoming of their intentions.  

Here are two:

Lame and Sound

Whatever the ailment, he wasn’t right.  You could tell that just by observation, however subtle and oblique I tried to make mine. He didn’t live in our town, but I’d seen him before in that bigger one, where I go now and then to do errands. The least attentive of us couldn’t have missed him–  his home-made walking stick, his filthy parka, the oddly fringed bandana he wore around his head, and above all the way he moved.

His tortured walk involved that bandanna’d head. Glancing sidelong, I could watch the cloth’s fringe flap as he performed a series of frenzied nods, staggering away from the magazine stand where he’d just bought some sort of porn magazine, maybe only Playboy, maybe something even fouler, stupider. In any case, he appeared desperate to vanish, to head for home, whatever home might amount to. 

The little convenience shop was crowded, and any who noticed him looked quickly away, as I say. No one wanted to behold him as he lurched to the hissing door, then through, humping himself along like some shot beast. No one wanted to imagine what he’d ever done, what he did now, what he might do once gone from view.

For my part, as a fall rain hard as a sledge kept thumping the roof, I imagined the pouts of the magazine’s back-cover models. I’d barely glimpsed the colorful advertisement before he vanished, yet for some reason they seared my brain, the glamorous couple in a sleek, red, hide-seated convertible, regarding each other with smoldering eyes.

Yes, that photograph’s still clear in mind. The gorgeous woman’s expression was obviously designed to seem sexual, but to me– although, no, I couldn’t look at it for much longer than a second– her expression crazily resembled the one of the reeling lame man himself, an expression of pain, even anguish.

As for the man in the picture, we were meant to understand that he could speed away at will, like some lithe, wild creature, the sort a car like that would be named for.

Serpent on Barnet Knoll 

The new puppy noses a frozen snake across the rain-glazed snow. How did the little creature meet its end? It is coiled, a replica of its mean-mouthed, living self. It should long since have wriggled deep into mulch on the floor of some granite cleft, so that if it died, and it did, it would do it down there, in secret. Odd enough. 

But my mind’s still odder, having followed its own unmappable, inward paths from that circled corpse  to a moment this morning before I set out: at my mirror, greasing my lips against the cold, I inspected myself. Age-lines, puckering mouth, and gray hair all still surprise me. I considered the wen, a permanent swelling that puffs my left eyebrow into a small horn.  It’s taken the frozen snake to remind me of that passing observation, though how it did so I plain can’t explain.

Out here, I encounter the morning’s savage gusts, which make the thrashing spruce-tops curse and complain. When there’s a lull, I hear the ceaseless and meaningless scolding of red squirrels, the grating of ravens.

One day, way back in my third grade year, I reached for Joe Morey’s hat on the playground. I’d knocked it off, taunting him for a sissy, even though he and I were friends for the most part. Nearly weeping with frustration, Joe reached down for the hat in the same moment. Our heads clapped together, my brow swelling slightly but, as it turned out, forever. I’d meant to be cruel that day, and I was, and I got my long-lasting due.

But now is now. How have sixty-odd years gone by, as the hackneyed old saying has it, in the wink of an eye?

The snake as mere snake was a harmless non-venomous garter. It’s something else now, something that makes me quit my hike for a while. I stand and wait, but nothing comes that will change me. Why would I expect it to, no matter my unvoiced, all but unconscious prayers?

It’s almost Christmas. In decades of northern winters, I’ve never seen such a thing as a snake in the open in December. But however I strive for something significant in the event, nothing reveals itself except what I’ve long known about snakes mere facts, devoid of meaning, versions of reality that seem only somehow to demean me. 

Was this the creature’s first winter? Who knows? A snake doesn’t count or reason.

There are only so many moments, I tritely reflect, in anyone’s life. Why stand here like a statue and fritter a single one away? But what else should I be thinking about out here? I have wife, children, grandchildren, along with a host of lesser earthly attachments. I clench all of them tight to my heart. But there come times when a sort of unattached self prevails.

Off on my own, of course, I might contemplate violence or crime. Also, of course, I don’t. Am I not therefore absolved?  But what about me requires absolution anyhow? I simply feel this deep unsettledness, which is ungovernable, random, and opaque. One day my head struck a temporary enemy’s head, but before that, surely, something had already slithered into my soul sometime, and it lingered, making subsequent and unwelcome forays to the icy surface, whenever, however it might.

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