Sunday, January 20, 2013

Fabric-- poem and author commentary


Aglet. Frittle. Greeble. Lacuna.
Sheath. Depression. Projection. Void.
Words mean—naming is power.
En arche en ho logos: In the beginning was the Word.
We utter into order, declaring
what is and what is not.
But the universe is unspooling,
glittering stars spattered on
a fading tapestry, fraying.
Warp and weft widen,
the truth slips through,
fibers in outstretched fingers.

The threads trip us up.
Tangling tongues hang
on words like
femoroacetabular impingement
or neuropathy, etiology,
idiopathic (a way of saying
“we don’t know why”).
Cat’s cradles clot together,
knotted skeins, tripwires.
One spiderwebbed sentence
like cracks beneath our feet;
we are unstrung.

When I was little, I laid on the floor—
the sun streamed through the pane,
bent beams bleached boxes
on the dark carpet.
Backlit bits of dust
tumbled lazily above me.
I asked my mother what
they were; she said
sunbeams, but I heard
“sun-beans”—drifting motes
of a star made manifest.
Words mean.

Now, I carefully pick through
bolts and rolls of the
cloth of language,
hoping it will be a safety-
net and not a noose.
Burlap or taffeta?
Misunderstanding can be
When words fail me and
the world is torn,
I mend the rends
with sun-beans.

The sun will go dark, immense like
a monstrous balloon before it
You can’t unfray the framework
but you might patch it.
You can’t undo what is
but you can speak of it.
These words are my strands.
Help me to tighten these seams.


Author Commentary on “Fabric”

This poem was written in a few sittings in the Fall of 2010, with minor revisions over the following months. While I appreciate and value revision, many of my poems are only lightly revised. Sometimes, when the muse is particularly kind, she speaks quickly and clearly, and a poem springs forth, fully-formed from one’s head, as Athena from Zeus.
            I do welcome feedback from fellow poets. One particularly astute critic noted I did not capitalize “word” in the first stanza—seeing as I invoke the Gospel of John in the very same line, it seemed right to make that change.
            Another reader said “the whole poem is the third stanza—cut the rest.” Indeed, that is the “heart” of the poem, in terms of theme and architecture . . . but it only tells so much, and I wanted the poem to function on various levels. As an example, Dante, in his “Letter to Can Grande,” explains the filters through which the La Divina Commedia might be read: i.e. literal, metaphorical/ moral /anagogical.
 Poetry often compresses, but that compression is augmented by context. Here, a single moment in time is framed or book-ended by the birth and eventual death of the universe.
            In terms of prosody, the poem is clearly not a fixed form; but as T.S. Eliot notes in his 1917 essay “Reflections on Vers Libre,,” “No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job.” I take great care in the topography, sound-sense and metrics of my poems—I believe this is clear to the reader who scans or reads them aloud. Endstopping and enjambment make or change meanings, emphasize or deemphasize . . .
            The overall conceit in the poem is one of textiles; man-made objects serving as metaphors for larger ideas, and I tried to couple that with a theme of the importance of language and communication (which is, in my own philosophy, one of the markers of what it means to be human, defining humanity. Language is the vehicle for our pleasure and our pain, and it is the way in which we make sense of existence (we may hold emotional and spiritual convictions, but they cannot exist in a vacuum—they must be communicated in order to mean, and in fact we have these beliefs because they were somehow communicated to us—it is virtually a tautological relationship). This poem is a communication, and is about communication (and is obviously concerned with miscommunication). In Forster’s words, “Only connect” (Howard’s End, 1910).
So much more succinct, no?

Some other notes about language:
A “frittle” (line 1) is a temporary impression / depression left in the skin—think of the morning crease in one’s face from a bunched-up pillowcase. May be related to the Latin “Frittilus,” a dice-cup with an inlaid pattern.
A “greeble” (also line 1) is detailing added to a flat surface to break it up visually—picture Lego® blocks, or cinema spaceships, bristling with ray-guns and antennae.

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