February 18, 2007

Poetic Gestures

She’s going to write a poem about these blueberries, which she’s transferring from the grocery aisle to a pondside in Michigan. (She makes a note to read up in her books of Great Lakes flora and geology; she comes from there but it’s been a long time.) Out into the parking lot and the exit driveway she’s in lost in fields of memory: she has to brake suddenly, waking, to keep from rear-ending the Nissan in front of her at the stop sign. The first lines are already forming up in her mind, at about the level of the rearview mirror. By the time she brings the grocery bags through the side door she’s so excited she leaves everything on the counter, even the frozen food.

Then the words, the lines, oh, she has to find words again, that’s all she ever does, and you’d think she’d know them all by now and only have to choose the best-looking ones, like picking the bluest fruit from the display. But no, when she settles for that, the words are withered and juiceless; what she needs to do, every time, is invent the language anew, and that’s impossible.

The difficulty of achieving anything at all makes her impatient with herself, so in response she sits –- she’s learned how –- patiently, patiently, at this same desk year after year, and gradually the syllables brighten with sun, the words hang ripe and blue in the slash of northern light, and one by one she picks them into her dear old heirloom basket. But some of them turn out to be sour to her tongue; she tosses them away; and then there are passages where everything tastes wrong, it’s torture by berrypicking.

But conditioned reflex comes to the rescue. She knows how to write a poem. She knows how to trawl for a metaphor, how to stitch lines together with assonance and consonance (and the occasional alliteration, not too much), she knows how to intertwine nature images with love-memories and transcendent ideas. So here is Listen, the first word, followed by a colon, herding the reader with an authoritative bark. Here is wind in the next line, another short-i sound, and then lent to tie the l’s and n’s and short e’s through three lines. Here is blue forgiving the encroaching purple, forgiveness is always good, and linen-clad dandelions whisper together, with that l- n-short-vowel combo again, and personifying nature’s voice is a reliable tactic. She makes the gesture of a surprising epithet; she makes the gesture of a truncated line; she pays witty homage to a better-known colleague’s best-known poem.

There’s a comfort in conventional gestures, a feeling of arriving early. The phrases are in place, there’s a reassuring familiarity to the alternation of print and white space of the page. She has heard the longed-for click at the back of her skull, and she can rest. In a few days, when she’s sure, she’ll send it to editors who are themselves poets, who know the struggle, who recognize what you sometimes have to do to make the form work out. One of them will take it. Then the shock of seeing it exposed and beyond help, revealed but half-hidden, among accidental companions with a disquieting family resemblance, all of them, no matter what words they use, moaning of the same lonely labor.

And she will still wait, patient past belief, wait to be granted the only wish she has ever had: to write the real thing.

Labels: ,