I It’s like dreaming of someone too much while you’re away at war; then you come home to his fingered hat or her
faltering hemline and it’s What the hell was I fighting
for? Just another example of how biography works. Your character has got to have a narrative arc,
some drawbacks, something irredeemably awful,
along with his or her strong points, to be believable. Yet we all recoil in disbelief when anything of the sort cuts
a form into our real lives, the life of the author. Don’t
despair! It’s just the demands of narrative! Leda, after all, probably never even thought to fear anything like that.
Then one day, there it is, the century actually over
and most of its artifacts still entirely inexplicable. This is no walk in the park with spinach, Swee’pea,
I’ve got no idea where to go for extra strength.
I guess that’s what they’re selling. It’s an incidental that it cleans your laundry,
scrubs your teeth. What is of note is that it is a source of extra
strength. Extra strength! Thank God! That’s what we’re going to need in case they all switch back: the swan, the prince, the salt.
Even if you weren’t ever accosted by a feathery god,
you take some heavy losses early on, and that will leave feathers everywhere for the rest of your life; as if you were wearing an eiderdown coat;
you just walk around and molt. As for the man in the tiara,
that’s a transformation you never want to go through twice, but do, coaxing every so often your sad, damp, frog
back into his palace. Don’t you like your scepter? Won’t
you wear your robes? Lastly, salt. Well, who doesn’t turn towards the sepia for a second look; into the carousel music
and the tortured plaster horses of the past? But this sympathy
does not imply that I want Madame Lot back here knitting itchy sweaters. Let’s just try to calm down.
II When Stalin took power he had Trotsky erased from the photographs. Sometimes, you can still see
a floating hand. Left behind. So disembodied as to be
almost meaningless. We try to ignore it, floating there in history. We get to work. There is something to be said for that.
You can’t really expect me to roll around naked in a garden
letting Trotsky’s severed hand float around my body, knowing my body better than any lover, his soft,
soft-focused, probing hand. Yet, how can we do anything
serious with that thing hovering overhead? A woman working at a table in the park swats away the tickling hand
of Trotsky, and intones as if to all of history:
Not now. Trotsky’s hand, abashed, moves on to pick some flowers. So much is gone that
what is left is inexplicable without memory, and memory
is painful and very difficult to explain. Which isn’t to say I mind Trotsky’s hand
snapping its fingers and flapping itself like a bird
above my desk or would rather have him back, extant, yammering about world socialism and complaining about
the samovar: Is this thing cold again? So, is this more of a lament
than a complaint? Sure.
But it is always there. This burden of history is not a bird but a hand, its wrist a tiny cloud.
It’s very quiet. It fills the quiet sky.
It is from my first poetry book, The Next Ancient world. I'm not sure what made me want to say it to you just now. Oh but now that I think about it I suppose a few things come to mind. the prince, the swan, the salt. note to self: keep your eye on what transforms, note what of it doesn't change, and henceforth keep your eye on that.
This is the poetry blog of
Jennifer Michael Hecht.
There are other places where
I blog lucidly, here I post what
rises and converges.
It is called Dear Fonzie because
the Fonz, fictional though he be,
seems like a good listener.