Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Poem of the Week 4/28/2008: Death


Death calls my dog by the wrong name.
A little man when I was small, Death grew
Beside me, always taller, but always
Confused as I have almost never been.
Confusion, like the heart, gets left behind
Early by a boy, abandoned the very moment
Futurity with her bare arms comes a-waltzing
Down the fire escapes to take his hand.

"Death," I said, "if your eyes were green
I would eat them."

For what are days but the furnace of an eye?
If I could strip a sunflower bare to its bare soul,
I would rebuild it:
Green inside of green, ringed round by green.
There'd be nothing but new flowers anymore.
Absolute Christmas.

"Death," I said, "I know someone, a woman,
Who sank her teeth into the moon."

For what are space and time but the inventions
Of sorrowing men? The soul goes faster than light.
Eating the moon alive, it leaves space and time behind.
The soul is forgiveness because it knows forgiveness.
And the knowledge is whirligig.
Whirligig taught me to live outwardly.
Shoe shop. . . pizza parlor. . . surgical appliances. . .
All left behind me with the hooey.
My soul is my home.
An old star hounded by old starlight.

"Death, I ask you, whose only story
Is the end of the story, right from the start,
How is it I remember everything
That never happened and almost nothing that did?
Was I ever born?"

I think of the suicides, all of them thriving,
Many of them painting beautiful pictures.
I think of boys and girls murdered
In their first beauty, now with children of their own.
And I have a church in my mind, set cruelly ablaze,
And then the explosion of happy souls
Into the greeny, frozen Christmas Eve air:
Another good Christmas, a white choir.

Beside each other still,
My Death and I are a magical hermit.
Dear Mother, I miss you.
Dear reader, your eyes are now green,
Green as they used to be, before I was born.

Donald Revell

Does anybody have questions about this poem? I think that I could answer them, but that it is a poem that you all could puzzle out yourselves; he uses some basic college facts (it is a very collegy poem; Mr. Revell is a professor at the University of Las Vegas-Nevada), including the old idea that men are stars, the philosophic lynchpin that our perception shapes the world around us, that rationality is a mill that cannot itself learn, that must be informed by impressions. I think that Mr. Revell has read Blake-- these philosophic undertones align with Blake's.

At any rate, meditations on death are, I think, one thing poetry still has going for it, and one thing that many of us could do to think about a little more. Here, the lamentation is a measured one. That is, the thought of endings, and the grief for life that accompanies death (death's bride?), is cut by the funny tone of lines like, "Absolute Christmas" and by the playful wonder at Death, as well. Death is somebody who grows, who gets things wrong, who is so confusing that he must be forgotten; I take this to mean that man must push the thought of death away because simply he does not know what happens...

Revell also brings up questions of life, and death of course must do; with death, he wonders what the quality of life truly is. Are we ever born, he wonders, into a real and true place, or are we always drawn outward to pizza parlors and worry about our health in doctor's offices? Death calls us home, in a way, bringing the interior world to light again, the soul, the true home, whatever that means.

What does death demand of us? And how does Revell address it?I am grateful that Revell addresses the reader at the end of the poem, for, as a friend and I were discussing yesterday, death must necessarily be about oneself, and about life in general--the great grief of living lifts its chin, everything held in the eyes of a good old black dog.

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