We get three poems in the New Yorker this week — extra fun! The first is “Bruise” by Michael Ondaatje. “In the medieval darkness of the Holland tunnel…” it begins, introducing the first thread. We’ve got a non-linear one here. This thread goes on to discuss drawing “on whitewashed walls,” morphs into maps, then into a diorama — all images to look at. Another thread kicks off with: “When last I held you in my arms…” and immediately gives the third thread: “the West African Black / Rhinoceros was still magnificent…” The threads join and twist: “But it is the black rhino whose loss they mourn, / not the person he held once…” The poem ends with general mournful discussions of endings and loss and an appropriately non-sequitur ending. So, the ending of love? Going into tunnels? The wild mythic animal, lost? All is complexity. Call it the New Symbolism, maybe: the rhino mourns because he’s lost his tunnel. ;->
Jennifer Grotz gives us “Apricots,” which almost all the way through the poem is indeed about apricots — beautiful images and details, too. “I’d been given the charge to determine / which are good or bad…the slightly overripe ones with bruises / had a bitter ferment that only brightened / the scent.” Great lines here: “elegant in the tree, tiny coquettes / blushing…” And growing in depth: “Each…tastes different, like a mind having / erratic thoughts.” And so we start to see the apricots as thoughts, fruit to be devoured, “Going into the trance…” Then she ends it with a misstatement and correction, a subtle line that throws the whole poem into relief, rewrites it from the beginning, gives us more than twice to think about. A very good poem, indeed.
The final poem is Rustin Larson’s “The Philosopher Savant Takes A Walk,” in the first person singular. “On my way to the post office this morning, I was feeling / pretty balanced…” Strange lines drift in: “I believed in my footsteps.” But it’s all very much kept firmly in the moment: “There were a few marigolds.” I think the key to the poem is the depth engendered by the line: “If I can be someone’s entertainment by being myself, / I have no regrets.” It makes the whole thing reflexive — the author talking about the author as entertainment, the poem somehow then BEING the author (have poets all felt that way about their work at one time or another? It certainly feels that way when rejections come back). So let’s consider this a metapoem and quite a clever one, besides being fun, which is always a huge plus.
Peace in poetry,
P M F Johnson