Okay, so I’m a little drunk — this is only relevant because I can’t actually remember which poem I last shared with my friend, and so in turn, I can’t share it with you, the nameless, faceless internet.
However! I am nothing if not industrious, and so I went to the extraordinary effort of looking to the stack of books by my elbow and the top book on that shelf — Life On Mars by Tracy K. Smith. I read this collection some months ago, and I may have even blogged about it then (I can’t remember that either), but it’s still on my desk, still on top of the book pile somehow. Maybe I just always wanted it close at hand. More likely, though, it’s just laziness, pure and simple.
That said, this particular collection remains my favourite of all the poetry books I’ve read – from start to end, it is a cohesive, beautiful whole. And this poem, in particular, is exceptional, for all that it is just a single limb on this languorous body. I owe my love of it and the book it came in, to poetry editor Felicity Plunkett, I must admit, as she suggested it to me on Twitter. When I read this poem, I feel like I’m reading America, it’s so unmistakably set in that place, and within a set period of time, though it does cover some ground.
Somehow, despite being laden with pop cultural references, despite being so quintessentially American, it also frames questions and ideas that speak to our humanity as a whole, that contextualises us within the vastness of the universe. The poem itself obeys no particular formal constraint, at least not consistently, though it does favour a 3-line stanza by and large, and shines with light musical rhymes that drift in and out.
Now I’m going to shut up, and highlight my favourite part, even though that’s impossible, because it’s entirely fantastic from start to finish:
Maybe the dead know, their eyes widening at last,Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick onAt twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the hornsNot letting up, the frenzy of being. I want to beOne notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.Wide open, so everything floods in at once.And sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time,Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.So that I might be sitting now beside my fatherAs he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipeFor the first time in the winter of 1959.
‘the frenzy of being. I want to be
one notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.’
There are not enough words for how much I fucking love that. Would that I could write something some day with that much grace, beauty and power. Maybe in a decade or two, I should be so lucky. Now, since I am full of duck and alcohol, I’m going to curl up in bed. Oh, and before I forget, go read the rest of that sensational damn poem here. (God, I hope I don’t regret writing this in the morning…Here’s hoping!)