Thursday, October 30, 2008

Muriel Nelson, With a Big Simile

These poems are made of things over- and underheard, stolen, mis-taken, and sometimes spelled by ear—disparate bits and odd God-thoughts; i.e., my imperfect observations, fascinations, and shortcomings along with some I’ve borrowed. If the poems hold together for you, language and line breaks must be playing with your ears, too.

“For the Night People” originally followed “Sun and Migraine,” which was published earlier in BPJ. In the title, you may hear a bow to Ed Hirsch. If you’re a fellow migraine sufferer, you’ll also recognize the joy of waking up not sick and reveling in lights and noises which don’t hurt. But maybe they should. Of course, in Judeo-Christian-Muslim thought, God is odd. So are Adam’s ribs either before or after one is removed, if you take the story both literally (that is, poetically) and (quoting one of my students) “with a big simile on [your] face.” Biblical creation stories are also at odds with each other, each of them carefully saved. Underlying the Apple computer image at the poem’s end is the ancient phrase, “Keep me as the apple of thine eye,” and my envy of the Russian word yabloko, which keeps that apple-eye image in a single word.

“Feeding the Venus Flytrap” probably doesn’t need much commentary if memory is still fresh of the siege of Sarajevo and Vedran Smailović, the cellist who honored the dead and made a bit of peace at the center of war horror. You may know what I learned after our little Venus Flytrap died of starvation: its food needs to be moving in order to stimulate the plant to close its “mouth” and eat. No bottles for that baby. But maybe the accumulation of long e sounds feeds the poem and allows Easter to cohabitate with Venus.

I hope “To Wit, To Dote” will grow up to be a book someday because I love the sharp sounds and rich meanings of these old words, and their Lego-like possibilities for play. It seems that the twenty-first century could use ways to put witting and doting into relationship in order to enact that ancient phrase, “to know in one’s heart.” I confess, this poem carried on even more in its first few versions. Perhaps in my dotage, I’ll know when to end.