For the last three hundred years or so, prose writers have, from time to time, glanced over in the direction of the poets for some guidance in certain matters of life and writing. Contemplating the lives of poets, however, is a sobering activity. It often seems as if the poets have extracted pity and terror from their work so that they could have a closer first-hand experience of these emotions in their own lives. A poet’s life is rarely one that you would wish upon your children. It’s not so much that poets are unable to meet various payrolls; it’s more often the case that they’ve never heard of a payroll. Many of them are pleased to think that the word “salary” is yet another example of esoteric jargon.
When I ran barefoot in our gardens by the river Nieviaza
Something was there, that I didn’t then try to name:
Everywhere, between the trunks of linden trees, on the sunny side of the lawn,
on the path by the orchard,
A Presence resided, I didn’t know whose.
Europe was crawling with adulterous couples. Mostly, for some reason, one saw them at ruins, respectfully tripping over the archeological rubble. Just like regular tourists they seemed to be under some terrible strain, but unlike regular tourists they hardly looked at anything, so that when, say, a lizard streaked across their path, they’d jump and fall into each other with apologetic smiles, more like awkward teenagers than adults risking the forbidden.
The moon-stirred volume of ocean sighed
Coconut tanning-oil and frozen custard.
Birch horses and dragons rode the merry-go-round.
A splinter of the herringbone cedar boardwalk
Might be teased from your finger with a steel
Needle purged of germs by a match’s flame.
I am a man who tilts. When sitting, my head slants to the right; when walking, the upper part of my body reaches forward to catch a sneak preview of the street. One way or another, I seem to be off-center–or “uncentered,” to use the jargon of holism. My lousy posture, a tendency to slump or put myself into lazy contorted misalignments, undoubtedly contributes to lower back pain. For awhile I correct my bad habits, do morning exercises, sit straight, breathe deeply, but always an inner demon that insists on approaching the world askew resists perpendicularity.