July 04, 2007

The Silence of the Iambs

Borges tells of time stopping for a year
as a man faces the firing squad, bullets
paused in flight while he, in his mind,
composes sonnets, works out chess problems,
solves scholarly riddles...and then
time resumes. Time stopped for me during an
open-mike poetry reading. There, just after the words
"...touched the soft silence of your..." - soul?
heart? left ear lobe? But the poet was unmoving,
mouth open, her eyes in their sudden rigor, oddly
calculating; the other faces I could see were all
frozen in polite introspection, as if each,
were thinking, "I've had too much
coffee" or "Did anyone notice my fart?" Nothing
moved. The water held its slope in the glass
I'd been lifting to my lips. Threads of cigarette smoke
hung in frayed silken twists. A petrified ribbon
of coffee bridged from lip of pot to cup,
as a waiter waited for someone never to say "WHEN."
For a long time (so to speak), the interrupted poem,
too, hung there. I spent - it seemed - hours
trying to think of a next word that could save
the line from banality. In vain. For hours more
I memorized the gleam of her teeth, the contours
of paralyzed smoke. I composed letters to several
editors on various burning issues. I composed limericks
that began "The soft silence of..." - for example:

     The soft silence of fleecy white lambs
     Can't compare to the silence of clams
     (Clams, unshelled, you should touch
     Very gently, not much...)
     Or free verse: Silence of the Iambs!

I held long eloquent arguments with my dead mother
about the importance of being a poet. I thought up
brilliant ways to make money from poetry. I tried,
again - again in vain - to redeem the poetus
interruptus or at least to predict what, if anything,
would come next, and, suddenly, I noticed
that the smoke was moving, twining, winnowing
the light, a lovely translucent creature...
Ah, time had resumed, and...I forgot to notice
how the line or the poem concluded. It must
have done so, because I found myself applauding
mechanically, trying to recall my money-making schemes...
but all my hours - days! - of contemplation
had blurred like last night's dreams, only
a few limericks remaining.

—Dean Blehert

Posted by dwaber at July 4, 2007 02:42 PM