Thursday, November 21, 2013
Poetry ("Aimless Love" by Billy Collins)
Poetry is pointless.
Allow me to clear this lump in my throat
And begin again: poetry has no purpose
Other than itself, other than to exist.
Poetry does not slay the dragon or win the wars,
Nor does it fertilize the soil and grow the flowers
And trees from which we taste the fruit and see;
We are born, we cry, we suckle and swing
And totter and walk and speak, and through it all
Poetry stays on its dusty shelves, unaware of us.
Voices read us bouncy little rhymes and rock us
In their arms, and you say this is its first purpose,
But who remembers those rhymes? Who remembers
Wynken and Blynken and Nod once we've been
Cut open because our food will not stay down, because
Even our mother's milk isn't good enough; where are
Those little wanderers and their wooden shoe
When parents become the shadows they cast
Instead of the people they are, and one big house
Suddenly becomes two smaller ones, quiet ones,
Almost like magic giving you the promise of those lines?
Except the magic of those bouncy rhymes isn't
This new magic, which is cold like the air that
Now separates your one bedroom from the other,
And the arms now hold papers of a different kind,
And there are no pictures on these pages, no line breaks
And architectured stanzas. And no rhymes, either. No
AA's and BB's, and certainly no CC's. And these pages
Are colored only at the very top, where a brassy little shape
Is followed by small print and some letters that have nothing
To do with poetry at all. Where is your poetry here?
There is no poetry here now, and that pointlessness is
Poetry is the ash of so many fires burned,
And you come upon the fossilized cinders long after
The fire-starters have gone to rest for good;
They have already seen everything you will see
And more, for the ideas they had were written down
Lifetimes before the idea of you was an idea at all;
You will fall in love, just as they did, but your love
Will be the tick of a watch against their eternal church-bells
Chiming away in a music that is foreign and discordant to you;
In order to sing their songs, you will need to wait, but
You won't. You will charge ahead, eyes veiled, chest
Scarred by invisible letters announcing your salvation;
If only you could see those letters yourself, could flip
The mirrors in other people's eyes and gaze upon
The mark you bear to all but yourself, then maybe
Your ears would ring with understanding, and slowly
Your hums would begin to sound somewhat musical,
And your heart could find the words that were meant to be--
Not old words, because only the aged and pathetic
Like old words, and you are neither yet, but new words,
New matches to hold to the tinder in your soul.
And that is how you will continue, as a fire-starter just like
All those pyromaniacs who came before you, thumb stained
With sulfure and eyes blighted by the brightness of the flames
Until you have lived long and loved enough to fill volumes,
And you become a dust indistinguishable from the rest.
But that day is far in the future, and your thumbs are clean.
Poetry is vast and barbaric, like the wild country,
And just like the animals of our buried nature
We glance into the reflections
Of the lakes and ponds and pools of cool rainwater
Poetry is a joke, but please
Don't lose the whole thing.
We must remember that humor--
Little tummy rumbles, little shakes--
Keep the mind from becoming
A lazy old man afraid of labor.
He must be choked awake,
And then he must be told a joke--
Something quick and simple, the words
Easy to avoid stumbling over, and
If his stomach bounces and face flushes,
Good--his mind is ready for other things,
Poetry is vital truth, and vital truth
Is the shadow on the wall when you can see
Nothing but shadows anymore.
Poetry will not be the one to hold your hand,
To set the quilts against your chin, to warm your legs
Or drip pharmaceutical life down your throat; instead,
Poetry will be there to whisper all the truths
You already know, like why she left, or why
You could never crack eggs the right way, or why
The dogs all looked at you funny, every one;
These are the truths of your life that matter most,
The absences and judgements and small failures,
Because life is too short for the big truths, the ones
They talk about on TV and in skinny, empty books,
The ones you avoided, afraid the answers were just like
Those dogs you owned--simple, easy, and somehow
Still totally incomprehensible.
Strip away your Sunday clothes--these lines
Are not your destiny. Abandon them before
They abandon you, and refuse to look back;
We do not have to wait to understand the poet
And his fire because the matches are ours,
The tinder is fresh, the kerosene smell strong;
We do not have to wait for rimshots to make clear
That there's more than just poetry here, and we
Can throw open our arms to flowers and swords
And cut lowly fruit from the lowing trees.
Must we really wait so long to hand our mirrors
To the young and show them what they already see
And explain that our mirrors are only to borrow, not
To keep, because we too need to look up into the light
Now and then and remind ourselves to stop and see?