this is just one of the things he can’t see

July 11, 2012

That soil is the sun’s piety.

Sure, it could be
a grave of secret images—
a skin so dry and blown
so far away, that even the knight,
qua knight, qua the poetry itself,
must be at a loss,
qua explanation, to explain it—
but it isn’t that.
It can’t be that.
You might as well try to explain
the dragon’s tail without recourse to the dragon:
The thunder could be loss.
Turn the cards over.
The lightning could be loss.
Blow up the bridge.
The rain could be what comes between
—a modulation—
a transparency, something that
becomes virtually invisible when in the water…

and I don’t feel safe,
swimming without the water.

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7 Responses to “this is just one of the things he can’t see”

  1. fivereflections Says:

    ‘he’ who has read this poem, feels the warmth in the soil of the sun – or perhaps feels those once warm invisible bodies that have stood upon the soil – knights and dragons swimming without water through the warm soil of the sun… oh how life springs from this secret invisible brown grave

    graveyard of the sun
    where knights and dragons stood tall
    swim without water

  2. Thomas Davis Says:

    Amen is the only appropriate comment to all of your comment, Jim. What I really get out of the poem is a sense of hope. Swimming on land seems to be a natural thing to do whether you are standing on shore thinking about swimming or really swimming through time on the land. Either way we are swimming, not sinking, and I believe that is good and hopeful.

  3. extrasimile Says:

    Okay, I’m back from Uncle Chuck’s birthday celebration. (Uncle Chuck is the person who arranged and sponsored my wife’s family’s immigration to the US. He turns 90 this week.)
    Thomas, thank you again. You make it all worthwhile, when you say ‘this is one of the things I can’t understand either.’ I can’t ask for more.
    That ‘he’ in the title, who is he? Yes, I’m playing my old trick here of an unattributed pronoun: Like ‘he’ can refer to any number of people—me, the knight, the reader, you, everyman and everywoman, humanity. I’d like it if that ‘he’ was functioning more like a variable, more like a ‘fill in the blank’, than a pronoun that refers to someone specific, but the ‘he’ here is most probably ‘me’. Of course if the title is ‘this is just one of the things I can’t see’, it is a different poem—maybe better. But you know how easy it is to see the mote in someone else’s eye…
    The first line: Actually, there is a little ambiguity built into that first line. You can put the accent on the ‘that’ or you can put it on ‘soil’. In the first instance you are pointing to some particular soil; in the second, you are answering the implied question of the title. I’d like to think both pertain, but I think I treat the first sentence as saying ‘that soil…rather than that soil…Soil is the sun’s piety , not that specific soil—we’re in too much trouble with people fighting over ‘holy’ land right now without people getting a new spot of land to worship.
    The stanzas sort of work to contradict each other. Really the first sentence could be a mini- poem. The second stanza’s ‘it’ presumably refers to ‘that soil’; and presumably it is going to (try) to explain…what? How the soil is the sun’s piety. But as an explanation, things stay quite murky. It ends up explaining why it can’t explain. You surely could not explain a dragon’s tale without some knowledge of what a dragon was—and thanks for keeping dragons in my mind—perhaps that’s the problem, we don’t have an understanding of the dragon. How could we? We don’t even think it exists. The great beast. The re-enchantment of the world. A storm blows through. The thunder, the lightning, the rain. Hold on to your hat.
    The last stanza, as I said to John, works to undercut even further what has been left standing in the second stanza. Swimming? Were we swimming? Perhaps we are left ashore standing on the piety of the earth thinking about swimming, thinking about the sun, how it might warm the land.

  4. Thomas Davis Says:

    Hmmm, Jim, I’m finally going to tackle this one. I’m sorry I’ve been absent so much, but my energy levels are low at this point. I’ve decided that it’s because it’s summer and July is when Kevin died, but anyway, I have not been as constant at anything lately as I have been in the past.
    What do I make of this poem?
    I have no idea who the he in the title is, but the first line is absolutely stunning:
    That soil is the sun’s piety.
    I noted, however, that “that soil” is specific to certain soil, not to the soil, so you are referring to very specific soil as belonging to the sun’s piety, or, perhaps, holiness.
    The second stanza starts out, at least to me, pretty plainly:
    Sure, it could be
    a grave of secret images—
    a skin so dry and blown
    so far away, that even the knight,
    qua knight, qua the poetry itself,
    must be at a loss,
    qua explanation, to explain it—
    Sure the soil could be a grave of secret images, skin dry and blown away, or, and here the mystery starts, so far away that even the knight, or poetry, must be at a loss to explain it. Eh?
    That soil could be far away, of course. But where did the knight come from? Is he the he in the title? The poem becomes a wonderful puzzle at this point. But…
    but it isn’t that.
    It can’t be that.
    It has to be more than that, obviously…
    You might as well try to explain
    the dragon’s tail without recourse to the dragon:

    What an unbelievably great line! Of course I would say that, wouldn’t I?

    So there is no easy explanation about that soil that is the sun’s piety. The truth is that in the universe.
    The thunder could be loss.
    Turn the cards over.
    The lightning could be loss.

    So go ahead and
    Blow up the bridge.
    What does it all mean anyway? The sun’s piety? That soil?

    But wait…
    The rain could be what comes between
    —a modulation—
    a transparency, something that
    becomes virtually invisible when in the water…
    The rain could be what comes between the sun’s piety and that soil–the rich soil of poetry?–a kind of modulation between perfection and growth, a transparency, something (a veil?) that becomes invisible in the water.

    and I don’t feel safe,
    swimming without the water.
    What a magnificent ending! What does it mean? Well, as I read it, you feel safe if the rain is between you and that soil and the sun’s piety, but if you find yourself swimming in the soil of the imagination, of poetry, outside of the rain, the modulation of the terrible perfection of the soil which is the sun’s piety, prayer, then you do not feel safe, but exposed, at risk as the gods play ninepins and you write inside their thunder.
    And you know,
    this is just one of the things I can’t see either: The rain, the modulation, the transparency, especially when
    That soil is the sun’s piety.
    And I perceive the glare of that sun and that soil.

  5. John Stevens Says:

    Ah, right. Well, I think you’ve had fun mucking about with this one.
    Yes, you must give us some more haiku and semi-haiku.

  6. extrasimile Says:

    Hi John—Sometimes I get to accusing myself of overwrought verse: worked over until every bit of life is taken from it. As an antidote I leave a poem a little raw—meaning, in some cases, that I don’t quite know what each and every word is doing there. I suspect everyone who writes poetry—who writes anything—has this dilemma. In my mind, an icy aloofness is a legitimate goal (and one I am interested in), but sometimes, you have to let the words win.
    So what’s going on here? That first line could be the whole poem in and of itself, given the title. It answers the implied question. The second stanza—way out of proportion to the first and last—sort of mucks up the finality of the first line—‘qua’ this and ‘qua’ that, and ends by pointing out that rain becomes ‘invisible’ in water.
    The third stanza, I’d like to think, mucks up the second stanza as much as the second does the first.
    In a lot of ways this poem is a follow up to my flirting with the haiku (and I don’t mean to stop). In so far as the haiku suggests the possibility of a pure perception at its base (and my, don’t we need more about this) my poem mocks and attacks it—and longs for it.
    Guess who the ‘he’ refers to in the title.
    (And yes, the dragon is a nod to Thomas’s poem.)

  7. John Stevens Says:

    I always read your poems with the belief that they will repay concentration, Jim. I know that they have grown from a rich imagination and subtle thought. I don’t always understand what is in your mind, and this is one of those occasions.
    Some will tell me that I don’t need to understand – that I should infuse them with my own interpretation. In that spirit I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed certain lines: the image of the land “so dry and blown” for instance, and “You might as well try to explain/ the dragon’s tail without recourse to the dragon” – terrific that (and it puts me in mind of Thomas Davis’s epic poem at http://fourwindowspress.wordpress.com/ ).
    I find the two concluding lines quite arresting.
    Not only that but I love the title!


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