never in this / world will a man live well in his body / save dying–and not know himself / dying; yet that is / the design. Renews himself / therebyWilliam Carlos Williams, Paterson
I’m going to whip a dead horse. The horse is my imagination. My imagination is grafted to my existence DNA, not just the chemical helix, but the raison d’être. If I cannot see what is, the impossible possible, then I cannot be. That statement needs correction. It is an approximation. I don’t feel like “I” can go on, though I have and will. I can remain functional. But I’m not really there. Some days should be magnificent: something might be accomplished, love, relationships nurtured, opportunities created, the participation in a just and equitable public life, learning in my private life—yet the feeling flags, is somewhere else, blowing harp on the porch of the house of memory that sits above the river, wasting it all. And some dark days are brilliant for no reason whatsoever, save that the feeling, like lightning, is there.
The lightning on the horizon is perhaps why so many people say that poetry saves them. They open a book randomly to a poem, and the gearing downshifts. Poems punch through the layers of fat and muscle that the day-to-day uses as fuel and needs to physically survive. Did you know that when we starve, what finally shuts us down entirely is that the body begins to suckle at the last bit of energy remaining in the heart? That’s probably not completely true, but it’s essentially true. The last to go is the part of us said to house the spirit.
Spring returns. For all its amazements and renewal, there is the drudgery and horror of beginning to turn the great wheel again. The little eggs hatch only to lose their occupants to instinctual purpose. Screaming rabbits are yanked from their warrens by the hound. Underneath the weeping cherry blossoms, the hum of a death machine. The pandemic has isolated many but the threat has been elsewhere, like a kind of Passover in which we hunker to avoid the randomness. Even Passover now seems only another holiday meal that precedes Easter. We sublimate the original violence of the myth, brought by way of the sniffing, monstrous angels and avoided not by faith but by smearing blood on our front doors.
Poetry is an attempt to distill the existential truths we feel in our bones when we are subjected to beauty. Truths about meaning and meaninglessness are each required to taste the sweetness of being. We were guided to these moments or made aware, even before analysis, even before remote understanding only because, perhaps, we are the sole beast who has come to the unique understanding of time and its fugaciousness.
So we begin again. If we are lucky, we will need to shake clumps of pollen from our hair. The weeds will grow and reclaim the graves. We know we will fail but we should hope to feel. If we are lucky, we will wake in the middle of a cold, rainy night, to no credit of our own, and the little light in the office of art and myth will suddenly illuminate.
Special thanks to associate editor, Amina Adeyola, for her help gathering the following poets.
a part of me not caring if I burn to ash / with those long luxurious lives / living elsewhere–Julia Wendell “Let Me Burn”
It burns, this life // Makes a stigmata / Of needful things // Sows cheatgrass / In the deepest swale–Craig Brandis “Fathers and Sons”
Fall is without myth, carries no quiver. // Just a curled leaf, sun-tipped. / A gold scorch I’m too scared to pluck.–Esther Sadoff “Gold Fields”
I wanted to show her the burns on my chest. / When I tried to make ashes of my self esteem.–Roscoe Burnems “First”