Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Poet and the Crowd

Grammar Lesson

Дано мне телочто мне делать с ним,
Таким единым и таким моим? 

                       –– Osip Mandelstam

Given a body ––what shall I do with it,
So unique and so much my own?

Poet’s questions, formulated rhymes,
Elicit answers promulgating signs:
Romantic semantics, existential conundrums,
Allegory, paradox, nothing hum-drum,
Universal symbols and symbolic extrapolations
Yielding self-symmetric, ego-syntonic implications.

That is to say, when a poet inquires
The answer, most likely
Will be something that inspires.

In a world compounded by
Dreams and romance,
Chants and chance:
Tantric transfigurations
Of tangled tropes
(Unwound in breath’s brief breach,
Rewound by natural speech)
Gift the singer with range,
The writer with reach.

The poet’s a genius tout court,
In short: this rhymester’s not
Your average rapper,
Nor does his poem
Resemble a rant:
A poem is not a
Rant, you see –
Or can’t you see? –
Not cant.

Whether rhymed by a rhythmic rapper –
A Jay Z so fine
Chanting Empire State of Mind –

Or by a dandy dapper –
A Byron, a Shelley, a Wilde –

Or by Future’s posthumous child:
An internal émigré deferring harm –
Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Mandelstam –

The poetry of genius leads,
Surpassing common deeds,
Boldly, exhibitionistically,
To euphoria’s high-five energy,

Or calmly, imperceptibly,
To Hints of Immortality:

На стекла вечности уже легло
Моё дыхание, моё тепло. 

My breath, my warmth, has settled already
On the windowpanes of eternity.

We too have bodies like the one
Given the poet:
Exceptional bodies
Of boundless potential –
Or so it seems
In youth, at the Olympics, and
In our dreams.

Whether we’re complacent
Or reverential,
Our bodies, our selves,

Need space to live,
More space to live well,
Need substance to thrive,
And sagas to tell.

We may not all be poets
But we know
What we are:

As a snowflake
That falls and dissolves
On a changeable day,
Requiting winter’s resolve.

As a Mandrake root,
Plant of ancient incantation ––
Homunculus likened to us
By anthropocentric imagination –
Its shape enticing, suggestive,
Its substance comprising
Edible, digestive.

As a twist
Our work-a-day
Lottery ticket,
Biology’s die-hard
Scratch card,
Ontology’s sticky wicket:
Number game
Predicated on
Precision coding,

What then is our destiny?
To be the heroes of our saga,
Living an outsized life
Out loud?

Let us read the tea leaves,
Asking the question
The poet posed
As though
Of one on whom
Destiny rarely if ever

First Person Singular

Given a body ––what shall I do with it,
So unique and so much my own?

Ask the question in the
First person singular:
Your answer is likely
To be as regular,
As daylight––
As ordinary,
As it is

Along with the
Skates and dates,
Ducks and drakes,
Trikes and bikes,
Of daily life

You may conjure
Dramatic, quixotic,
Idiosyncratic or erotic,
For the
Single player
Upon Life’s
Worldwide stage

What roles?
Cowboy, of course,
On some new
Arctic explorer,
Self-made millionaire,
Powerful politician,
Gifted mathematician,
Pulled up by bootstraps,
Inventor, futuristic dreamer:
Firing every synapse,
Wall Street schemer
Plotting global collapse

And the world will forgive
Your pre-emptive strikes on
Your greed – indeed,

If the shoes in your closet
Number over three hundred
We’ll know that in childhood
Your feet were often

Look around
At all you see
Panoptically in the 
Landscape of

First Person Plural

Given our bodies –– what shall we do with them?

Ask the question in the
First person plural:
Your change of pronoun
The landscape.
Your quantification
Introduces complication,
The roles you chose,
Embeds the monologue,
The soliloquy,
In the drama
Of history.

What happens when you multiply
By an exponential factor
Every drama’s vanguard actor,
His virtue and his fatal flaw:
Beowulf sealing Grendel’s maw;
Rearguard romance of Romeo
Askance behind mask domino;
Cyrano’s Lieder and Cyrano’s nose;
A Punk Rock Diva’s death throes;
Brutus bold, Caesar gory,
Cleopatra’s rare vainglory;
Dragon-slayers’ clerestory;
Henry V: bellicose Tory;
That martial glory:
That hero story,


A nimbus circles the head of
Every living soul,
Bestowing the central role?

Math Lesson

Given our bodies ––– what shall we do with them?

Odyssey times a hundred?
Iliad times hundreds more?
Aeneid times a thousand?
King Arthur times thousands more?

The quests and the journeys,
The grails and the tourneys,
And multiply the wars

One body, one hero,
One poet, one pilot
Navigating the starry frontier;
One pilgrim, one sinner,
One witch, one redeemer,
Signing to Heaven the All Clear;
One schemer, one peripatetic dreamer
Seeking El Dorado in a mining camp;
One user, one bruiser, one winner, one loser,
Down for the count, still hoping for champ.

One hundred bodies,
One thousand
One hundred hundred,
One hundred thousand,

Which means
A labor force,
Variety of destinies,
Lifestyles, fates;
Complex society
Living out its history
Early or late

A clash of needs, desires, drives –
Every man his own hero,
Striving to live,
Wanting not just a living,
But living out loud:
To live well and richly,
To outpace the crowd.

So let us give Age its dignity
And Youth its due.
Let us live well upon the good Earth,
And never thwart new life or birth.

               Given our bodies –
That’s a good start:
To breathe, to bend
To open our hearts.

And let us remember,
Whatever we do –
That scores and more,
Hundreds and thousands,
Millions and billions
On the one Earth,
Are doing it too.

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