The bagel place again, one table further back
from the window than yesterday. Sadie
woke up extra early this morning so I’m
extra bleary till the coffee does its work.
Just heard The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,”
next up sounds like a Joe Walsh song. Hard
to believe I ever liked this music—such
terrible taste in high school, oblivious to everything
my peers knew about The Cure and R.E.M.,
listening instead to Foreigner and Led Zeppelin over
and over again, and let’s not forget my prog rock
obsession: Yes and Kansas and Jethro Tull, ye
gods. I still like Zeppelin.
Can’t stop thinking about that Air France flight—
they found debris in the south Atlantic,
there were more than two hundred people aboard
and some of them were kids. I’m sentimental about kids
since having one of my own, can scarcely bear
to think of one being hurt or frightened, and a plane
crash remains I think the iconic terror of our times—
9/11 of course but even before that—and there’s Lost,
of course, which finished a strong fifth season
a few weeks back. Plane crashes hit us
where we live, in our idea of ourselves as cosmopolitans,
more at home everywhere than we are anywhere,
riding great beasts of capital that any child can see
oughtn’t to fly, but they do, big bellies on stubby wings
with us inside, our fates handed over
to impersonal and terrifying forces
as they are of course every day, but we don’t have to realize it
even and especially in our cars which are of course more dangerous.
But it’s too easy to envision myself on such a flight
and the sick plunge in our skins
and my baby in terror—but this is indulging something
that has, I’m not sure, very little to teach me
or you. Still it’s haunting, the way the plane vanished
without so much as a peep from the pilots, and
if it weren’t for the found wreckage we could imagine
an adventure for the passengers, lost in horse latitudes
with handsome protagonists unraveling an existential mystery
over successive seasons in prime time. Ammons
yesterday, quite a bit of him, he’s rather boring
in bulk, but he’s my excuse for being here
so I’d better get interested—thinking the longer and later
poems might have more to offer than the early lyrics,
which are either straight nature poems and very boring
or labor through dialectical questions with a bit of a plod
a little like Stevens if Stevens weren’t a dandy
in language and more concerned with the thingliness
of things other than words—so early Ammons
like late Stevens but he’s just not a charmer
and I like charm in poems I like deceptive casualness
and undeceptive casualness
or else I like what Juliana Spahr characterizes in her
memoir The Transformation as “an avant-garde
that used fragmentation, quotation, disruption, disjunction,
agrammatical syntax, and so on,” a word cluster
that recurs again and again in that book until it ironizes
itself, puts itself into question, but still that’s home
for her, that’s her home poetic language, and if
it’s not quite home for me it’s nevertheless become
a comfortable idiom, more comfortable in some ways
than that other mode of non-syntactic difficulty
that has to do with deep and profuse cultural allusiveness
a la The Waste Land and with piles of metaphors
intended to get the speaker/reader through
the words and the things into something higher and purer.
Ammons does neither really though he’s an American
Transcendentalist for sure in the early poems
albeit one for whom Nature is sufficient without being
a stand-in for God—I think I’ll like his long
poems better, the ones with more stuff in them, people
as well as things and signs of life and culture I
sure get tired of a lone speaker confronted by mountains
or rhododendrons or wind or thoroughly abstract people
without names and histories. Wonder who I’ll see
today that I know, already saw my old neighbor Gary
getting my coffee, we looked into each other’s eyes
for just a moment and offered each other no sign
of recognition—not that we knew each other well
but once at least I recall having a half-hour’s
conversation with him at Juna’s, yet another coffee
shop and one that no longer exists—and I see
many other faces without names that I know,
this man in a careful cardigan and glasses and
cropped hair sitting down now at the table in front of me
so now I can se the collar of his blue denim shirt—
he was one of the occasional fixtures of my life here
but a stranger then and a stranger still
nobody’s stranger than me here in this town
named for our ultimate idea of a home
accessible only through long trials and suffering
dumb idea to have left it in the first place
unless the journey is your true home whether or not
you’re cosmopolitan anyway it’s time
for work now or maybe not.
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