29 July 2008

"think of the wren and how little flesh is needed to make a song"

It's not been the World's Best Tuesday. For various and sundry reasons which need not be discussed here and now, nor likely ever, alas.

The important part is this: I ran across this poem.

It makes a Tuesday, any Tuesday, better to know that this poem exists in it, and that the poem is here every day. Maybe that's one reason for writing poems -- for writing them down, I mean: to ensure that a lovely moment (even amid the words "mucus," "waggle," "fluorescent mustard," and "book lice") continues through the days, the weeks, the years of rough-going.

Of course, I'd be called on the carpet for such a sentiment, such a poem, but that's why Galway Kinnell is here: to do it beautifully, smartly, unabashedly. (And that was the world's worst series of adverbs). I'd talk more about it, but I don't really want to. I'm just going to think about ants and peonies, and trails of monarchs, and hand-holding in the dark.

Onward: poem.

"Why Regret?"

~ Galway Kinnell

Didn't you like the way the ants help
the peony globes open by eating the glue off?
Weren't you cheered to see the ironworkers
sitting on an I-beam dangling from a cable,
in a row, like starlings, eating lunch, maybe
baloney on white with fluorescent mustard?
Wasn't it a revelation to waggle
from the estuary all the way up the river,
the kill, the pirle, the run, the rent, the beck,
the sike barely trickling, to the shock of a spring?
Didn't you almost shiver, hearing book lice
clicking their sexual dissonance inside an old
Webster's New International, perhaps having just
eaten out of it izle, xyster, thalassacon?
What did you imagine lies in wait anyway
at the end of a world whose sub-substance
is glaim, gleet, birdlime, slime, mucus, muck?
Forget about becoming emaciated. Think of the wren
and how little flesh is needed to make a song.
Didn't it seem somehow familiar when the nymph
split open and the mayfly struggled free
and flew and perched and then its own back
broke open and the imago, the true adult,
somersaulted out and took flight, seeking
the swarm, mouth-parts vestigial,
alimentary canal come to a stop,
a day or hour left to find the desired one?
Or when Casanova took up the platter
of linguine in squid's ink and slid the stuff
out the window, telling his startled companion,
"The perfected lover does not eat."
As a child, didn't you find it calming to imagine
pinworms as some kind of tiny batons
giving cadence to the squeezes and releases
around the downward march of debris?
Didn't you glimpse in the monarchs
what seemed your own blazonry
flapping and gliding, in desire, in the middle air?
Weren't you reassured to think these flimsy
hinged beings, and then their offspring,
and then their offspring's offspring, could
navigate, working in shifts, all the way to Mexico,
to the exact plot, perhaps the very tree,
by tracing the flair of the bodies of their ancestors
who fell in this same migration a year ago?
Doesn't it outdo the pleasures of the brilliant concert
to wake in the night and find ourselves
holding each other's hand in our sleep?

(published in Strong is Your Hold by Galway Kinnell. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006)


Neil Kelly said...

I read this on a Friday morning and I think, when I wake up, that it will help.

Onward Poem!

sallylynn said...

It is a whole lot to swallow on an early Friday morning, especially all in white letters on a glowing black background, with no spaces at all...

But eventually, a few phrases, with luck, will make for a fabulous Friday. Perhaps. Onward, indeed...

Ryan said...

Wonderful poem, thanks for sharing. It was enough to make me run off and buy this book.

Jonathan said...

thanks for putting this out there again. I had this poem memorized back when it first came out in the New Yorker, in the 90s. I think some of the lines were changed slightly, I remember it being "muck, birdlime, slime, mucus, gleet, ooze" rather than the present wording. Wonderful verses, sure enough.