If, as David Bromige says, poetry is the theory of heartbreak, when do we begin to theorize?
The person I'm thinking about has never had a problem with separations, barely glancing at his parents as they go out the door. But when he wakes up after a night away from them, a night (one can assume) full of dreams and confusions, surf's up in the feelings department.This time, however, for the first time, he had a word to say, the germ of a theory about this unsatisfactory situation. He let my husband pick him up out of his crib but then (from this high perch) took a long, disappointed look at us and turned away. "Mama," he said, heartbrokenly, and let his body shake with sobs.
It started me musing. I came to poetry in my teens after losing both my parents, my father to divorce (when I was close to this guy's age) and then my mother to madness.
And poetry kept me alive. At ten, living for a year in Los Angeles, I'd decided I wanted to be a singer but that was actively opposed (while my mother was still relatively well). I wanted lessons but kept singing anyway, especially when everybody was out of the house. Still, as a dream, as a vocation, it seemed absurd and out of reach.
Poetry, though, when I stumbled on it, was just the solution. Who could take it away from me? One didn't need materials other than those one already had for school. It made no noise. It wasn't part of that feared and hated entity, show business (my father's first career path, before blacklist and economic reality set in). I could even take it along when, later that same year, my mother entered a mental institution and I was sent to live with a foster family.
I could be a poet and nobody would be the wiser. And so I was, really, for decades. Maybe that's why I've always remembered what John Logan said of Bill Knott's poems (on the cover of his Naomi Poems: Corpse and Beans): that they "give asylum to the orphan in each of us." I'm sure that's also why I was so taken with the work of John Wieners, poet-waif of poet-waifs:
Rain today and rain in the self. Reign. Return
to the place of imprisonment. Reign of life, how many
years left to bury the old heart and give birth to the new?
Reign of years, with each day a marking place of what
happens in the universe, what comes into ken,
of the stars and their turning. What one does not know.
Will never know. The desire to pierce space and
be up on the moon. Doomed as fellow men to
walk this place with sweat on our forehead.
That we are not given enough, must find
the means to fulfill our existence. That we are
given enough, too much as a distraction to pene-
trate the essential core of our being. And what is
that but a hollow place? No radiant outpouring
as stars of light. We have eaten away our basic
substance, fed it to the drugs, of days
when there was nothing to do. Too many on the calendar.
And yet this is substance, this despair.
To walk with it as a beloved companion, or
friend. See that as the broken leg we try to mend.
Cripples with no crutch, looking for the broken tree
to fashion into a stump.
And yet this is not the true condition. There
are comedies and comedians. Flowers in blossom.
The same old dirge. Age-old. The curse of
"Adam" that each man is heir to, and equipped
for — interrupted by the doctor coming down the
hall — that each man is heir, and for which each
(from "A Series," Ace of Pentacles)