The Necessity of Tough Questions

Image: 'i drag my feet like anyone else,' by andrea joseph on Flickr

[Image: “i drag my feet like anyone else,” by andrea joseph. (Found of course on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The photographer asks, “why is a broken bench so moving?” (the operative word is “touching” in the image’s text); she asked the question on her blog, too, and got some good answers.]

From whiskey river:

Phone Survey

We’re doing a phone survey, asking
average people like yourself, attractive, cynical, smart, etc.,
people who cook with garlic, who, if married,
it’s not the first time. People who have had
two or more jobs in the last three years.
We want to know what your preferred response is
when you hear,
if in fact you do hear,
the voices. Shall I clarify?
Voices that converse
on the great unhappiness and failure
that is yours. How often
would you swear you’re not drunk, no,
but the trees are swaying. We’re calling to ask
if you ever get confused and mistake
the swaying of trees for the lapping of water,
until you can’t get your bearing. Is that when
the voices advise you, smooth
as a nail going in? Are there certain words that,
can I say, sneak in from behind, know all
the back entrances? Would you agree
the secret of their strength
is that they will not let you give in
to your hunger? How often
all you’ve said and all you’ve done, torn
like meat from a bone. Is that when you go out, walk
past lighted windows? Go to a movie? Have a coke?
Or do you hang around, drift off
till the voices wake you with a jolt or slap: “Payback time.”
Like a street person in front of a diner, begging for change,
who will not let you go in and get your lousy cup of coffee
though the sign on the diner flashes: OPEN ALL NIGHT.
Are the voices familiar with, say,
streets you walked as a kid,
torn signs, dead trees?
We’re asking if the voices, now or in the past,
have ever told you that you have to go back
to the path by the precipice. Because that is your path.
Would you mind answering? Or am I interrupting something?
Shall I call back later? What time would be best?

(Carole Glasser Langille [source])

 

Not from whiskey river:

Like Gods

(excerpt)

I and here and now are ever present, yet they vanish in the act of apprehension, as a poem turns into language as you write it down. Dimensionless, atemporal, imprisoned in the present—even as I say them to myself the words fall short of what I thought I started out to say, like the conclusion of an argument too close to me to share, or like an empty thought balloon that hangs above me in the air. It’s not the question of what makes me who I am through time—of how a figure in a photograph from 1985, a couple sitting in the garden of the small Hôtel des Marronniers just off the rue Jacob, could be the person who remembers her and thinks of him today—but of what constitutes me now, and of what made me then. If giving it a name won’t help, then neither will pretending it’s divine. If I should be supplanted by a bright recording angel knowing everything about me in the way the gods know all about their world, I wouldn’t have survived. She takes the whole thing in—the house on Maxim Street, the bike rides down the hill on Wabash Street, my high school friends, their friends, the friends of friends of friends—with eyes that monitor my back, my face, the traces in my brain projected on a screen, the n degrees of separation linking me to nearly everyone who’s ever lived, a thing within a wilderness of things, with each one locked inside a universe with no outside, of which there’s nothing she can see. How could it be an afterlife? It’s just a different life, another life, complete or incomplete as anyone’s, consumed by questions that elude it, not because she can’t remember, but because the words that make them up are undefined: which one of them was I? which world was mine?

(John Koethe [source])

…and:

Sentimental

The light has traveled unthinkable thousands of miles to be
condensed, recharged, and poured off the white white pages
of an open Bible the country parson holds in front of this couple
in a field, in July, in the sap and the flyswirl of July
in upper Wisconsin, where their vows buzz in a ring in the air
like the flies, and are as sweet as the sap, in these rich and ritual minutes.
Is it sentimental? Oops. And out of that Bible the light continues
to rush as if from a faucet. There will be a piecrust cooling
out of its own few x’ed-out cuts. And will it make us run
for the picklier taste of irony rolled around protectively on our tongues
like a grab of Greek olives? My students and I discuss this
slippery phenomenon. Does “context” matter? Does
“earned” count? If a balled-up fidget of snakes
in the underbrush dies in a freeze is it sentimental? No,
yes, maybe. What if a litter of cocker spaniels? What
if we called them “puppydogs” in the same poem in that same hard,
hammering winter? When my father was buried,
the gray snow in the cemetery was sheet tin. If I said
that? Yes, no, what does “tone” or “history” do
to the Hollywood hack violinists who patiently wait to play
the taut nerves of the closest human body until from that
lush cue alone, the eyes swell moistly, and the griefs
we warehouse daily take advantage of this thinning
of our systems, then the first sloppy gushes begin . . .
Is that “wrong”? Did I tell you the breaths
of the gravediggers puffed out like factorysmoke
as they bent and straightened, bent and straightened,
mechanically? Are wise old (toothless) Black blues singers
sentimental?—“gran’ma”? “country cookin'”? But
they have their validity, don’t they, yes? their
sweat-in-the-creases, picking up the lighting
in a fine-lined mesh of what it means to have gone through time
alive a little bit on this planet. Hands shoot up . . . opinions . . .
questions . . . What if the sun wept? the moon? Why, in the face
of those open faces, are we so squeamish? Call out
the crippled girl and her only friend the up-for-sale foal,
and let her tootle her woeful pennywhistle musics.
What if some chichi streetwise junkass from the demimonde
gave forth with the story of orphans forced through howling storm
to the workhouse, letting it swing between the icy-blue
quotation marks of cynicism—then? What if
I wept? What if I simply put the page down,
rocked my head in my own folded elbows, forgot
the rest of it all, and wept? What if I stepped into
the light of that page, a burnished and uncompromising
light, and walked back up to his stone a final time,
just that, no drama, and it was so cold,
and the air was so brittle, metal buckled
out song like a bandsaw, and there, from inside me,
where they’d been lost in shame and sophistry
all these years now, every last one of my childhood’s
heartwormed puppydogs found its natural voice.

(Albert Goldbarth [source])

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