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A mile from where I live is a beach where in winter
I walk the dog, console myself with the ocean’s beauty
and ponder the imponderables, like what to do about
living in a country that has become an embarrassment,
disliked and even hated around the world, a constant
source of bickering among its people and led by men
and women who seem stupid, but are probably only
scared, greedy, egotistical and ignorant. Forgive me
if I forget a few. How it got that way and what to do
becomes one of the imponderables and can keep me
busy for a long walk, while being unable to work out
an explanation makes me feel like a Good German
of the late 1930’s. I mean, if only I thought the FBI
were tapping my phone, I’d take it as a compliment.
Regrettably the commissars of modern poetry don’t
like poems to talk about bloodshed and babies blown
to smithereens, so I expect I should hold my tongue.
Not so long ago Harvard’s top poetry critic told me
and a few others that she took pride in never once
having voted. It was hard to feel more than sad, but,
to me, she vanished, she became a non-person, as if
she had walked out on the human race, her writings
also, since what truth could she say about poetry if
she separated poetry from the world? I know I can’t
just rant in a poem, although it’s hard to stop myself,
but given the problem I hate going back to writing
about flowers and sex. Yet none of that affects being
ashamed of the country in which one lives and not
knowing how to fix it. The Great Twitterer is famous
for saying poetry makes nothing happen, other things
also, but even if that were the case, one must, I think,
still raise one’s voice. It would be dreadful to be merely
a good German, turning my back as Jews were carted off.
Is it the enormity of the daily calamity that makes so many
contemporary poets write lines without meaning or use
language to hide meaning? Take Ashbery, for instance,
not to beat a dead horse, and surely other names might
do as well, but is non-meaning intended to conceal
the awfulness of meaning, just as Dadaists made snappy
responses to World War One? At times it seems the only
sane answer is a joke. Even slapstick can be an answer,
as if to slip on a banana might form a rational response
to the trenches of the Somme. But despite the jokes,
non-meaning seems a kind of shirking, to duck what
somebody lacks the capacity to express. And the value
of non-meaning? Totally zip. Do you see how these
imponderables can get a grip? In a letter, Chekhov wrote
that he didn’t need to say stealing horses was wrong,
he only had to describe a horse thief exactly. But even
Chekhov couldn’t write about the Czar without landing
in a Russian clink. That at least tells us a lot about
the power of language in Russia, whereas I could write
about the president to my heart’s content and not make
the slightest dent on the escutcheon of his indifference,
which is still no reason to write about flowers and sex.
So in fact it’s the frustration of being unable to describe
the horror without just shouting, Look at the horror!
I mean, people aren’t dumb. Even if they turn away
to scribble non sequiturs they know something nasty
is creeping up behind them. How these imponderables
can age us, like dragging a dead horse up a mountain,
what do I get but a dead horse up a mountain? And I’m
still no closer to understanding how to live in a country
that’s become an embarrassment, which occurs in part
from weighing the idealism of the constitution against
the cynicism of the present administration, much like
comparing a bathing beauty to a drag queen, which is
not to insult drag queens. But what to do except make
inept and fretful remarks remains unclear when really
I’d like to skirt the defects of language and hurl a rock—
another useless gesture meant to make me feel better.
Were I walking along that winter beach I would now
have walked a mile at least with nothing to show for it
but a wrinkled brow and a vague wringing of hands,
while the question remains as fresh as ever—what
to do about the horror? Then the subject is no longer
about a solution but about the question itself hanging
in the air at the end of Napatree Point with the surf
beating against it, not to wear it down, but to keep it
bright, till at last I whistle for the dog and walk back.
From Winter’s Journey published by Copper Canyon. Copyright 2010 Stephen Dobyns. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Stephen Dobyns’ most recent book of poems The Day’s Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech was published by BOA Editions in September, 2016.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for this.
Yes. Beautiful. Thank you.
Wonderful read this again. 2017 depends on poems like this.
No, the “Good Doctor” couldn’t write about the Tsar without being threatened with prison, but he wrote so searchingly and scathingly about the Tsar’s wretched nation that he remains a beacon of light wherever there is stupidity, greed, and indifference. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of human kind, and they will prevail!
Thank you. Imponderables.
Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.
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