Three Poems Before Easter Pt 2
This week Barnstorm poetry presents three more poems chosen by three more dextrous minds of the editorial staff. Enjoy them, enjoy yourself, enjoy the pillows under your head, and the first touch of your feet on the floor when you wake. Enjoy the eye contact you haphazardly make with people from far away, the action will make us all feel closer, unless that’s creepy, and if so just ignore those people, the sky is beautiful!
“Here Bullet” by Brian Turner
"If a body is what you want
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap."
When I first read the poem I was a few weeks into a creative writing course at the University of Alabama, barely a year removed from serving as a Marine in Iraq, and lost. I’d been introduced to poetry when I was younger through the Romantics: Keats, Shelley, Byron. I was enraptured with Donne. But I knew of nothing that spoke to the man I had become. I’d gone through almost a year in the desert—patrols, standing posts, a healthy dose of paranoia. Poetry is the last place where I would have thought that I could find respite. But there it was. Not in the songs that I was trying to write or some sort of memoir, though I knew I needed to talk about my experiences. It was in a poem that my instructor, an MFA candidate, said I might find worth reading. I wouldn’t say it is poem that defines me or is even my favorite of his, but its weight is heavier than these words can carry; it’s “bone and gristle and flesh.”
“String Theory Sutra” by Brenda Hillman
“Human fabric is dragged out, being is sewn with terror or awe
which is also joy. Einstein called mystery
of existence 'the fundamental emotion.' Remember? You unraveled in childhood till
you were everything. By everything I mean
everything. The unicorn puts its head on your lap; from there it
sees the blurry edge. How am
so unreal & yet my thread is real it asks sleepily—”
I am fascinated by poetry that incorporates/responds to mathematical and scientific concepts (think Alice Fulton's fractal verse). Brenda Hillman's "String Theory Sutra" is a beautiful example of this. Riffing off of string theory, Hillman develops a commentary on the lyrical “I” unraveling and re-constructing, emphasizing the plurality of the singular, like a cord comprised of twisted threads. Her lyrical “I” is as deflective as it is assertive, insisting on the self as a relation between things, a series of probabilities along a continuum. In the end, the "I" is as real and as unreal as the unicorn on an embroidered tapestry. The poem seems so alive and organic, so stream of consciousness in the way it braids together fragmentary impressions and topics as seemingly distant as the textile industry and the war in Iraq. But it's also incredibly intricate and contained within its premise—from the form it takes, with its two interwoven columns, right down to the title (sutra literally means the thread that holds things together and is derived from the word for "to sew," because the original sutra texts were sewn together with thread).
“Married” by Jack Gilbert
"I came back from the funeral and crawled
around the apartment, crying hard,
searching for my wife's hair."
This wasn't necessarily the first poem I read in college, but it was the first one that made me realize how much you could say with simple, clear imagery. That last twist, the strand of hair coiled around a plant root in dirt; it's immediate, Gilbert not even bothering to warn you we're shifting to the future. No matter, look at this image, look at the pain. All without metaphors or similes—no strict form or rhyme scheme. It had nothing of what I was taught poetry needed to have as a high schooler. But it was poetry and it was raw, and direct, and what it “meant” couldn't be clearer if all Jack wrote was “I miss my wife.” “Clarity is never a vice,” an old mentor always reminded me, and I'm thankful to Gilbert's abundance of it in his own work.