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I haven’t read much of him, but this is the only poem of Charles Bukowski that I’ve ever liked:
alone with everyone
the flesh covers the bone
and they put a mind
in there and
sometimes a soul,
and the women break
vases against the walls
and the men drink too
and nobody finds the
crawling in and out
the bone and the
for more than
there’s no chance
we are all trapped
by a singular
nobody ever finds
the city dumps fill
the junkyards fill
the madhouses fill
the hospitals fill
the graveyards fill
“Spring Fashion Modeled by Rising Young Poets.” The words are heart-sinking. For some readers, this will be because poetry represents a higher form of culture that can only be debased by the commentary of Oprah Winfrey and the pencil skirts of L’Wren Scott. But this isn’t quite right. Any critic knows there are dozens of poetry collections published every year that are considerably less culturally valuable than Winfrey’s many enterprises and that could only be improved by pencil skirts, preferably by being wrapped in several of them and chucked in the East River.
You expect me to tell you about the interior of the book and connect that to your feelings, but I’d rather tell you about the interior of another book and use that a symbol. By Aaron Belz, the new book of poems, Lovely, Raspberry, is -to quote the blurb on the back- “designed by Dinah Fried”. On the cover are smoochy lips or it is a tongue divided, like at Babel Tower or perhaps it is two heads put together to think up a third book unknown to anyone. Full of math word problems and unfinished jokes, it is the challenge of heterodoxy, it is the smirk of absurdity, it is the thinking man’s silliness.
[Full disclosure: Belz is my Chiquita, being from Pasadena it is his perogative to bore me, but when I email him he replies with “What”.]
The Chimney Sweeper
A little black thing among the snow:
Crying weep, weep, in notes of woe!
Where are thy father & mother? say?
They are both gone up to the church to pray.
Because I was happy upon the heath.
And smil’d among the winters snow:
They clothed me in the clothes of death.
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.
And because I am happy & dance & sing.
They think they have done me no injury:
And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King,
Who made up a heaven of our misery.
-William Blake, from The Songs of Experience
In this short tale of abuse Blake gives us a terse bit of social and ecclesiastic criticism. The reader, drawn into the poem by the unattributed first three lines, is encountered by a “little black thing”, a child reduced to an object. The cry of “weep, weep” recounts the words of Jesus in Luke 23:28 (“Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children,”), an allusion further strengthened by the use of “woe”. His parents worship some warped Trinity, not God the Father, Son, and Spirit, but God, the Church, and the Government. But there’s defiance in this messianic child. The song they told him to sing was “sweep, sweep” to sell his services, but he cries out to the people to repent. Though he was stricken and afflicted yet he is happy and dances and sings. (Chimney Sweeper from the Songs of Innocence can be found here.)
Staying at Grandma’s
Sometimes they left me for the day
while they went — what does it matter
where — away. I sat and watched her work
the dough, then turn the white shape
yellow in a buttered bowl.
A coleus, wrong to my eye because its leaves
were red, was rooting on the sill
in a glass filled with water and azure
marbles. I loved to see the sun
pass through the blue.
“You know,” she’d say, turning
her straight and handsome back to me,
“that the body is the temple
of the Holy Ghost.”
The Holy Ghost, the oh, oh . . . the uh
oh, I thought, studying the toe of my new shoe,
and glad she wasn’t looking at me.
Soon I’d be back in school. No more mornings
at Grandma’s side while she swept the walk
or shook the dust mop by the neck.
If she loved me why did she say that
two women would be grinding at the mill,
that God would come out of the clouds
when they were least expecting him,
choose one to be with him in heaven
and leave the other there alone?
In a similar vein is Jane Kenyon’s poem about a girl abandoned for the summer at her overbearing grandmother’s. There’s menace in the lines describing the grandmother, it isn’t hard to see the frightened girl as the white dough turned yellow. The grandmother seems threatening, turning her “handsome” back on the girl, shaking the “neck” of the mop. It’s clear that the way the Holy Spirit has been presented to the girl that being His temple is a scary thing, “the oh, oh, the uh-oh”. The sense of exclusion culminates in the final stanza, when God Himself arrives taking one woman, leaving the other behind.
These two poems taken together present real world religion warts and all, from over-zealous believers to hypocritical leeches, but both children are remarkably insightful in their understanding of the kingdom. The chimney sweeper is joyous despite being the suffering servant and the little girl knows better about love than the adults around her. These two poems taken together serve as a reminder that unless we become as little children we shall by no means enter the kingdom of God.
[for more poem comparisons see Death and Prayer : Dickinson & Doran]
“Poetry is a very dangerous word”. I don’t like the stigma that comes with being called a poet. So I call what I’m doing an improvisational adventure or an inebriational travelogue.” -Tom Waits
The Mischievous Girl
In the burnished dining room, that scent,
one of varnish, the other fruit, at ease
I picked at dinner, some unknown Belgian
thing, and in my immense chair I am amazed.
Happy and quiet before the clock while eating.
Then the kitchen door opened with a swoosh;
heat— the servant girl came, I don’t know why,
her scarf askew, wearing a smart hairdo.
Then, while running her trembling finger
on her cheek, a velvet peach, rose and white,
with this she made her lips a childlike pout,
she stacked the plates beside me, for just a sec.
Then, as happens —for a kiss, of course—
she whispered “Look here, I’ve caught a cold upon my cheek.”
by Arthur Rimbaud
tr by Remy Wilkins
We badly need an antidote to this culture: we should not be concerned with proving ourselves clever, but rejoicing in doing something science could never do on its own, understanding and celebrating experience -otherwise known as life.
“A long time ago I read an essay – I’ve forgotten the author – about the ‘talent of the room.’ Plenty of people have a gift for word or line, the essayist argued, but can you sit for hours struggling over a passage while boisterous, compelling life goes on around you? Can you close the door, be alone, and write? So there’s that – a preference for the solitary trouble of making poems over all the other things I might be doing.”
Other posts of note :