Poet Special: Works by Mark Magoon (June 2015 / 15.11)
Another Love Poem
this world—not infinite, oddly though
there are babies enough
for them you should want to
believe and for them
all is so—be it then for forever
imagine eyes shut that’s don’t have to
this seat up on your plane flight
and mind’s eye now try not to travel
turn turning turns metal
become molten and at point
shrapnel and burn and twist
the rush of it
confusionallfallthisiscrashand after all
fly flying through flies not, but is too fast
too matter what the speed with this
one way all and as long as
you are away from your mother
It was not the sight of mountains that pulled the truck over, but the bladder swelling, the urge to piss and the empty gravel of Wyoming road at dawn. Too much. Now he is shaking himself, turning over a name, but pretending be not enough. The high altitude, the cold of every spring, knows each lie. And as he tucks back shirt, he looks to green, the cold turning to pink blossoms and how they crane and carry over—above them, white faces. The morning drawn silent by elk herd. The sun, a morning first peeks. Morning soft as frost covers glass.
It is low and grey outside,
rain a pale blue so, almost silty
the kind in which
even if the weather were to stop
you’d wind up wet and with earth.
It’s pleasant enough inside though
and at the moment the tall house warms
with the rise of roast chicken and gentle
rushing coming from the kitchen.
This story is everywhere, but
I’ll tell you now, a bit before dinner,
that we’re traveling—as travelers
and traveling seemingly makes all stories
more. More exciting. Sad too.
But this story is neither of those things
and like all hard things it simply is.
We meet at this stop on the journey
in particular because of circumstances.
In particular, time and place.
Time and place, both boundaries
we are all walled by. This story
as it were, is one of a new son.
The place comes first though
as it’s just before dinner,
at the table with the in-laws.
The son sits first, down in a dining room
much like yours and in a town similar.
And as setting exerts so much, stretches
our characters, they must be named.
Let the in-laws be Rita and Alexander.
Let the son’s name be your own.
Now time is what must be turned over.
For your trip is half-over—you are
between home and home, between
leaving and going. This a place maybe obvious
for the poet, perhaps for others too
that are poor, paralyzed by nostalgia.
So surely you must know the unspoken
rule of the traveler—anything halfway
is already rotten—not even most of the way
means already forgotten. And this
is very much where you find yourself, son.
Dinner has started and you’re cutting
into a chicken breast you wished
was cooked a bit longer, laughing
at your mother in-law’s jokes
and pouring your father-in-law wine.
All of this too soon.
You, traveler, are halfway
and depending on the distance
halfway can see all to come still and
all the way back. I tell you now
in your living room, armchair
and in your coffee shop or study
at the dinner table in your own dining room
that there is never enough
empathy, nor palms open.
There is never enough.
There is never enough.
It is cruel too.
You’ve got to come right up to life.
Closer and closer. Damn it, get close
wishes that had once more what’s
then was mattered forever not
leaves change wrappings that
In lack of, please take.
this too lonely too small because
a place takes big when so busy
and never having been wishing to ever find
I am not returning.
no doubt many and sad verily too
spoken words so conspicuously
so pointedness prick please at many
moments of may hurt only
but for a moment be again and again
again and struggle
By Way of George Oppen
Still framed, photograph try capture—
needle raise, record fall.
Oh why oh why do
any moments end.
two bodies tangled in bed.
* * *
Author’s commentary: A better word for eclectic might be moody – a better word still, for this situation anyway, might be asshole. Therefore, I will say that this little collation of work is very much moody, since I don’t particularly care for the word eclectic (and one curse word is enough for an opening). There are moments of collage, scraps of things lost or maybe leaving and along with them there are a few near-silent moments, whispers, but at times the poems are grabbing at the reader and trying to shake them by their shoulders. I cannot say for sure if that’s what makes for good poetry, a strange dichotomy, but that’s who or what I am, or at least that’s how my work seems to come alive. That’s my poetry. I see my work as a mix of story extremes – overwhelming emotions, even apathy, always meant to be read through a lens romantic. Also, I am an epic sap. So there’s that too.
I think those sentiments and that explanation is most obviously on display in “Another Love Poem,” which was first written on an airplane (and on a smart phone, which still seems odd, but at times is oddly necessary). I have recently become fascinated with collage art, collage poetry – how it reads aloud and looks on the page – more so, simply where the art begins within someone and the process it takes to become. Though this poem is not really a typical piece of collage art – it is simply a gigantic explosion, a crash and the aftermath – it is a collage of a number of emotions and situations, and it can offer a good bit of insight into my writing process. I’m, sure, OK, I’m afraid of flying (so that’s certainly enough subject for a poem), but that isn’t really the poem. Process. My wife and I are on a flight home after visiting her family, whom we rarely get to see, so I’m keenly aware of her heightened, tangled blur of emotions as we are literally pressed against each other (I don’t fit well in airplanes) and all the while visualizing my own death. Suddenly though, I start to get angry, but not about being crammed into my seat with the tiny woman in front of me farting or having to soon return to work – I get angry at the airplane itself, an object that even if it isn’t necessarily inert, has so much say in the now certain destiny. Crash and burn. So be it. So this poem is not necessarily a collage poem, but a collage of person and plane wreck. That’s where my process begins.
“May hurt” is a typical collage poem, however. It came up out of the struggle to get back writing again. I was leafing through four or five journals, all of them matching, black and the same size, and I was hoping that there would be something I could scrap together – hoping there was some brilliant idea I could simply scoop up, dust off, and say, “Hey, I wrote something!” but I didn’t find that. What I did find though, and kept finding, were brilliant little one-liners, short sentences, sometimes phrases that I really liked. So I went back and started from the beginning – and I went through each journal and plastered each piece together. It was aleatoric art, but only chance up to a point. Soon I realized that these little orphans were competing in a conversation – soon after, their organization on the page created this sort of sway, back and forth, with small pieces (notes scraps) having a rather sad and final say.
The other three poems are very different. They’re me, but they’re not me. They are me in a moment that I have become fixated on – a certain scene, a particular place, and a single thought there. I write around it, up the ante, and not because I need to necessarily, but because I think these moments are something I have a certain extra sense towards or perhaps I just don’t have enough sense to simply let them pass by – maybe that’s why I feel the way I do so often. Uncertain. Uncertain even if it’s perfection. Alone.
About “Forget” I will say that sometimes moments can take you anywhere, even as you urinate on a road trip. When I’m writing I’m always battling with myself between the notion of nostalgia and the actual creation of art – I’m always warring with myself if the sentiment I’m writing is one others share or dirty, dirty nostalgia. I think “Forget” provides some sort of bridge in-between that gap: beauty and longing.
“A Story” is my favorite of this bunch. And by far. Back when I was an undergrad at the University of Iowa, slowly wading through troughs of alcohol, I came under a number of very good writers, great teachers that brought me to poetry. I remember one in particular, a graduate student at the Writer’s Workshop, who upon my preposterous asking actually defined poetry. I still remember what he told me: “Poetry is an emotion, any emotion – the explosion of the heart. It makes the reader feel with your words.” That has always stuck with me and as I’m just sort of getting started in poetry, now a number of years later, I take it into account acutely when I’m worried if my poems mean anything to my audience, my reader, or if they only mean something to me.
In my mind “By Way of George Oppen” follows that definition pretty strictly. It is simple. It is a moment. I did live that moment, sure, but it’s also a moment that many people lived, and many others imagine or long for or enjoy as it plays out on a screen. “By Way of George Oppen” is a simple poem in which I am playing, selfishly, with my idea of poetry—riffing off his simple style while also playing with nostalgia and not just of love lost and time gone by, but of coming to poetry. And so I will end with the first stanza of the first section of Oppen’s Of Being Numerous, which is the first book of poetry I ever owned. (Thanks, Dad.)
There are things
We live among ‘and to see them
Is to know ourselves’.