Two Hundred Words

March 30, 2012

So, it has been a skeleton who’s been telling us
that she remains a skeleton,
a curtain that she remains a curtain.
Is she to be left so abstract,
so lost in the unease of history?
Can it be that those who are her fingerprints must sit
atop the glass? Can it be that this is all we are,
little wrinkles that hold the dust?
Or have we been like ancient poets
who kiss the chalice and let winter tell
spring that it must always be a thing for the future—
as if metaphors could be mixed like a cocktail,
as if drunken sailors drink the sea…

I know that it cannot be Sleeping Beauty dead
in there, clawed and hungry, her mouth a foam—
certainly not anything we might try to
awaken with a princely kiss.
But, if we can push aside all
our ugly worm-encrusted faces,
we might yet see her reflection in that reflection,
even though it must sting to be so.

…that her poem should be like
a rainbow deep inside all our bosoms,
and always there; it should rumble through
our open mouths like a train through an open tunnel…

O, my Beauty. My beauty…

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5 Responses to “Two Hundred Words”

  1. Thomas Davis Says:

    Why read this poem?
    As if a man could look into his face and see his face–
    As if the moon started talking
    And did not shut up until exactly one million meteors
    Had exploded on its surface?

    Ahh, beneath the surface of the pond
    A world lies that would be beautiful
    If only enough cleverness could be applied
    To see beneath the reflection of the sun–

    Perhaps.

  2. extrasimile Says:

    I have to ask myself: why read this poem? It’s abstract to the point that it’s pretty much impossible to figure out what the hell the author is trying to say. It may be about a skeleton, or a curtain—a curtain?—or someone lost in the ‘unease of history’…and then things get really bleak.
    O Wind,/ If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
    No.
    …as if metaphors could be mixed like a cocktail,
    as if drunken sailors drink the sea…

    I’m not sure I know who she is. Reality? A symbol of reality? This seems a little too much. I think she did start out as Sleeping Beauty, but at some point became Not Sleeping Beauty (NSB). That transformation might be the clue. I work on something like this until I have a sense that it’s done, that the thinking process is as fully realized as I can make it. I take it seriously—which is not to say I’m not often fooling around—but I don’t even know if ‘poetry’ is even the right name for this stuff. Perhaps it’s only interesting to someone who likes to solve puzzles. ‘The Case of the Missing Antecedent’ seems of limited use, however.
    If you’re looking for a Wallace Stevens’ quote, how about this one?
    Fat girl, terrestrial, my summer, my night,
    How is it I find you in difference, see you there
    in a moving contour, a change not quite completed?

    (from ‘Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction)
    Of course, yet again, this serves to establish that I’m no Wallace Stevens. John’s thought, that this is another incarnation of the muse seems right—but she is a rhetorical being (perhaps) imprisoned under the glass of the poem. That she also represents a kind of quest (like the chalice)(like winter is in search of spring); that she is another identity of the narrator of the poem or a product of his thinking process—these are also reasonable possibilities.
    In that last line, why is beauty capitalized the first time and not the second? Perhaps the narrator laments the loss of NSB—and his/her own beauty. Perhaps he is merely talking to himself—and perhaps that is the problem.
    (N. B. My wife is of the distinct opinion that this response is ‘not enough’…and that I’ve played the idiot savant card far too often. She also thinks I have used the word ‘perhaps’ far too many times. Perhaps she is right.)

  3. Thomas Davis Says:

    Oh my goodness, Jim! I’m two poems behind. This cancer treatment stuff is a pain. I’m okay, but tired more than I ought to be and thus not keeping up with wordpress at all.
    This is, however, the fourth time I’ve read this, and I’m, like John, a little out to sea. The question is, of course, who the “she” is. I keep thinking that if I can figure that out I can understand the poem. I’ve gotten so desperate that I looked through Wallace Stevens to see if I could find a clue from him.
    I’ve decided that the first three lines are a statement of reality, that a skeleton tells us she is a skeleton and a curtain that it is a curtain. They are what they are. I did not start out with this interpretation, but have tentatively gotten here.
    Then the question:
    Is she to be left so abstract,
    so lost in the unease of history?
    If the she is a placeholder for reality, then the question makes sense to me. Reality can be seen as an abstraction, and it is often lost in the unease of history. Even the following questions seem to me to be powerful questions about reality: The bizarre skeleton telling us that she is, after all, a skeleton.
    Or have we been like ancient poets
    who kiss the chalice and let winter tell
    spring that it must always be a thing for the future—
    This seems to make sense too–The chalice, of course, disappears, at least in King Arthur’s time, and poets have kissed the symbolism of its perfection over and over again, but it is still not there, not real. Winter, as a dark symbol, telling spring that it must always be a thing for the future, at least under the guidance of ancient poets, is a denial of the reality that spring comes.
    The idea that reality “cannot be Sleeping Beauty dead
    in there, clawed and hungry, her mouth a foam—
    certainly not anything we might try to
    awaken with a princely kiss.” also makes sense to me. Reality is seldom a bed of roses that lets us awake in the morning, stretch well rested limbs, and say, “what a beautiful day!” It is too often like the skeleton primly informing us she is a skeleton.
    Still,
    if we can push aside all
    our ugly worm-encrusted faces,
    we might yet see her reflection in that reflection,
    even though it must sting to be so.
    perhaps reality, and I am not sure that is the exact concept I am trying to convey, is…
    that her poem should be like
    a rainbow deep inside all our bosoms,
    I mean, reality should…
    …rumble through
    our open mouths like a train through an open tunnel…

    O, my Beauty. My beauty…

    if only we were wise.

    I am totally unsure of this interpretation, Jim, but it’s all that I could come to that seemed to make any sense to me at all.

  4. extrasimile Says:

    No, you’re on the right track. Its elusiveness comes from, I think, its rhetorical façade—an exercise in abstraction that ends in an exploration of fragments:

    …it should rumble through
    our open mouths like a train through an open tunnel…

    It’s a good question you raise. Do we believe the assertion of the sentence or the imagery used in making the assertion? Do we accept Hamlet (to go to the classical example of the problem) at his word or question his imagery in framing the question?
    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
    And by opposing end them.

    I always picture a knight standing knee deep in the surf flailing away with a broadsword as the waves surge around him. Hamlet betrayed by his metaphors.
    And while it is probably a mistake to see the surface assertion as a product of the conscious mind and the imagery—that sea of connotations that most words float in—as the work of the unconscious—and therefore deeply revealing—it is also tempting to do so. You can’t get away with this in everyday life, but to the extent that poems are constructions, you should be able to deconstruct them. Stretch out on the couch old boy and tell me about this yearning, this lament. Hamlet is opaque to us in a way that no human ever is.
    And yes, it is made up of two hundred words.
    (It is also, the good folks at WordPress tell me, my two hundredth post. I will resist calling the next one Two Hundred a One Words.)

  5. John Stevens Says:

    I’ve been struck by those haunting words: “Can it be that this is all we are, / little wrinkles that hold the dust?” – a remnant of figure prints on a glass.
    I thought the next few lines, beginning with “Or” would be a cheerful counter-point, a note of affirmation. But they turn out to be equally bleak: winter telling spring that it must always be a thing for the future.
    And whoever is being looked upon, it’s not Sleeping Beauty who can be woken with the kiss.
    Much of this poem remains elusive to me, Jim, but this is the sense I take away at this point, noting however that it finishes on a note of yearning: a hope “that her poem should be like a rainbow deep inside all our bosoms” – and finally that heartfelt cry “O, my Beauty. My beauty…”
    One reading of this would see it as a reflection on human life (brief, transitory) – especially for someone in that sort of mood. Another however would see the lines as contemplation of the poetic muse; there are quite a few hints of this. If so, there’s no need to feel bleak on the evidence of the images in this piece of writing!
    I’m trying to resist counting the words by the way … I’m too obsessive already!


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