Wine and honey, lipstick and spit,
you coming through the door with a cigarette lit.
And I'm not supposed to think your death wish is cool,
but then I see you knocking back tequilas by the pool
And I am the yellow rose, growing near the ground,
waiting to climb something.
- " All Rooms Cable a/c Free Coffee" The Extra Glenns
(John Darnielle's duo with Franklin Bruno)
|Edna St. Vincent Millay|
|William Carlos Williams|
"No poet enters the life and work of another, whatever the disruptions of time and distance, through words alone" writes Evaan Boland in her new collection of essays A Journey With Two Maps: Becoming A Woman Poet. "Poets imagine each other," she insists, "They think and think until their own sense of the narrow streets of Florence explains the light and passion of the Paradiso... They imagine the cattle train bringing Mandelstam to Smirsk or the freezing room in Devon where Sylvia Plath worked. It is hardly a pure critical process. All the same I feel sure it is in these fires of rapport that poets have found and loved one another for a millennium."
For me, this is one half of the equation. It's true that when I read things I love my brain rockets away from my body, and I am with Gerard Manley Hopkins at his low little monastery desk, sleepless at night; I am in Paris with Ezra Pound; I am in Emily Dickinson's drawing room and she's drafting another letter, and she's slender and talking to Death and weighing some kind of God in the open palm of her hand. Sometimes I'm in a McDonalds only a few years ago where a pregnant woman practices Hebrew and then stops to draft a poem, or I'm on the California cliffs with DA Powell's "wildly surviving," "flash of light" poppies.
The great grace of this, though, is that when I've watched her write out syllable from sound I can take Emily by the wrist and walk her back with me through centuries. When we arrive she's wearing corduroys and ballet flats and has learned to swear, but she's still shy and the volcano of her brain's still going, and she takes off to find a desk in this new millennium.
Because I have a head for remembering poems, and because I've read she has a weakness for flowers, I will often hear syllable from sound again in my head, and then I'll catch a glimpse of her in the garden outside the library or with her hand in her loose hair in a lecture hall, writing down the names of all the elements in the periodic table, which she likes, because she thinks they could be other ways to name the soul. She never says much to me, but she's there, and she nods when she sees me, and once I caught her watching me in church.
I want these details because I want my vision to be wider, to cross cities and continents and centuries. I want to be bigger than myself. I want to know the people who have made me fall in love so absolutely, the ones whose lines I run through my head to put myself to sleep at night. It's selfish, this desire, but it's also generative and comforting and communal. When I pull these writers into my world, they are part themselves and their lines and their lives and part the woman that I am, or that I want to be. I imagine Dickinson loves the sound of the periodic table because I do, just as I love the breath in her lines. I want Keats to see some version of himself in Williams, because those lines that end Williams's "Danse Russe" who shall say I am not / the happy genius of my household? always seem to me like a kind of soft answer to Keats' "Ode on Melancholy."
It's the biggest gift of my life: this talking to people I haven't met, this glancing around the corner to see Sylvia Plath by a window with a cigarette, the fact that in this moment time is fluid, and everything I read, and everyone, comes into my life and stays there: something I am waiting to, wanting to climb.